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Friday, June 13, 2014

Hickok45 M1918 Browning BAR - Saying Goodbye



I'd love one of the M1918-XE3's.  That is the one with the 18 inch barrel, pistol grip reduced rate of fire, only 450 RPM and semi-auto capability.  And it had the capability to be scoped easily and also used the flip up peep sights.

However, the only ones of those I've seen were made in the Philippines, where the Navy S.E.A.L.s armorers took standard M1918's and modified them.  They were also the ones who made a 30 and 40 round magazine for the BAR.
And I've only seen pictures of the BAR's in question.

Now you are probably wondering where I got that particular info about the BAR's, the Navy S.E.A.Ls and the Philippines..  And where did I see the pictures?

Many years ago, I got a job with a gentleman who owned a small gun shop that specialized in black powder firearms.  I worked for him about a year before I met his daughter and married her a year after that.  However back to the BAR's.  Gary, my Boss/Father in Law, had a wide range of customers.  The shops specialty was black powders firearms, but he carried and worked on modern stuff as well.  But 85 to 90 percent of what we did was all black powder firearms., Muzzle loading rifles and pistols, cap and ball revolvers, we had some of the first in line ignition black powder rifles in the state of Missouri.  We also had many many many many original antique firearms.  How about original Trapdoor Springfields.  Many of the were put together from parts of other rifles but all of the parts WERE original, not reproductions.  Old Remington Rolling Blocks in .43 Spanish that would easily grade out as 80% or better, of course we also had some that would be lucky to grade out above 60%.  We just had a LOT of old firearms.  Thanks to our Antiques guy.  He would go all over the Midwest and down the east coast into Florida, stopping at auctions and estate sales along the way.  Gary made sure he had a notarized letter authorizing him to purchase for the shop and a stack of signed copies of the store's FFL, oh and LOTS of business cards.

He would be gone 3, 4 sometimes 7 months out of the year.  And when he came back he always had such cool stuff for us to sell.  Like a small bronze mountain howitzer that we had to totally refurbish and rebuild the carriage and ammo crates for.  Finding the proper European walnut and oak for that job was hard, time consuming and rather expensive.  After we were done with it it was sold for just over 14k.

Now by now you are probably saying "Get to the point, the BAR's", the point is the guy who bought the Mountain Howitzer and also the Browning Citori O/U Shotgun and many other firearms we had is/was retired US Navy.  He retired as a Commander back in the mid 80's.  He originally though was a Chief Petty Officer in the S.E.A.L.s during the Vietnam War.  However while he was a S.E.A.L./UDT he never served in Vietnam proper.  He spent most of his time in the Philippines as a trainer and armorer for the training detachment.  He came into the shop one rather hot day wearing a suit which I had never seen him do before and carrying an old ratty soft brown leather briefcase.  He just walked through the shop looking at this and that, he'd carefully set down his case to pick up one of our interesting pieces, then pick it back up.  He'd been in the store maybe 45 minutes looking at stuff while I worked, re-timing an old cap and ball kit pistol that someone had dropped off the day before.

He finally came up and watched me work on that 1851 Navy, put it together, cock it slowly to check the timing, grab my feeler gauge to check the bolt, tear it down and then file a few strokes from the cylinder hand and put it back together to check it again.  He watched me for about 15 minutes when I finally got everything to mesh the way it was supposed to and I tore it down again to clean it up and cold blue the new parts.  He had asked me how I got all the parts to look so old like they were originals even though it was a modern reproduction kit gun, and I told him my tricks for it.  He laughed and started talking to me about what he did when he was in the Navy.

That was how I learned about a young man who joined the Navy to be a UDT like his father had during World War Two.  How he tried and tried to get into the UDT training but instead found himself working as a machinist on a Destroyer Escort off the East Coast and constantly having to remake and rebuild the same parts over and over as his ship was one of the few DE's left over from WWII and there were no spares available.  So he had to make them.  He told me about how he got involved with repairing firearms after his ship assisted the Coast Guard and 3 of the Garands the sailors of his ship used were found to be rusted so badly the operating rods were seized up and he found himself machining new parts as a favor to the Leading Petty Officer.  That favor got him reassigned to shore duty and Small Arms Armorers school.  But he still tried to get into the UDT training.

His chance came 2 weeks after he graduated from the armorers school in the top 5 of the class.  It seemed the action in Vietnam was starting to heat up and the Navy needed some more manpower.  So he volunteered and found himself accepted for the training.  He told me that the training was the hardest thing he had ever done in his entire life up until that time.  And that there were many times he had wanted to just quit, but his desire to make his dad proud of him helped him to push on through.  He finally graduated from the training as Petty Officer First Class.  He didn't get his Eagled Trident then just his Diver's badge and the standard UDT anchor/trident.  He wouldn't get his "Budweiser" until after he got to the Philippines.

Because of his two specialties, Machinist and Armorer he got assigned to building or modifying weapons and equipment that the UDT's and S.E.A.L.s needed for their expanded role in S.E. Asia.  He told me he rather enjoyed the work but he wanted to get in on the action and while he requested many time to be transferred to an operational team, they kept in in California for awhile then later in Hawaii, where he found himself talking with returning teams and finding out what worked, what didn't and how things could be improved.

That was when he opened his leather briefcase and pulled out a binder full of photos.  As he went through the photos, he showed me pics of some really unusual things he and the other people he worked with made up.

A shotgun to throw a line silently up to 150 yards, a pair of pliers/wirecutters with a sharpened edge on one side for using like a knife, a modified air rifle that could shoot darts that had small radio microphones, it would shoot hard enough to set the dart without damaging the electronics.  A collapsing crossbow that could be put back together and strung without tools, and a whole bunch of other things.

That is where I saw the picture of the BAR.  He told me they had cut them down like Bonnie and Clyde had done, put on a pistol grip and modified the buttstocks on some cutting them down and modifying the wire stock from an M3.  In all I saw about 14 pictures of those modified BARs, and he said they had only made up about 30 of them although there was talk of submitting it for formal adoption.

Me personally, I want one of those 30 BARs.  Because he told me that all of them had his inspector proof mark on them, if you ever find one and it has TJ stamped on the receiver on the left side up where the barrel enters the receiver, he was one of the people who built it up.

Now for the sad part.  The reason he was wearing a suit.  He had just come from a Wake for a friend of his, and he had also found out he himself was dying.  Pancreatic Cancer.

I only saw him one more time after that and it was in town.  He was in a wheel chair and looked as if he had lost 40 or 50 lbs.  He looked up and saw me, he gave me a smile and a brief wave, then the door to the van closed.

And I never saw him again after that.

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