Gregory's connections to the pro-gun movement may seem ironic to say the least.
He never owned a gun, but he was an ardent supporter of the right to keep and bear arms, and he was a defender of the National Rifle Association. He didn't choose to keep a gun, but believed that every law-abiding citizen had a right to decide whether he or she wished to own a firearm. Like many old-time Virginians, Gregory believed that no governmental body should infringe upon the citizen's right to keep and bear arms either through legislation or politics. Accordingly, Gregory respected the NRA's philosophies, enjoyed its literature and defended its politics when he felt it necessary.
Prior to my meeting him, Gregory's involvement with firearms was limited to his stint in the army. He used to joke that he never fired his M-1 Garand during World War II because he was too busy becoming a casualty.
In truth, he was a highly decorated veteran whether he fired his rifle or not. During the Battle of the Bulge, Gregory and two companions were pinned down by enemy artillery fire. A shell exploded nearly on top of them, wounding all three seriously. Gregory, who was small in stature, quickly hoisted one G.I. atop his shoulders and carried him under fire to safety. Then, he made the trip again, rescuing his other wounded buddy.
Later, while recuperating in a hospital, Gregory scoffed off the incident to his commanding officers, telling them jokingly that he was only using his friends' bodies as "shields" for his own protection.
"I just tried to cover my flanks," he told them. They didn't believe him and awarded him the Bronze Star. He returned to action, saved other lives and was again wounded. He finished the war with no less than seven decorations, including two Purple Hearts. Gregory may never have fired his rifle, but his sacrifices truly showed the right stuff of bravery.
I first net Gregory after college. We were both teachers and he knew of my enormous interest in shooting. His family lived on a 180-acre farm in Virginia and I was invited there to shoot to my heart's content. He let me store my shooting paraphernalia in his family's barn, and he would sit for hours in the hot Virginia sun spotting for me.
"Six o'clock," he would say after I squeezed off a round, indicating where the bullet struck the target. "Nine o'clock," after another round. "Three o'clock," he would say, watching my frustration mount. Then: "There must be something wrong with you; you finally hit the bullseye."
Inadvertently, he ended up becoming my shooting coach, simply because no matter what the effort, he liked to see things done right. He read every book and article about shooting that I read, he told me what I did right (which was not much) and what I did wrong (which was plenty), and he spared no effort in helping me develop as a competent marksman. His ordinary reading interests leaned more towards poetry and history than to guns and shooting, but ultimately he could discuss T.S. Eliot and the War of the Roses with the same authority that he could talk about windage and muzzle velocity. He was as much at home with shooters as with professors, and he opened his farm to many youngsters who wanted to learn to shoot safely.
Gregory also did not hunt, but he had no qualm with hunters. He realized that the greatest threat to the wildlife he loved came not from hunters but from destruction of habitat, and for years he pleaded with neighbors not to sell off their timer because it had such a decimating effect on the native wildlife. He was a devout student of the woods, and loved animals for their physical beauty and habits. But he was never more pleased than when I returned to the farmhouse after a day of hunting with my game bag filled with quail, or rabbit or squirrel.
His stipulations with hunting were the same as with target shooting: Do it safely, obey the law and treat the sport with respect. As long as you did that you were welcome on his land.
Like most people, the facts of Gregory's life are few and do not tell as much about the man as his beliefs or actions.
He was born in Virginia in 1916 and was raised on various farms in the state with his brother and two sisters. His family never had much money, but any neighbor who was hungry could find a place to eat at the Gregory's and there was always room for a homeless child. His early education was primarily at home, from his mother, who later became a schoolteacher. He was a voracious reader, did extremely well in high school and graduated from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. After graduation, he studied at Oxford University in England and took a master's degree from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.
For a while he worked in a bank, and then became a teacher, first in Amelia County, VA, and then for the rest of his career in Alexandria, a Virginia suburb of Washington. He was respected by his peers and students and he had profound influence on many, many lives during his 20-plus years of teaching.
I fully realize that this may seem a strange place for what is in essence a memorium. In truth, I debated long and hard in publishing it.
But in the final analysis, I think that there are important messages for gun owners from Gregory's life, and I realize that much of the bond between us lay in the respect gained from hunting, target shooting and guns.
His values were the very characteristics shared by law-abiding gun owners in this country. They are also the personal attributes we must put forth if we are to maintain our strength politically and our respect philosophically.
He was a rational man, not quick to judge or condemn others. He was tolerant of others' beliefs and listened to those beliefs politely, but he was forceful in defending the ideas he believed in.
He was brave, both in the manner in which he lived and in his willingness to sacrifice himself for others.
He believed in the freedom of choice and he put his life on the line to protect the fundamental concepts of decency in America.
That is a potent legacy.
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|Title Annotation:||gun owners lose a friend with the death of Duke Gregory|
|Publication:||Guns & Ammo|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1984|
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