A feel-good story for Veterans Day

This report brought a smile to my face.

A 90-year-old World War II veteran, who described being a Marine as the “high point” of his life, has been reunited with his M1 Garand rifle after 73 years.

Resident Dick Cowell was 18 and the war was in full swing when he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was handed a uniform, the rifle and some bullets.

The firearm, his sergeant told him, was now his girlfriend, his wife and his friend. He had to take it everywhere with him, he was told. And he should never, ever call it a gun — unless he wanted to stand naked in front of his company. It was a mistake he only made once.

This Veterans Day, the old Marine is reconnecting with the dented, scratched rifle that became his third arm during the war. Today, it’s a historic relic that is bringing his family closer.

“It’s my baby,” Cowell said of the rifle. “I am very appreciative that Richard was able to find it after 73 years.”

. . .

Richard, who lives in Tequesta, spent six months hunting down the rifle after finding a white piece of paper with the word “Springfield” written in cursive followed by the serial number “3594593” in his father’s desk … A New Jersey gun collector was selling it, and after Richard outbid a tough competitor, the firearm was his.

“The rifle spent two weeks in my room before I gave it to my father,” Richard said. “I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I couldn’t believe it was finally ours.”

In late October, Cowell’s 11-year-old grandson, Tommy, presented him with the rifle. Holding the dark-brown wooden firearm, which weighs nearly 11 pounds, Cowell was flooded with memories of his first day of target practice.

“When I first fired this weapon, I tell you, it was something else,” Cowell said with a grin.

. . .

“(Finding) this rifle opened up an entirely new life for this family,” Richard said, looking at his dad. “My father has remembered things from the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s that we’ve never heard before.”

There’s more at the link, including several photographs that are worth seeing.  Mr. Cowell certainly collected an impressive number of marksmanship medals with that rifle!

Sadly, that sort of attachment to, and memories of, a personal weapon doesn’t seem to apply in an age of “plastic fantastic” firearms.  I can remember the rifles I used in military service, but none of them held any particular attachment for me.  They were just modern assault rifles, stamped steel and pressed wood and plastic, with no “soul” to speak of.  My father’s generation, on the other hand, regarded their Lee-Enfields and Garands and Mausers with real affection.  They were just as mass-produced as modern rifles, but somehow they had more individuality in the eyes of their users than their modern equivalents.  The same appears to be true of handguns.  Talk to an aficionado about his 1911 pistol or Single Action Army revolver, and one can almost see a mist of affection pass over their faces.  No-one speaks of a Glock or XD or M&P in that way.

I’m glad Mr. Cowell has been reunited with his rifle.  May it pass down through the generations of his descendants, to remind them that their ancestor was a fighting man.



  1. Wish I could remember the serial number of the M-14 I had in basic training. Sadly none have been released as surplus, not even the semi only versions we had, at least that I know of. Perhaps I should drop hints to my son that an M1A would be a suitable substitute.

  2. It would probably be a rare soldier or Marine whose affection for a Mattel-inspired assemblage of parts from the lowest bidder would be sufficient to form such an attachment, especially after it's spent a tour or two in the sandbox, but nonetheless it seems to me each service member should be offered the opportunity to keep, at public expense, his personal weapon upon retirement or honorable discharge, the NFA be damned.

    What we do with the guys who fly F-18s and B-52s for a living and the Abrams drivers, I'm not sure, but they're certainly welcome in my neighborhood.

  3. I saw a link to this story on your blog at Gorge's blog. Good story, and it does sum up well the difference between the old guns, made with such care and attention to detail, and the new ones, just extruded on some machine.

  4. I used to remember the serial number of the M-1 (non-functioning) from Great Lakes, IL bootcamp circa 1989 that I was issued. Chief Brewer and MM1 Kepner made us carry our rifles everywhere (except chow, where they were stacked neatly outside the mess hall with a guard posted, and while using the head), and we slept with the rifles every night. During PT tests, the rifles were checked into the "armory" in the stairwell of the barracks, consisting of wooden racks with crossbars and locks.

    God help the man that rolled over in the night and dropped his rifle on the deck! Fire and security watch was to keep a log of anyone making that mistake.

    I don't remember the error anymore but our punishment was done out on the "grinder", each recruit holding their rifle by the barrel one-armed at chest height out in front of them. Chief and/or MM1 would wait until most everyone couldn't hardly hold the rifle up with their right arm, then tell everyone to switch to holding with their left arm. After a couple repetitions, when almost no one could lift their rifle anymore, we held the rifle between us so that you helped your mate hold the rifle at chest height. I don't remember if we were out there for 15 minutes or an hour, I just remember that we never repeated the same mistake.

    Blue Tile Spook, CTO3
    Company 13, 13th Division, graduated on Friday the 13th.

  5. I may be mistaken, but I think part of why soldiers are not so connected to their firearms nowadays is that once their daily patrol is completed, the firearm is returned to a rack. Soldiers in 'Olden Tymes' had their firearm by their side constantly, even when camped out. Remember, soldiers were in the field most of the time, rather than nowadays where the soldier stays overnight in the barracks. Almost like an apartment, only way more people.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. Could be way off base.

  6. anon @12:01 has a point about them not often being armed. Even if they have the weapon, they probably don't have ammo. Since at least Vietnam, but probably WW2, the military brass has a fear of armed soldiers, so the only time they have access to a functional weapon is when they cross the wire for patrol. Period.

    The earliest mention of disarming soldiers I have seen was one of the Japanese held islands we invaded that had an airstrip. The brass decided that there was no threat, and disarmed a group, who were shortly overrun by a Japanese attack by surviving defenders. I suspect this sort of mentality originated from MacArthur, who had no qualms about attacking former soldiers in DC, during the Bonus Army situation in the 1930's. I'm surprised that he, Patton, and Eisenhower survived to enter the war, after that disgraceful episode.

  7. The M-14 I carried as a cadet was S/N 1256007, rack # 106.
    When SGM Higa told you to remember something you damnn well remembered it.

  8. David Lang Says

    @Will, At Perl Harbor, soldiers could not shoot back at the attacking aircraft because the ammo lockers were closed and the people with the keys weren't available.

    The military spent a lot more time in the field back in those days, but when in permanent facilities, they didn't keep their rifles with them all the time either.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *