A Gunrunner in the Family

by Hap Rocketto

When I was about 12 years old The Old Man got tired of catching me in the spider webs of untruths that I regularly spun to avoid, unsuccessfully I might add, being punished for the illicit acts of my adolescence.  With the aid of his thick black leather garrison belt he finally made it clear to me that, “Honesty is not the best policy, it is the only policy.”   He also pointed out that it would also be more practical for me, with my limited brainpower, to tell the truth: I would have less to remember.  As usual The Old Man was right.  Knowing this it may come as a surprise to find out that The Old Man was once a principal, albeit unknowingly, in one of England’s more notorious gunrunning rings.

The tale begins with a knock on the front door of the family homestead in New London, Connecticut, that interrupted The Old Man’s late morning breakfast routine.  At the unexpected sound he neatly folded the paper, put down his cup of scalding black coffee, and carefully perched his smoldering Camel cigarette on the lip of the overflowing ashtray. Warily he approached the door as he was in no need of any magazine subscriptions or aluminum siding or their itinerant vendors.  Peering through a side window he espied a uniformed New London policeman and a nattily dressed civilian standing on the porch.  I am sure the first thought that ran through his mind was what kind of mischief had I been up to and did he have enough cash on hand to cover bail.  In my defense I had been married and living a spotless life for over 15 years by that the time but, then again, old habits die hard.

Cracking the door he greeted the pair and they asked if they might come in and discuss an issue.  Seeing nothing wrong The Old man invited them in, proceeded to pour them coffee, and as he dusted them profusely with cigarette ash asked how he might be of service. The civilian was actually a British policeman who was trying to find members of the US Air Force who had purchased guns while in England.  It seems one Ivor Jones had been selling them for direct export to the States upon the airmen’s return home.  However, the guns in question were turning up in arrests all over East Anglia and at each investigative turn the Bobbies had come up against a blank wall.

“Why me?” asked The Old Man for he had never been in the service or to England.  The only possible connection was his brother, for whom I am named, who had been a navigator in the 8th Air Force and stationed with the 358th Bomb Squadron of the 303rd Bomb Group (Heavy) at Molesworth, England in 1943.  Coincidentally airmen from Molesworth were some of the missing gun’s purchasers.  Uncle Harry was also a trained 50 caliber machine gunner, “Machine gunner, not a gunrunner, mind you!  They may sound the same, but they are not!” snapped The Old Man who did not want any confusion to exist and sully his brother’s memory.  “Harry was killed in action on his first mission, so he could not possibly be a considered a suspect, at least not in the United States. But, perhaps English law views things differently?” sarcastically opined The Old Man.  It goes without saying that he was no Anglophile.

Apparently the alleged perpetrator, Jones, claimed he had sold a gun to The Old Man and the sales documents, a copy of which they produced, had his name and address neatly printed on it.  This is what brought them to a kitchen in New London where they sat enveloped in a London Pea Soup fog of Camel smoke.  I guess The Old Man wanted the British cop, who was from old London, to feel at home.  It turns out the British police got suspicious when one of the airmen claimed to have purchased a gun in 1992 had actually retired in 1966, making The Old Man’s thoughts about my Uncle Harry being a possible purchaser not so far fetched.  After some more questions and note taking the police took their leave with a promise to let The Old Man know how things turned out.  The incident drifted out of The Old Man’s mind, as did many things in those days, and was soon forgotten.

A few months later The Old Man again heard footsteps, this time expected, on the front porch.  Greeting the mailman was a treasured part of the day for both he and the postman for in the winter months it was The Old Man’s practice to come to the door with a brace of small glasses filled with a light amber liquid.  They would quaff a dram together in a companionable little gesture that produced several positive side effects.  It kept The Old Man’s blood circulating, it provided a regular visitor from outside of the family, it kept the mailman warm and happy, and it insured that The Old Man’s mail was always delivered on time.  The empty shot glass was returned with a smile and word of thanks along with the mail.  On this day one envelope bore an English return address and contained a letter and some photocopied newspaper clippings.

The letter was from a Commander R. Clark, of the South East Regional Crime Squad, thanking The Old Man for his help in bringing the gunrunning ring before Mr. Justice Drake of the Crown Court.  Drake dispensed gaol (this about English justice and I wanted to show off by using the term assizes but couldn’t as they had been abolished in 1971, so please indulge my use of the English spelling of jail) sentences from six to 11 years to the eight members of the ring.

Buried in one of the newspaper articles was the fact the Jones, “had taken their names from details printed in a gun enthusiasts’ magazine, The American Rifleman, of July 1979.” The Old Man’s ‘details’ were located in the “Coming Events” section of the Rifleman as the contact person for a series of pistol matches he and John Lucas were running at the Quaker Hill Rod and Gun Club.  It seems that either in the United States or England no deed, good or bad, goes unpunished.

About Hap Rocketto

Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career, pronematch.com.
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