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Gun collection draws visitors to War Memorial Civic Center

BY RYAN KEETON
DERIDDER -- A DeRidder resident's gun collection is drawing visitors at the War Memorial Civic Center.
Velmer Smith, area historian, donated the collection last year.
According to Robert Lilly Jr., construction superintendent at the Civic Center, Smith made the decision to donate her vintage World War II-era guns in an effort to protect the legacy that the guns represent for those who fought in the defining conflict of the 20th century.
“I think she wanted them to be placed somewhere where they would be cared for as well as she would do herself," Lilly said.
Construction on the display room cabinets and cases, which were custom designed and built by Lilly, began in late September when the staff learned they would be receiving the donation from Smith.
With materials provided by the Beauregard Parish Police Jury, Lilly completed the project just prior to the opening of the room in October.
“We were building things right up to the last minute to get it ready to show,” Lilly said with a laugh. “But a museum is a legacy and when I found out we were going to be getting the donation, I wanted to put everything I had, everything I knew into building this room because this was going to be my donation; this is what I was going to get to leave behind.”
Included in the donated collection were a 1908 Luger semi-automatic pistol, a German Gewehr 98 bolt action rifle, an a Japanese Arisaka bolt action rifle, an M1 Garand and a Thompson machine gun.
The collection also features a Russian Maxim M1910 watercooled heavy machine gun a Sokolov wheel mount.
“It took Velmer a long time to collect all of these guns,” Lilly said proudly of the collection. “She cared for them on a daily basis and she wanted someone to treat them like she did. I feel very honored to be the one that got to do this and be a part of the whole thing.”
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