by Jim Julia
I am extremely sad to announce to the Firearms community the passing of a dear friend and fellow colleague, Joseph LaRue, (however, he always insisted on being called “J.R.”). For those of you who knew him, he was an extraordinary man and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have known him and been a friend. J.R. was a great patriot and dedicated his life to his country for 22 years in the U.S. Air Force. He was a humble man but also extraordinarily knowledgeable with an incredible ability of recall. He was affable and made friends with almost everyone he met and always made time to talk to them. He was also extraordinarily strong, determined and for most of his life, able to overcome almost every adversity. J.R. was generous to a fault.
J.R. grew up in the Ozarks, specifically in the town of Metropolis. His family was very poor but his roots were extremely important to him throughout his life. He was a brilliant young man, so much so, the schooling system skipped him over a grade on two occasions and he graduated high school at only 16 years old. Without any money, he had no aspirations for college but thought he might be a cowboy. So within a couple of days of graduation, he packed a duffle bag and hitchhiked to the Southwestern United States and got a job on a huge sheep ranch. He rode the range and mended fences on a 7-10 day trip sleeping under the stars. J.R. soon realized this was not his life avocation.
In 1957 he joined the U.S. Air Force, eventually attaining the rank of Master Sergeant and distinguished himself throughout his career. He was selected for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations distinguishing himself on multiple occasions and was highly decorated. He was involved in counter-espionage and narcotics investigations but was also selected for Special Ops during the Vietnam War. On one covert assignment he was helicoptered along with two Marines 50 miles behind enemy lines. They then had to hike through the jungle for 10 miles. This being a covert operation, they were not allowed to exchange names and it was understood that if anyone was badly wounded they would be “disposed of.” As they made their way back to the helicopter pick up site, one of the Marines was shot and killed by a Viet Cong with buckshot, and J.R. was wounded in the leg. He made light of the wound but as they made their way towards the helicopter pick up site, it became more difficult to walk. They missed the pickup and had to make their way through 50 miles of dense jungle. By the time they got out of the jungle, he was taken immediately to a field hospital, his leg had swollen to twice its size and was nearly black. The doctors were going to amputate, but J.R. refused and they did save his leg. When J.R. told me the story, the ending bothered him dearly because to this day he never knew the name of the Marine who saved him and has never been able to thank him.
He was selected as a special agent to work with the Turkish Secret Police and spent nearly a year on a sailboat by himself learning the Turkish language. He not only mastered the language but also the various dialects. As such, J.R. was one of the top agents for OSI in Turkey. He not only worked with the Turkish National Police but also the DEA and FBI on many investigations. In one sting operation involving narcotics, J.R. posed as a buyer with a briefcase full of money. The Turkish Police and members of the military were hidden nearby and were to close in once the deal was done. The army screwed up and a firefight ensued. 30 caliber and 50 caliber rounds passed easily throughout the entire building and J.R. was desperate for a hiding place. He somehow upended a huge cast iron rendering pot and was, as a result, the only person in the building who survived.
J.R. was extremely kind and generous with people he liked and he absolutely loved the Turks. In the fall, with some of his Air Force friends, they would go to a region near the Euphrates and Tigress Rivers to hunt waterfowl. J.R. discovered a small, poor agricultural village and over the years, he and his friends stayed there. One year when they arrived, the people of the village were very depressed. In speaking with the village elder, J.R. discovered that they had just gone through a terrible drought, had little food, and expected that during the winter some of the village members would starve and worse yet, they would be forced to eat their seed grain and have nothing to plant in the spring. That weekend, J.R. and his friends shot hundreds of waterfowl and gave them to the villagers. When he returned back to the base, he took up a collection and acquired all the legumes and dried beans he could get with other necessities. He then convinced fellow officers to come hunt with him. That weekend they shot thousands and thousands of waterfowl. When they left the village, all the houses had strings of wires between them on which hung frozen waterfowl. As a result of his efforts, the villagers survived the winter and the next year when J.R. and his friends visited the village, the villagers gave him a tremendous welcome and anxiously directed him to the special house they had built for J.R. and his friends to use from that day forward. The house still stands today.
In the early 1980s, J.R. was stationed at Pease Air Force Base where he dealt in firearms in his spare time. After 22 years in the Air Force he retired. In 1986 he proudly opened LaRue Firearms in New Hampshire. His shop was the go-to place for any sportsman in the area and J.R. was a wonderful person to do business with, often times being a little too generous in his deals. He closed his store in the early 1990s and shortly thereafter, it was my great fortune, pleasure, and honor to have met and begun doing business with him. J.R. and I had the greatest respect for one another. He was a man of great integrity and we both shared a common interest in doing business in a fair and honest way. As a special agent, one of the things he was continually tasked to do was to focus his recall on his surroundings and be able to remember in detail. This tremendous ability to recall served him so well in the firearms world. When J.R. took a gun apart or read some information about a gun, he was likely to remember it many years later. He developed an extraordinary breadth of knowledge for all types of firearms and military items. His assistance and expansive knowledge was critical in the early days in my firearms auction business. Regardless of how diverse the collection was or what it consisted of, J.R. had at least a general knowledge and thus could talk and deal intelligently with anything that he might pick up. J.R. was a humble man and as I said, never forgot his roots. He dressed casually and talked in a very informal, friendly, open manner. It was always an immense pleasure when he accompanied me to look at a collection. When we arrived, me in my blazer and slacks and J.R. in his Remington jacket with blue jeans; the clients directed their conversation to me and if they did not know J.R., they would likely pay little attention to him at all. Eventually the client would pick out a special gun and hand it to me asking my thoughts on the gun. I would automatically hand the gun to J.R., step out of the way and watch with delight at the interaction. J.R. always impressed clients with his expansive knowledge and by the time we left, my clients invariably held him in high esteem.
J.R. was one of my very best friends and also a colleague. My association with him was critical in helping to grow my firearms auction company’s reputation to the finest in the world for honesty, fair dealing and expertise. J.R. had an amazing breadth of knowledge about so many things and was a great companion on trips. He loved to hunt, spend time with family and friends, and live life on his own terms. He also died on his own terms. J.R. and his wife, Diana, regularly traveled throughout the United States for their own business, Carter Mountain Consulting Agency, and to visit friends and family. His calendar was always full. Over the last year, J.R. was challenged with cancer, congestive heart failure and so many more obstacles but he absolutely refused to change his lifestyle despite the many new challenges and was looking forward to one last trip to Argentina for dove hunting. He loved to quail hunt with members of my firearms team in Georgia and each year looked forward to our trip in December. Despite his illness, he was resolute in the fact that he was going to make the trip. He did and had a great time but on the third day was suffering and decided to not hunt. When I left to go home, I understood he was going home for a few days and then on a trip to Montana for some firearms. But I was wrong. He actually left Georgia and went straight to Montana, met with a friend, and closed a great deal including some fabulous firearms. He called my cell phone that night and left a message. His voice was filled with enthusiasm and passion about the guns he had just gotten. The next day, I tried to call him and congratulate him and left a message. Unbeknownst to me, he was already in the hospital in a coma and within a few days, he passed. A terrific hunt, a bunch of friends, closing a deal on a fabulous collection of guns; that is exactly the way my amazing friend would want to spend some of his last days. As I said, he lived his life on his own terms and died on his own terms.
Not only did J.R. value the personal and professional relationships he developed over many years with people in the firearms industry, he also valued his membership in a number of firearms clubs and organizations. As such, he was an active member of the following organizations: Certified Appraisers Guild of America, NRA Benefactor Member, NRA 2nd Amendment Task Force Charter Member, Member NRA Eagles, Life Member Ohio Gun Collectors, Life Member Carolina Gun Collectors, Member Winchester Arms Collectors Association, Charter Member Collectors Arms Dealers Association, Member Cody Firearms Museum, Life Member Wyoming Weapons Collectors Association, Life Member Major Waldron Sportsman’s Association, and the Ancient Free & Accepted Masons since 1974.
J.R. will be missed immensely by his extensive family and all his friends throughout North America and across the world. He is survived by the love of his life, his wife Diana and her family that he thought of as his own, including Toni Jo Coppa of Windham, ME, Gina Clark of Skowhegan, ME, Joseph Coppa of Southwick, MA and grandsons Michael Coppa & Steven Giles, both of Skowhegan, ME. He leaves his only son William LaRue & favorite and only daughter-in-law Leanne of Lincoln, AL and his only daughter Jeanne Pryll & husband Raymond of Kittery, ME; He leaves his grandsons R.J. & Mark Pryll of Kittery, ME; granddaughters Virginia Clark of Dover, NH & Abageal Freeman of Munford, AL; He leaves his sisters Vera Kirkpatrick & her husband William of San Angelo, TX, and Verneita Simmons & her husband Donald of Butler, PA; Sisters-in-law Earlene LaRue of Balch Springs, TX and Linda Boucher & husband Richard of LaFollette, TN; He leaves Great-grandchildren Lucy, Evan, Adylene, Ruby, Sadie & Zander and countless nieces & nephews that he loved dearly, mostly in Southern Illinois and Texas. He leaves behind his longest friend in life, Jim Rankin of NV & WY and so many other wonderful friends around the country and the world. He may have left them but his love and memories will always be cherished. He is predeceased by the mother of his children, Linda LaRue.
He is also survived by his second family (as he called it), all the employees and consultants at James D. Julia Auctioneers.
To Make a Donation in Memory of J.R. LaRue:
J.R. worked very closely with the Cody Firearms Museum and worked many years with his friend, Warren Newman. For those wishing to remember J.R. it was his specific request that a donation be made to the Cody Firearms Museum. To make a donation in J.R.’s memory, use the link below to donate online and be sure to indicate your donation is in memory of J.R. LaRue in the “Designation” section and your donation will be directed to the museum itself in J.R.’s name:
CELEBRATION OF LIFE:
A special Celebration of Life will take place in conjunction with our March 2018 Firearms Auction on the evening of Tuesday, March 20 (the day before the start of the auction) at Governor Hill Mansion in Augusta, Maine. CLICK HERE for additional details.
If you would like to send condolences to Diana LaRue, please address to:
P.O. Box 70408
Knoxville, TN 37938-0408