Vern

A Remarkable Friendship
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Vern had an extensive collection of vintage NFA weapons.

What is it about the gun world that foments such extraordinary friendships? Two total strangers can meet over a vintage Luger and cherish each other’s company until one finally breathes his last. I have several buddies of this caliber. One of these dear friends told me about Vern.

Hitler’s Pissoir

Vern was drafted toward the end of World War II and sent to Berlin where he pulled occupation duty while assigned to the 78th Infantry Division. Vern proudly related he had urinated on the wall of Hitler’s office.

An inveterate gun nerd, Vern wandered war-torn Europe looking for unusual weapons. He once pried the hinges off of a locked door to access a crate of unfired StG-44 rifles. He stashed one in a nearby boiler room for retrieval later. When he finally got back to the rifle, he found that somebody had locked the muzzle between two pipes and mangled the barrel.

Vern had always wanted an MG-34 with the armored panzer barrel jacket. He once came across a knocked-out PzKpfz IV tank sporting just such a weapon. However, landing the old machinegun didn’t seem worth crawling inside with what remained of the tank crew. He said they looked like hot dogs.

Like most of his generation, Vern came back home ready to make the world a better place. These old guys had seen so much suffering, all they wanted to do was build stuff. Vern ultimately became an accomplished electrician and home contractor. Throughout it all he dabbled in firearms.

Vern never described himself as a gunsmith. He was just a guy who worked on guns. His body of institutional knowledge, however, was proound. He was a regular at Knob Creek and sold gun parts on the side.

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Vern’s vintage P-08 Luger and K-43 rifle ended up in Will’s
friend’s personal collection, cherished mementos of a priceless friendship.

Sometimes Little Things Can Become Big Things

My buddy was just a teenager when he and a friend were prowling about for gun swag. They had no money, but they could still dream. On this day they were poking around for Garand clips for guns they could not yet afford. With this as an impetus the two clueless teenage gun nerds drove out into the country and knocked on Vern’s door at lunchtime on a weekday.

Vern’s wife answered the door and explained Vern was home on his lunch break. If the two youngsters wanted to wait, they could do so in the front yard. Once Vern was done with lunch, he took time out of his professional day to chat about old military rifles. He showed off one of his M1s and explained the wonders of the Civilian Marksmanship Program before sending the two kids on their way. This encounter sparked a most remarkable friendship.

Vern no doubt had other things he needed to do that day. He enjoyed an extensive collection of registered machineguns, and these two kids were just punks with enthusiasm and no resources. However, this man’s patience and attention precipitated something truly wonderful.

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It was a common interest in M1 rifles that first spawned a lifelong friendship.

A Friendship Blossoms

After a stint in the Air Force, my buddy returned home to a career in law enforcement. Now single with a little time and a few more resources, he sought out Vern once again. The two men spent untold hours laughing together and parsing history of old machineguns. They did The Creek jointly on several occasions. Vern and his wife all but adopted the young man, sharing meals and celebrating major life events.

Eventually Vern suggested my buddy ought to consider the BATF. His specific admonition was, “Why don’t you go to work for ATF? I’m tired of dealing with people who don’t know anything about guns.” This suggestion sparked a successful career that ultimately led to an immensely satisfying friendship for me.

Over the course of time, age took its toll. Diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and kidney failure make for some sinister synergy. One day out of the blue Vern called my buddy, and they talked for more than an hour about nothing in particular. Vern closed the conversation with the observation my pal had been a great friend and he had always enjoyed the time they had spent together. Shortly thereafter, Vern was gone.

Vern refused a funeral. He also did not attend anyone else’s. Vern said people should be remembered as they were in life, not as some dark final image of death.

As my buddy told me about Vern, he related this, “Writing this has taken me from laughter to free-flowing tears. The only regret I have is that our paths did not intersect more seriously sooner in life. I had 10 years of cherished friendship with an incredibly intelligent, kind, and humble man who took every opportunity to enlighten and entertain me for whatever reason. How can one be anything but grateful for something like that?”

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