One of the guys I shoot against in F-Class matches was a Marine Corps sniper who fought at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea from November 27, 1950, to December 13, 1950. I can’t help regarding the man with awe, because Frozen Chosin was one of the worst fights American troops have ever engaged in, and one of the Marine Corps’ brightest battle stars. In the same engagement, when the Army’s Second Division* disintegrated in a rout, the First Marine Division came out with its dead, its wounded, most of its equipment, and in the process, ruined three Chinese field armies.

On one particular morning, we both showed up at the rifle utility range, he to practice, myself to sight in a .338. But it was the rifle he had that caught my eye. It was a Springfield 1903 sniper rifle, complete with leather lace-on pad to raise the comb and a Unertl scope. It was mint. I asked how he got such a gem and he explained that it was like Johnny Cash’s Cadillac; he assembled it from parts. When something became available he bought it and kept this up until he had a complete rifle.

He carried an ’03 sniper rifle at Chosin, and later competed with one at Camp Perry, and had a sentimental fondness for it, even though it was now hopelessly outdated both as a weapon and as a target gun. And it caused me to wonder: Sixty years from now, when some 80-ish guy shows up on the firing line with a rifle that he carried when he went to see the elephant, what will it be? And what will have replaced it?

And a short war story … A platoon sergeant of mine was a Marine during World War II, and after the war joined a Marine Reserve unit. When Korea started up they were called to active duty, and were assembled on the dock at Oakland waiting to board ship for the Land of the Morning Calm, when the First Sergeant gave this order: “All men who served 48 months or more overseas during the last war fall out. You’re not going.”

If I recall correctly, my platoon sergeant was the only one who qualified. The rest of the unit went to Chosin, and none of them came back.

*During that battle, the radio commentator Walter Winchell said, “If you have a son in the service, write to him. If you have a son in the Second Division, pray for him.”