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Thursday, July 30, 2015

John F. Kennedy's M1 Garand

Lot 1807: Historically Significant, Documented U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy U.S. Springfield Armory National Match 1959 M1 Garand Semi-Automatic Rifle

The War Department Appropriations Bill of 1903 established many things, but the one that begins our story today is its founding of the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice.  Teddy Roosevelt was in office at the time and his enthusiasm for the shooting sports, and this bill, also gave rise to the National Rifle and Pistol Trophy Matches.  Needless to say that the government wanted its citizens proficient in firearms use, perhaps spurred on by the recently ended Spanish-American War (1899) and the numerous other conflicts in which America involved itself in the Caribbean, Pacific islands, and Central America (a.k.a. "The Banana Wars").

By 1905, Teddy has signed off on "Public Law 149,"which permitted the sale of surplus military rifles, ammo, and equipment, at cost, to qualified rifle clubs.  This was followed by the National Defense Act in 1916.  Watching the Europeans immerse themselves in the Great War, in addition to Pancho Villa's raid in New Mexico, gave America cause for concern despite President Woodrow Wilson's re-election campaign slogan of, "He kept us out of the war."  The NDA, an update of the Militia Act of 1903, expanded the National Guard and Army, basically prepared the United States for eventual war, and authorized the War Department to distribute guns and ammunition to the qualified rifle clubs.  It also opened military ranges to civilians and even gave funds to keep all those ranges open.  Many of the responsibilities for these arms and ranges were under the umbrella of the "Office of the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM), which was in turn administered by the Army.  In 1996, when the Army decided it had better things to do, this would turn into it's own private, non-profit company, officially named the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice & Firearms Safety, better known today as the CMP ("Civilian Marksmanship Program").

Back in 1959, the Director of Marksmanship for the CMP was Colonel John K. Lee Jr, a man who very likely would have been made aware that a young upstart senator from Massachusetts had been selected to receive an M1 Garand.  That senator was John F. Kennedy.  At that time, the DCM was distributing the rifles based on a lottery system, with only several hundred to a thousand being sold in a given year.  Many folks would wait years for a random rifle selected from the surplus kept at various depots, but it appears that Kennedy's clout granted him quick access to the very desirable rifles, and a very special one at that.

This M1 started from one of those depots, the Erie Ordnance Depot in Port Clinton, OH to be precise, but was far from a random selection.  The rifle picked for Senator Kennedy bears a late production 6+ million serial number and is a Type 1 National Match M1 Garand, that has been rebuilt to a Type 2.  After the NM rifle "happened" to be selected for Kennedy, it also "happened" to make its way to Master Sergeant Raymond E Parkinson, a gunsmith assigned to the Second U.S. Army Advanced Marksmanship Unit at Ft. George C. Meade in Maryland.  Once there, much of the work took place that can be seen on the rifle to this day.  In fact, COL Lee was kind enough to detail such changes in a letter he sent to Senator Kennedy after the rifle was received.  The modifications, as listed in the communication, are:
  1. Adjusted the trigger in order to provide an exacting trigger pull for each shot fired.
  2. Blued all metal parts to prevent rust and enhance the beauty of the weapon.
  3. Applied a moisture-proof silicon finish to the stock.
  4. Applied a glass-bedding compound to the recoil shoulders of the stock in order to enable the rifle to maintain its accuracy.
  5.  Air-tested the bore for correct calibration and flaws.
  6. Test-fired the rifle in a sitting position at 200 yards.

"For your information, Mast Sergeant Parkinson did the test firing and the target is enclosed.  The rifle was not test-fired from a cradle because the gun smiths did not want to scar the stock, however, the test proved conclusively that the rifle is very accurate and as good as any rifle used at the National Matches."

Even the effort to not mar the stock by firing it from a cradle clearly shows the utmost car taken in creating this gun for Kennedy.  Thankfully, the documentation of the rifle's journey has also been preserved.  Accompanying this rifle are a copy of the original DD1348 form noting that it was shipped to Senator Kennedy in October of 1959, the copy of the aforementioned memorandum from COL Lee to Kennedy, the actual 200 yard test target shot by MSG Parkinson, and a copy of the letter of appreciation that Kennedy wrote to MSG Parkinson thanking him for his work and attention to the rifle.

A treasured thank you letter.

This rifle has attracted its fair share of attention over the years.  The May 1967 issue of "The American Rifleman" featured an article on the rifle written by MSG Parkinson himself called, "A Letter Of Appreciation For A Rifle."  In it, he states that he had no idea who the rifle was for and that, just like anyone else, a random rifle was chosen for the task.  He writes, "As no substitution could be made even for someone in Congress, the Colonel [Carpenter] indicated that if I could fix up the piece in my off-duty time, it would reflect a helpful attitude and would be appreciated by the gentleman for whom the M1 was destined."  Also mentioned by Parkinson is the custom made shipping and storage crate he created for this special request rifle, which still accompanies it to this day.

The rifle was also requested by the NRA Firearms Museum in September of 1970 in order to display it an exhibit that showed "a few selected firearms owned by Presidents and other notables."  The letter is included in this lot, as is the letter of the receipt from October 1970 when the rifle was received by the NRA Firearms Museum and temporarily housed there.

Since this rifle was obtained almost a year before he would be elected to the Presidency, it is entirely possible that this rifle followed Kennedy into the White House.  This is an amazing firearm worthy of the finest collections of U.S. military arms, M1 Garands, and even Kennedy memorabilia.  It is a rare chance to own a personal possession of the beloved veteran, congressman, and president.

-Written by Joel Kolander


Parkinson, R. E. "A Letter of Appreciation For A Rifle." American Rifleman Oct. 1967: 40. Print.


  1. What a story and piece of history,Beautiful rifle.Priceless!!!!

  2. No mention if Kennedy ever fired this rifle.

  3. why was the rifle blued? Parkerized is always better than bluing to protect from rust?
    Jim Noble
    Shrewsbury NJ

    1. Blue looks fancier, and does a nice enough job of protecting from rust. This gun was made to look good and shoot good.

    2. Jim, very few people have the privilege of owning a military blued M1 Garand. Those guns are normally reserved for special purposes. In the past 5 years, the CMP has only had two that I know of go to private owners. The picture above will not do the finish justice if it is anything like SA 2221106. SA 2221106 differs from the one Kennedy owned in that the AF polished the NM gas cylinder, cylinder lock, and lock screw in stainless finish.

    3. As the owner of SA 2221106, I can say that no pictures can really describe the finish put onto the military blued rifles like this. 222106 has its own history as it was used as an Honor Guard rifle by the 131st SPS and has its own gun bag from the military with its serial number on the bag. 131st Bomb Wing is the only ANG unit to fly the B-2 Spirit bombers and is part of the 509th, which is the same group that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and commanded by the grandson of Paul Tibbets.

  4. CWO John M. Miller (RET)August 1, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    As a shooting member, and match weapons armorer for the Ohio National Guard High Power Rifle team,
    we were in the area that MSG Ray Parkinson controlled and kept track of our rifles. We had "Parky"
    rebarrel & rework out M14s as they wore out (about every 5000 rounds) Ray was the most knowedge-
    able match rifle gunsmith that we ever met !!! He took pride in all his work & it showed with the rifle's
    accuracy when he finished. "Parky" was a true gentleman & soldier of the old school, CWO J. Miller

  5. Charles W. Maloney. In 1982, I went to work at the Ft. Meade AMTU as Ray Parkinson's apprentice. We were civilians at that time. Ray (I always called him Ray or "Mr. P", never Parkey) was an exacting taskmaster. I took over from him when he retired in 1983 as the chief riflesmith, and later the shop foreman. It was an honor to work with such a fine gentleman, who taught me to respect the work, and put the shooters first.

    1. CWO John M. MillerAugust 1, 2015 at 6:29 PM

      Mr Charles, We only referred to Mr "P" as Parky (but not to his face !!) 'Twas a term of
      endearment with no bad vibes. Mr. Ray was a special Gent !!! So glad you were a part
      of his team & I'd bet, after training with him, a REAL asset to our now defunct shooting
      programs which added so much to the Army's readiness !!! My Best Regards
      CWO John M. Miller (ret) Ordnance Corps U.S. ARMY

    2. Gentlemen,

      Thank you for sharing your experiences with Ray! Made me smile to hear the modern day connections to this rifle and the man who took so much pride in his work.

    3. Don Dixon, LTC, USAR (Ret): I knew Mr. P when he was the chief gunsmith at U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit #1 at Fort Meade. He built the M14 match rifles used by our 97th U.S. Army Reserve Command Rifle Team, and the personnally owned M1A match rifle with which I made my first Distinguished points. He was generally regarded as the best match M1 gunsmith in the Army. Regarding the accuracy of his hand-held test target: he held the Distinguished Rifleman Badge and President's Hundred Tabs.

  6. Any provenance for this rifle after the President? Surprised it is available to purchase vice being in the JFK Presidential Library or other museum collection.

  7. The blast of the past. The amazing one of that time.

  8. My name is Jason Wilson and MSG Ray Parkinson was my Grandfather. I find it specially heartwarming to see more posts about him than JFK himself. Sometimes you dont realize how big someone was until you meet how many people he touched. No doubt about it he was the man and a man that taught hard work and respect are what 2 of the most important things in life. They dont make em like that anymore. This story has been one of many, many great achievements in his life. My aunt has the original letter framed and displayed as we all are very proud of what he did.
    I grew up in his shop and watched him work on dozens and dozens of rifles and handguns over the years and that letter and photo were always hanging on the wall behind his work bench. When he was the rifle team coach we made our yearly trip to Camp Perry for the matches. Best times of my life. So, thank you all for your kind words about him , keep the stories coming, I love hearing them.

  9. Susan Parkinson MacarySeptember 9, 2015 at 9:24 PM

    Susan Parkinson Macary, daughter. Apparently, my original post was deleted, not sure why. I am sitting here on the one year anniversary of the death of my father reading all of your comments and smiling. Thank you for all the memories. I spent many days driving the shop at Fort Meade or to the rifle and pistol range to see my dad on my way to and from the stables, so I have probably met most of you. And I went to Camp Perry as a young child. I would love to hear or read any stories/memories you may have of my dad in the shop and on the range. Please let me know the best way to get in touch with you guys.

  10. Susan Parkinson Macary, daughter of Raymond E Parkinson. I'm not sure why my posts are getting deleted but here I go again. Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of my father. All your comments and memories of my dad, made me smile. I worked at the Fort Meade Stables, and would stop by the shop, the rifle range or the pistol range to visit my dad, so I have probably met most of you. I would love to hear/read more stories/memories of his days in the shop and on the range. So, please contact me. Thank you!!

    1. My apologies, Susan. Your posts are more than welcome here. Looks like Blogger tried to filter them as spam.

      Thank you for your note. I'm glad the story found its way to the right people. Fortunately, many more people have now heard of Mr. Parkinson, as this blog made its way around the world and instantly became our most read story ever. I feel its a great sign of the man that his family members and former colleagues have written in to share their great memories.

  11. Susan Parkinson Macary, My dad took pride in what he did and would have loved reading the comments!

  12. I worked for Colonel Lee during the National Matches at Camp Perry for three years (1969-1971). He was a man of requisite competence, and it comes as no surprise that he would have undertaken this task with earnest purpose.

  13. this is amazing rifle and this is a good rifle for shooting practice.

  14. It is always interesting to look at historical artifacts that have been stashed away in storage ready to be uncovered. Each piece of gem holds its very own sentimental value and definitely has a lot of stories to tell to us and to future generations to admire and appreciate.

  15. I always wondered why JFK never received a Legion of Merit with V for Valor device for his rescue of a Marine recon unit in which he led a division of PTs to Choiseul Island, a mission for which the boats did not have enough fuel to make the round trip. A successful return depended on making rendezvous with a second division of PTs carrying barrels of avgas as deck cargo, transferring the cargo, and refilling their tanks. Miss the rendezvous, and if you are lucky you’ll just die. But he made the rendezvous and brought the Marines home.

  16. He’d be run out of the Democratic Party today for being too “conservative,” but he wouldn’t be welcome in the Republican Party today for being too “liberal.” Go figure.