Spirit Of Cooperation And Team Play: 1940 National Matches

The last National Matches before the U.S. became involved in World War II, the 1940 competition was highlighted by the determination of NRA officials and competitors alike.

by
posted on June 13, 2024
1940 National Matches 3
Infantry Sergeant William Coffman won the 1940 National Individual Rifle Match.
NRA archive photo

“… it seemed far better to hold the Matches, regardless of handicaps, than to cancel them and risk the development of an inertia which might make it difficult to reinstate them in the future.”
The American Rifleman, November 1940

American Rifleman cover, July 1940
Capt. Paul J. Roberts and Paul, Jr., were photographed during a practice session on a California National Guard range in time to make the cover of The American Rifleman (July 1940). The younger Roberts, an aviator, was killed in action during World War II. The Lt. Paul J. Roberts, Jr., Trophy was given in his memory to be awarded to the highest scoring Air Force competitor in the National Trophy Individual Rifle Match.

 

The 1940 National Matches represented the last full-scale campaign prior to the United States entering World War II and proved to be a program characterized by resilience and resolve.

The satisfaction felt by officials after full federal appropriation for the National Matches was secured earlier than any in recent memory was offset when the Army General Staff recommended the event be canceled due to a conflict with essential training maneuvers scheduled for its regular troops and the National Guard. But with the assistance of Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall, NRA Executive Vice President Milton Reckord proposed a plan that delayed the start of the matches by two weeks and provided for auxiliary personnel in order to adequately staff the competition. Based on weather conditions alone, the move proved fortuitous, as the original two-week time frame was beset by steady rains.

Consequently, Col. Oliver Wood, in his second term as Executive Officer, directed a work force that included volunteers from the Ohio National Guard in place of the familiar Marine contingent and more reserve officers than usual. And while the delayed start allowed troops to participate, it prevented approximately 18 ROTC and CMTC teams from competing because colleges were in session. It also forced some civilian, National Guard and Reserve competitors to stay home when vacation and leave schedules could not be changed. But the turnout was impressive nonetheless, especially among unattached civilians and police officers, as instructional school enrollments met or surpassed previous figures. And despite the fact that students across the country were in school, the week of instruction for juniors still drew 137 participants. Overall, those in attendance welcomed the program change that placed all individual matches in the second week, rather than over a two-week span. This arrangement was a plus for those with limited vacation time and it also provided momentum for the final week, which was dedicated to team events.

Victories in three of the NRA’s more prominent big bore individual matches were claimed by shooters from different service branches, as Marine Lt. Edwin Hamilton won the Wimbledon, Cavalry Lt. Bogardus Cairns won the Leech and Infantry Cpl. Thaddeus Ferenc won the President’s. Civilian shooters made their mark, too, as 27 earned President’s Hundred recognition, and Fred Johansen’s prowess with the service rifle netted him the Marine Corps Cup and high finishes in both the Leech and Wimbledon. But nothing turned heads more than civilian wins in two of the three individual matches that called for the M1 Garand—the new service rifle that had only been available in National Match environs the week before during the Small Arms Firing School. Infantry Sgt. William Coffman won the National Individual Rifle Match, while his squad lost its two-year hold on the team title and finished second to the Marines.

Wailing wall at Camp Perry
Smallbore shooters gather at “the wailing wall”—the scoreboard—always one of the most popular meeting places at the National Matches.

 

“Every year sees more of the gentler and fairer sex engaging in every sport, and shooting is no exception … I haven’t heard any complaints from the men-folks, either. These shootin’ gals are not hard to look at—not hard at all!”
—Frank Kahrs column in Remington paper, October 1940

New to the results bulletins for pistol and smallbore were Woman’s Class and High Woman categories, respectively. And the last-minute provision of medals for women handgunners in the three new civilian school matches prompted The American Rifleman to state that, “Perhaps this reception will lead to the future award of medals to high scoring lady shooters in many of the more important matches on the National Match schedule.”

Harry Reeves, in his fourth trip to Camp Perry and representing the Detroit Police, earned the title of national pistol champion with his victory in the NRA All-Around Championship. Reeves’ accomplishment took place on a range where new equipment replaced the old system of arm waving and target pulling, as 102 “Bunnerlight” targets were electrically operated and timed. In addition, civilian attendance accounted for about 40 percent of the field and equaled the number of police competitors on hand for the first time.

“There is no use in trying to put into words the lure of Perry: you will never appreciate it until you go.”
The American Rifleman, August 1940

The 1940 National Matches program featured more civilians, many of whom matriculated to the matches as regional representatives through the NRA’s classification system. And regional champions earned the additional perk of traveling to the National Matches courtesy of the NRA.

Detroit police officer and Reeves teammate Al Hemming parlayed his regional pistol title into a victory in the NRA Grand Aggregate, while Mel Rogers of the Northwest region won the .22 title and led his U.S. Treasury team to two NRA team championships. Additionally, former police officer Joseph Corr of Philadelphia, Pa., won the National Individual Pistol Match, and the Infantry claimed its second national title in three years.

The number of smallbore entries silenced those who predicted that the change in match dates would result in a low shooter turnout as some matches posted increases of up to 30 percent over previous year counts. The 754 total entries was a National Match record. In the talent-laden field that vied for national honors, Dave Carlson of Connecticut finished at the top of the leaderboard with a 3187-177X in the Critchfield Aggregate, two better than runner-up John Moschkau. Carlson, a protegé of fellow Winchester employee and celebrated shooter, Jack Hession, was a Pershing Team veteran who had medaled at the World Championships in Finland three years earlier. Prior to the 1940 Camp Perry campaign, Carlson racked up seven consecutive grand aggregate wins in the northeast.

Besides the addition of the High Lady category, 1940 marked the first time for a separate national champion designation for the High Junior shooter. Adelaide McCord and John Symmes fired over the Critchfield course with the open competitors for the respective inaugural titles.

1940 National Matches Fact

Not one individual trophy was won by a representative of the service that originally presented it. The Navy and Coast Guard Cups were won by Marines, the Marine Corps Cup was won by a civilian and the Infantry Match was won by the Coast Guard.

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