The rifleman who went to war — to fix ‘em

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

A few months back, commenter Bruce mentioned Roy F. Dunlap’s Ordnance Went Up Front. It’s an odd mix of lighthearted stories about Dunlap’s time in World War 2 and dry details about the weapons fielded by both sides in both theaters:

This [book] isn’t really my fault: I was parked peacefully beneath a coconut palm splitting a banana with a monkey and wondering if I’d live through the coming invasion of Japan when some hopeful soldier who had attended mail call threw me a letter from T. G. Samworth, “who gets out the books on firearms,” starting everything. The monkey ate the envelope, and since he looked smarter than I felt, I asked him what I should do — tell the man the truth, or write him a gory story.

(Mr. Samworth had the idea I was the Second Rifleman to go to War, à la McBride.)

Anyway, I wrote and explained that I was usually the snipee instead of the sniper, and that there wasn’t much I knew to write about except small arms, which would be OK but for the fact that a batch of other guys had been doing the same thing all through the war, though it was evident that two-thirds of them never handled the items they publicized. Besides, I had to work for a living, instead of fighting — most of the time anyway — so I wasn’t glamorous. The answer was, in effect, “Write it up anyway, you’ve seen enough guns, in enough places, and know enough about them to make a book.” Besides, he offered money. So I then had a post-war project. This is it.


If the following manuscript can be classified at all, it must be as an elaborated technical diary of an American gun nut through the rifles, pistols and machine guns of World War II, both enemy and allied.

Dunlap was a competitive shooter before the war and an armorer during the war:

I’m the rifleman who went to war — to fix ‘em.

Again he cites McBride’s A Rifleman Went To War, one of the first great books about sniping by one of the first great snipers.

Most of the book is wry commentary, not dry gun specs:

  • We had a lot of good stuff and a lot of stuff not so good, but as a rule only about half the quantity or quality the home front thought we had.
  • The propaganda this country swallows would make Goebbels roll in his grave. In envy. He had suckers, but not so many.
  • I have a fine battle dress jacket so covered with insignia and bars and brassards it looks like a military store window showpiece, but I am now so wide I can’t wear it any more, so, as the man said, what price glory?
  • I’m satisfied. My malaria hasn’t bothered me for eight months; I wasn’t hurt too much by jungle rot although my ankles and feet and legs are now sort of a purplish-brown color; I didn’t get a Purple Heart, for which I am very happy, and though my joints complain sometimes that I slept on the ground a night or so too often, I’m not bad off. A lot of things could have happened to me that didn’t. I hated the army, but I didn’t mind the war so much.
  • This probably really started when I was about three years old, since somebody is pretty sure to have given me a toy gun about then. Business picked up when I grew up to six years and enough strength to operate an air rifle. At nine I altered one of them into a workable pistol, and have been maltreating guns ever since.


  1. Adar says:

    Normandy after D-Day entire American army units their task was to police the battlefield of abandoned M1 Garand, use steel wool and turpentine to refurbish the weapon into a use-able state.

  2. Bruce says:

    Jeff Cooper quotes this book a lot. I’m glad to see it here.

  3. Isegoria says:

    I’m no Colonel Cooper, but I’ll be quoting Dunlap’s book a lot over the next couple months.

Leave a Reply