By Bren Brown
August 25, 2020—that was the very unexpected day I met a man who would change Frontier Justice history. It’s a story. It was unplanned (at least by me) and it was what I can only believe was divine intervention.
I was in the front of the Kansas store with my mask on when approached by an elderly fellow wearing a Vietnam War hat. You know the ones? The hat that indicates that guy probably has more guts and perseverance than a room full of men these days– combined….or, at least, that is how I perceive them. He caught my eye and I thanked him for his service and that was the beginning of a year long journey with a man named Milt Toratti.
Uncle Milty, now.
Milt told me that day he came to the store to see me. He asked, “Are you the lady in the commercials?”
“Why, yes. Yes, I am.”
I had no idea where this conversation was going. He told me he drove down from St. Joseph to see me. I said, “To see me?” And, he shook his head and said yes, this was his mission. “Well, indeed, you found me! What can I do for you?”
Milt told me he was a 26-year, retired Army veteran who interviewed, researched, documented and wrote veteran oral histories for free so the veteran could give them as gifts to their respective friends, family, and most of all, their grandkids. I told him about Patriot Features and he seemed somewhat unimpressed. He told me he liked to just talk to men and women who served and get the real stories. To relive it with them and document the very important tales of history, courage and patriotism-in writing. I told him that I love that, but what could I do for him in particular?
This is when the story of 2020 in general came from Milt’s broken heart. He told me he had a military museum in St. Joseph and it was in a city building. He told me that the city told him that his time with the military display had ended, and he had to remove the items permanently. I was listening. He wove a tale of how many children had learned in the museum and how many wonderful artifacts he had in the museum from every single war of America from the Civil War on. He had my attention for sure. I asked how I could personally help. He asked if I would like to see his artifacts and maybe buy a few to display in the stores.
And, so, I got in my car and traveled in the coming week to St Joseph, Missouri. And, wow, did Milt have stories and artifacts and knowledge. I stood in awe of how much history one man had contained in his being. I was blown away by his own personal history and all of his life story. He was on a mission to get to 100 books written on veterans and at the time was around 88. This directly comes back to the pieces he had compiled through the years. As Milt says, he’s not a collector–he’s a connector. The difference matters, and understanding that difference can help you understand just how special Uncle Milty is.
Every item that Milt has compiled is deeply connected to the Veteran whose story it tells. Each item has a story, a memory, and a connection with the Veteran hero so that future generations may better relate to and understand the trials and tribulations faced by those who secured their freedom.
I told him that I would like an email with all the pieces he would like to sell and the worth he valued each at. We emailed back and forth—back and forth. I went and talked to accounting about my pursuit of dollars (unbudgeted dollars) to acquire some pieces for the stores. I want people to see history. I want kids to see that wars and service are real and freedom is, indeed, not free.
That day, when leaving the museum, Milt handed me a basket full of American flags. He told me they were the flags that surrounded Reagan during his inauguration. He had a letter of provenance to substantiate where they were from. He just gave them to me. I’m not sure it was because I was going to buy so much or because he wanted to tell me he trusted me, but either way, I was honored. He had no way of knowing but Reagan is a hero in my mind. (I know some of you hated Reagan—it’s okay. But, to me, Reagan had it right.)
So, I bought A LOT of stuff from Milt and I journeyed north another day to pick up the items and pay him.
Milt was organized and ready and he told me more and more stories of the origins of his things. I felt a very heavy burden of responsibility as I pulled away from his home that day. I had so many things that were valued and had history.
I had Milt’s Memories and I wanted to handle them with care. I wanted to bring respect and reverence to these items that soldiers used or wore and that were a part of our American history. I wanted to not ruin anything and I desired to display them appropriately, but I knew that would take quite a few more dollars that weren’t in our budget but would have to be found. I needed space and signage and organization and I’m not going to lie. I was completely, and utterly, overwhelmed.
I drove home, with a soldier mannequin in my front seat as a passenger and there were accidents that kept the highway locked up for four hours. I had honks and waves and smiles as people saw my passenger with me. I looked over at the soldier in my front seat and I sighed—if the soldier that wore this uniform could see the debacle of this four-hour journey back from St Joe, what would he think and say? *
I packed most of the items into our storage and I was very busy with work. It’s been quite a year in our industry. A year when America woke up to the need for the Second Amendment and my time was limited.
Milt emailed at least once a week to check in. He had more things. He had articles to share. He had surgery updates and he had books to report the completion of. Milt and I are connected now because his memories are my memories and it’s the memories I want to share with all of you.
One day, I was leaving the Kansas store and I was approached by Maxx Tate. Maxx has worked for us for some time. Maxx told me if I ever needed help with the stuff from Milt, that he would love to help. He loves history.
OH MY, YES. Maxx, I need help. Maxx organized, documented, created signage content and did it all just in time for the arrival of our first display case in the Missouri store. When I went back to my files with Milt, I found our date of meeting. August 25, 2020. We approach August 25, 2021 and I plan to have at least the first display up and done. I will get the rest set up and I will honor the items we have amassed from Milt.
Milt updated me today that he is on his 98th book and he already has his 100th book planned for a tunnel rat in Vietnam.
Uncle Milty, your memories will live on. The connections you have spent your life creating will never be forgotten. At Frontier Justice, we put family in all that we do. Children are always with their families when they shoot or shop with us; and now when they do so, they’ll have an opportunity to connect with these pieces and the heroes they represent. History does not forget and we will do everything in our power to make sure your stories and your sacrifices are felt by the next generation.
Well done, Milt, well done.
* As a side note, Milt informed me that this mannequin beside me on the way home was the 45th Infantry Division (his dad’s unit) riding in my shotgun seat.