I am starting to believe a symptom of growing old is complaining about the “kids these days.” It seems a day doesn’t go by that I hear some 40+ year old go on about how kids don’t take the time to care about history the way “we do.” The implied fear is that there will be no one to carry on the collecting interests that we older folks hold so dear.
Just the other day, I had this discussion again, this time with a fellow who collects pistols. He told me that at his club’s last national meeting, he didn't see anyone under 40. He lamented the notion that the young were not interested in the weapons that he had studied for years.
He isn’t alone in his concerns. I can’t remember the last week that has passed in which a collector, dealer or show promotor hasn’t lamented to me, “The young people aren't active in the hobby!” I am not so sure this is an accurate assessment. In my experience, I see young people who are interested in history and artifacts—maybe just not in the same things or in the same way that we are.
For example, my high-school age nephews are quite knowledgeable about WWII weaponry. I can’t take credit for this, though. I gave up providing them with books or relics years ago. Rather, they amassed their WWII smarts from playing video games. I honestly can't tell you what games they play, but one is a first-person WWII shooter. I didn' t make the connection between the hours they spend thumb-shooting each other with genuine interest in WWII until I took them to the range for some "real" shooting.
The two boys, their dad and I took a variety of WWII longarms and handguns to fire that day. The youngest nephew kept talking about a "goo-wer" (his assumed pronunciation of the German word "Gewehr") that he felt was the most accurate rifle of WWII. I didn't pay attention to his ramblings as I uncased a Garand, an Arisaka and a K-98. The elder nephew exclaimed, "A GAR-end...that's what I wanna shoot." I realized he was speaking about the M-1. Though he had "fired" thousands of rounds on his video game, he was going to be in for a bit of a surprise. After the first two shots, he turned to me and shouted, “I never knew they kicked so much!” I guess there isn’t much recoil on a joystick.
The other nephew kept rambling about the goo-wer. I couldn't figure out what he was talking about until he picked up the K-98 and said, "This is it! The German goo-wer." It dawned on me: These guys actually knew WWII weaponry. Not because of any book or hands-on study, but rather, through their video games. Without anyone teaching them, they were left to make up pronounciations for words that they only read on screen while they played.
Regardless, they developed a basic understanding of the pros and cons of a bolt-action rifle vs. an semi-automatic rifle on the WWII battlefield.
We spent the day firing the M1, the "Gewehr (actually pronounced something like, "GA-vehr"), an Arisaka, Luger and M1911 Colt. The boys loved it. The elder nephew relished burning through .30-06 rounds with the M1 only to hear the "PING" of the en bloc clip ejected after the last round (“just like in the game!”). The younger nephew thought he knew how to load a German rifle until he actually cradled the real thing in his arm while trying to figure out what to do with a stripper clip.
Following the afternoon of shooting, the day ended like any day of shooting in the Graf family--in the basement with papers spread on the ping-pong table and weapons field-stripped for cleaning. After experiencing the cleaning power and good smell of Hoppes No. 9, I showed the boys how to reassemble the weapons and experience the satisfaction of working the action of a freshly cleaned weapon. They never complained or acted in a hurry to do something else, but the moment we stored the weapons and cleaning gear, they disappeared into their game room, booted up, and returned to their video world of GIs versus Nazis.
Before walking in on them, I stopped and listened for a while. The younger one declared, "I am taking the 'GA-vehr.' You can have the 'Ga-RAND.' Sure, you can fire faster, but I can kick your ass with the GAvehr!" Standing behind the door, I smiled with a sense of satisfaction. Not only did I create a memory for my nephews, I firmly planted a collecting seed in them. I showed them that these weapons were important to me, and it connected with them.
I don't know if my nephews will ever become collectors, but I am pretty sure the bug is in them somewhere. The next morning at breakfast, the younger one asked, "Uncle John, when you die, can I have your 'GA-vehr?"
Nurture the interest, accept the response,
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine