The M1 Garand is the epitome of the American battle rifle. It’s the weapon that won World War II, carried by millions of men in combat with an action that was both simple and beautiful in design. And for most of the honor guards in the United States, the men and women in uniform who perform that most sacred of duties at the funerals of our country’s lost heroes, it’s the weapon of choice for the traditional 21 gun salute. But the economy has hit everyone hard, and one Native American honor guard in South Dakota has had to resort to using the Soviet SKS as a replacement. And that’s ruffled more than a few feathers . . .
For those who are wondering, the SKS is the original battle rifle of the Soviet Union after World War II. It was the replacement for the Mosin Nagant, and in service until the AK-47 went into production. It’s chambered in the same 7.62×39 cartridge, but very different looking. It was one of the favorite weapons of the Viet Kong in the Vietnam conflict, killing thousands of Americans in its time and still in use against American forces today. SKSs are actually still used as the ceremonial rifle at the Russian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow, carried by the Russian honor guard. In other words, it’s not the weapon you’d want attending your funeral if you were a Vietnam vet being put to rest.
An editorial in the Rapid City Journal picks up with the righteous indignation:
Who could imagine the sound of enemy fire would signal the last rites for our honored dead? In what may be among the most ironic acts of official neglect and insensitivity of the past seven decades, the Russian SKS rifle is now used in ceremonial service by some honor guards as the last sound our Native American veterans and their families hear as veterans are laid to rest across South Dakota. It is an act of omission and ignorance.
The honor guard used to use M1 Garand rifles from the local National Guard outfit, but for some reason that seems to have stopped. These days, the only weapon these volunteers can afford to own and feed are Soviet in origin.
Those good volunteers go from event to event firing salutes, raising the flag, honoring those who honored us with their service. He was there with the last survivors of the Enola Gay. He was there with the last Marines who hit the beach at Okinawa. He is there every week for some soldier, sailor, Marine, or warrior of the wild blue, and every week he raises his SKS to fire the only weapons and ammunition his unit can afford, both of which they pay for out of their own pockets.
The South Dakota National Guard used to loan Garneaux M1 Garands, perhaps the most beautiful soldierly rifle ever shouldered to present arms, and the rifle that won World War II for America and our allies. The Guard stopped some time ago for reasons that don’t make a lick of sense so don’t anybody try to explain. Just don’t.
7.62×39 blanks are cheap and plentiful. Take it from someone who has dabbled in WWII reenacting — Soviet blanks are everywhere, mainly thanks to the Czechs. But .30-06 blanks and M1 Garand rifles are a little harder to come by, and when you’re buying them by the dozen you don’t seem to be getting the same price breaks that you once could.
The writer of the editorial lays the blame for the Soviet send-off for our troops squarely at the feet of the governor, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, saying “this is something he can do with a stroke of his pen.” The guns are still at the National Guard base after all, state property that isn’t doing any good on the rack. And a donation of 12 rifles to a good cause sounds like a good idea, and a cheap price to pay for giving soldiers the right send-off.
The author sums it up pretty well: “Anything less is inexplicable, insulting, unacceptable.”