letters from dad – letter 11 (rifle range)

May 28, 2012

positions – scanned drawing from letter; click on it to see larger version


Dear Granther and Granpee,

I recieved your letters and the candy and certainly appreciated it. Everybody in our hut also thanks you. It didn’t last long but it was good while it lasted. I have just got back from church and it is raining hard now its pretty cold out. The first week in the range has been pretty tough. We get up at 5:00 and have leave for our school range at 7:00. This is the 3rd biggest range in the world. It covers about 15 or more miles. There are 10 M4 ranges 2 22 cal. ranges, 5 Carbine ranges 3 or 4 pistol ranges and several school ranges. There are 100 targets on each M1 rifle range and 25-50 on the others. This place is about 10miles from the base and is back in the mountains. It is beautiful country and the ranges are terraced and have green grass and little streams running through them. Our rifle coaches are really swell. There are 3 for our platoon. Coach Allen is a Daniel Boone sort of person from Oklahoma. He can knock a spec of dandriff off a midget a 1000 yards. He never gets mad at us and never swears. There two are Cooch’s Moore and Willis. We go to the range which is about a 5 mile march from our hut 1st thing every morning. There we snap in. We get in position with our rifle. There are four positions. (This is where Dad drew of the positions I scanned in) 1. Offhand (standing) Sitting kneeling & prone, These are really painful to get into. You have to bend and twist till it hurts. One of the coaches twisted my arm so far under my rifle I thought it would crack off. At first I had awfull sore muscles but I hardly notice any pain now. We get 10 min. rest periods after every ½ hour. In the afternoon we shoot the 22 range. The target looks like a penny. We also shot M1 carbine 2 times this week. Once in the morning & once in the afternoon. Its 30 cal. and has a big kick. I did pretty well on the prone at 300 yds. On record day we shoot are M1’s (Garand’s) at 200, 300, and 500 yds slow and rapid fire. We 68 shot. Bullseye counts 5 pts 4 ring, 3 ring, duece & 0. 268 pts. makes marksman. 292 – sharpshooter and 300 expert. Shooting is a lot of fun. The food out here is terrible. Everybody has a cold too. Our coach brought 2 platoons thru that landed at Tarawa. Every dead Marine on the beach was lying in a shooting position. It wasn’t the air corps, navy, army, or any big guns that took Tarawa. It was just individual riflemen. He told us how one rifleman can destroy a tank, airplane or pillbox. When in combat in the Marines, they just say “you 2 men go over and take that gun crew of about 20 men.” And if they aren’t pretty good riflemen they send two more over so I’m trying to make expert. I suppose you heard the good news about Truk. That hand to hand fighting is right up our alley so the Japs might as well leave now. It’s a good thing the “dog faces” (army) aren’t there or they still be trying to establish beach heads. If they’d send the Marines to Italy I’d be willing to bet it would be over in a few weeks, Rifle marksmanship is what does it. And every marine just has to be a qualified marksman. Two platoons had 100% qualifying last Thursday on record day the rest had 98.9%. When the other fellows get food they pass it out to so we get some candy once in a while. I’m not sure about any furlough in fact it looks doubtful because you don’t know your going to get it until you get your furlough papers. I have to fill out income tax stuff so please send anything I would have to put on it. Give me the dope about my stock & war bonds that would have to go there. If you want to send me something, I would like some fudge, hard candy, cookies, & handkerchefs. Also a picture of my chickens. We get paid today, but only about $5. Take care of my chickens & yourselves. Lots of love to everybody.

Love Truman

P.S. Don’t send the hard candy in any kind of glass container.

It seems fitting to resume this project on Memorial to honor my Dad’s service.

There is a lot going on in this letter. First off it’s written in pen, whereas most of his letters are in pencil, and I wonder where he got the pen. I imagine that pencils were a much more pragmatic and reliable tool, not having to worry about ink or the nub being messed up, and pens would have seem like a luxury, certainly not something you would have taken out with you into combat. So it’s interesting he’s at the range and using a pen.

I had to look up some of the Marine jargon, like “snap in”, which means practicing aiming with an unloaded rifle, and “record day,” which was a high point in recruit training that occurred during the third week on the range, where the recruits fired shots in the all 4  at the 200, 300 and 500-yard lines for a maximum score of 250 points. Also, I had never heard of Truk before Dad’s letter. It was a Japanese naval and air base that U.S. attacked and decimated in February, 1944.

Some of the euphemisms and slang Dad uses in this letter, like “shooting a spec of dandruff off a midget” and  “give me the dope,” make him seem more seasoned than he is and give a kind of casual tone to an account of being trained to use a weapon to kill someone, which of course, is the exact opposite of anything in the realm of casual. But there is something almost summer-campy in the tone, “Shooting is a lot of fun.” Maybe that casual approach is purposeful to allay the fears of his family and/or maybe it’s part is how Dad made it through that kind training,  to kind of shut down to what it would actually mean to use a rifle and the other guns. Also, maybe shooting up a lot of shit is fun. I’m sure its a combination of things, some I probably can’t ever imagine quite right.

It’s strange to read Dad so totally buying into the Marine indoctrination and the glorification of the Marine rifleman. I know it’s essential to his training, but he was so cynical later in life and was not at all a gung-ho kind of guy. It makes him feel like such a kid to me, the way he seems both earnest and eager in paying homage to the wonder and glory of the Marine rifleman and Marines in general. I would guess he aspired to be bad ass Marine, which I’m sure was part of the point of training.

I’ve never understood the inter-service rivalry and how that makes for a stronger all around fighting force, but I’m not shocked to find echos of it here in Dad’s comments, like the one about the dog faces (army) and sending the Marines into Italy. It’s pretty hubristic stuff and from a distance it’s hard not to wince a little because everybody was fighting their asses off and so many were being killed. But I remind myself that whatever hubris is there in Dad’s comments comes from his naivety and combat innocence, married with the thrill of Dad discovering that he can make it through this training.

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