From Whinchester's: The Shooting Wire for Monday, February 8
It was a simple question 84-year old Ted Gundy put to the guys at Shooting USA's Impossible Shots: "How is it possible for snipers today to hit targets from such long ranges?"
From most of us, it would have been a gee-whiz kind of question, the kind that gets a polite "thanks for watching, snipers use...." kind of form letter response.
But Ted Gundy wasn't just another TV fan. Gunday was asking about today, based on his own experiences from yesterday.
In 1944, Ted Gundy was an army sniper fighting World War II in Europe. More specifically, fighting in the cold and horrible conditions of the Battle of the Bulge, the definitive name in United States Army combat - still the largest battle ever fought by United States troops.
Gundy also wanted something else- he wanted to try one of those long shots himself. "The more we checked, the more we realized we had a unique opportunity here," says Shooting USA's Jim Scoutten, "Ted Gundy could still wear his WWII uniform blouse- the Eisenhower jacket. He marched in every Memorial Day parade, despite being an amputee. He had a full set of dress greens he used as a member of the Missouri honor guard - he wore them to render funeral honors to veterans of World War II."
"And," Scoutten added, "we realized those World War II heroes were dying in greater and greater numbers."
So, his team pulled together an almost impossible answer for Gundy. The Army Marksmanship Unit commander thought it was a great idea. Public affairs got Gundy and his son cleared for VIP on-base housing, and the deal came together.
So for a week, the old sniper was a VIP guest of the modern Army at Fort Benning, Georgia.
That's the premise of a special episode of Impossible Shots, entitled, appropriately enough "Old Sniper". I first watched it Wednesday night, and I didn't take a single note. I couldn't. Instead, I was transfixed watching one of the fewer-by-the-day remaining members of "our greatest generation" watching today's warriors ply their trade.
It wasn't the gee-whiz nature of today's gear for a veteran who fought with a 03-Springfield equipped with a primitive riflescope that held my attention, it was the reverence with which Gundy was treated by today's soldiers.
Sure, I enjoyed watching Gundy tour the exact recreation of the barracks, mess halls - and latrines- he remembered from more than six decades earlier in Fort Benning's historical areas, and his VIP treatment in the new Infantry Museum.
But I was moved by the way the sniper of old was revered by the snipers of today. As SFC Robby Johnson explained, "they were amazing marksmen. They were given a bolt-action rifle, some rudimentary zeroing time, and then told 'go forth' - and they made the same kinds of shots we make today."
It seemed like a lot of polite talk and a little exaggeration - until Val Forgett of Navy Arms presented the old sniper with a brand-new, exact replica of the rifle he carried across Europe until a German shell cut short his war - and his right leg.
Gundy was taken to a firing line with his new rifle, and the transformation was almost magical.
Today, Gundy's gait might be uncertain, his hands shaky and his hearing electronically enhanced (but not always quite enough), but when he settled behind "his" 03 Springfield A4 sniper rifle, none of that mattered.
From a basic rest, he proceeded to make hits on a silhouette target -at 300 yards. Each one was better than the previous, with the final round landing dead center.
Time didn't stand still, but it was held at bay- at least for three shots.
That's only part of the story you'll see in this special episode of "Impossible Shots" - and I don't want to give it all away.
Normally, I'm pretty much immune to those "moments" created by television shows. That's because most "moments" are created. In this episode, there' was no need to create anything - simply capturing the action spoke volumes.
There are plenty of "moments" packed into this half-hour.
Some of them will swell your chest; others will moisten your eyes. You can catch "The Old Sniper" February 17 on Outdoor Channel.
There will be an encore airing on Saturday, February 20.
There are other WW II veterans out there, and the unassuming Ted Gundy said -repeatedly- he didn't deserve the hero's treatment. I disagree.
When Ltc. Daniel Hodne presented Gundy with his own black cap - given only to AMU elite shooters - he and his unit gave a heartfelt thank you to the generation of warriors that came before them.
Well done, gentlemen, well done.
--Jim ShepherdHOO effin' RAH, and thanks DAD! (He was there in the Ardennes and Hurken Forests, winter 1944-45)