Philip Schreier has kept count of the times he has been shot at in the line of duty as a war correspondent. Fortunately, Philip, whose full-time job is senior curator at the NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia, USA, has lived to tell the tale. And he certainly had plenty of yarns to deliver as special invited guest of the SSAA National 2014 AGM in Canberra in May. “I’ve been shot at five times, without result thankfully,” he said laughingly during his recent visit to Australia. “My first trip was 30 days in Iraq in August 2003. And it was interesting. I had always had a fascination for war correspondence and photography. I love photography.”
The experience with the 101st Airborne Division made Philip the NRA’s first accredited war correspondent since World War II. Then in 2010, he went to Afghanistan with the US 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
Philip’s first close call came with a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq. “It missed our van and hit an oil pipeline,” he said. “They were actually aiming for the oil and we just happened to be in the way.
“Then in Afghanistan, they sent two rockets that completely missed the airbase. They sound like flying freight cars though when they go overhead.”
However, Philip’s primary role has been with the NRA Firearms Museum, where he has been for more than two decades. His initial arrival came on the back of a visit to Australia 25 years ago to collect memorabilia relating to his fascination for the role of the Anzacs in World War I. Incredibly, Philip still finds time to act as field editor for the American Rifleman magazine, as well as appearing on the History Channel in addition to other cable television shows.
From humble beginnings in the gift shop at the museum, Philip now oversees a collection of firearms that last year attracted 55,000 visitors.
“It would be hard to describe it as a museum at first,” he said. “We were displaying in a lobby.
“There was no theme to it and there were about 900 guns. Now, we have 3000 on exhibit. And you walk through a timeline of 15 different galleries.
“It starts off with the earliest gun from about 1350 – a hand cannon – and goes all the way up to the guns they are using in Afghanistan today – modern Glocks, HKs, Rugers.”
Among the exhibits are guns used by Theodore Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, Napoleon, from royalty and presidents to soldiers on the frontline and American cops walking the beat.
Not surprisingly, the Hollywood connection always strikes a chord.
“We did an exhibition in 2002 called ‘Real Guns of Reel Heroes’…I would imagine that a lot of people’s experiences with firearms are similar to my own. The first one I saw was on television and I grew up wanting to play army or cowboys in the woods based on the movies I had seen. I’d have a Thompson gun like Clint Eastwood did in Kelly’s Heroes. Stuff like that.
“There was John Wayne’s lever-action from Stagecoach with the big loop, lever loop on it. People just flocked to the museum to see that.
“The Star Wars light sabre was non-gun, but one of the most popular artefacts.
“Now we have a sequel called ‘Hollywood Guns’. It has 105 firearms from the exhibit. We switched ’em up, a complete new crop of guns.”
One surprise section in the museum is an Anzac exhibition, again a tell-tale sign of Philip’s affection for Australia. “I’ve always had a personal fondness for Australia and Australians,” he said. “I threw that there on purpose. I say, well, we can have a diorama, we can do a diorama for World War I and we can pick any time and place. And I say how about when the 30th Division was with the Australians on the Hindenburg Line? So we have the Anzac there in the World War I case…I try to sneak in things.”
Philip’s sense of history comes alive again when he talks about one of the first guns that can be seen when entering the museum. It is an air rifle from a time when no-one thought there was an air rifle, let alone a repeating air rifle. The specific exhibit is from the Lewis-Clark Expedition, which traversed what is now the western expanse of the US. The perilous journey started from near St Louis on the Mississippi in May 1804 and reached the Pacific Coast in September 1806. “It is very prominent, I think it changed history,” said Philip. “Here’s a gun that through perception of superior firepower enabled three dozen people to go from St Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back and double the size of the number of stars on our flag, just though perception… And they weren’t wiped out. The Indians never attacked them.”
The duties at the NRA National Firearms Museum seem an onerous task. Yet Philip still manages to spend a lot of his time travelling and talking to people about firearms. “I do and I enjoy it,” he said. “At first, I was petrified to get up in front of a group and talk. And at the museum one time, the first time we had a television or a news crew and nobody wanted to talk to them. And I was kinda like the newest guy so they said, ‘Okay, you go do that’.
“I love telling a story. The story is the important part. If you can inspire someone with a story, who knows where they will take it.”
The journey has certainly taken Philip a long way. He is grateful that he leapt on board for the great adventure after his trip Down Under all those years ago. “When I left Australia 25 years ago, I had no clue what I was going to do for my next meal or job. The good Lord, literally, smiled upon me and I’ve been very, very pleased and honoured to do this,” he said.
Phil Schreier visits Lithgow Small Arms Museum
The Lithgow Small Arms Factory has a special place in the minds of Australian firearm enthusiasts and those from overseas. The SSAA arranged with the staff of the Lithgow Small Arms Museum (LSAM) to open the doors for a special visit by the NRA Museum senior curator Phil Schreier.
LSAM secretary Kerry Guerin hosted Phil’s visit, which had a special focus on the variations of the many firearms produced by the Lithgow Small Arms Factory since 1913. The visit included a walk through of the old vacant factory buildings to inspect the remains of Australia’s once-thriving government arsenal.
Thales Australia also facilitated a tour of its adjacent factory, with an emphasis on the production in Australia of the new Lithgow CrossOver .22LR-calibre rifle and a briefing from Thales Australia factory manager Bruce Hutton on exactly what Thales Australia produces.
“I am very thankful for the opportunity to visit what has always been a very special place,” said Phil. “Although it is sad to see the empty factory sheds with remnants of what once was, it did not override the joy at being able to feel and smell what exactly what went on in these historical buildings. Thanks to you all.”