MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More than a dozen times a day, five days each week, they give their time to give fallen veteran a fitting and final honor. Fort Snelling’s memorial rifle squads have been attending the burials of veterans since the unit was formed in 1979.
At each burial, the rifle squad will fire off a 21-gun salute using WW1 vintage Springfield O3A3 bolt action rifles. Squad members say the rifles are safe and simple to load.
Recently, however, the squad learned that the U.S. Army is demanding that the unit turn over the government-issued rifles and exchange them for a different model.
“The Army says, ‘no you can’t use those any more. We’re going to ask you to bring those rifles to us or send them to us,'” explained squad member Tom Mullen.
Not only is the Army demanding to get the older rifles back, it says rules will restrict any unit to a maximum of 15 rifles. The Fort Snelling rifle squad currently has 45 Springfield rifles assigned to all five teams that comprise the squad. Administrators at Fort Snelling were informed that they have exceeded authorization under title 10 of federal code, 4683, which limits the number of rifles loaned to any veteran’s organization.
In addition, the Army wants to exchange the Springfield rifles for the M1 Garand. To any World War II era soldier, the gun is widely known to smash the inattentive thumb when being loaded.
“It irks the hell out of me,” saud memorial rifle squad charter member, George J. Weiss, Jr.
Weiss says the Army’s insistence to dictate the maximum number and kind of ceremonial rifle they can use screams of bureaucratic ignorance.
Furthermore, Weiss explained, if they don’t comply with the Army’s directive, they will lose their access to blank ammunition.
“They don’t know what we’re doing. And if they’d come out and check to see what we’ve done in the past, I think the attitude would change,” Weiss said.
However, until that happens, squad members vow to continue doing what they’ve done 59,620 times since the squad’s inception in 1979. They will keep honoring fallen comrades with a volley of 21 shots, fired from a rifle they trust.