Drawing a bead on a vintage enemy rifle

Visitors to the Italian American Veterans Museum often comment on the rifle we feature in our Souvenirs of War exhibit. It’s a weapon brought back from World War II by U.S. Army Pfc. John Filetti and graciously donated to our museum. This vintage firearm is a Japanese Type 38 rifle in caliber 6.5 mm. These were adopted by the Japanese army in 1905, during the 38th year of the reign of Emperor Meiji, hence the 38 designation.

A finely crafted and well-finished weapon, the Type 38 was extremely accurate and simple to use. Some 3.5 million were produced at four separate arsenals in Japan, the majority of them prior to 1932. Its major drawback was its underpowered 6.5 mm cartridge. Despite this shortcoming, it was used up to the end of World War II.

The rifle was replaced in 1932 by the Type 99. Employing the same basic design, but with several enhancements, the Type 99 used a more powerful 7.7 mm cartridge, which proved brutally effective against American forces during the island-hopping battles of the South Pacific.

Japanese military weapons were considered the personal property of the emperor. As such, his personal insignia, the imperial chrysanthemum, was stamped into the top of the receiver on each rifle. Under the terms of surrender, the Japanese had to give up their rifles but were allowed to keep their emperor. To not dishonor him, the Japanese completely or partially ground off the chrysanthemums before turning over their guns.

Rifles that were captured on the battlefield retained their imperial symbols. The example we have on display in our museum has its chrysanthemum fully intact.

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Steve Corbo

A founding member and corporate secretary of the Italian American Veterans Museum, Steve Corbo is the museum’s curator and a military consultant for Fra Noi. He has served for 25 years as president of S.A. Corbo & Associates Inc., providing professional liability insurance to health care providers. The son and nephew of World War II veterans and a passionate military historian for over 50 years, he has written and published articles on a variety of topics, including military history, and serves as the military consultant for Fra Noi, the Chicago-area Italian-American magazine.

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