The following story is primarily for those of you who have some knowledge of guns and the military. As background, let me explain that I was given a rifle at the age of twelve, and, despite my being very nearsighted and wearing eyeglasses, I learned to be quite proficient in its use. When my high school ROTC unit had tryouts for a rifle team I had the best score in the battalion, and I was a leader on our rifle team during my senior year.
I entered the Army in October 1952 and was sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for my basic training. Our cadre (trainers) were all 11th Airborne types (long-term professional soldiers). Almost immediately after joining my unit I was given an M-1 rifle and we were all taken to the firing range so they could teach us to shoot. After teaching us some basics about the weapon and firing range procedures, the next step was for us to zero our rifles. To zero meant to fire three rounds at the target and then, based on where the shots hit, adjust the sights on the rifle so that your bullets, if properly aimed, would hit dead center. The targets were 200 yards away – an easy distance for the M-1. The targets looked big and easy to hit. I was supremely confident.
With my instructor beside me, I fired three shots at the target. Imagine my surprise when the target was lowered, then raised, and the man in the pit waved a red flag. This was the dreaded “Maggie’s Drawers”, meaning that I had missed the target. I couldn’t believe it! Once more I fired three shots, and again the red flag waved. My instructor evidently thought I was totally incompetent. “Give me that weapon,” he said. He took my rifle and fired three shots. Once more the target keeper waved Maggie’s Drawers. The instructor then fired an entire clip (eight rounds) at the target, and again he got Maggie’s Drawers. At about this time the company commander came up behind us and asked us what was going on? The instructor explained that we couldn’t hit the target. The company commander took the rifle and fired another entire clip at the target – again the red flag. The commander then had someone call the target keeper and asked him where the bullets were striking – if not on the target itself were the rounds hitting somewhere on the target frame. The answer came back that there was no sign of the bullets hitting anything on or around the target. At that point, the commander started firing into the ground in front of the targets. Finally, we could see some dirt and dust being thrown up in front of the target next to the target we were shooting at. It happened to be an unused/unoccupied target.
Amazing! Only by adjusting the windage on my rifle sight all the way to the extreme left position could we bring the rifle to bear on the target we wanted to hit. For some reason the sights on that rifle were totally out of alignment. I took it to the regimental arms expert the next day, but he was unable to fix it.
Later I managed to qualify as a sharpshooter with that same weapon. I’m certain that I would have made expert if my vision had been a bit better. Even wearing my glasses, the targets were becoming a bit fuzzy for me at 300 yards. Anyway, it was a good rifle so long as the wind wasn’t blowing.
Three months later I arrived in Japan on my way to Korea. I was given a new rifle and sent to the firing range to check it out. They were in a terrible hurry to get us on our way. Each soldier was given only one cartridge. If you hit somewhere in the target circle with your first shot, it was considered good enough. Only if you missed would you get a chance to zero the weapon. I hit the bull’s eye with the first shot, and that was it.
As it happened, I never fired that rifle again. A day or so later I turned all of my equipment in and was transported north to join the 24th Infantry Division in Sendai, Japan. I did not get to Korea for another three months.