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Talking mud and weird guns with Ian and Karl

While at SHOT, I ran into Ian and Karl and managed to shanghai them into a meeting room to talk about what the mud tests over at InRangeTV and, of course, some Forgotten Weapons…

Yours for Democracy…

A very proud Doughboy, and recent college graduate, armed with a brand new Enfield M1917 30.06 rifle and ready to go “Over There.”

The back of this photo was signed “Forrest G. Johnson, Yours for Democracy.”

Forest Griffin Johnson, Student and World War I Veteran, Storer College, Harpers Ferry, W. Va

Via Harpers Ferry National Historical Park:

Forrest Griffin Johnson was born in Bolivar, WV on May 5, 1895. He attended Storer College and graduated in 1917. He listed farmer as his occupation on his WWI draft registration card. He listed his employer as Standard Lime & Stone Co. of Millville, WV on his WWII draft registration card. His wife Rosella R. Johnson submitted an application for an upright military marble headstone on July 21, 1956, which was the day after Forrest’s death. He was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Bolivar, WV.

107 Storer College grads reportedly served in the Great War.

The historically black college was in operation from 1865 to 1955. The defunct college’s former campus and buildings were acquired by the National Park Service.

The Kansas Raygun

This interesting handgun, which looks like something right out of 1930s Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, is likely a one of a kind pistol from a Renaissance man in Kansas.

Rock Island had it up for auction this week (estimated price $100-$200) and I seriously thought about bidding on it for the aesthetic value if nothing else. Crafted by Mr. P. P. Belt of Fredonia, Kansas, it is a .22LR semi-auto that accepts Colt Woodsman magazines– why reinvent the wheel on the latter, right? The barrel is 5.5-inches long and I imagine the blowback rimfire action is contained in the rear of the receiver. The cocking handle is on the right-hand side. The piece has wood grips, a large bladed front sight, and rear notch.

Belt seemed like an interesting fellow. The Biographical Record of Jasper County, Missouri describes him as a jeweler and machinist in Fredonia (current pop just over 2,000.) He is listed on the Worldwide Registry of Auto manufacturers as having made his own car around 1904-1907. Popular Aviation in 1930 covered him because he made his own airplane with a Model T engine. His shop, powered by propane for “pennies a day” was considered interesting enough of its own account to earn separate mention at least twice in machinist and blacksmithing journals.

This guy….

Mr. Belt, thanks for a really interesting pistol design.

Update: I blogged about it over at last week the day before the auction, and after “very active” bid activity, it went for $670, which is uncharacteristically high for a homemade .22LR from an unknown maker. Hopefully, the lucky bidder appreciated the curiosity and will heirloom it for future generations.

A hot December

74 Years ago today, these Devils would probably rather be back home over an open fire than on a sandy beach.


Click to big up 1280×1582

Caption: The Marines Land. Marines hit three feet of rough water as they leave their LST to take the beach at Cape Gloucester, December 26, 1943

Merry Christmas, and remember those downrange today

50 years ago today: Official Christmas card from the “Big Red One” U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division, 1967, then in the Republic of Vietnam.


Checkerboards over Wake

After an epic two-week battle for the remote island outpost of Wake, 449 Marines, 68 U.S. Navy personnel, and 5 U.S. Army soldiers, as well as a force of civilian contractors, surrendered to a 2,500-man force of Japanese infantry backed up by a 19-ship armada on this day in 1941– two days before Christmas.

While transiting the area, Navy aircraft fly conducted a heritage flight off the coast of Wake Island in the western Pacific Ocean, in October from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Three Navy CVW-17 birds (NA tail flash), the top two F-18E/F’s from VFA’s 94 and 113, while the bottom is an EF-18G Growler from the Cougars of VAQ-139, over Wake. (Navy photo by Lt. Aaron B. Hicks)

A Marine flight consisted of four F-18C’s from VMFA-312, a unit that first saw combat during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and was credited with 59.5 Japanese kills during the war, also participated. As the “Checkerboards” C-model Hornets are a bit long in the tooth when compared with more current E-series Super Hornets, they are a good analogy to VMF-211’s F4F-3 Wildcats flown at Wake back in 1941.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Oct. 26, 2017) Four F/A-18C Hornets, assigned to the Checkerboards of Marine Strike Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 312, fly in formation over Wake Island and the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during a U.S. Navy Heritage event for the crew. Theodore Roosevelt is currently underway for a regularly scheduled deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anthony J. Rivera/Released)

CAPT. Leschack, passing the bar

Seven Days in the Arctic by Keith Woodcock, Oil on Canvas, 2007, CIA collection

Seven Days in the Arctic by Keith Woodcock, Oil on Canvas, 2007, CIA collection

A true Renaissance man, Leonard A. LeSchack in 1962 jumped out of a perfectly good (CIA-flown) converted B-17 bomber over the Arctic. At the time, he was a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve but before joining up he had already cut his teeth as a petroleum geologist with Shell and some 14 months in the Polar Regions on Air Force Drift Station T-3 and during the International Geophysical Year as an assistant seismologist.

However, the geologist-turned-sailor who was falling through the air from the B-17 was up to something that, when compared to the rest of his epic life story, was altogether unique.

LeSchack was jumping into an abandoned Soviet Ice Station adrift on an ice floe.

Then came a week poking through the remnants the Russkis thought would have gone down with the floe to the frigid sea floor looking for secrets and a Fulton Skyhook zip line in reverse pulled him and his Air Force Russian linguist companion back into the safety of a surplus aircraft.

I spoke to Len back in 2006 when I was working on an article about the ice station break-in, known appropriately as Project Coldfeet, and have remained in contact with this gentleman and scholar over the past decade.

He only really achieved recognition in 2008.

“Leonard A. LeSchack, 46 years after the successful conclusion of Project Coldfeet, now promoted to Captain USNR (ret), while attending the unveiling ceremony of the original painting, “Seven Days in the Arctic,” is presented the “Special Operations Group (SOG) Challenge Coin” by the Chief Special Operations Group, on 21 April 2008, as recognition of his role in that operation. As stated by the Chief, “it was a young officer, Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Leonard LeSchack, a former Antarctic Geophysicist, who had the early vision and technical expertise to conceive the operation.”

Len even has crossed paths with a relative of mine on a few occasions and I penned another piece or two on Coldfeet for Eye Spy Magazine (Vol 80 and 81) and others to help preserve the sheer elan of the act.

So when he sent me a copy of his memoirs last year, He Heard A Different Drummer, I devoured it.


Picking up the Presidential Legion of Merit in 1962, LeSchack again returned to the Antarctic with the Argentine Navy, roamed Europe from Paris to Moscow on a number of research assignments, created and led an intelligence unit operating out of the Florida Keys in the years just after the Bay of Pigs.

Then there was service in Panama, Colombia, Siberia; owning his very own yellow research submarine. Hanging out with world leaders, terrorists, and scientists all.

Then, there were the women.

Len’s story, his autobiography that could never have been told in real time due to the OPSEC, stretches two volumes but is well worth the read, as he has somehow managed to fit two lifetimes into one and is available over at Amazon in paperback and e-book.

Part James Bond, part Sylvanus Morley, part William ‘Strata’ Smith, part Penguin, my hat is off to you, Mr. LeSchack.

I was informed by a friend of Len’s over the weekend that he passed away on Dec. 14 and is expected at Arlington shortly. A final belated honor for a cold warrior.

Farewell, Len.


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