It was a great relief when we were moved into North Unit for the more advanced part of our training. Now we were eligible for liberty on weekends. We also did not have to wear the canvas leggings every day and were attending classes at Gravely Hall.
Our North Unit curriculum was quite comprehensive. It included types of ships, types of aircraft, small arms (including rifle and pistol qualification on the firing range), whaleboat rowing, semaphore, Morse code with blinker lights, marlinspike seamanship (knots and line splicing), and ships organization.
It was on the firing range at rifle practice that I scored a minor triumph. We were taught the various position from which to fire and our first firing was from the prone position. To an old squirrel hunter that was duck soup as it was a lot surer than firing offhand as I was used to doing.
We were given a clip of five rounds of ammunition to fire at a target seventy-five yards away. The paper target was about four feet across and the black bullseye in the center was as large as a dinner plate. I did not see how anyone could miss it if the sights on the rifle were any good.
I adjusted the rear peep sight on the old Springfield and, at the command to fire, zeroed in on the center of the bullseye. My shot hit the black so counted as a bullseye but was low and to the left of center when the little marker came up out of the pit to show the hit. I adjusted for that and my next three shots were comfortably close to the center. After my last shot however, the red flag (known as “Maggie’s Drawers”) waved back and forth indicating that I had missed the entire target.
I was appalled. There was no way I could have missed the four-foot square at that distance. At the cease fire I hailed the CPO in charge of the firing line. “Sir,” I said flatly, “there was no way I could miss that big target at this distance. Could we please have a closer look at it?”
He agreed and phoned the gun butt. A seaman came trotting up the range with my target. We spread it on the ground. There was the first shot, in the black, but a little low and to the left. Three other holes near the center of the bullseye could have been covered with a silver dollar. There was no trace of the fifth shot until we looked closely at the three in the center. One hole was slightly elongated.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” the CPO exclaimed. “You hit another hole and they overlooked it! Can you do that again?”
Another target was put up and I fired another clip, this time calling out the location of the hit before the marker came up. All five shots were comfortably in the black. The chief petty officer was so delighted that he called the firing range officer, a lieutenant jg, to come and see what I was doing.
“Only one other man this year could shoot like that,” the CPO said. “Guy came through here this spring.
I chuckled. “Five will get you ten that was my brother Dick. Came through here last April. We grew up shooting squirrels. He’s a better shot than I am.”
While I was off the firing line watching, I was amazed at how many times Maggie’s Drawers were waved. I simply could not understand how anyone could miss that huge target. Not until I went on the pistol range, that is. Never having been permitted to practice with a hand gun, I could not hit the broad side of a barn with that heavy military 45-caliber automatic.