John F. Kennedy’s M1 Garand Rifle
By Joel Kolander
The War Department Appropriations Bill of 1903 established many things, but the one that begins our story today is its founding of the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice. Teddy Roosevelt was in office at the time and his enthusiasm for the shooting sports, and this bill, also gave rise to the National Rifle and Pistol Trophy Matches. Needless to say, the government wanted its citizens proficient in firearms use, perhaps spurred on by the recently ended Spanish-American War (1899) and the numerous other conflicts in which America involved itself in the Caribbean, Pacific islands, and Central America (a.k.a. “The Banana Wars”).
By 1905, Teddy has signed off on “Public Law 149,”which permitted the sale of surplus military rifles, ammo, and equipment, at cost, to qualified rifle clubs. This was followed by the National Defense Act in 1916. Watching the Europeans immerse themselves in the Great War, in addition to Pancho Villa’s raid in New Mexico, gave America cause for concern despite President Woodrow Wilson’s re-election campaign slogan of, “He kept us out of the war.” The NDA, an update of the Militia Act of 1903, expanded the National Guard and Army, basically prepared the United States for eventual war, and authorized the War Department to distribute guns and ammunition to the qualified rifle clubs. It also opened military ranges to civilians and even gave funds to keep all those ranges open. Many of the responsibilities for these arms and ranges were under the umbrella of the “Office of the Director of Civilian Marksmanship” (DCM), which was in turn administered by the Army. In 1996, when the Army decided it had better things to do, this would turn into it’s own private, non-profit company, officially named the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice & Firearms Safety, better known today as the CMP (“Civilian Marksmanship Program”).
Senator Kennedy Gets A Garand Rifle
Back in 1959, the Director of Marksmanship for the CMP was Colonel John K. Lee Jr, a man who very likely would have been made aware that a young upstart senator from Massachusetts had been selected to receive an M1 Garand rifle. That senator was John F. Kennedy. At that time, the DCM was distributing the rifles based on a lottery system, with only several hundred to a thousand being sold in a given year. Many folks would wait years for a random Garand rifle selected from the surplus kept at various depots, but it appears that Kennedy’s clout granted him quick access to the very desirable rifles, and a very special one at that.
This M1 started from one of those depots, the Erie Ordnance Depot in Port Clinton, OH to be precise, but was far from a random selection. The Garand rifle picked for Senator Kennedy bears a late production 6+ million serial number and is a Type 1 National Match M1 Garand rifle, that has been rebuilt to a Type 2. After the NM rifle “happened” to be selected for Kennedy, it also “happened” to make its way to Master Sergeant Raymond E Parkinson, a gunsmith assigned to the Second U.S. Army Advanced Marksmanship Unit at Ft. George C. Meade in Maryland. Once there, much of the work took place that can be seen on the rifle to this day. In fact, Colonel Lee was kind enough to detail such changes in a letter he sent to Senator Kennedy after the rifle was received. The modifications, as listed in the communication, are:
Adjusted the trigger in order to provide an exacting trigger pull for each shot fired.
Blued all metal parts to prevent rust and enhance the beauty of the weapon.
Applied a moisture-proof silicon finish to the stock.
Applied a glass-bedding compound to the recoil shoulders of the stock in order to enable the rifle to maintain its accuracy.
Air-tested the bore for correct calibration and flaws.
Test-fired the rifle in a sitting position at 200 yards.
“For your information, Mast Sergeant Parkinson did the test firing and the target is enclosed. The rifle was not test-fired from a cradle because the gun smiths did not want to scar the stock, however, the test proved conclusively that the rifle is very accurate and as good as any rifle used at the National Matches.”
Provenance of JFK’s Garand Rifle
Even the effort to not mar the stock by firing it from a cradle clearly shows the utmost car taken in creating this gun for Kennedy. Thankfully, the documentation of the rifle’s journey has also been preserved. Accompanying this Garand rifle are a copy of the original DD1348 form noting that it was shipped to Senator Kennedy in October of 1959, the copy of the aforementioned memorandum from Colonel Lee to Kennedy, the actual 200 yard test target shot by MSG Parkinson, and a copy of the letter of appreciation that Kennedy wrote to MSG Parkinson thanking him for his work and attention to the rifle.
This Garand rifle has attracted its fair share of attention over the years. The May 1967 issue of “The American Rifleman” featured an article on the rifle written by MSG Parkinson himself called, “A Letter Of Appreciation For A Rifle.” In it, he states that he had no idea who the rifle was for and that, just like anyone else, a random rifle was chosen for the task. He writes, “As no substitution could be made even for someone in Congress, the Colonel [Carpenter] indicated that if I could fix up the piece in my off-duty time, it would reflect a helpful attitude and would be appreciated by the gentleman for whom the M1 was destined.” Also mentioned by Parkinson is the custom made shipping and storage crate he created for this special request rifle, which still accompanies it to this day.
The rifle was also requested by the NRA Firearms Museum in September of 1970 in order to display it an exhibit that showed “a few selected firearms owned by Presidents and other notables.” The letter is included in this lot, as is the letter of the receipt from October 1970 when the Garand rifle was received by the NRA Firearms Museum and temporarily housed there.
Since this M1 Garand was obtained almost a year before he would be elected to the Presidency, it is entirely possible that this very rifle followed Kennedy into the White House. This is an amazing firearm worthy of the finest collections of U.S. military arms, M1 Garand rifles, and even Kennedy memorabilia. It is a rare chance to own a personal possession of the beloved veteran, congressman, and president.
Parkinson, R. E. “A Letter of Appreciation For A Rifle.” American Rifleman Oct. 1967: 40. Print.