I was a brand-new lieutenant in April of 1976, still in the Basic Armor Course that all young butterbars go through. One morning, we parked our cars at the Paddock, a huge gravel parking lot, and climbed on buses that took us to an arms room, where we drew pistols. The one I drew, as I recall, was an old rebuild. It had a slide from the Ithaca Firearms company and a Colt frame. It was stamped, of course, with the roll mark US GOVERNMENT PROPERTY. We went into a classroom where a senior NCO gave us a one-hour class on the Pistol, Cal .45, M1911A1.
Then, we loaded on to the bus and drove out to the range. That was the coolest pistol range I had ever seen. I still consider it a cool range. About 20 firing lanes, with little berms scattered all over the lanes, out to 50 yards. The NCO told us to stand easy and called for the targets, to test the range. Suddenly, all those little berms sprouted popup targets. The close ones, at 5 yards or so, looked like a helmet. The ones father out, were half-size silhouettes. The ones farthest out, at 50 yards, were full size silhouettes.
Back in those days, we weren't taught the Weaver, or the Isosceles. The pistol was a one-handed devise and we were supposed to operate it with one hand. The Sergeant had given us good instruction, because when the first target, a full silhouette at 50 yards popped up, I did as I was told. I raised the pistol, firmly gripping it in the firing hand. I aligned the sights on the center of the silhouette and squeezed the trigger. The target fell, a hit.
"That wasn't so hard," I thought. So, I fell into a rhythm. A target would pop up, I'd put the front sight on it, and squeeze the trigger. It was like playing whack-a-mole with a handgun. Target pops up, I'd whack it down. It was a liberating experience and I was hooked. Also, after five magazines, I was done. Clear the firearm, holster it, and go sit down. Later that day we cleaned them and turned them in. I don't know what happened to that mixmaster pistol after that.
In April of '76 a shavetail lieutenant made the princely sum of $690.00 per month, and I had a beautiful wife and a brand-new son. True, we lived in quarters, but children are expensive and my lieutenant's pay didn't allow the luxury of buying my own handgun. A Colt Gold Cup cost about$350.00, which was half a month's pay, and before long, I had a second child on the way.
By 1981, I was off active duty, sworn on as a Parole Officer with the State of Louisiana. At that point, I was making about $900 a month, and had two kids, with a third on the way. I was in the Army Reserves, but the weekend pay wasn't much, and like most cops at that time, I was working every detail I could find to put food on the table and pay the light bill. The State required that I buy my own handgun, so I asked about a 1911.
"No, hell, no," I was told. "Those things are dangerous. You will buy a revolver, Colt, Smith and Wesson, or Ruger, in .38 or .357 magnum." Truth be told, I owned exactly three revolvers during that period. A Ruger Security Six. A no-dash Smith and Wesson 66, and a Smith and Wesson model 60. They all served me well during that time and kept me safe during my first two decades of police work. I kept my hand in with the 1911 during drills, shooting it every chance I could find or wrangle.
By the time I had been promoted to Captain, I was the unit's handgun instructor, responsible for annual qualifications, general handgun instruction, and over the next decade I trained hundreds, if not thousands of officers and enlisted personnel on the proper use, nomenclature and employment of the M1911A1 pistol. I was till enamored with the device, but could never find the extra cash to get one of my own. Life intrudes sometimes.
Even today, I have to admit that there is something magical about a 230 grain ball going about 850 fps.
In 2000, life changed. I went through a divorce, retired from the State, retired from the National Guard and spent a year or so trying to find myself in the world. I was lost, I'll plainly admit it. By late 2001, a good friend saved me by offering me a job at the local Sheriff's office. I had just met the gal that we call Milady, who also played a big part in saving me. But that's another story. So, I strapped on my revolver and went to work.
In early 2002, I walked into a local gun shop and there lay a brand-spanking new Kimber Custom 1911A1. Oh, I was smitten. Kimber called it the Eclipse. Stainless steetl with a blackout treatment, it glowed in the display case. The wanted $900.00 for it. I talked to the salesman, who told me that it had been in the case for about six months, and the store was going to use it as a promotion. They'd drop the price ten dollars a week until someone bought it.
I watched that pistol for two or three months as the price crept steadily downard. When it broke under $700, the salesman told me that someone else was looking at it. The next week, I walked in, it was till in the case, and I put it on layaway for the sum of $680.00.
So, I finally had a 1911, on layaway. Next payday I took it out. Then I researched the Sheriff's firearms regulation. They were very specific on the type of firearm we could carry on duty, but the 1911 wasn't on the list. On the bottom of the regulation was another paragraph which said something like "Or any other firearm approved by the Chief Firearms Instructor."
Well, the die was cast. I happened to know that our Chief Firearms Instructor was also a retired Command Sergeant Major. Two tours in Vietnam, he retired as the Command Sergeant Major of the same Brigade I retired from. The skids were greased.
One day, a week after I took the gun off layaway, I walked into his office. "Hey, Sergeant Major."
He looked up from his desk. "What the hell do you want?"
"I want to carry a 1911."
"Those things are dangerous." he said.
"Don't give me the standard ration, Sergeant Major." I looked at him across the tops of my glasses. "Of course they're dangerous. That's why we carry them."
"You got it, and some ammo?"
We walked out to his range, and a half-hour later, I was qualified. At that time, I was one of three deputies in the department that was authorized to carry the 1911.
As it turned out, the Sergeant Major was the other fellow who was looking at that Kimber in the gun shop in the spring of 2002.
I carried that pistol for about 10 years, until we got a new sheriff, who bought us guns and told us to carry a standard weapon. It's a Glock, as it turns out, and I carry it every day. The Glock is a fine gun, and it shoots, but it doesn't have the soul of a 1911.
As I type what started out as a blog post, and turned into a short story, the 1911 is within arms reach. It's stoked with my good handload of a soft lead bullet that travels about 850 fps. And, as the Sergeant Major recognized so long ago, it's dangerous.
And that's the whole point.