OGDEN -- Utah reservists in Iraq discovered a World War II-era Browning machine gun, and their first thought was that it belonged in the Browning Arms Museum in Union Station.
The gun, an M1919A4, is now the museum's newest acquisition and soon will be put on display with the rest of the rare and valuable arms produced by Browning.
Getting it here took awhile. Machine guns are illegal to import and the military paperwork involved in bringing them in can be daunting.
Capt. John Lovejoy, commander of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 96th Sustainment Brigade, stationed in Fort Douglas, said one advantage his men had was that the approval of the company commander -- him -- was key to getting the gun here. He's a huge fan of Browning arms and the Browning Arms Museum, so he was happy to oblige.
But Lovejoy is quick to give his men the credit. They found the gun, saved it, cleaned it up and lobbied hard to bring it home.
The 96th Sustainment Brigade is a descendant of the 96th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army that saw action through the Pacific in World War II. The brigade is now a large number of reserve infantry and engineer regiments composed of service members throughout the Intermountain West. It was most recently stationed in Iraq in 2009-10.
The unit was based in central Iraq, with headquarters in a town called Taji. During that deployment, Lovejoy said, they found the machine gun.
"Part of our operations included working hand in hand with the Iraq military, and on this base in Taji was a huge supply depot," Lovejoy said. The United States bombed the depot extensively during the opening phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The buildings and their contents were blasted far and wide, "and in these storage buildings were these machine guns," he said, along with a lot of other types of arms and ammunition. His unit was charged with helping the Iraqi army clean up the mess.
So they started picking up busted guns "and one of them was this Browning, and it was out in the weather for years," Lovejoy said.
The gun was a rusted mess, but the men, including several from Ogden, immediately recognized it. They got permission from the Iraqi military to keep it.
"There were probably 15 or 20 of them who took it on themselves," he said. They'd have got it firing again if they could have, he said, but their goal was to bring it back to Utah.
That was the real trick.
Lovejoy contacted the Browning Arms Museum, which said it would love to get the gun. However, "it is very difficult to get those through the system but I, as the commander of the unit, authorized that with very controlled conditions."
Those conditions included making sure it was in his unit's possession at all times, making sure the Iraqi Army really had given permission to keep it and, most important, "de-militarizing" the weapon so it couldn't fire.
Roberta Beverly, director of the Union Station Foundation, admitted that last condition is controversial.
Museums like to keep things as original as possible, but the law is clear on machine guns. Beverly said the only way to save this one from the melting pot was to make sure it could not be fired.
This one was welded inside the breech so it can't be loaded. The welding cannot be seen from the outside, and the external parts of the gun, such as the sight and the bolt, still move.
Beverly is still trying to figure out what a World War II-era machine gun from the United States was doing in Iraq.
Several Internet reference sources say the M1919A4 is a .30-caliber machine gun made from 1919 until the 1950s. The M1919 was invented by Ogden gun inventor John M. Browning after World War I General of the Armies John J. Pershing asked Browning for something lighter and more durable than the water-cooled M1917.
The M1919A4 weighs 31 pounds, is air cooled and recoil-operated. It could be used by infantry, carried by cavalry or mounted on a vehicle. It was exported extensively, including to the British, who had troops stationed in Iraq during World War II.
Britain occupied Iraq in 1917 and gave it political independence in 1927, but kept troops there to protect its oil interests. The British could have used guns like this to put down a rebellion by the Iraqi Army in 1941, when Iraq tried to ally with Germany and Italy.
Beverly said this particular gun's engraving shows it was made by General Motors at its Saginaw, Mich., steering gear works. She hasn't had time to chase down its history through the serial number yet.
The museum has uniforms from various wars with the types of Browning guns used in those wars. Diana Azevedo, who manages the museum's machine gun displays, said "our plan is to mount it by the current uniform. We want to play up the story with the current troops who saved it and said this needs to go to the museum."
Lovejoy said that, as a soldier, he has great admiration for the Browning M1919A4. An up-sized version, the M2 that uses .50-caliber bullets, is still in use today.
"Every war after he (John Browning) invented it, that's our primary weapon," Lovejoy said, "and without that weapon, a lot more lives would have been lost."