At one time each militiaman would supply himself with his own weapons. It worked during the days of the musket because most men made their own lead balls and all that was needed was some cloth for a wad and generic gun powder. However as weapons and ammo evolved, it was no longer possible to keep a militia in ammunition and parts due to the diversity of both the firearms and the ammo that they used. Of course, there was the ever-present problem of needing more men than those that owned firearms. Contrary to the vision of the old days being filled with everyone carrying a rifle, in reality most families only owned one firearm; that ubiquitous rifle or shotgun hanging over the fireplace or leaning against the corner near the front door.
Back then, firearms were expensive and hard to get when you lived in the middle of nowhere. Families tended to share a single firearm rather than own one for the spouse and each child. Many men were reluctant to take their the only means of protection away from their family when they went to war. So the two factors of needing more men than those who owned firearms and the reluctance of firearm owners to take the family gun away from the old homestead, led to the military providing guns. It not only made it logistically easier to deal with ammunition and gun repair but also enabled those without any firearms to join. You also have to consider that most weapons supplied by individual soldiers would not be state-of-the-art at the time since many could not afford the latest design. This was glaring true at the start of the Civil war when many still had muskets that were not rifled. Rifled barrels allowed accurate shots out to about 300 yards while un-rifled ones were good to perhaps 50 yards. It was a great tactical advantage to ensure that your militia had the latest and greatest of weapons, so they issued them.
When I went to Vietnam, a place I previously only knew from watching the news on TV, I was handed an M16 and a 1911. I had never held or shot a 1911 before and yet I was expected to carry it when I guarded and escorted soldiers who committed crimes. It was on my side when I acted as paymaster. I took it with me when I was dropped off at some dirt runway in the middle of the jungle waiting in a ditch for someone from the nearest fire support base to come and get me. They always thought it funny to make me wait a long time.
You could imagine that large M107 175mm mobile artillery guns would be an attractive target. We could shoot for 20 miles to support the 25th infantry, to whom we seemed to be wed, as well as targets of opportunity. Accordingly, a few times each month we would be attacked in an attempt to get past the wire in order to destroy a gun or two. It was easier to keep my 1911 on me than to carry my M16 every minute of the day. The expression that a handgun is best suited to fight your way to a rifle was more than a saying to me back in those days. Plus it was not very practical in some situations to carry a rifle.
The Army wanted you to carry your 1911 without one in the chamber in a holster with a flap on it. Hardly the method for quickly drawing and shooting. After a while you sort of did things your way as it was your life on the line. However, I was 128 lbs. at the time and a .45 was not easy for me to shoot well. If I had a choice I would have selected a 9mm. I was 19 years old and only learned to shoot in the Army so I only had experience with the light recoiling M16 which was always demonstrated by a Drill Sergeant firing it fully automatic from his crotch to show us how easy it was to shoot. Knowing what I know now I would have opted for a different sidearm if I was able to choose my own.
When I got to Nam there were some officers and even enlisted men that carried their own choice of weapons. It was not as strict as it is now as far as what you could carry although if your squad thought that what you carried would not be good for them, they let you know in no uncertain terms. For a sidearm there were revolvers; both in .38 spl and .357 Magnum in addition to the issued 1911. A lot of that was because 1911′s were not handed out to many. Due to the nature of my various duties I was given an old 1911 and had to figure out how to use it myself. Only the best training for our boys back then.
Now I read about those who do not like the Army issued Beretta M9 and how some special forces went back to the 1911. Others think a Glock would be a great choice for the military due to its reliability and few parts making maintenance easier. Others, like the Navy Seals like the Sig line of guns. From what I have read it appears that the military is strict about what sidearm you can carry and I can understand why. However since I have too much time on my hands at times, I often wondered that if I had to go to war now and could pick my own sidearm, which would it be. Thought I would ask my blog visitors to make their own choices so we can see what would be the popular gun out of a small sample of guns that are often mentioned as possible military issued guns. So vote and give your reason in a reply to this post. I am curious to find out if those of us who served back in the days where we did not have ear plugs, night vision goggles, all the modern tools of today’s warriors; if the 1911 would still be the sidearm of choice. Please pass along this poll to others and post it in any other gun forums you may belong to. Let’s see if we can get a good national sampling. Thanks