N.J. company donates rifles to Loudon County honor guard
Loudon County Veterans Honor Guard member Russ Heimforth unpacks new rifles Monday at the Lenoir City War Memorial Building. The Henry Repeating Rifle Co. donated seven lever-action rifles to be used by the honor guard for conducting salutes at military funerals. The new .22-caliber guns will replace World War II-era M1 Garand rifles the honor guard has been using for more than 60 years.

By Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
LENOIR CITY The Loudon County Veterans Honor Guard this week received an unexpected gift from a New Jersey gun maker.

The Henry Repeating Rifle Co. of Bayonne, N.J., donated seven lever-action repeating rifles to be used by the Honor Guard for conducting salutes at military funerals.

The aging World War II-era M1 Garand rifles used by the honor guard for more than 60 years were in need of replacement, said Roy Salton, a World War II and Korean conflict veteran, retired Air Force major and commander of the Loudon Honor Guard, which serves several local VFW and American Foreign Legion posts.

"A couple of times in the past I have sent emails to the Henry Company and each time I got no response. When I tried again about a month ago, I was extremely surprised to receive an answer," Salton said.

The reply from Henry came not only from the company but from company President Anthony Imperato himself. Imperato offered to send the honor guard seven Henry Repeating Rifles.

"I don't know how to thank him enough," Salton said.

Imperato said his company, which was badly damaged in last fall's Hurricane Sandy, is involved in a number of charitable activities including helping veterans groups, youth groups and other organizations. He said he was impressed with the letter from Salton.

"We're glad to have the opportunity to help such an organization and we appreciate the service these veterans performed for their country," Imperato said.

The .22-caliber guns feature octagonal barrels, dark brown walnut stocks, a highly polished brass receiver and barrel bands. They retail for over $500 each.

"These are really beautiful rifles," said Don Burgett, a Tellico Village resident who served in the Army during World War II and Korea.

The federal government historically supplied honor guards with surplus rifles, but over the years funding of the 35-man Loudon guard has relied largely on private donations. While the funding has been cut, the need for equipment to be used at military funerals has only increased with the passing of World War II and Korean veterans.

The Loudon honor guard performs as many as five or six military funerals per week, said Dennis Moldenhauer, district commander of Post 70 in Lenoir City.

Moldenhauer said the honor guard will have to go through specialized training to integrate the lever-action guns into the manual of arms used to handle the traditional semi-automatic military rifles that are being retired. Lever-action rifles may have to be handled differently to prevent the ammunition from dropping out of the loading port when the weapon is turned sideways in the port arms position, he said.

Compared to the 9.5 lb. M-1 Garands, the new Henry rifles at just over 6 pounds will be a lot easier to handle, he said. One problem, unforeseen until the recent national debate on gun control, is the unavailability of .22-caliber blank ammunition, he said.

"I've been looking around but I can't find any right now," Moldenhauer said.