Quote of the Day
The measure of leadership is not the quality of the head, but the tone of the body. The signs of outstanding leadership appear primarily among the followers.
— Max De Pree, businessman and writer
When I was a boy, I read the memoir To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy and was very impressed with his accomplishments as an infantry soldier during WW2 (Figure 1). It is a very American tale – a dirt poor teenager from a family with a dead mother and missing father accomplishes amazing feats through sheer determination and force of will. He later starred in a movie version of his book that is well worth watching. I should mention that the book tells a better tale than the movie.
I recently read that the US Army had recovered his favorite rifle, which was an M1 carbine. The M1 carbine was shorter and much lighter than the infantry's standard M1 Garand. The carbine was usually carried by troops who had limited space available (e.g. tankers) or who had to carry other things (e.g. radiomen, paratroopers). For example, my father was a radioman and he carried an M1 carbine. In Murphy's case, he carried many different weapons but appeared to prefer the M1 carbine. The story of its recovery is a testament to the power of modern database technology. The key to recovering the rifle was an interview with Murphy that provided a key piece of information – the serial number of the rifle.
When Murphy had the rifle, it certainly had certainly seen better days. The explosion of a nearby mortar round had damaged it, and Murphy did a field‑expedient repair on it using a wire. He continued to use the rifle, which he referred to as his "wounded carbine". I have read that at various times Murphy had used a Thompson sub-machine gun, an M1 Garand, and the M1 carbine. He must have really liked this rifle because, during a 1967 interview, Murphy mentioned its serial number, 1108783 (Figure 2). Over six million of these rifles were produced during WW2, but that serial number provided a means for uniquely identifying that rifle.
The exact story of how the rifle left Murphy's possession is unclear. It appears that Murphy was wounded by a sniper on 25-Oct-44. Thinking that the wound may send him home, Murphy gave his rifle to a sergeant who hoped that the carbine would bring that him luck. Unfortunately, most of that sergeant's platoon was wiped out the following day. It is believed the rifle was recovered from the battlefield by the US Army, properly repaired, and put into storage. When you think of US government storage, think of a warehouse similar to that shown at the end of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (Figure 3). It seems like a miracle that this specific rifle could be pulled out of a warehouse decades after the war, but it really happened. A person at the Center of Military History Clearinghouse at the Anniston Army Depot did a database search for that serial number, got a hit, and the rifle was found (Source).
Figure 4 shows the rifle in its museum display today. I should mention that another movie, Carbine Williams, was made that involved the M1 carbine. It is the story of a convict, Marsh Williams , who created the basic operating mechanism of the gun while serving time in a North Carolina prison. If you are curious about the four rifles he designed while in prison, see this Wikipedia paragraph.
I do have my own tale of trying to recover something from government storage, but it is much less interesting. Back in the early 1990s, I worked on the development of a very small sonar system that used low-voltage ceramic transducers. The US Navy paid $30 million for the development of this technology, which worked but the Cold War was ending and they decided not to pursue the technology any further. We sent the sonar system to the US Navy for storage. A few years ago, I got a call from a contractor who was wondering if I knew how to find the sonar system because the US Navy wanted to resurrect the project. I told him the name of the government employee that was sent the unit – I was concerned that he may have retired. The contractor called me back two weeks later and said that the government employee was still working, and he had the sonar system in his office! It never went into storage because it looked so cool that he had decided to use it as a doorstop. The $30 million doorstop was returned to the contractor, who found that it still worked, and he used it to pursue further development of the technology. I chuckle just writing that – $30 million doorstop.