Just as certainly as birds fly south in the winter, rifle and pistol shooters flock to Camp Perry, just west of Port Clinton in Ottawa County, each summer. They begin arriving in July for the NRA rifle and pistol championships and the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) National Matches. The CMP National Matches started in 1903 and moved to Camp Perry in 1907. The competitions, which are a joint effort between the CMP, NRA and Ohio National Guard, begin in July and continue through mid-August. They attract nearly 7000 shooters to Ohio annually.
While the shooters and their families come for the competition the matches are much more. Camp Perry is perhaps the most historic shooting grounds in the US. The long history of the camp combined with beauty of the Lake Erie western region makes it a wonderful destination.
The Camp Perry tradition often spans several generations of the shooting families. It is more than the competition or shooting on the largest rifle range in the world. It is often a life-long journey to be among the best shooters in the world who must brave the tricky winds and fickle summer weather of northwestern Ohio in order to win. It is returning to the most special, even hallowed, grounds. It is renewing friendships, camaraderie of shooters and making new friends that brings them to this plot of ground each year.
While not a competitive shooter, I have attended the opening ceremony, First Shots, on a regular schedule for several years. First Shot is always special with the delivery of the United States flag, The Colors, to be flown over the matches. This year the First Shot program was especially good. It was quite moving on a personal level for me. It started with the fly over of a US Navy TBM Avenger which was a torpedo bomber and anti- submarine aircraft in the Pacific. President George HW Bush was flying an Avenger when he was shot down. Ironically, the last Avengers to be retired from active service in 1962 were flown by the Japanese Self Defense Force.
The flyover included the B-17 Yankee Lady which is one of only ten still flying. Land based vehicles included the M4 Sherman Tank Thunderbolt which was built in nearby Detroit, a Toledo built WWII Jeep and a German heavy staff vehicle with anti-aircraft guns. However, it wasn’t the impressive display of historical military aircraft and vehicles that provided the emotion.
The US flag was delivered by “Rosie The Riveter” in the familiar costume as portrayed on so many WWII posters. Rosie first appeared in 1943 when the Norman Rockwell painting appeared on the cover of the Memorial Day issue of the Saturday Evening Post. This day Rosie was reenactor Dawn Rumbutis who is a member of the Firelands Military Vehicle Group. However the real show belonged to 91-year old Minnie Bennett of Lorain Ohio. Safely escorted across the uneven ground, she was honored for her efforts when she worked in a steel plant replacing the men who had gone to the battlefield. She was also
accompanied by her husband of 72 years, Bruno Bennett. Mr. Bennet is a WWII Marine vet who served in the South Pacific.
A Marine came from the stands and took a knee beside Minnie Bennet. to personally thank her for the service she provided to our country. All of this brought back a flood of warm memories remembering my Mother. Mom worked in a clothing factory in Shelbyville, KY while my father was serving in the US Navy with the Seabees in the Philippines. My wife’s father, Lowell Ferryman, was a WWII Navy aviator who passed away very young in 1950. Her later step-father, Pete Luster, was also a WWII Seabee. Many in the crowd shed a tear to honor the sacrifices those at home made in support of our fighting men. These were the men and women who have been described as our greatest generation. They pulled shoulder-to-shoulder for the good of our country. That is something sadly missing today!
Following his key-note address Congressman Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) made a long overdue delivery of recognition and military awards to Vietnam veteran Mark Kovach of Oak Harbor, Ohio. Mr. Kovach received the honors for service in the US Army 9th Division while in the Mekong Delta near Dong Tam South Vietnam. The action took place during joint operations with the US Navy in 1967 – 1968.
He was seriously wounded while manning a machine gun when an explosion hit and also set off three blasting caps on his helmet. He suffered recurring concussions, as well as, shrapnel wounds to the head, neck and his torso. Congressman Latta’s office worked to get the proper recognition awarded. He received the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, Meritorious Service Award, Combat Infantry Badge, Vietnam Service Medal and Good Conduct Medal. He also received a hearty thank you from all the people attending the ceremony. A great time to pay honor and respect to all our too often overlooked Vietnam veterans.
While normally looking forward to the rifle and pistol competition, First Shot 2015 paid due respect to the past through historical reenactments while honoring those who have given so much in service to our country. May God Bless all our military, families and the United States of America.