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Stockbridge business visited by TV figure

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

The day was cool, damp and gloomy, but business was anything but slow at Ed's Pawn Shop in Stockbridge on Thursday.

Gunnery Sgt. Ronald Lee Ermey, a well-known and popular television personality and movie actor, was on hand to sign autographs, pose for pictures and press the flesh.

Ermey, a former U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor, is also a Golden Globe-nominated actor. He is known for playing the roles of authority figures, such as Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann in "Full Metal Jacket," Mayor Tilman in "Mississippi Burning" and Sheriff Hoyt in the remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

The surroundings in the Henry County store called to mind "Rambo," "Combat," or any number of Hollywood portrayals of military life. The grizzled, 64-year-old sat in front of a life-size sign with a snarling image of himself, printed with the words: "Because I am hard, you will not like me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn. I am hard but ... I am fair."

A poster on the wall above him showed a stern Ermey holding a Glock handgun, with the statement: "This is my Glock. There are many like it, but this one is mine."

The lines to see him were long, and wound their way into the store, up one aisle, past the counter and back the other way, as eager fans patiently waited their turn to meet Ermey. Ermey, in turn, graciously showed just how much he is unlike the tough-as-nails persona he portrays on TV.

Wearing a khaki shirt and a cap emblazoned with the Henry County Police Department logo, he chatted amiably with every individual filing past his table. He signed T-shirts, handguns, copies of the DVD movie, "Full Metal Jacket," pictures, posters -- and even a videotape some one presented him.

Visitors included a steady stream of fans, as well as police and fire department officials, and even store employees. Most were men, but there were some women, and even a father with his three-year-old son, and another father with his daughter.

The visit was apparently a big help in increasing the number of customers walking through the door. "This has drawn close to 300 people," Store Manager Kristin Crumple said, adding that the name recognition of Ermey, was a big draw. "We've had phone calls from people asking, 'When is Gunny coming?' He's the real deal."

Ermey, the official spokesperson for Glock handguns, said he is nothing like the characters he portrays in the movies. "I like people, the California resident said. "People are fun. My wife calls me 'Creampuff.'"

Ermey said he and his wife, Nila, have six children and nine grandchildren. The California resident lives, as he put it, north of Los Angeles near the desert, "up in the middle of nowhere."

He is a strong supporter of veterans and law enforcement groups, often visiting veterans groups around the country. He said he found himself in the area after a visit to the Cobb County Police Department for Veterans Day. After having breakfast with a group of graduating military cadets the morning of his visit to Stockbridge, and discovering he had some extra time on his hands, he decided to pay a visit to Ed's Pawn Shop.

"When I have a day off like this, I go out to one of the gun shops," he said. "It's fun for them and fun for us."

In addition to his presence on the silver screen, Ermey has also been hosting his own show, "Mail Call," on the History Channel. The show is a military history program in which he answers viewers' military-related questions. "Mail Call" is being replaced by a new show, "Lock And Load," which premiers with a pilot episode Nov. 14, at 9 p.m., on the History Channel. The theme of "Lock And Load" will focus on the history of firearms.

Ermey said he thoroughly enjoyed each episode of his own show. "It's me going around playing with other people's toys," he joked. "I have a lot of fun." As far as his new show, he's anticipating that as well. "If I can't shoot it, fly it or drive it, I blow it up."

Ermey's future plans include an address to a Marine Corps birthday ball and a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit wounded soldiers at Bethesda and Walter Reed medical centers. Next month, he plans on traveling to the Middle East to play Santa Claus.

Ermey was born in Emporia, Kan., and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1961. He said he spent two years as a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and Parris Island, S.C.

In 1968, he arrived in Vietnam, where he served for 14 months. He said also served two tours of duty in Okinawa, Japan, and retired in 1972 after injuries sustained during his tours.