The Foxhole View
Where Military History Touches the Second Amendment
M-1 Garand: One of America’s Keys to World War II Victory
By Don Hirst
Welcome to the premiere of Foxhole View, the latest addition of the Concealed Guardian. The mission of this column is to give patriots a glimpse of military history flavored by a dash of the Second Amendment whenever and wherever possible.
But before I begin, it’s only fitting and proper to give you a quick thumbnail sketch of the man behind the byline. I’m a Vietnam veteran who served two extended tours (64-65, 67-68, including the Tet Offensive). I was an enlisted Army photographer during my second tour and had the luck and good fortune to take photographs during the Jan. 31, 1968 battle at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon that saw widespread use (including the cover shot on two books, shown here). That led to a job offer with a small newspaper to cover the Vietnam War and my subsequent career of 40-plus years in the news business.
Over the years, I’ve covered the U.S. military from the foxhole to the flight deck (and even inside the 16-inch main turret of the USS New Jersey during firing missions against North Vietnam), from Vietnam to Cambodia, Grenada to Panama, plus Capitol Hill and even the Pentagon. My byline has appeared in numerous publications including Army Times (where I was an associate editor for nearly 12 years) and Salute magazine, which I created and ran for 20 years. I’m a Life Member of the National Rifle Association, hold a Virginia concealed carry permit and am a proud honorary Life Member of both the 173rd Airborne Brigade and the Special Forces Association, Life Member of the American Legion and belong to numerous other military-related and Second Amendment-oriented organizations — not the least of which is the Sheepdog Society. There’s a bunch more, but I think you can see where I’m coming from.
But enough about me. Let’s take a look at an iconic firearm that performed a pivotal role in World War II and for years thereafter. It’s also a sterling example of how military firearms ended up in the gun safes of many, many civilian shooters — a true exercise of the Second Amendment. That firearm is the M-1 Garand.
The brainchild of a gifted Canadian-born inventor named John C. Garand, the M-1 rifle that bore his name played a huge role in the World War II victory over Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and the Japanese empire. How pivotal a role did it play? Consider these comments from two famous warriors, Gen. George S. Patton, America’s top tank general, and Audie Murphy, whose Medal of Honor and numerous other decorations caused him to be considered the most highly decorated soldier of that conflict.
Patton, in early 1945, called the M-1Garand rifle “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” That’s high praise from the fighting general who did so much to win the war. Murphy, according to A History of Innovation — U.S. Army Adaptation in War and Peace, from the Army’s Center of Military History, had this to say: “I believe in the force of a hand grenade, the power of artillery, the accuracy of a Garand.”
Garand developed the M-1 in the early 1930s. It was a huge improvement over the bolt-action rifles that the U.S. Armed forces used during World War I and after. “His advantage did not come from some leap in technology; his designs were consistently more simple, stable, and reliable than the competition,” A History of Innovation said. “By the late summer of 1933 the Army designated his weapon U.S. Semiautomatic Rifle, Caliber .30, M1. In January 1936 the Army adopted the M1 as its standard rifle.”
As a semiautomatic weapon, the M-1 Garand fired a shot every time the trigger was pulled and its eight-round clip was ejected when empty, leaving the bolt open. A new eight-round clip then was inserted into the internal magazine and when the bolt closed, the rifle was ready for action. Loading the M-1 involves a bit of a learning curve to avoid having your thumb pinched by the closing bolt — an effect termed “M-1 thumb.”
Besides the massive increase in firepower the Garand gave the ordinary foot soldier, the rifle also was a logistician’s dream because it kept the supply chain simple. The powerful .30-’06 round it fired already was used by other weapons in the U.S. military’s arsenal: the Springfield rifle, the Browning Automatic Rifle, or BAR, and its .30-caliber machine guns (both the air-cooled and water-cooled ones).
Although the M-1 Garand hadn’t replaced the venerable Springfield bolt-action rifle by the time the U.S. entered World War II, the new rifle soon saw widespread use by combat units. Its advantage over forces largely equipped with bolt-action rifles — like Germany’s for much of the war — were quickly apparent. The M-1 also gained a well-earned reputation for reliability despite battlefield exposure to dirt, sand and mud in locales ranging from Europe to the Pacific theater of war.
The Garand remained the U.S. military’s primary battle rifle through the Korean War and into the late 1950s. It was replaced by the M-14 rifle, which had a detachable magazine and fired the shorter .308 round; the M-14 later was replaced by the M-16 rifle. The Garand also was used by a number of foreign armies, including South Vietnam’s military until they were provided the lighter M-16 rifle as the U.S. began withdrawing forces under the Vietnamization Program. Select ceremonial units continue to use the Garand to this day.
But the Garand’s role in America’s defense was far from over. If each citizen is a potential member of an impromptu defense force to protect their towns and cities in the event of the gravest of circumstances, many, many thousands have the proven, reliable means to do so with a heavy battlefield rifle inside their gun safes: the M-1 Garand. If you meet the criteria, you may apply to purchase a used M-1 via the Civilian Marksmanship Program, or CMP, and add it to your collection.
Criteria include being a U.S. citizen eligible to own firearms and being part of a CMP-recognized gun club. You also must prove you have the knowledge to use a firearm (your DD-214 will suffice). Listed prices for M-1 Garands start at just over $700, according to the CMP website. You also may purchase surplus M-1 and other ammunition, when available, through the CMP. For further details, check out the CMP website at http://thecmp.org/ and download their catalog.
So don’t hesitate to take advantage of this chance to exercise your right to keep and bear arms by getting your own M-1 Garand. I keep one in my gun safe and it’s comforting to know that the rifle that played such an important part in our World War II victory stands ready to answer the call, if needed.