Originally appeared on the now long gone Rifleman’s Journal
Camp Perry shooters are familiar with the President’s Match and the tradition that the winner of the match receives a congratulatory letter from the President of the United States. The match itself has changed many times over the years, both in course of fire and in the allowable arms; however, the letter has been a constant since President Theodore Roosevelt sent the first one in 1904.
At that time, the President’s Match was designated the “Military Rifle Championship of the Unites States of America” by authority of the President, and was as prestigious a match as a military man could win. The match was fired with the U.S. Army service rifle and in 1904 that was the Krag, though there were some Model 1903 Springfield rifles on the line as well. Ammunition was unrestricted meaning commercial ammunition for the service rifle could be used, not just military issued ammunition. The match was open to members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Naval Reserve and State Militia or National Guard – no civilians. The course of fire was seven shots at each distance: 200, 300, 500, 600, 800 and 1000 yards.
Private Howard Gensch of the First Regiment of Infantry of the New Jersey National Guard, didn’t have to travel too far for the National Matches at Sea Girt, New Jersey and likely was well acquainted with the range. Private Gensch fired the winning score, a 192 of a possible 210 (30, 32, 35, 32, 32, 31) and received the first Presidential letter in the now century old tradition. The letter read as follows:
White House, Washington September 24, 1904
My dear sir – I have just been informed that you have won the President’s Match for the Military Championship of the United States of America. I wish to congratulate you in person, and through you not only the First Regiment of the National Guard of New Jersey, but the entire National Guard of New Jersey. As a nation we must depend upon our volunteer soldiers in time of trial; and, therefore, the members of the National Guard fill a high function of usefulness. Of course, a soldier who cannot shoot is a soldier who counts for very little in battle, and all credit is due to those who keep up the standard of marksmanship. I congratulate you, both on your skill and upon your possession of the qualities of perseverance and determination in long practice, by which alone this skill could have been brought to its high point of development. With all good wishes, believe me,
Sincerely yours,(signed) Theodore Roosevelt Private
Howard Gensch First Regiment of Infantry, N.J.N.G.Madison, N.J.