The “I vividly remember something that never happened” Syndrome.

Posted by Bruce Canfield

As I’ve researched my books and articles over the years or have interviewed veterans regarding the weapons they may have used while in service, there is one

phenomenon that I’ve encountered with surprising frequency. Basically, this “Syndrome” involves veterans insisting that they saw, or were issued, weapons that never existed. Are they lying? I don’t think so. In virtually all cases, I am absolutely convinced that the gentlemen in question sincerely believe what they are saying is true. I may have touched on this topic in a posting on one of my previous “Canfield’s Corner” columns but I am prompted to revisit it again because of recent events.

I recently did a “Q&A” in American Rifleman regarding an inquiry about a M3 submachine gun purportedly made by American Can Company. As I explained in this article, the ONLY makers of the M3 and M3A1 submachine guns were the Guide Lamp Division of General Motors (M3 and M3A1 in World War II) and the Ithaca Gun Company (M3A1 in the mid-1950s). The American Can Company (or any other entity) did not make the weapon for the U.S. military or anyone else. I casually mentioned in the Q&A that such claims are akin to the urban legend about Mattel Toy Company making M16 rifles during the Vietnam War.

I initially thought I had conclusively made the point I was trying to make but, boy, was I wrong. The American Rifleman staff forwarded me several letters from readers who wanted to “correct” my mistakes. One gentleman absolutely insisted that he had a M3 submachine gun in Korea made by the “American Canning Company” and that I obviously needed to do more research on the subject. A couple of others insisted that I didn’t know beans about the M16 rifle because the U.S. Army used lots of them in Vietnam made by the Mattel Company. One respondent stated that Mattel may not have made the complete rifle, but they did manufacture the plastic stocks and forends and he saw packing cases with the Mattel name on them. I could go on, but you get the idea.

In the course of a subsequent conversation with Mark Keefe, editor of American Rifleman, we discussed this phenomenon and found it to be a bit puzzling and somewhat amusing. Mark had the former head of Colt’s M16 program (who unquestionably knows more than anyone else about the subject) write a brief letter stating, unequivocally, that the Mattel company most assuredly did not manufacture M16 rifles or any parts for the weapon. He pointed out that Mattel did make a really neat toy M16 rifle in the late 1960s and postulated that was perhaps what got some people confused! That's probably not going to go over very well with some of these guys when Mark prints it in the magazine.

This situation is, by no means, confined to American Can M3 submachine guns or Mattel M16 rifles. Over the years, I’ve heard similar claims regarding Singer M1 carbines and/or M1 rifles, Remington M1 rifles, Universal M1 carbines being used during the D-Day invasion and M1903 rifles chambered for Winchester .30-30 cartridges in WWI, among others. One could understand someone believing typical “Gun Show BS” or misunderstanding something they read but, in many cases, the individuals swear they had used, or had seen first-hand, these mythical weapons while in service. I learned long ago not to argue with these gentlemen or try to “set them straight.” Rather, it’s usually best just to nod in agreement and go your way. It can be a bit difficult, however, when you’re berated for presenting "erroneous" information in a book or article. It’s times like this when a good sense of humor comes in handy. As I mentioned, in the vast majority of cases, these guys sincerely believe what they’re saying. I suppose memories of things that happened 60, 50, or even 40 years ago can become cloudy and something that was originally a joke or misunderstanding morphed over the years into an indisputable “fact.”

In closing, there is another humorous aspect to this topic. Not long ago after my Q&A appeared, a friend forwarded me a digital image of a M16 rifle receiver with the name “Mattel Toy Co.” boldly stamped thereon. It looked very realistic and very impressive but it took me about two seconds to remember that my friend is a wiz with Photo Shop. It’s amazing what that software can do in the hands of an expert such as my twisted friend! I messaged him back that I am embarrassed and stand humbly corrected and that he needs to do a book on such esoteric weapons as the Singer M1, American Can M3, Mattel M16 and myriad others profusely illustrated with such expertly rendered markings. Boy, would that mess with a lot of guys’ minds! After all, if you see it in a book, it must be true.

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