Black and white photo of over a dozen men in military uniforms with a caption displaying all of their names.
The 1920 US Olympic Rifle Team poses for a photograph at Beverloo Range, Belgium.

Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections (COLL/3948) / Official USMC Photograph

Joseph Lawless was born in Waltham, MA in 1890. He joined Co. F, 5th Infantry Regiment, Mass National Guard in 1909, and quickly became a major competitor in military shooting competitions. He was one of 19 men chosen for the United States Rifle Team for the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. After the Olympics, he was made Captain of Co. I, 181st Infantry. Lawless died tragically young in 1923 of pneumonia, probably complicated by his having been gassed in World War I.

Another Massachusetts connection to the 1920 Olympics was the firearm that Capt. Lawless and his teammates carried to the games: an unmodified 1903 Springfield rifle. These rifles were designed and made for the US Army at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, which is now a National Park Unit! Throughout the 1920s, Americans dominated international shooting events with these rifles.

Photograph of a brown rifle.
A 1903 model Springfield Rifle, made at Springfield Armory in 1917.

NPS Museum Collections Photo, SPAR 4068/ Alexander MacKenzie

The first Olympics of the modern era was held in Greece in 1896, and the qualifications to enter were somewhat more casual than they are today! The American team was mostly made up of members of the Boston Athletic Association, along with athletes from Harvard and Princeton. John Bryant Paine (1870-1951) was a Lieutenant with the First Infantry Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia (the precursor to the National Guard), and as a crack pistol shot, he was asked to represent the US in the shooting events.

Black and white historic photograph of eight men standing in various poses.
The Boston Athletic Association members at the 1896 Olympics. Sumner Paine is seated on the floor to the left, and John Paine is seated on the floor at the right.

Boston Athletic Association

John traveled to France and picked up his older brother Sumner, and they went on to Athens with a variety of different pistols and 3500 rounds of ammunition, since they did not know what they needed for weapons. They were disqualified from one of the three pistol events because none of the pistols they brought were the right caliber, but then went on to smoke the competition in the other events.

John came in first in the 25-meter military pistol, while Sumner took second, with a score nearly twice as high as the third-place finisher. John then withdrew from the 30-meter free pistol, allowing Sumner to win that event. They needed only 90 shots from their off-the-rack Colt revolvers to earn three medals!

Part of a series of articles titled Citizen Soldiers.

Previous: Sword Hilt

Next: Military Music

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Last updated: June 28, 2022