Weapons and Veterans

Posted by Bruce Canfield

I’ve written on this site several times previously about the so-called “Vet Bring-Backs” which are generally described a weapon (or other item) that a soldier used while in service and brought back home as his personal property. As I mentioned before, a serviceman wasn’t simply allowed to retain his Garand, carbine, M1911A1 pistol, BAR, or anything else. These items were strictly accounted for when a soldier “mustered out” and he would be in a world of hurt if caught with such things in his possession. This was theft and was generally dealt with rather harshly. It was usually no big deal to carry home “captured” enemy weapons such as Luger and Nambu pistols, “samurai swords,” Arisaka rifles, Nazi daggers, etc. It was a simple matter for a solider to obtain a release form from the military and carry such things home. However, the exact opposite was true for U.S. military weaponry, etc. Such things as blankets, uniforms and similar items were not usually accounted for and a soldier could generally retain such things with no negative consequences. Having said this, there were unquestionably some instances where servicemen did smuggle home various types of U.S. weapons when departing the service. This is not a new phenomenon. It is said that over 50% of the M1911 .45 pistols issued to the AEF in WWI were “lost in combat” but managed to find their way home in Doughboy duffel bags. Certainly, such things happened in WWII, Korea and Vietnam but hiding a pistol or bayonet in a bunch of underwear is an entirely different matter than smuggling out a Garand or M1903A4 sniper rifle. Again, this happened on occasion but it was very much the exception and not the rule.

What prompted this posting is the frequency with which certain U.S. military weapons are being sold today with claims that the guns are “Vet Bring Backs.” These claims are normally prefaced by the statement that the previous owner was a WWII (or whatever conflict) veteran and the gun was bought directly from him. The implication, sometimes stated and sometimes implied, was that this was THE gun he used in while in the military and carried home. In the vast majority of cases, this simply isn’t true. The previous owner may well have been a veteran, and may well have served in WWII, but he likely bought the gun from the DCM in the 1960s or at a local gun show three years ago. There are occasions when the seller falsely claims that the gun was his issue weapon but, in most cases, this tale is concocted by a subsequent buyer, often based on nothing more than wishful thinking. I can count on the fingers of two hands the verified “vet bring backs” I’ve seen over the past three decades. I’ve seen a lot more that could have been but, with no supporting documentation, it is impossible to confirm its prior origins. The fact that a weapon “could have” been used in combat in WWII is a far cry from “was.”

In conclusion, when you run across a weapon that is purported to be a “vet bring back,” be extremely skeptical and don’t pay a premium for the story. The fact that a prior owner of a gun was in the military means nothing beyond a debt of gratitude we owe to all of those who sacrificed to preserve our freedom. As I’ve repeated here numerous times, one of my favorite admonitions is “Buy the Gun, Not the Story.”

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