The “I vividly remember something that never happened syndrome” – Part Deux

Posted by Bruce Canfield

One of the things I missed when I temporarily suspended postings on this forum was feedback from readers who had opinions, positive and negative, about my ruminations here. Well, it didn’t take long for someone who read my observations about individuals vividly remembering things that never happened to chime in. A gentleman who stated he served in the Marines in the late 70s attempted to take me to task about my (as he put it) “…blowing off a fascinating piece of history…” by my "erroneous" assertions that the Mattel Company never made the M16 rifle or any parts for the weapon. He also apparently felt that my use of the term “syndrome” to describe this phenomenon meant that I believe such persons are “senile” or “nuts” (his words) despite my prior explanations to the contrary. I politely responded to his e-mail and suggested that he take a look at the current issue of American Rifleman magazine as it contained the brief article I alluded to previously written by the former head of Colt’s M16 production program who, in no uncertain terms, confirmed my initial “Q&A” response in the magazine. I thought this would probably satisfy the gentleman and give him pause to reconsider his opinions but he responded by stating that such a “…summary dismissal ” was exactly the attitude he didn’t like and closed by saying that “…It seems that I am going to have to put this one together somehow. Not my imagination.”

It appears that this situation regarding vivid memories of non-events may be even deeper-rooted than I realized. Perhaps this “syndrome” is old hat to the psychologist or psychiatrist but, as a layman, I still find it a bit surprising that some individuals are absolutely 100% convinced that they saw something that could not, and did not, exist. I know we all have, at times, thought something was correct and later discovered we were in error. In such cases, when presented with evidence to the contrary, we realized we were incorrect and chalked it up as a learning experience. This has certainly happened to me on numerous occasions. However, for the guys who swear they saw something that is actually mythical in nature, all the proof in the world often won’t convince them of their faulty memories. The human mind is an amazingly complex mechanism and contains mysteries we have not yet fathomed.

To stay within the boundaries of this forum, a few comments should be made on the subject of U.S. military arms collecting. As a writer, researcher and historian of such weapons, I learned long ago that it is very dangerous to state “always” or “never” when it comes to such matters. For example, the M1 carbine is a particularly treacherous topic about which to make such blanket statements. It has been pretty well established which barrels the various carbine prime contractors used. However, there were some “lateral transfers” and other “off the books” transactions in which a barrel made by a subcontractor was, in fact, used by one of the prime contractors even though it isn’t reflected (or at least hasn’t been preserved) in official documentation. Therefore, if a WWII veteran would tell me he is convinced he had an unaltered National Postal Meter M1 carbine issued to him with an Inland barrel, I certainly would not argue with him even though Inland was not one of NPM’s “normal” barrel suppliers. Such an instance might be unusual but certainly wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility. On the other hand, if he told me that he had a M1 carbine made by the “Singer Sewing Machine Co.” and so marked on the receiver, I would put that clearly into the “urban legend” or the IVRSTNH Syndrome” category. While the former claim (Inland barrel in NPM carbine) may very well fall into this category as well, it cannot be totally discounted. However, the Singer-made carbine can be (to use the words of the above-referenced respondent) “summarily dismissed.”

While there are some things regarding U.S. military weapons that are not in the books or reference materials and are subject to debate or theorizing, there are many other things that are extremely well documented and are indisputable facts. Such things include the fact that Mattel did not make any M16 rifles. Anyone claiming otherwise is mistaken.

On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t summarily dismiss such a claim as I wouldn’t want to overlook a fascinating piece of history. Perhaps the government embarked on an absolutely top-secret program akin to Lockheed’s “Skunk Works” or the Manhattan Project in which Mattel was given a contract to make M16s specifically to arm the fabled “Mouseketeer Battalion” during the Vietnam War. The unit, which the government still won’t acknowledge even today, utilized their caps with mouse ears attached as a form of diabolically clever camouflage although they did experience problems with the overly large white gloves they had to wear along with the uncomfortable shorts with fake tail attached. Surely, such an elite unit wouldn’t be armed with the boring old Colt M16s and needed weapons made by a more familiar entity…who better than Mattel Toy Company?

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