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Ballistic impressions

A Civil War-era .58 caliber star base 3-ringer Minie ball…now on my desk. Squee!

This is your typical Federal 3-ringer in “dropped” condition, with the star inside the base detailing its origin from the Washington Arsenal.

California-based Ballistic Impressions handcrafts everything from paperweights to earrings and cufflinks, all with bullets as the medium.

Jason Bell is the man behind the scenes at BI and over the past couple years he has crafted more than 800 creations, taking pride in the fact that he donates 20 percent of all profits to non-profit 501(c)(3) Mil/LE organizations.

I recently covered his work over at which evolved into commissioning the above piece.

An interview with ‘The Oldest Living Graduate’ and the last member of USMA 1933

LTG(R) Ely, (USMA 1933) at the recent West Point Alumni Review

The West Point Center for Oral History recently caught up with a living relic of the pre-WWII military academy and interviewed him for their collection. It is a great 45-minute talk with a man who has seen a lot.

LTG(R) William Ely was born in 1911, and graduated from West Point in 1933. He was notified of his appointment two days before he was expected to report, and that set into motion what would become a 33-year career in the Army. He graduated 18th in his class of 347, and commissioned into the Engineers. He is the sole surviving member of his class, and the oldest living graduate of West Point. His first assignment in the Army was with the Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi River, an experience he considers transformative because it provided a solid base for the rest of his career. He then went to Cornell to earn a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering. From 1938 to 1940, he was assigned to Midway Island on a harbor dredging project to support the eventual construction of an airstrip. After returning from Midway, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Engineers in Washington, D.C., and when America became involved in World War II, he spent the first two years planning base expansions for the growing Army. In 1943, he was reassigned to the 6th Army headquarters in the Pacific, where one of his primary responsibilities was conducting reconnaissance for future bases as the Army “island hopped” closer to Japan. In his book, “The Oldest Living Graduate,” written in 2015, LTG(R) Ely describes his dynamic and successful career, and reflects upon the highlight of his life, his 74-year marriage to Helen Mountford Ely.

In this interview, LTG(R) Ely talks about his childhood on a farm in Pennsylvania, and his decision to apply to West Point. He describes life at West Point in the early 1930s, and becoming an Engineer Officer. He discusses his experience in the Corps of Engineers and his service before and during World War II, mentioning Generals MacArthur and Krueger among others. Finally, he talks about the love of his life, his wife Helen.

The amazing interview is here.

King Kong and Khe Sanh, 50 years ago

A U.S. Marine shows a message written on the back of his flak vest at the Khe Sanh combat base in Vietnam on Feb. 21, 1968 during the Vietnam War. The quote reads, “Caution: Being a Marine in Khe Sanh may be hazardous to your health.” Khe Sanh had been subject to increased rocket and artillery attacks from the North Vietnamese troops in the area. (AP Photo/Rick Merron)

Michael B. Taft, an ironworker and dairy farmer, was an infantryman in A Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines from 1966 to 1967. He spent some time in a place called Khe Sanh. He tells his story in a gripping account at the NY Times entitled “A Patrol Called King Kong”

Astride the old French colonial Route 9 and just six miles east of Laos, the Khe Sanh Special Forces base sat on a plateau in a valley, deep within the Annamite Mountains. Immediately north of the plateau and hundreds of feet below, the spectacular, fast-moving Quang Tri River had cut a deep gorge on its way to the South China Sea at Dong Ha. To the west sat a mass of 3,000-foot hills, both an extraordinary spectacular beauty and a forbidding terrain of dense, triple-canopy forest growing in laterite soil. It would also soon be the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.

More here

A conversation with Mr. Parker

Larry A Parker, 74, of Belmont, Ohio, has had a career in the firearms industry that has taken a lifetime but has produced treasures that will endure through the ages.

I  bumped into Parker at the 146th National Rifle Association Annual Meetings and Exhibits at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta and asked him about his work, that of a master engraver. The career path, with ties to the old world gunsmithing artisans of yesteryear, is not your typical one.

“I started building rifles in 1958. I actually started working on guns in shop class when I was in high school — I don’t think you can do that today,” he said.

Parker, the son of a carpenter, built 16 muzzle loading rifles, both flintlock, and percussion in his youth, all from scratch using curly maple stocks.

“Back then there wasn’t any kits available. You got you a plank of wood and you carved one out.”

And what he has created since then, with decades of study behind him, is amazing.

More in my column at

How to touch up the steel with a coffee mug

Just in case you didn’t know:

Here endeth the lesson

Wentworth Military Academy and College dates back to 1880, but will not date to 2018

Administrators say a 137-year-old Missouri military academy and college will close after next month because of declining enrollment, rising costs and aging facilities.

Wentworth Military Academy and College’s board chairman and president announced the closure, effective May 31, in letters Friday to cadets, students, parents and alumni.

The letter to alumni says the site in Lexington about 50 miles east of Kansas City will pay its debts and liquidate its assets as part of “an orderly closure.”

From the school

APRIL 7, 2017 – The Board of Trustees of Wentworth Military Academy and College announces that the school will cease all educational and related operations at its campus located in Lexington, Missouri, and its learning site in Cameron, Missouri, at the end of this academic year, which falls on May 31, 2017. Key educational and school-related activities – including the Military Ball, commencement ceremonies, and the commissioning of new officers – will proceed as previously scheduled.

The closing of the school and the winding down of its operations will take place in an orderly manner, and Wentworth will make every effort to assist students and their parents in effecting the students’ smooth transition to other educational institutions.

The Board has directed the officers of the school to take all necessary and proper actions to cease all educational and related operations at the school’s Lexington campus, as well as to initiate the process of dissolving the school corporation and liquidating all corporate assets in accordance with the Bylaws of the corporation and Missouri legal requirements. The school has retained the law firm of Husch Blackwell LLP to provide legal advice and counsel with respect to the cessation of operations and pending dissolution.

There are no plans at present for the school’s facilities at the Lexington campus.

Ah, the sights of Spring

Living on the Gulf Coast, Springtime is that wonderful time of year before the oppression of 99-degree/99 percent humidity days inside Hurricane Season.

And it looks like the tomatoes are coming in nicely (every man should tend a garden).

The counter-zombie perimeter dogs are loving the sunlight…

And the banana mags are coming into bloom along with the hibiscus.

While many like the easy look of a carbine made for combat, it only takes a little time and effort to infuse a splash of color to your build to truly set it apart while retaining complete functionality.

Why do this?

Having a semi-custom and readily identifiable magazine at the range, 3-gun shoot, class or event keeps your gear from getting mixed up with others, makes it easy to spot for retrieval later (unless it’s a green mag in high green grass) and just generally lends a little more swagger to your game. Is a bright yellow “banana” mag the optimal choice for a home defense gun or tactical situation, probably not, but odds are you still have some good ole plain black, FDE or gray mags around that fit that bill just fine. Finally, when teaching new shooters or trying to get novices interested in the shooting sports– especially youth– having a splash of color for your AR isn’t a terrible thing if it makes the whole experience more approachable.

Your mileage may vary.

A tutorial on dyeing mags (and other polymer gun parts) in my column at


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