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The art of war

Alex Green • Mar 8, 2014 at 6:40 PM

It’s more than just a weapon.

It’s a work of art, and an icon of America’s military might and history. It quite literally helped change the world, giving the Allies a distinct advantage over their enemies in World War II.

Mention the M1 Garand rifle to Steve Cooper and Mike Conrad, and their eyes will light up.

This is partly because sales of the M1 Garand drive their Civilian Marksmanship Program at Camp Perry, but it’s also because the two men are simply smitten by the gun’s brilliant design.

“It’s the Cadillac of rifles,” Cooper said, demonstrating by balancing the rifle across the palm of his hand. “See that? I’m exerting no effort”

The M1 was the first semi-automatic rifle of its kind, designed by the Canadian John Garand in the late 1920s. It was not perfected until the 1930s — just in time for World War II.

When German and Japanese soldiers were using outdated bolt-action rifles, the United States was distributing the M1 Garand to its soldiers, even prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And once President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war, American soldiers already had the weapon in hand.    How was the M1 so much different from the guns that came before it?

First off, it could be loaded and shot more efficiently. It held eight rounds, as opposed to a bolt-action rifle’s five rounds, and it was a more powerful weapon. It was also easier to line up a shot.

“General George S. Patton called it the greatest battle implement ever devised,” said Conrad, manager at the marksmanship program’s North Store.

As American soldiers stormed the rainy beaches of Normandy in 1944, and as they fought the Japanese for five weeks on the Pacific islands of Iwo Jima, countless lives were claimed in battle. In the end, however, the Allies emerged victorious in these theaters largely because of the M1 Garand.

Some have pointed out the weapon’s single downside: When all eight rounds are fired, the M1 gives off a “ping” sound, as heard in movies such as “Saving Private Ryan”

The Germans claimed this noise informed them when an Allied soldier was out of ammunition.

Cooper and Conrad both said this simply wasn’t the case.

“In the heat of battle, there’s so much noise,” Conrad said. “That didn’t mean anything”

CMP North Store 

The marksmanship program’s North Store carries hundreds of M1 Garand rifles in all shapes, colors and models.

For collectors, the store carries vintage M1s, made up of uniform parts that are extremely valuable, Cooper said. At the low end the rifles go for a few hundred dollars, but they also can fetch up to $500 or more.

The M1 rifles make up just a segment of the many products in the store, which also sells ammunition, targets, parts, even original bayonets. The collection is unique — so unique, in fact, a private business could never offer it.

“They are surplus U.S. GI files” Cooper said.

The M1 has not been manufactured for the military in decades.

A few years ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, legislators began talking about tightening firearms regulations.

The net effect: Demand increased dramatically, Cooper said.

Despite a recent shortage, the CMP North Store in Port Clinton carries ammunition and, of course, rifles for qualified buyers. To buy a rifle, a person must complete rifle training, as well as passing a background check.

Anyone with a violent history will be denied a purchase.

The last thing we want is for a gun to be in the hands of someone not allowed to have one” Cooper said.

The store’s sales help fund the marksmanship program, which hosts a multitude of national competitions and other events.

There’s also a southern branch in Alabama, where a 500-acre marksmanship park is being built.

The Camp Perry Open, held in January, brought in some of the most skilled air-rifle marksmen in the nation, competing in a variety of competitions.

The legendary National CMP Games Event is July 6 through Aug. 2.

For locals, the program offers an open high-tech airgun shooting program every Tuesday and Thursday evening in a newly renovated, state-ofthe-art facility.

For Cooper, it means he has a rifleman’s dream job.

“I just love it,” he said. “It’s rewarding because I love the sport, and I love history. I get to market something I love doing”

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