How an M1 Garand Rifle Provided a Portal to the Past

The once-ubiquitous weapon prompted an outpouring of reminiscences from World Warfare II veterans. Andrew Biggio, creator of The Rifle (2021), was listening

IN THE SUMMER OF 2011, Andrew Biggio, then a 23-year-old sergeant within the U.S. Marine Corps, was close to the tip of his tour in Afghanistan when his platoon got here throughout a gaggle of Afghan police gathering the our bodies and physique components of lifeless comrades—victims of a roadside bomb. As the boys struggled to wrestle one corpse right into a physique bag on the again of a pickup truck, they misplaced their grip. The physique hit the pavement, making, Biggio recollects, a “disturbing sound not like any I had heard earlier than.” He put the incident out of his thoughts—or so he thought. Two years later, again house in Winthrop, Massachusetts, he was in a crowded grocery retailer when a big melon fell from a lady’s buying cart, making a noise similar to that physique in Afghanistan. The horrors of that day have been out of the blue earlier than him. He deserted his cart, bolted from the shop, and headed house.

On the best way, he handed an indication he’d handed many occasions earlier than, “Andrew Biggio Sq.”—marking a spot named after the person he himself was named for: a great-uncle he’d by no means met, killed in Italy at age 19 in 1944. This time, although, questions flooded his thoughts, and he felt compelled to study extra about his uncle, his battle, and the way he’d misplaced his life. He started by shopping for a rifle—an M1 Garand—just like the one his uncle carried within the battle, and took it with him when he talked to a World Warfare II veteran neighbor. That one interview led to many extra—his topics all signing the rifle—and to a collection of discoveries. The outcomes are in his new e-book, The Rifle: Fight Tales from America’s Final WWII Veterans, Informed by means of an M1 Garand.

How did this venture begin?

On my tour in Afghanistan, I wore my great-uncle’s division patch on my vest simply to honor him. He was within the thirty fourth Infantry, the Crimson Bull Division. He was on my thoughts—an Andrew Biggio who didn’t come house from battle—and I felt obligated to put on his U.S. Military patch although I used to be a Marine. After my tour ended, I felt dangerous; I’m having fun with my life, and he didn’t even get to begin his. I began to learn his letters, this infantryman in Italy. He wrote house to his mother—my great-grandmother—loads. He was near her. It was very arduous on her when he died. My uncle was her firstborn son. I used to be informed that she by no means put the Christmas tree up once more.

I needed to search out out what occurred to my uncle. If this have been the Eighties, I most likely would have been extra simply capable of finding survivors who served with my uncle within the Crimson Bull Division in Italy—however then I may not have met these different veterans. As a substitute, I saved operating into these different people, individuals who served throughout, whose tales have been simply as necessary to me.

As we speak a police officer in Massachusetts, Andrew Biggio beforehand served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan (beneath), inspiring him to study in regards to the World Warfare II service of his namesake (backside). (DHouse Images)

(Courtesy of Andrew Biggio)
(Courtesy of Andrew Biggio)

(Courtesy of Andrew Biggio)
(Courtesy of Andrew Biggio)

The place did you start?

The primary man I interviewed was my neighbor, Joe Drago. Crusty previous Joe. I knew him as a child, and he at all times appeared previous to me. I knew he had been a Marine in World Warfare II however didn’t know a lot else. I introduced the rifle over to him, and he informed me about his time on Okinawa. “There was no such factor as a battle crime,” he informed me. They’d orders to shoot to kill something that moved. Joe and the opposite Marines did what they needed to do to outlive. It was hell. He gave me a bag with what I believed have been pebbles. They have been gold enamel he had taken from lifeless Japanese troopers. As a child, I believed Joe was simply this grouchy previous man. I got here away with a unique view of him after that.

Did these males open up extra to you as a result of you’re a veteran too?

I believe so. I do know so. Different individuals have written tales about a number of the males in my e-book and mentioned, “Wow! He by no means informed me that.”

Some vets broke down crying telling me about pals they misplaced 75 years in the past. Some by no means even informed their households what they went by means of. That’s truly what impressed me to put in writing the e-book. I will need to have been at the least 30 signatures deep into the rifle when somebody commented, “I by no means heard Grandpa say that earlier than.” That’s once I thought I shouldn’t be selfishly getting their signatures on my rifle— I needs to be telling their tales.

The M1 Garand helped the veterans open up too. You need to have seen how these guys got here alive holding the rifle! They only began telling me tales. Within the first printing of the e-book, I checklist the 175 names then on the rifle. The second printing could have 200-plus names. I hold including signatures to the rifle as I meet extra veterans.

Did any people specifically stand out to you?

The vets I picked for the e-book all impressed me. There was one fellow—he was arduous as nails: Lawson Sakai of the 442nd Regimental Fight Workforce. I didn’t have any Japanese Individuals on my rifle, so I actually needed to incorporate him. I met him in Las Vegas at his unit reunion in 2017 or 2018. This was the final reunion earlier than COVID-19. I received Lawson, Yoshio Nakamura, and Jerry Gustafson—all members of the 442nd—to signal my rifle. I used to be hanging out with Nisei veterans! Lawson has two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts. The percentages have been stacked towards these males, and so they find yourself changing into probably the most adorned infantry regiment of all time. They’re rattling pleased with who they’re. They proved the entire nation flawed. They’re so pleased with this nation although we weren’t completely honest to them. Lawson’s story in my e-book is entitled “Enemy Alien” as a result of that’s what he was informed he was when he couldn’t enlist. Lawson and his White pals went to the recruiting workplace. The others have been allowed to hitch and have been leaping up and down with pleasure. He’s strolling out of there with them, humiliated. I’ll always remember a 95-year-old Lawson reminiscing about that. He informed me he mentioned to the recruiter, “However I’m an American.” To listen to his voice crack remembering that was unhappy. He went on to be a friggin’ badass! He’s fortunate to be alive. Considered one of his wounds—shrapnel by means of the ribs—ought to have killed him.

Biggio asked the veterans he interviewed to sign his M1 Garand rifle. Among the many signatures—and stories he tells in his new book, "The Rifle"—are those of (from top) Joe Drago, Lawson Sakai, and Ed Hess, who served in Italy in the same company as Biggio’s great-uncle. (All courtesy of Andrew Biggio)
Biggio requested the veterans he interviewed to signal his M1 Garand rifle. Among the many many signatures—and tales he tells in his new e-book, “The Rifle”—are these of (from high) Joe Drago, Lawson Sakai, and Ed Hess, who served in Italy in the identical firm as Biggio’s great-uncle. (All courtesy of Andrew Biggio)

You found different injustices.

Italy is the forgotten entrance of World Warfare II. We don’t keep in mind the battle in Italy like we keep in mind it in France or the Pacific. I introduced two World Warfare II vets again to Italy for the seventy fifth anniversary of the liberation of Rome, and we have been the one ones there. There wasn’t a wreath, a flag-raising, something. I keep in mind taking a look at these guys, and one mentioned, “In 1994, President Clinton was right here. We had ceremonies. We had marching bands. What occurred?” I didn’t know what to inform them. We have been in Rome on June 4, 2019—75 years after the primary Nazi capital fell—and there was nothing. Two days later, it’s June 6 and there are tons of of 1000’s of individuals in Normandy for the seventy fifth anniversary.


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