In a reversal of a directive made last year, the U.S. Army will allow the Fort Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad to retain its favored 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles, uses for military burials, instead of replacing them with World War II vintage M-1 Garands, per Army regulations.
The squad is known as an institution at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where more than 192,000 veterans and their families from as far back as the Civil War are buried. As many as 20 funerals are held there daily.
In late 2011, the Army announced its intent to replace the famed squad’s 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles it has used to provide military honors for nearly 60,000 burials in the past 3 decades. The new policy also limited the squad to 15 rifles, a decrease from the 50 it uses among five details.
The announcement didn’t set well with the squad’s devoted members, most of whom are aging veterans.
“What the heck is the problem?” said Tom Mullon, a 74-year-old Vietnam War-era veteran and 12-year volunteer for the squad, which fires off three rifle volleys followed by taps at veterans’ burials. “The whole squad is irked about it. We’re doing a job for the Army, and we don't cost them a nickel.”
And besides, the members said they prefer the classic Springfields.
“Springfields sound the best,” said Squad Commander Bill Nelson. “M-1s, they have a mellower sound. And we think it’s really a nice tribute to our veterans that we are having the honors for that they go out in style and class.”
The squad discovered an ally in Minnesota Congressman John Kline, a retired U.S. Marine colonel.
In December, Kline fired off a correspondence to Army Secretary John McHugh, praising the work of the rifle squad and requesting the Army “to take into account the sheer volume and use of the Ft. Snelling Squad’s ceremonial rifles and allow them to keep their current stock for the near term.”
The Army has since agreed the famous squad and its devoted members may retain the historic firearms to continue offering fitting tributes to those who faithfully served their country.
And this week Rep. Kline announced the introduction of the Honoring Our Nation’s Outstanding Rifle Squads (HONOR) Act to amend Title 10 of U.S. Code and allow the Secretary of the Army to loan or donate more than 15 excess rifles to eligible organizations like the American Legion and VFW to meet their needs.
For Rep. Kline, the issue boiled down to recognizing the Fort Snelling squad’s sacrifices for their fellow soldiers, sailors and Marines.
“As you talk to them you realize they’re all guys in their 70s and 80s,” he told the "Minneapolis Star-Tribune" in December. “They’re out there in the winter when it’s below zero. They’re out there all the time.”