A Marine Rifleman’s View of Weapons

USMC EGA eagle globe and anchorThe new, and excellent, memoir of Marine rifleman Sterling Mace (written with pro writer Nick Allen), Battleground Pacific, goes into some detail about what Mace thought about weapons and equipment. Here are some quotes from the book:

It was George [McNevin, a friend of Mace’s before the war that he ran into on the island of Pavuvu, as the Marines prepared for the assault on Peleliu] who recommended I choose the Browning automatic rifle (BAR) as my weapon, as it suited a left-handed rifleman better than an M1 rifle….

John M. Browning in 1921 with Mr Burton of Winchester and the category-creating Browning Automatic Rifle.

John M. Browning in 1921 with Mr Burton of Winchester and the category-creating Browning Automatic Rifle. The services would later add a bipod and mess with the controls; not everyone thought these were improvements.

When Mace and his fellow Marine boots landed on the friendly-held island of Pavuvu, they had no weapons with them; indeed, he’d only handled weapons in boot camp, and during a detail at the Brooklyn Naval Yard.

Our job at the naval yard was the highly classified, top-secret duty of guarding the dockworkers payroll. That duty entailed carrying shotguns and Reising submachineguns. The shotguns were okay, but the Reising was so cheaply built that I was afraid to touch the damn thing. It seemed like it would go off at any second if you just looked at it funny.

A Reising Model 50, the variant most used by the Marines. This one has a 12-round magazine in place of the usual smooth-sided 20-rounder.

A Reising Model 50, the variant most used by the Navy and the Marines. This one has a 12-round single-column magazine in place of the usual smooth-sided dual-column 20-rounder.

Back on Pavuvu, however, the lack of weapons meant more than we knew.

We didn’t know it then – as we milled around the dock, waiting for someone to tell us where to go and what to do – but if you didn’t have specialized weapons training, in, say, flamethrowers or machine guns, the chances were pretty good that you’d be a rifleman. End of story.

The Marine Corps rifleman. Every marine wanted to be like him. No Marine wanted to be him. We were unique in our class and phylum. The lowest common denominators. Yet a whole operation – from the simplest maneuver to the grandest assault – revolved around the man and his rifle…. Our sole potential was killing a lot of Japanese. God, we loved the Marine Corps!

As riflemen, firearms were a frequent subject of discusion, a professional interest, you mihght say. For some, it was a generational heritage. Like the platoon leader Mace discusses, as he runs through some “typical” Marines he knew:

Marines like… Lieut. William “Bill” Bauerschmidt, USMC, from Pottstown, Pennsylvania, recipient of the Silver Star for bravery – with his high-top lace-up boots that were never tied up all the way but instead they flared out at the tops. Bill carried his dad’s World War I .45 service revolver into combat – engraved with the initials WB on its grip – dearly wanting to make his father proud.

You’ll have to read the book to see just how Bill Bauerschmidt made his father proud. Mace runs through his squad and platoon mates, identifying them by an unusual habit (“never wore a helmet, only a cap”) or by the weapon they carried (“He was only 5’6″ but he carried the 19-pound BAR”). You’ll know, as you read this, that not all of them will survive, not with Peleliu, Ngesebus and Okinawa in their future.

Along with these brief tone-pictures of his platoon-mates, Mace describes in precise detail what the well-dressed BAR gunner was sporting on the scenic beaches of Peleliu in September, 1944:

My equipment was easy to put on, although it weighed more than the average Marines care, because of my job as a BAR gunner. My pack itself was nothing, with its poncho looked over the top and an entrenching tool fastened to its center. To secure it, the pack was affixed to a wide strap which ran down my spine, attaching to the rear of my cartridge belt at the waist. Therefore, putting it on was akin to donning a jacket. One arm went through one strap, and then the other, leaving only the clasp for the cartridge belt to fasten below my abdomen, securing the whole getup as one piece.

On the cartridge belt were six BAR magazine pouches, three on each side, holding two magazines apiece. That’s 20 rounds a magazine, making a total of 240 rounds of .30-06 ammo, double what a marine with an M1 rifle carried. Also I had two canteens of water and a little first-aid pouch on my belt.

Strapped across my chest and hanging to my waist was my gas-mask bag, with a gas mask inside. Add that to the contents of my pack, housing three boxes of K rations, a change of socks, a dungaree cap, and a waterproof bag with my personal effects – a pocket New Testament and my wallet, including the card I received when I cross the equator – and that made me combat ready. I had to carry light, given that the weight of my BAR was another 19 pounds to shoulder – and that’s 19 pounds without the bipod fixed to the end of the barrel. The bipod was the first thing I took off on Pavuvu; it made the BAR unbalanced and unwieldy.

 

BAR with bipod removed as Mace did to his, from the VT Military Museum.

BAR with bipod removed as Mace did to his, from the VT Military Museum.

My head was covered with my pisspot (helmet), unbuckled at the chinstrap, swathed with the fall motif camouflage cover. On my legs I had a pair of tan canvas leggings, enfolding my dungaree pants close to my legs.

That was what the well-dressed Marine was wearing to His Imperial Majesty’s ball on Peleliu. Mace took some camouflage face-paint that other Marines were passing around, and drew a whimsical mustache on his face.

On his way into the beach, he ran his hands over the cool steel receiver of his BAR. It was the only thing he could count on to keep him alive.

 

Epilogue:

Photographer ME Stanley has some photos of battlefield relics, including some from Peleliu, taken long after the war.

17 thoughts on “A Marine Rifleman’s View of Weapons

  1. medic09

    Thanks for posting this. I’m convinced. Gotta read this. The wife will, too; as she is fascinated by WW II narratives for some reason. Sounds like he does a uniquely good job of describing the his experiences and human observations, both.

    “The Marine Corps rifleman. Every marine wanted to be like him. No Marine wanted to be him. We were unique in our class and phylum. The lowest common denominators. Yet a whole operation – from the simplest maneuver to the grandest assault – revolved around the man and his rifle….”

    That, right there, is the eternal truth that every infantry rifleman knows in his bone marrow. And elegantly stated. It is a pride of essential purpose that can never be replaced. Everything else stems from or revolves around that core truth.

  2. Stacy0311

    Sterling hangs out on a couple of jarhead forums (yeah I’m entitled to use that word) and FB. Always great to ‘talk’ with him and hear his stories.

  3. Stefan van der Borght

    Wow, those photos tell more of a story and really take you there than any detailed wall of text. And every bone once belonged to a cute little baby beloved of his mother and cooed over by all. What would those men say now, both about their time, and the time we live in? Buried with their swords, but sadly also the lessons they learned that we have to learn again in turn.

    Btw, Aesop, I tried a couple of times to post on your RR blog, but teh stoopid is strong with me and I can’t figure out how to undo the seekureety measures I inflicted on my longsuffering computer that I think prevent me from those comms, so if dear host WM permits, I’ll slip in a couple of off topic queries here. I read somewhere about the incubation/latency period for this lovely virus that an individual can be infectious pre-symtomatic from as early as day 2, and also that the darling microbe can survive 50 days at 4 deg. Celcius on surfaces as fomite infection. One thought that struck me (it happens occasionally, painfully) was how to best advise the few out there that are awake but under-resourced as to how to actually fulfil familial duty as to care, if it gets that far. Run away seems premature, but how do we best handle the awful thing and still care for tribe? Draw lots as to who braves the hot zone until a survivor is found to take care of the rest? With what limited procedures availabe to the resourceful but impoverished? Also, what about the folks that have already demonstrably survived the disease? Why aren’t they drafted with promises of massive reward and all support? Their immunity means the only protocols they need are to prevent infection of others, their bullet is dodged. Their experience is invaluable. Any reports on E-survivors volunteering to stand in the breach for the unlucky ones about to go through the viral furnace?

    1. Aesop

      1) Why you’re not going to be “caring” for anyone with Ebola:
      http://raconteurreport.blogspot.com/2014/10/kids-dont-try-this-at-home.html
      http://raconteurreport.blogspot.com/2014/10/surfing-usa.html

      2) The problem with recruiting the formerly infected is that they’re apparently debilitated and weak as kittens for months afterwards. that wasn’t apparent before, because we never had that many survivors before. Whereas now, even 10% of 13,000 victims is getting to be a significant number.
      But their long-term debilitation was not widely reported prior to very recently.

      3) As for reading “somewhere”, try here:
      http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/lab-bio/res/psds-ftss/ebola-eng.php
      It not only tells you how long it lives, it tells you the best ways to kill it (both in Section IV)
      As they suggest gamma radiation is effective, that means nuking it from orbit is within the range of acceptable options.

      Hope you work out your security settings. We apologize for threadjacking the blog, and we now return you to WM’s blog before we intrude on the host’s hospitality any further…

  4. Stefan van der Borght

    p.s.

    “On his way into the beach, he ran his hands over the cool steel receiver of his BAR. It was the only thing he could count on to keep him alive.”

    Well, considering this warrior devoted precious weight allowance, not to mention time, light, and devotion, and today also the derision of many of his “peers” and even “superiors”, to his New Testament, perhaps he counted on Someone else to see to his life; but he also was willing and wise enough to keep his powder dry, abundant and ready to hand. A modern day Jonathan! There are lentil fields and Philistines in all our lives. The Glory is not ours though we can bask a little in having been granted an opportunity to advance it. The war continues, hottest of all when and where we least feel like it….at home, where the odds are against us, perhaps most of all in our intimate thought lives where we battle temptations and lust, and we are forced to rely on that Someone. Take heart, the battles and the war are wonfrom before Time began, so stand firm when you least want to; OUR God is strong, and HIS is the Victory. HE is strong and wise enough to guide our steps even when all is dark and the foe surrounds, human counsel fails and the heart also. The bastards can’t get away this time, and my Captain is with me. He hasn’t given me a BAR, but I have HIS Word. And that is enough….

      1. Bill K.

        That was pretty good, Hognose! But if the Bible is in case the BAR does not succeed, who’s going to be reading it?

        I’d rather think the Bible is to give him courage, and if despite the Word of the Lord, he isn’t ready to join the choir invisible, why then he has the BAR to give him more time.

    1. AngryBirdman

      Actually the Japanese would think the very same thing about their Gods and Ancestors strong and wise divine support. Their allies even had this very nice motto engraved on belt buckles. Personally I don`t think that I would like much to do anything with supernatural being who relishes the war or give its support based on race, nationality , formal religious denomination or political slogans. Favor or lack of thereof should be reserved for the afterlife – especially for soldiers, whose very job is to transgress some important commandments.
      Some human activities should rather not be mixed with concept of divine intervention just to avoid soiling the aforementioned Divinity. Poly-ticks and priests together make very hideous brew.

  5. Ken

    There was a movie based on the Hemingway novel “Islands in the Stream” (If my shaky memory is true) wherein the deck hand fetched up a BAR to repel a shark that was closing in on a young boy. Ever since seeing that I have wanted that rifle.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I thought there was a scene like that in The Sand Pebbles, but that doesn’t make any sense because it’s about a Yangtze River gunboat (rivers != sharks). And I think it’s a tortured Chinese guy that’s whacked by Steve McQueen’s character, and with a Springfield?

      IMFDB is missing a lot of movies still. It depends on volunteer effort.

        1. Hognose Post author

          It looks like the BAR is used to fire at both the shark(s?) and the Navy? With the son of Scott’s character doing the firing. I didn’t rewind the trailer to see but Scott’s character’s gun looked like an 03A3, a slight anachronism for the movie period.

          The shark also looks like a mako from on top but is a hammerhead in the underwater photography. Hollywood continuity FTW! At least both are predatory on humans.

          Wonder what the deal is on this movie, haven’t ever seen it. Was it that bad? Or is it that it wasn’t good enough to become a classic, nor bad enough to join the ranks of 10-adventure-movies-for$10 collections?

          1. Aesop

            It died without a trace in 1977, pulling down <$6M.
            In a year that saw Star Wars, Close Encounters, Saturday Night Fever, High Anxiety, The Spy Who Loved Me, Slap Shot, and Smokey & The Bandit, among others.
            Geo. C. Scott was amidst career suicide doldrums then, and it was a movie rather poorly based on a mish-mash of Papa Hemingways unfinished story notes (semi-autobiographical) about a guy and his family on the fringes of WWII. ?? Can’t understand why that didn’t float.
            Ebert gave it three stars, but he was a loon on any number of flicks, so without seeing it I couldn’t say.

            And the guys getting shot at were supposed to be the Cuban Coast Guard in WWII. So evidently the wardrobe budget was pretty thin too.

            Amazon has copies, so apparently somebody released it once, for 20 minutes, or it’s on the Paramount DVDs-on-demand list.

      1. Aesop

        Mako. And yeah, with an ’03, IIRC.

        The one I was thinking of was more likely Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison with Robert Mitchum, or None But The Brave with Frank Sinatra.
        I’ll have to watch the latter again, and don’t own the former, so I couldn’t say yet if either of those is what I’m remembering.

  6. Stefan van der Borght

    Birdman, the commandment reads “Thou shalt not commit murder”, not “Thou shalt not kill”. There is justifiable homicide. Hopefully a comfort to those who have had to go there.

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