It was the summer of 1968. I was a camp counselor at a small boys camp in western Massachusetts. I was the new Massachusetts Junior Smallbore Champion. I had passed my NRA instructors test and so I was qualified to be a Riflery Instructor. I had attended summer camps when I was much younger and being a counselor was something I always wanted to do.
Generally I was terrible at it. I had no clue how to deal with the younger than 10-year-old crowd. Truth be known, I was having trouble with my own age group. And not everything that is on your must-do list is going to turn out as the best thing ever. So I was always trying to find something to do that was interesting and would alleviate the boredom.
I had made some friends among the counselors and among them were three kids from Ireland who were there as football [soccer] counselors. I never actually asked them where they were from since their Irish accents told me all I thought I needed to know. They did mention something about Belfast but it was just another place far away to me.
I had played very little soccer up to that point and I was always eager to learn. They were happy to teach me during the off hours and we had some fun together. Since they had grown up playing football as their main game, they were magical at it. Much of what they tried to teach was lost on me but I enjoyed it.
After a few days they asked me if I would teach them to shoot. After all, they would teach me soccer and I would teach them to shoot. It sounded good to me and again it would be fun and help to chase away the boredom. As they had grown up with football, I had grown up with shooting. It was my main pursuit in sport and they seemed as awed at what I could do with a rifle as I was with their talents at soccer. They were exceptionally eager to learn, the rifles were available and the ammunition was provided by the camp.
We finished the summer and had a lot of fun together. None of us made any money but I think everyone walked away with a new skill. In our short time together they had become pretty good with a rifle and they were very thankful for all I had been able to teach them. For my part they were much easier to teach than an 8-year-old that was afraid of the loud crack every time the rifle fired. We all said our goodbyes and returned home.
Years later I started to put some things together in my head. Beginning in 1967, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) embarked on a 30-year campaign against the British presence in Northern Ireland that claimed 1707 lives. The Viet Nam war was not the only war that Walter Cronkite told us about in those days. Before long I began to have a terrible feeling that said ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’
I never had any proof that my young camp counselor friends were a part of the IRA or had any part in the conflict with the British. But every time I turned on the news and saw British soldiers being picked off one at a time, I thought about my possible part in all of it.
© J T Weaver