One of the oddest conundrums in my life is my history with firearms. As a buddhist, I have vowed to not take life, and as a result, I have little use for rifles and shotguns. Yet I was a competitive target shooter through high school and college, spending one or two hours per day refining my skill. I still benefit from the honed concentration that I developed.
I have inherited a handful of rifles and shotguns over the last fifteen years, and each one has a story. All are at least 40 years old, some more than a hundred, It will take a while to find proper homes for them. This rifle, perhaps sixty years old, has me musing, and it’s on a journey that started today when I pulled it out of storage.
My father was in the Army from 1954 until 1958. the year when I was born. He served at Fort Knox (the US gold repository), and in Germany as part of the occupation forces. I have dozens of letters that he exchanged with my mother during that period, speaking of poker games, guard duty, training on artillery, the strangeness of being in new places and distant lands. So was particularly interesting to pull this rifle out of storage today.
It’s a Springfield infantry rifle, 30-06 caliber, a weapon issued to infantry in the Korean war. It’s accurate, powerful, and heavy — a bolt-action, slow firing weapon more suited to open fields and long distances than the closer fighting and dense vegetation of Korea. It literally weighs more than twice what a current Army infantry weapon weighs. In fact, the ammunition does too. I have no idea how my father obtained it. Did he just steal it and bring it home when he was discharged? Did the Army care? All I know is that it’s in good shape, it fires a heavy-caliber cartridge that is common, and it probably kicks like a mule.
This thing was a beast to lug around. It must be twelve pounds. I imagine it was his rifle throughout his service, that he learned to disassemble and clean it, and did so on dozens of occasions. I imagine he carted it, with pounds of ammunition — and a state-of-the-art 1955 field pack — on training exercises. It’s nothing special, there is no star on the receiver suggesting that it’s a match-grade, especially accurate weapon. It’s simply an infantry rifle, in good condition, well cared for, and I’ve oiled it and treated the leather, and kept it in storage since 1998 when he passed away. I’ve never fired it.
Now I’m packing for a road trip back to Arizona, where I grew up, and one of the things I’m bringing is this rifle. My sister lives outside of Tucson, well out in the Sonoran desert, and I’m going on a road trip with Jen tomorrow morning to spent a week in the desert, relaxing. Tucson is our furthest destination, and I’m so looking forward to our visit. My sister occasionally has use for a weapon, surrounded by miles of open desert and critters, and she is a competent and measured soul, so it seems only right to bring it along and bestow it upon her.
This is part of a the diaspora, the cleaning out of my home, the releasing of artifacts from my father, my stepfathers, Nancy, and my mother. I’ve become the custodian of stuff from three families, three generations, and several lineages. I’ve dealt with a lot of it, but there is still more. Springfield, I release you.