Around that proud age of owning the first car, we gave up cap guns and our Daisy Easy Ryder BB guns for hot popcorn, cold beer and drive-in movies. It was a short-lived, carefree fun time then, but when Uncle Sam decided to call and we were suddenly in the Army, we were now required to learn how to shoot guns — M1 Garand rifles, to be exact.

Each day, at 4 a.m., we ran double-time to the rifle range, firing until we made qualification. Taking turns, laying just inches away from each other, we checked that the person firing did not flinch. The ejected shell would land on your back, and it was hot! The noise was deafening— we couldn’t hear our own feet hit the ground when we marched back to camp.

Next came qualifying on the M1 Carbine, a .45 automatic Colt pistol, then the M1919.30 medium machine gun and the M2 .50-caliber machine gun. The M1 with bayonet, the M1 rocket launcher or Bazooka was next. We even disabled these weapons and reassembled them blindfolded.

Some of us qualified for a long-range sniper rifle — a 357-480 with a big barrel, huge shell and a 22-inch-long head.

The upshot: We knew our weapons!

Dangerous work

Two years later, back to a civilian lifestyle in Madison Park, it took only 58 seconds to readjust. At that time, in the late ‘50s, after-hours clubs became the “in” thing to do, where one could party until 5 a.m.

Often, on a crowded dance floor, a wayward elbow would catch someone in the ribs, which was reason to react. “Fight,” someone yelled, and the dance floor cleared. Soon, the combatants were cast out, and the music and dance continued.

If anyone carried a side arm, they just checked it at the door and retrieved it on departure.

Altercations involving guns rarely happened, as I recall, but knives? A trip to Harborview hospital for a few stitches and bragging rights was the outcome.

Working at Hostess Cakes in the early ‘60s as a sales driver meant making up to 50 stops a day. It was a time before credit cards, so it was cash and checks only. Drivers carried cash, but grocery stores had much more. Holdups were common.

The first time I was involved in a holdup, I was writing my sales report when a tall gentleman shoved his gun into my side.

I wanted to ask, “Isn’t that a Colt 1911-.45 issue? Don’t you find it a bit bulky for work like this? Why not a Smith and Wesson .38-caliber snub-nose? It’s much less intrusive and lighter!” I thought best not to comment: It was not a good time to compare gun knowledge.

When I approached stores in the early morning, I would ask loudly, “Can I serve you now, or are you being held up?”

Closer to home

The Kansas City Steak House was popular on Fifth Avenue and Pike Street. A fellow seated at the bar was using foul language toward the cocktail server, who was a good friend, so I shouted, “Watch your mouth” and unbuttoned my jacket. He did so, too, revealing a big 9mm.

Again, I wanted to say, “Wow, a Colt .45-1927 issue! That is far too inappropriate for that sport coat. Why not a Baby Browning .25-caliber automatic?” As I paused to consider commenting, the bar manager quietly said to me, “Don’t do it. You might win here, but his dad is a police desk sergeant.”

We once had a problem neighbor who was carrying on loudly throughout an entire evening. Then came the sound of gunfire: He had been shooting rats in the house. He talked himself out of trouble when the police arrived.

He banged at my door, way over the sober level, and asked, “You don’t like me, do you?” I stepped closer, ready to strike, but noticed he had a .38 Special behind his back. I slammed the door and called 911 again.

In the early ‘70s, a good friend and next-door neighbor was shot dead over an argument while at one of the pubs on the Ave in the University District.

The bottom line: Err on the side of caution. We need to care for each other. 

RICHARD CARL LEHMAN is a longtime Madison Park resident. To comment on this column, write to