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Seeing the above marking on the 1911 on another thread prompts me to ask this question. We often see stories of 'granddad's old service pistol' or the like. Were soldiers allowed to buy/keep their side arms when they left the service? Or was everything handed in then sold on to the civilian market later by the authorities?

Rio
 

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The only times a soldier was allowed to keep his firearm was senior officers were allowed to keep or purchase their pistols, and up until WWII US Marines were allowed to buy their rifles when they retired.

In the case of US Property pistols "brought home" they were simply stolen, which is why so many have the serial number and US Property stamps removed. People had this strange idea that if they removed the stamps no one could tell that the gun was a government issue firearm.

Surplus pistols were sold to the civilian market when they became surplus, so the US Property stamp doesn't necessarily mean it's a stolen gun.
A lot of Colt and S&W Model 1917 revolvers were sold in the 1960's as were .45 Automatics.

However, if a gun was "brought home" by a soldier, he stole it pure and simple.
Of course there are always VERY rare instances of rifles and possibly pistols given as awards or shooting trophy's, but these are extremely rare.
 

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I don't do much research on 20th century firearms, but I can tell you that after both the Civil War and Spanish American War soldiers could purchase their firearms. For example after the Spanish American War the War Department issued General Order No. 124, where Part IV of the order allowed men who were honorably discharged to retain their "obsolete" Colt revolvers and 45-70 Springfields at the price of $10 each. Miscellaneous equipment (such as holsters, waist belts, etc.) could also be purchased for nominal amounts.

I researched a soldier in the 10th Pennsylvania Infantry who fought in the Spanish American War / Philippine Insurrection. His Muster Out Role notes "Due U.S. for arms and equipments $11, cts .49."

John Gross
 

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In the case of the General Officer's pistols, the practice of presenting the officer a pistol upon attaining the rank of Brigadier General began in late 1943 or early 1944. Even though the pistol had been presented to the GO, upon retirement the GO had the option of either purchasing the pistol or turning it back in. Even a General Officer had to follow procedure in order to keep his pistol.

Since WWI at least, soldiers were not allowed to bring their weapons home, although many did find their way back. Over the years so many have been sold through the NRA/DCM as well as being imported from foreign countries that the UNITED STATES PROPERTY no longer has meaning as far as ownership. Beginning in 1915 NRA members could purchase a Model 1911 Pistol and a 1903 Rifle, the then current main battle pistol and rifle. They were marked with N.R.A. to identify them as having been purchased through the NRA rather than stolen. This practice was stopped with the outbreak of WWI. Beginning in 1922 the S&W Model 1917 Revolver could be purchased through the NRA/DCM, and beginning in 1925 the Colt Model 1917 Revolver could be purchased. The 1903 Rifle could be purchased in several configurations from the standard service rifle, to a National Match, to a Sporter beginning in 1921.

Stories abound on how a pistol was given to a soldier by his commanding officer, but it didn't happen legally if at all. Even captured enemy weapons were suppose to have a certificate allowing them to be returned to the U.S. legally.
 

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Thanks df - so what were the penalties for "losing" a pistol, as I presume that was the only way it could be explained?

Rio
One assignment during my Army life was serving as a Property Book Officer (PBO). In non-Army terms, this meant I was the chief accountant for all US property assigned to my organization. This US property ranged from tanks, helicopters, artillery pieces to trucks, tents, field latrines and all weapons. As regards individual weapons, each and every one was accounted for by means of a hand receipt. This was a document that legally bound that weapon to somebody. Company Commanders, for example, regularly inventoried every weapon assigned to his/her unit. Each weapon was then sub-hand receipted to the individual soldier by means of a weapons card. When a troop drew a weapon, he handed the card, usually to the armorer, who in turn issued the weapon and held the card until the troop returned the weapon. This "paper trail" was crucial.

Commanders were responsible for a daily "rack count" of all weapons. Any weapon not secured in the arms vault had better have the corresponding weapons card with the assigned soldier's name and weapon serial number on it retained in the vault. Since weapons were considered Sensitive Items, Commanders were also responsible for a monthly 100% inventory of every weapon by serial number. Any discrepancies had to be immediately addressed, even if it meant a unit "lockdown" until the weapon was found or accounted for. If, for some reason, a weapon could not be found or accounted for, the consequences were dire indeed. Failing everything else, the weapon would be reported as lost to the Army's Criminal Investigative Division (CID), with an ensuing criminal investigation. This would inevitably involve the FBI in the national or worldwide watch for the missing weapon. A Report of Survey would also be initiated and the blame would be assigned to somebody, oftentimes the Commander. The guilty could expect to pay for it, either in cash, or through a payroll garnishment.

I said all that to say this: I saw a few careers destroyed because of a weapons loss. I knew of no Commander who was willing to risk a career and criminal conviction by letting a soldier take his weapon home after military service. The few I've known who say they left with their weapon are either lying or better be watching over their shoulder for the Feds. The "paper trail" always leads to the last known owner. Hope this dissertation was not too lengthy for everyone. Just wanted to inject a bit of personal experience into this neat thread.
 

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Ed,
Thanks for the expert explanation of firearms inventory control in the Army.
Your explanation squares exactly with my experience in the service in the mid-late seventies while stationed in Germany with the 1st Infantry Division.

A couple of stories...
Once while on maneuvers, one of the jeep drivers lost his .45. It slipped out of its leather holster and he lost it in the woods. Apparently he had gone on maneuvers with no lanyard tied to his pistol.
For a day, his squad ceased all other duties and looked for that pistol in the woods. Fortunately they found it.
On another occasion while out on maneuvers, One of the lieutenant executive officers of a company in our Infantry Battalion, woke up and his rifle was missing from his tent!
I had heard through the grapevine that he had a reputation of being rather harsh and unbending to the men of his Company. Once it was discovered the rifle was missing, the Company he was assigned to halted all other duties and began looking for the rifle. They found it later in the day, hanging in a tree by its' sling.
Here's my old army weapons receipt card. It's signed by the Company Commander on the back. Not sure why I still have it as it was supposed to be turned in when I left the service.

Kim


 

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Ah, yes, Kim......... The trusty old DA Form 3749. I also see you served with not just the Big Red One, but also the 1st Battalion of the16th Infantry Regiment. A very proud, respected and distinctive outfit. The very first American outfit to touch French soil on Normandy, June 6th, 1944. My hat is off to you and the men and women who served in the 16th. Thank you very much for continuing and furthering our nation's freedom!

PS: Kim, I suppose the fact that you still have your weapons card proves that you did indeed return your weapon to the Army, right? Ha!
 

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Yes there was tight control but I also surmise there were opportunities in the aftermath of battle. Debris from battlefields including U.S. gear and weapons was picked up and recycled. It is possible at that time some US weapons were pilfered and sent home.However i also have heard stories from ww2 navy veteran s who insist they were directed to pitch excess equipment into the ocean post-war. In that type situation, it would have been easy to rationalize taking some of the stuff home.Kim
 

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When I was in USMC Bootcamp we pad locked out rifles to our racks (metal bunk beds for you civvies). and they were adammant about the rifles, which were M14s being locked. Even though we were recruits the DIs would pound into our heads, sometimes litterally (sortoff), to NEVER give your rifle to anybody, not even another DI. Of course they meant if you were posted on guard or going from point A to point B.

They weren't worried about the recruit stealing the gun as much as losing it, and the M14 is technically a machine gun because of its full aouto capability.
 

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My ex-wife's father was an armorer in the US Army during WWII. My ex-wife told me about two guys in suits that came to their door in the late 1950s looking for an M1 Garand. Her father got it out of the back of a closet and handed it to them. They checked the serial number with their paperwork and left with the rifle.

I spent twenty-two years in the military including time in Viet Nam. We had to turn in any captured weapons. I hear stories about guys bringing weapons home, but it would have been a court-martial if we were caught.
 

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During times of war the controls were not nearly as strict, and it was easy to write a weapon off. At the end of WWI it was estimated that 165,000 pistols and revolvers were missing.

I talked to the grandson of a WWI vet that stayed in the military following the war. He got out in 1923, and when he turned in his issue Model 1911 the person in supply ask if he would like to have a Model 1917 Revolver to take home, which he did.
 

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What about a soldier picking up another KIA soldier's weapon and securing it for his own personal needs and simply not turning it in ? would not the "paper trail" end with the death of the soldier ?
 

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Don't forget about the sales programs run by the NRA, the NBPCRP, the DCM and the CMP - all legitimately selling US Property rifles and pistols of all types and eras - including Trapdoors.

Plus, if you knew how, and were willing to do 'all' of the requisite paperwork - you could buy from Ordnance, but it was a major pain, unless you were walked through the process.

That saw stuff like Winchester Model 70s come out of the woodwork, as well as other things of interest that Uncle Sam bought and decided against, for one reason or another.

After the GCA of 1968, it got harder, but if you were military - it was still a do-able thing.

My personal favorite stories involve the WWII bring-backs of the M1 Carbines.

You know - the ones with all five (count 'em, five) Modification Work Orders) that didn't happen until the Postwar rebuild.

Taking home a WWII Carbine 'at that time' was the equivalent of taking home a Norden Bombsight.

To say it was frowned upon is an understatement...

A lot of US-issue stuff came home from Vietnam, too - all from Marvin the ARVN and PHILCAG and any other US-supplied 'allies' we'd had at the time - all 'our' stuff could be had for a price, since they could get more and more and more - but the big problem was in getting it home - a problem often surmounted by 'knowing a guy' who flew for a living...

Did purloined stuff come home in dufflebags and seabags?

Good Lord, yes, - GIs, Zoomies, Swabbies and Jarheads are notoriously opportunistic thieves, as all COs and MPs know - but after a war, no one cared all that much.

Later, we got a tighter handle on things - and once the Automated Property Book came into being, a lot of pilferage just stopped, because it was too easy to track the serial numbered gear and sensitive items regularly, and not make changes, as could be done with the old Manual Property Books.
 

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Another twist. What about the detectives specials and official police revolvers that letter as being shipped to the "U.S. Govenment" MIC/MID, OSS, etc?
Soem of these have no indication other than a letter. How were these accounted for.Ron
 

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Some went to various agencies that eventually surplused them out when newer weapons were purchased.

More than a few PDs were armed postwar with Victory Models and Commandos, and as commercial production came back online, they were relegated to the rookies and reserve guys and sold, given or traded off.

Back then, they weren't considered to be 'collectable' by any stretch of the imagination - they were considered to be 'old'.
 

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My shooting instructor was a WWII Naval aviator, they pushed his shot up dive bomber over the side, he claimed the Colt 1911-A1 went over with it, but it did not! I saw it! My gunsmiths father was a storemaster on a liberty ship, taking soldiers home after the end of WWII. A GI came to him and turned in a mint "extra" Garand to him because he got cold feet about being searched at the dock. My gunsmith has it still.
 
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