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A Half Century and a Quarter Inch

My father’s first ship in the Korean war was a Japanese troop transport.  On the trip from Japan to Pusan, he was one, you might call it “first”, of many Americans.  On the trips back to Japan, he was often the only American with a crew that had spent WWII moving Japanese soldiers to fight Americans.  Sometime, between August and mid-September, 1950, a Marine Captain came to the Maru, looking for an American to take his 1903a3 rifle.  Dad passed on a bottle of Crown Royal, took the rifle, and ordered an inletted Bishop stock.  Sometime in his year on the Japanese Transport, he had a wood carver add a bear to the stock – posed along a stream, backed by mountains.  The stock was, and is, gorgeous.  The rifle, still military except for the stock. 

Dad often explained that the Maru was the best quarters he ever had – his own suite.  She was the world’s first fully air-conditioned ship when she was launched in1937.  Basically a luxury liner/ferry her WWII career was spent mostly crossing the sea of Japan to Korea – so it was an easy shift into transporting US troops to Korea with a US warrant officer in charge of a Japanese ship and crew. 

I took my first little buck with that rifle – I remember the instructions – set the sight at 200, hold dead on, there’s no wind.  From my teen years, I have appreciated the adjustments on the 03a3 – and much of my career was surveying, so estimating ranges came naturally.  Still, as an adult, I needed to find my own rifles, and Dad’s rifle was on his wall.

I was in South Dakota when I was sent home with Dad’s rifle.  I noticed that recoil had taken some small chips behind the tang, and that the trigger guard screw didn’t fill the tang.  Before I could do anything about it, colon cancer came along, and chemotherapy took the feeling from my hands.  My neighbor explained that the conversion was sloppy – the screws were ¼ inch too short.

Last year, I got back on the project.  I needed to find the right length for the screws . . . correctly they are called action screws, and I needed information.  It turns out that when they made the 1892 Krag-Jorgenson rifle, they made lots of screws for it – so many that when the model 1903 replaced it, they used those same screws on the 1903, with a blind threaded hole in the trigger guard.

When World War II came along, the 1903a3 was developed to be easier and cheaper to build – instead of a blind, threaded hole in the trigger guard, they drilled and threaded all the way through – and still used the 50-year-old Krag-Jorgenson screws.  Dad could never have found screws for a sporter conversion in Japan.  I bought replacement aftermarket screws from Brownells, and, for the first time, the screws fill the trigger guard . . . Dan Sorenson won’t tell me of the mistakes Dad made again.

This winter, I’ll get a little acraglass and bed the action.  I won’t try to cover up the chips around the tang – they are an honest part of the rifle’s history.  It is one of the last 1903a3 rifles produced.  I doubt if it was used in WWII.  I know it was briefly used by a Marine officer in Korea during 1950.  Since then it has been Dad’s deer rifle.  And next Fall, I will take it out again.

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