The NRA Board of Directors lost one of its beloved members on Sunday, April 15, 2018 when R. Lee Ermey of Palmdale, Calif., passed away from complications of pneumonia at the age of 74.
Known to millions of fans as "Gunny," Ermey was a native of Emporia, Kansas. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at the age of 17 and served for 11 years, 14 months of which were spent in Vietnam.
He earned his first film role—the first of 70 films he would eventually star in—as Sergeant Loyce in 1978's The Boys in Company C. This was quickly followed up in 1979 when he appeared in Apocalypse Now, co-written by fellow NRA Board Member John Milius.
It was Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket, that earned him lasting fame and the sobriquet "Gunny" for his stunning performance as Marine Corps Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Although he was medically discharged from the Marine Corps as a Staff Sergeant, he was recalled from retirement and officially promoted to Gunnery Sergeant and then immediately retired at the rank for which everyone came to know and love him.
He served as the host for “Mail Call” (2002 - 2007) and “Lock and Load” (2009). Both shows featured Gunny describing and shooting vintage and modern firearms. His marksmanship and working knowledge of the firearms earned him the respect and admiration of service members who knew his interest and expertise were genuine.
During a taping of the first episode of Lock and Load, I had the privilege of working with Gunny on the set here near NRA Headquarters in Fairfax, Va. A small group of us went to lunch at a local restaurant and at first Gunny went completely unrecognized by the staff and guests. It didn't take long for the waiters to recognize the face and especially the commanding voice that was “Sarge” in Toy Story (1995). He was soon deluged for autographs, handshakes and photographs. He obligingly posed for every photo and signed every napkin placed in front of him. One of the crew asked him if that ever got old for him. He said, "Never. When they stop asking is when it's time to worry. The ones that ask are the ones that are watching the shows and paying my salary. It's the least I can do. I owe them."
We worked together on numerous shows and programs and enjoyed many a fine cigar over the years that I was fortunate to know him. Once, in 2005, while we were taking a break during a celebrity golf tournament that he was hosting near Annapolis, Md., (something about a "shotgun start" required my presence and a Winchester Model 1897 to get things going) a friend of mine serving in the 82nd Airborne called me from New Orleans to say he had just been deployed to assist in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Gunny asked me to forward his concern and respect for their efforts and later asked me for Matt's contact details as he decided to go there himself to provide support. Matt was floored when Gunny called and he ended up being his driver for the next few days while Gunny bolstered morale following that dreadful natural disaster.
At the time of his death, Gunny was a member of the NRA Board of Directors, elected by petition in 2012. He competed annually in NRA High Power Rifle Championships on Dennis DeMille's team, and served as a spokesman for Glock since 2004 and SOG Knives since 2010.
His support for the U.S. military was legendary, in particular the Young Marines program, as well as his advocacy for veterans and their treatment at VA Hospitals.
He and his wife, Nila, were married for nearly 40 years. He was father to six children and grandfather to nine.
We are diminished by your passing. The example you set by how you lived your life is your legacy. Vaya con Dios, my friend. You are sincerely missed.