Why don’t we just surrender, Sarge?

The subject of personal ownership of guns came up during the discussion on a recent post, and one respondent wrote, "Never had a gun, don’t want one, lotsa people get shot with their own gun…."

Well, as I was reminded over the weekend, you don’t actually have to shoot yourself to get hurt firing a gun. Or — forgive me — I should say, a rifle.

Somehow, I had gotten to my current ripe old age without ever having fired a high-powered rifle. I had experience with pistol (can’t hit a durn’ thing with ’em), rifle (which I’m not bad at, for a civilian), and shotgun (which you don’t have to be all that good with to hit something).

But when I say "rifle," I mean .22s. Anybody can hit a tin can with a .22, I suppose.

But Saturday, I was visiting kin up in Marlboro County, and my cousin had a new .30-06 rifle he wanted to try out. So we went out to some land belonging to a friend of my uncle’s, where there was an open field with about a 10-foot embankment of earth piled up at one end of it. That’s where we put the paper target.

My cousin shot first, it being his rifle. It was a short, carbine-like weapon with a sort of built-in clip arrangement on the bottom. You swing out the clip thing, load in three rounds in staggered formation, and swing it back up until it snaps into place under the bolt-action breech.

Now, I had been thinking ".30 caliber — that’s not all that much more than a .22." Maybe, if you’re talking about an M-16 kind of .223 round. See, I had reckoned without the enormous shell behind the modest slug — one of those things about three inches long, with most of its length looking to be about twice the diameter of the slug. That’s a lot of powder. That’s a big bullet.

When the first shot was fired, I went straight to my car, opened my briefcase (which is filled with junk for all sorts of contingencies), and pulled out some foam earplugs. Wow.

I had to hurry to get back to Columbia, so I asked to go next, after my cousin had fired a couple of clips. He handed it over, showed me how the first cartridge went in, and I managed to insert the other two of those artillery shells without embarrassing myself. I asked where the safety was, and fumbled with it a bit.

My cousin had noted what a light weapon it was, and he was right. A little too light, I believe. I assumed what I hoped was a good standing position, my feet forming a line about 30 degrees from the direction of fire. I drew it up firmly to my shoulder, aimed the best I could (it was a kind of sight I’d never seen before, and pulled the trigger.

BLAM! The thing slammed into my bony shoulder like somebody hitting me with a baseball bat, while the barrel jerked way up and a little off to the right.

It hurt like an SOB. My immediate thought was, "I do NOT want to do this again." But rather than wimp out, I brought the barrel back down and got ready to fire again. I really tensed up for the second shot, making sure it was tight against my shoulder, and gripping firmly with my left hand to keep the muzzle pointed downrange. It didn’t work. It still kicked like a donkey, and ended up pointed at the sky.

I only have to get through one more round. This time I forced myself to relax, to hold it a little more lightly, and to remember to squeeze the trigger with even pressure throughout my hand, rather than jerk it. I missed the target by about a foot.

My second had missed, too. But miracle of miracles, my first shot — before I knew what I was in for — had actually grazed the black center of the target. And — ahem — mine was the first one to do so.

But I got to thinking later: The M1 Garand fired more or less the same ammunition, from a clip of eight, I believe. And the M-1 Carbine was pretty light (although I think it also fired lighter ammo; somebody tell me if I’m wrong). The average WWII Army recruit, according to Stephen Ambrose, was:

… five feet eight inches tall, weighed 144 pounds, had a thirty-three-and-a-half-inch chest, and a thirty-one-inch waist.

How on Earth did a little guy like that (a thirty-three-and-a-half-inch chest!!!) fire clip after clip of that ammunition and still have use of his right arm? Sure, they were half my age (an average of 26), and they probably knew some trick that I don’t know about the proper way to seat the butt against the shoulder, and the Garand was heavier than the carbine, but still. It makes me respect those guys — all of whom have been my heroes my whole life — even more.

Maybe I wasn’t holding it right; I don’t know. But if it hurt like that, after a day of fighting through the hedgerows, when the time came that the sergeant told us to dig in for the night, I think I might have said, "Sarge, why don’t we just let the Germans have France?"

Of course, knowing the way soldiers gripe, I’m sure a lot of guys did say that. But they still dug in, and got up and fought again the next day.

23 thoughts on “Why don’t we just surrender, Sarge?

  1. Brad Warthen

    I just read that the developers of the carbine determined that the .30-06 WAS too powerful for it, which would have helped. That doesn’t diminish my respect for those guys, though.

  2. bill

    16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought-Six
    by Tom Waits
    I plugged 16 shells from a thirty-ought-six
    and a Black Crow snuck through
    a hole in the sky
    so I spent all my buttons on an
    old pack mule
    and I made me a ladder from
    a pawn shop marimba
    and I leaned it up against
    a dandelion tree
    And I filled me a sachel
    full of old pig corn
    and I beat me a billy
    from an old French horn
    and I kicked that mule
    to the top of the tree
    and I blew me a hole
    ’bout the size of a kickdrum
    and I cut me a switch
    from a long branch elbow
    I’m gonna whittle you into kindlin’
    Black Crow 16 shells from a thirty-ought-six
    whittle you into kindlin’
    Black Crow 16 shells from a thirty-ought-six
    Well I slept in the holler
    of a dry creek bed
    and I tore out the buckets
    from a red Corvette, tore out the buckets from a red Corvette
    Lionel and Dave and the Butcher made three
    you got to meet me by the knuckles of the skinnybone tree
    with the strings of a Washburn
    stretched like a clothes line
    you know me and that mule scrambled right through the hole
    Repeat Chorus
    Now I hold him prisoner
    in a Washburn jail
    that stapped on the back
    of my old kick mule
    strapped it on the back of my old kick mule
    I bang on the strings just
    to drive him crazy
    I strum it loud just to rattle his cage
    strum it loud just to rattle his cage
    Repeat Chorus

  3. Lee

    The M1 Garand is about 3 pounds heavier than the typical hunting rifle, or 2 lbs if the hunting rifle has a telescopic sight. It is not bad to shoot. Being a gas operated autoloader, it soaks up some of the recoil in cycling the spent cases and chambering new ones. The standard GI ammo is usually not quite as hot as hunting ammo (147 grain bullet at 2800 vs 150 gr at 2900), but some is. The 1919 machinegun ammo is often hotter, if it is 163-gr armor piercing. Lugging the M1 and 200 rounds of ammo on en bloc clips is worse than shooting 200 rounds.
    The new National Guard museum will have a huge display of M1 Carbines, which fires a much less powerful round.

  4. BL Muller

    The .30-06 has a lot more felt recoil in a bolt action like the 1903 Springfield. The rifle which it was developed to match, the 1898 German Mauser, is even a bit more powerful. The Germans settled on heavier bullets at a bit lower velocity, but both are 600 yard weapons. Those steel buttplates don’t soak up recoil like the soft modern foams on hunting rifles, either.
    Patton said the M1 was the greatest weapon of World War II.

  5. Dave

    Brad, next time try out a 12 Ga. shotgun with buckshot (deershot) shells. My inside bicep turned black and blue a day after shooting about 4 shots for practice. A nice big kitchen sponge may come in handy to avoid that. I see in the paper today where the original editor, Mr. Gonzalez, was shot to death on the sidewalk in Columbia way back, and the shooter got off on a self defense acquittal. There must be a fascinating story behind all of that. But, then again, no reason to give your detractors any ideas!!!!!!!!

  6. Mark Whittington

    I still think it was a big mistake to go to the 5.56mm. Yeah, it’s OK for shooting prairie dogs or for close in personal defense, but it shouldn’t be the standard infantry round. I’d rather take a BAR with a semi auto selector any day. I’d scrap the 7.62mm too.
    The M1 is a fine rifle. They ought to make an updated version of it with a synthetic stock and a twenty round magazine. Someday you might have to fight an enemy without air superiority or artillery.
    Bring back the Tommy Gun. The Remington 870 is A OK with me.

    The only rifle that almost knocked me off my feet that I’ve ever shot was a Weatherby Mark V with a .460 Wby. Mag. I felt like somebody smacked me in the shoulder with a baseball bat after firing that thing.

    The WWII generation was a tough lot. I remember that when my dad was 68 he could still take a bush ax and clear property in July and he’d hardly break a sweat (I’d be sucking wind). He knew how to pace himself and how to work. He worked for the CCCs before the war. If you asked him who won WWII he’d say it was the average dogface. Incidentally, he grew up just down the road from Brad. He used to say (only half jokingly); “nothing prepared me for WWII like growing up in McColl”. He was the nicest guy you’d ever meet, and he was a great father and a husband, but boy, he could fight if he had too. He was 5’8″ of kick butt (in a good way).

  7. Lee

    Mark, the Army already made “an updated version of the M1″… in 1954.
    The M-14 was fully deployed in 1957, firing the 7.62x51mm NATO round at 100 fps slower than the M1’s .30-06 round. It used a 20-round detachable magazine instead of the 8-round en bloc clip of the Garand.

  8. Mark Whittington

    I meant an updated M1 in .30-06. Call me a sentimentalist. A M-14 in .30-06 would be OK too I guess. Just get rid of the 5.56mm.

  9. BLSAiken

    I’m not an expert in infantry weapons (although I vividly remember the M-1 I fired in ROTC), but at close combat range the additional 5.56 mm ammo a grunt could carry for “rock and roll” firing was thought to be superior to a smaller quantity of .30 caliber or 7.62 mm ammo with either semiautomatic or full automatic firing capability.

  10. BL Muller

    The M-16 in 5.56 caliber was a downsized AR-10 designed by Gene Stoner for the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge. The 5.56 was derived from the .222 Remington, a cartridge designed for exterminating groundhogs at 300 yards or less.
    Its selection by the military was driven by the JFK brain trust, which had no military experience or knowledge. The M-16 was pushed by Joseph Califano, and by Ted Kennedy, a majority stockholder in Colts Manufacturing, who obtained the contract to mass produce the rifles, instead of the patent holders and designers at Fairchild Armalite.

  11. Capital A

    You’re forgetting that Captain America put us over the top in our war effort with only his shield to avail him. He didn’t need a coward’s weapon.
    The Red Skull and his ilk never had a chance, bet your sweet bucky.

  12. Andy Cole

    Lee, the 5.56 (.223) is a fine round, shooting relatively flat and with plenty of knock-down power. It also has a max effective range of over 600 yeards.
    But as Mark said, it is a lot lighter. When I was in Iraq, I carried 300 rounds, it weighed about half as much as 300 rounds of 7.62…which, when it’s 120 degrees out, is a big consideration.

  13. Lee

    The current M193 and SS-109 especially are much better rounds than the 55-gr round of the Vietnam era. The SS-109 is indeed a 600 yard round in accuracy, and against targets in light clothing. It hasn’t any punch for barricades, cover, vehicles or even heavy clothing beyond 300 yards, especially out of the shorter barrelled M-4 carbine.
    That is why the M-14 is still in such use in Iraq, as well as the 7.62x51mm in bolt actions. The .30-06 and .300 WM see use beyond 600 yards. That is also why the Army is experimenting with the 6.8x43mm upper receiver units on the M-16 in Afganistan, where it is proving itself far superior to the 5.56mm at both long range and street use.
    You can carry twice as many rounds of 5.56 as you can of 7.62×51, but studies show it takes 5 rounds to do what 1.5 rounds of .30 caliber accomplish in infantry combat.

  14. bill

    “When I hold you in my arms
    And I feel my finger on your trigger
    I know no one can do me no harm
    Because happiness is a warm gun.”

  15. Lee

    “If you stay here you’ll be surrounded.”
    “We’re Paratroopers, Lieutenant. It’s our job to be surrounded.”
    – CAPT Winter, 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne 1944.

  16. Capital A

    Good shootin’, Wartime Warthen.
    “There are two of you: one that loves and one that kills.” — Apocalypse Now: Redux
    Since there are some gun lovers around, I would suggest picking up a new take on an old soldier. Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy is a six part mini-series being released monthly by DC Comics.
    It’s an interesting tale that captures the grit and grime of those beloved GI tales from grandpappy’s era. The series is worth picking up for Andy Kubert’s excellent art, alone.
    That is, if you’re not too busy playing with your bigboy toys.

  17. Brave Sir Robin

    I fired a Lee Enfield .303 when I was 12 years old (5′ 4″, 7 stone). The recoil was pretty ferocious but the trick was to fold something soft, put it between your shoulder and rifle, and hold the rifle tight. Sure, the first few rounds make your shoulder ache, but you soon get used to it – even I made Marksman in fairly short order (1″ group at some forgotten distance). Of course, lying down helps when you’re getting started.
    By comparison the 7.62 mm SLR (FN variant) I fired 10 years later was a recoil pussy cat, but the bullet still carried a big punch.

  18. Rattlehead

    The M1 carbine was not directly in response to the Garand being too heavy or too much kick for the vast majority of troops….that was true though for the para-troopers. That is where the M1 Carbine came to be. The para-troopers wanted something lighter for their jumps. Also various non-combat MOS soldiers needed something. The .30 Carbine is a hair smaller than a .357 magnum handgun cartridge. It doesn’t kick much in a rifle compared to shooting it from a handgun, and it has better ballistics than a 357 handgun because of it being in a carbine rifle. It still is not a round or rifle that would be suitable for standard issue, but it had its place.
    The 7.62 Nato round(known also as the .308) that the Garands successor, the M14, has almost identical ballistics as the 30-06 but is actually a tad bit more accurate at 600 yards.
    The problem with the 7.62Nato is that in full auto it was hard to control. Plus its a long range round and in close quarters is almost overkill (if that isn’t an oxymoron when dealing with combat).
    IMO if the 30-06 kicks too much, then that is just because of a lack of proper technique. I have a .300 Winchester Magnum and that thing is really pushing what a comfortable big kick is IMO (same .308 bullet as the 30-06 and 7.62 Nato, but with a lot more gun powder).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *