Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Colt

While I ended up with Grandpa's Mauser on my wall, my older brother got his WW 1 vintage Colt .45 automatic. The wooden diamond-shaped pattern cut into the grip had been worn completely away where his hand held it, although the incisions are at least a 1/16th of an inch deep elsewhere. He must have literally had it in his hand all the time for the entire deployment. That might have been 500 days because as a professional soldier he was sent overseas early to learn trench warfare from the French shortly after the US declared war (April 1917). Most doughboys didn't arrive until 1918.

Colt service automatics had a safety feature that prevented the gun from firing if the muzzle was pressed directly against something. I remember someone telling me that he had filed that safety off. Lou says it just wore down from constant use. At any rate, better to have it blow up in your hand and take out your adversary when you're in hand-to-hand combat.

He mentioned once that a trenching tool (that cute little folding shovel you see in Army surplus stores) made an excellent weapon in close quarters. I shudder to think about two men fighting in a trench, one with a bayonet and the other with the modern equivalent of a battle axe because he has emptied the Colt's magazine. The fact that my grandfather survived leaves one stunned to think about the other unfortunate soldier. And how often did it come to that? No wonder he came home, hung up the uniform, and put all the guns away.

He told the tale of running through a young stand of trees, only able to take cover behind 1" saplings. He took a .22 in the bicep that passed clean through. At the aid station they simply put a bandage on one side and then poured iodine directly in the wound and capped it with the top bandage. He said that hurt much more than the bullet.

Another time an artillery shell exploded beside him and he continued on for some minutes until he noticed wet blood on his Colt. His arm (again) had taken the shrapnel and he hadn't felt a thing.

My brother had had the Colt inspected by a gunsmith and he even fired it a few times at the shooting range. It had a tremendous recoil. Grandpa said that if you had a choice you aimed at the pelvis, so the momentum of the bullet would strike bone and knock a charging soldier down. No good to shoot someone and have them still run up and bayonet you. Imagine the kinds of lessons our soldiers are learning in Afghanistan and Iraq today.

Unfortunately Grandpa's Colt was stolen when burglars broke into my brother's trailer back in the 90s. The thief may just have thought that they had gotten an old gun to pawn, but instead they had taken an irreplaceable piece of our family history.

The few stories we know about that terrible war make sure that we Horaks understand that war is not a game and that sacrifice is real. Despite Grandpa leaving the military after the war, both my father and uncle served during the Second World War. It has only been our great good fortune that war has not overtaken my generation--my draft number during Viet Nam was 311--just lucky, I guess.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Relief and Astonishment

The entire Bears' Home Front Brigade has issued a collective sigh of relief. Whew! Obama made it! Chili Bear can (almost) relax about endangered polar bears. Travel Schlepp can (almost) feel the international tensions settling down a notch.

All the bears and critters are wondering aloud that America truly is amazing if it can go from 8 years of Bush to a free election where the black son of a Muslim Kenyan father and a Kansas farm girl rises to become our next president. The bears are proud to be American bears today.