uring the Viet Nam War, not all was misery for some of us in the military who were far more fortunate than those who were ‘in-country’. As a sergeant and Small Arms Marksmanship Instructor, at 21 years of age, I was the NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge) of the USAF pistol range at Wheeler Field in Hawaii. I was more than blessed. Way More. I was just too young, too oblivious to what was happening in the world and didn’t know how good I had it.
Although earlier, at Beale AFB, California, I had been training Eighth Air Force personnel headed there in the use of an M-16 rifle, I personally stayed east of Viet Nam for my entire 49 month stint.
At either Beale or Wheeler, I was given all the ammo I could possibly burn up. But at Wheeler, I would teach a class in the morning, burn up ammo practicing with my .45 for lunch, teach another class in the afternoon and cap rounds for another hour after work. Life in Paradise.
My driving persistence in practicing so hard for a couple of hours a day was my aspiration as a competitive pistol shooter. T/Sgt Arnie Vitarabo, had competed on the USA team in the Free-Pistol Division at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Fortunately, as a young, 2700 Match shooter (also called a Bullseye Match or Conventional Pistol Match) on the Hawaii USAF Pistol Team, I was blessed to have him as a colleague - a fellow instructor. He took me under his wing and I became his protégé. He, along with T/Sgt George Moore, another Distinguished Master, helped me hone the innate handgun talent that God just happened to bless me by.
What was equally essential in my match wins was a highly accurized 1911 pistol that had been lovingly honed by Tommy Shimoda. The venerable 1911 is a semi-auto pistol designed by the firearms genius, John Moses Browning in the early 1900's. As testimony to Mr. Browning’s genius, is the fact that in this age of rapid tech changes that are often obsolete by the time they hit the consumer market, the 1911 is still in broad use today for military, law enforcement and competitors.
Tommy was the Honolulu PD armorer but that simple title, important as it is, doesn’t begin to describe his talent and skill as a gunsmith. Though neither as celebrated nor as prolific, he had a talent for building stellar, match-grade 1911s that would compete with the acclaimed custom, match-grade pistolsmiths of the time like Shockey and Chow.
My tack driver started out in life in about the middle of the run of the 55,000 1911A1 pistols made by Union Switch and Signal from 1942 - 1943. The frame is stamped, “United States Property”. It was fitted with Bo-Mar sights, a trigger shoe, Micro barrel bushing and custom, checkered walnut grips that included a palm-swell and thumb-rest not to mention checkered grip and mainspring housing. But the real magic was Tommy’s work inside with the sear, trigger, slide rails and other special touches of his.
This sweet 1911 came to me, already accurized, via a swap with a friend in the Hawaii Air National Guard, Roy Hidano. I cannot remember now what I gave Roy in this barter but in hindsight, whatever it was, it was not enough. When I ended up with this unique, high-end, match-pistol, my marksmanship scores rose to a new level. Finally I had a .45 that was better than I was. I began to win many of the monthly matches that we shot at the various ranges around Oahu.
After winning the Expert Class at the Hawaii State Championship in 1969, I went on to win the high honor of membership in the 2600 Club and became an NRA Lifetime Master with this Shimoda 1911.
Those experiences of my youth are what made me a lifetime 1911 devotee and led me to ownership of a half-dozen variants of the Browning icon. I still have ‘her’ in my gun safe and take it out to the range a few times year. The off-hand position of the 2700 matches is archaic and not often seen anymore but my Shimoda 1911 will still group tighter at 50 yards than any match shooter can hold.