In a reversal of a directive made last year, the U.S. Army will allow the Fort Snelling Memorial Rifle Squad to retain its favored 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles it uses for military burials, instead of replacing them with World War II-vintage M1 Garands per current Army regulations.
The squad is something of an institution at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, where more than 192,000 veterans and their families from as far back as the Civil War are buried. As many as 20 funerals are held there daily.
In late 2011, The Army announced its intent to replace the famed squad's 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles it has used to provide military honors for nearly 60,000 burials in the past three decades. The new policy also limited the squad to 15 rifles, a decrease from the 50 used among its five details.
When many of its members protested the Army's directive, the squad discovered an ally in Minnesota Congressman John Kline, a retired U.S. Marine colonel.
In December, Kline sent a correspondence to Army Secretary John McHugh praising the work of the rifle squad and requesting the Army "to take into account the sheer volume and use of the Ft. Snelling Squad's ceremonial rifles and allow them to keep their current stock for the near term."
And last week the Army agreed the famous squad and its devoted members may retain the historic firearms to continue offering fitting tributes to those who faithfully served their country.
Following the Army's announcement, Rep. Kline announced the introduction of The "Honoring Our Nation's Outstanding Rifle Squads" (HONOR Act) to amend Title 10 of U.S. Code and allow the Secretary of the Army to loan or donate more than 15 excess rifles to eligible organizations like the American Legion and VFW to meet their needs.
Kline said his legislation is aimed at preventing situations in the future and to ensure veteran's groups will not "face similar red tape."
For Rep. Kline, the issue boiled down to recognizing the Fort Snelling squad member's sacrifices for their fellow Soldiers, Sailors and Marines.
"As you talk to them you realize they're all guys in their 70s and 80s," he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in December. "They're out there in the winter when it's below zero. They're out there all the time."
Ted Nemzek is an 82-year-old Fort Snelling squad member and Korean War vet whose Bronze Star hangs from his cap. He summed-up the importance the squad plays in ceremonies that occur at the cemetery up to 60 times each week.
"When you fire those three volleys and play Taps, that's a signal to somebody upstairs that someone special—a veteran—is on the way there. It's a wonderful way to say goodbye. It's meaningful."