Some World War II veterans get fightin’ mad when they see a German swastika flag and German banner flying at an American gun show.
But when they walk over to give the dirty traitor a piece of their minds, they meet a friend and unrestrained patriot in Gregg Riggs.
“I’m not promoting Nazis,” says Riggs, a Frankfort gun vendor who spends most weekends at gun shows across Kentucky. “Just look at my hair and beard.”
The 58-year-old retired battalion chief with the Frankfort Fire Department has a long, grey ponytail, full beard and the build of a man you’d want fighting on your side should a battle arise.
“I tell them that I’m flying a war trophy; I’m flying it out of respect,” Riggs said. “I tell them I’m thankful for their sacrifice; the captured flag represents all they did.”
Riggs then points them to a photo of World War II POW Ralph Barren, the American soldier who captured the German flag and promised to give Riggs first dibs on it once he died. Barren made good on his promise through his sons, and Riggs now proudly flies the flag above his booth along with American flags. It’s not for sale.
Riggs also displays photos of his late father, Shelby Riggs, who spent the last six months of World War II in five different prison camps. Shelby Riggs earned a Purple Heart when the British accidently bombed one of the camps, and shrapnel hit him in the back.
“He always told me the life of a POW is terrible,” Riggs said. “He said he’d much rather be fighting, he’d rather be getting shot at than sitting in a POW camp, which tells you just how bad it was.”
His father didn’t talk about the war much, but it’s what inspired Riggs to research World War II and start collecting guns and other memorabilia. He currently sells modern firearms and a vast collection of firearms, militaria, edged weapons and collectibles from all time periods, but especially World War II.
“I’ve got flags, banners, helmets, uniforms, swords, daggers, bayonets, documents, maps, you name it,” he said, adding that he can also clean, repair and restore firearms.
For his booth, he’s also created several displays of World War II heroes, which include their photographs, documents, medals and even diaries.
A Frankfort native, Riggs can remember first firing a gun when he was 3 years old. His father was a firearms instructor for Kentucky State Police, and Riggs has memories of shooting beside state troopers and even Gov. Edward Breathitt and his children.
“I grew up on the pistol range and gun shop,” he said.
However, when he joined the fire department in 1977, he didn’t make as much time for his gun hobbies, and with a wife, Ann, and two kids, other things became more important.
In 1992, Shelby Riggs proposed he and his sons open a gun shop. Gregg Riggs liked the idea best, and for the next 10 years, he and his father ran Riggs Guns Inc., a shop on East Main and then Myrtle Avenue.
A Glock dealer, Riggs Guns had contracts with several law enforcement agencies, and the father and son became well known to the law enforcement community.
They closed the shop when his father’s health began to fail, and it wasn’t until his father’s death in 2006 that Gregg Riggs decided to start selling at gun shows.
“It’s more of a hobby than anything,” Riggs says. “I’ve had shows where I don’t make anything all weekend. It’s a hit and miss thing; you don’t sell stuff every show. Being retired, I just go to make a little something or pick up something for my collection.”
He calls his own collection vast and varied. Among dealers, his name has spread by word of mouth, and people know to send historical relics his way. Depending on age and condition, firearms sell for anything from “nothing to thousands.”
He also goes to auctions and yard sales, saying he never knows what he’ll find.
“I went to one sale, and this guy was selling records and golf clubs, and I said, ‘You don’t have anything military, do you?’ And this guy came out with a World War II issued naval utility knife.”
Those sorts of finds make his hobby exciting. And Riggs never tires of hearing stories from war heroes and their children.
“All you have to do is come talk to me to find out what I’m all about,” he said.