Rock Island Arsenal

As seen in Thunder Roads LA-MS Nov. 2018 Vol. 14 – Issue 11.

Early in October, I was fortunate enough to have enough time to visit Rock Island Arsenal Museum and see their small arms collection. I can say that I was not disappointed with the collection on display. There were firearms that I had both never heard of nor seen and firearms that I have always dreamed of seeing. Among these were some Special Purpose Individual Weapons (SPIW) Program  firearms and the Cadillac Gage Stoner-63 machine guns, respectively. There are over 1,000 firearms on display. Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, the number of displayed pieces was cut drastically, and those firearms were stored in Alabama.

As a compliment, the museum had logbooks containing armorer’s documentation for each of the firearms on display. There were a few specific files that I wanted pictures of, but I did not readily search through all of them for some of the other platforms. While the museum offered a large compliment of firearms from nearly every major combat action that the United States has taken part in, I was focused on the modern platforms. I believe the platforms dated back to examples from the Revolutionary War. Furthermore, these firearms were not exclusively American designs and, often, the foreign weapons on display were war bring-backs from their given era.

Examples of the Cadillac-Gage Stoner-63 modular weapon system.

Evolutionary stages of more recent American military rifles were plentiful. There were many different models of M-16s, nearly ever example of Springfield M1903 (even one with a Pedersen device) that I could muster thoughts of, and quite a few different M1 Garands and M1 Carbines. I did say “nearly every major combat action” and the reason why is that there is not much of the current American inventory: not even a current-spec M4 carbine that I can recall. A specific Mk. 14 Enhanced Battle Rifle was on display, but that seemed to be the most recent thing available to witness in the rifle category – a modified M-14 battle rifle with history from the Iraq War. The lack of the more modern armaments was somewhat disappointing. Some of those items are relatively hard for a civilian to come by in sight let along handling and firing, and those would have been nice to see.

Three FG42 variants (one early and two late-war) and three Sturmgewehr rifles.

The museum held many artifacts of weapons manufacturing from yester-years and stories from those who worked for the Arsenal, as well as those who utilized the armaments during the heat of battle in wars abroad. The tenacity, the grit. What it took both at home and in the field to keep this nation a Constitutionally-protected Republic and keep the People within free. A handful of displays outlined the cost, as well. It is one of those places that is perfect to take a youngster on an adventure to. The lesson that freedom doesn’t come easy, that humanity isn’t perfect, and that those weapons are an integral part of what it takes to restore the balance of right and wrong to some parts of the world.

As with other arsenals around the country, due to the lack of funding, they are steadily falling under the ax of budget cuts as time rolls on. The Rock Island Arsenal has already seen this occur; losing some of the display pieces several years ago and there is only one employee left at the museum. If you wish to see the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, I can tell you it would be a shame to lose such a place. Especially considering how anti-firearms and anti-self-defense the politics game is these days. The museum’s entryway held a small donation box in the center of the hall and I do encourage generosity when visiting.

Because the museum is on a military base, you will have to register at the visitor center prior to driving through the gates. Paperwork is required, and ID must be shown for an NICS background check. Furthermore, no foreign visitors are permitted. Not even those with allied military service can enter.

For those who are allowed though, it’s well worth the hassle.

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Questions or comments? Email thisistheline3@gmail.com.

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