It’s been several months, and I just wanted to say I miss seeing you walk across the street to let me shoot your Nerf gun and bow and arrows and discuss history, weapons, and space. 

The most authoritative source on infantry weapons

A lot was going on this past summer when Mrs. Ankony and I were planning our move, and I didn’t have the chance to show you my firearms books. I was meaning to give you one, but I had filled them with so many handwritten notes over so many years, they had become like dear friends, and I was moving away from too many real friends already. So I ordered the enclosed Jane’s Infantry Weapons 1985‑86 for you, for Christmas. 

My M2 .50-caliber HB machine gun 

This copy is used, but it’s from a key period in history and depicts many weapons from the Cold War that are still in use today. I bought the first edition of Jane’s in 1974. I was working as a police officer and was into buying and selling military weapons. I still have the book and refer to it often. I once owned many of the weapons you see in the book. My favorite was a live U.S. M2 Browning .50-caliber heavy-barreled machine gun. I miss the pieces I no longer have, but I’m grateful I live in a country where I can own military firearms. 

Early morning hours, Wednesday, January 31, 1968. The Tet Offensive has just been launched by 84,000 enemy soldiers. My first shots fired in combat were from this M2 .50 

Jane’s is the most comprehensive book on infantry weapons. It also teaches history, physics, and technology. And with a book, unlike any plastic reading gadget of today, you can feel and smell the wood fiber, heft the weight of it in your hand, and sense the wealth of knowledge inside. More importantly, you can underline key points and write in the margins and cover, saving all those special pieces of information you discover. 

WWII German 8mm MG42 General-purpose machine gun that fired 20 rounds per second 

I have long felt that small arms and propellants pretty much peaked in World War II. The best firearms of that war could stand up to any of today’s. The only real difference—and this is major—is the electronic attachments. But the underlying weapons are essentially the same. So other than the lighter plastic stocks and aluminum frames, and speedier manufacturing processes, small arms reached a plateau seventy years ago, and real change won’t happen till a radical new propellant or other form of directed energy is developed that can be carried by an infantry soldier. 

Radical change doesn’t often happen in firearms, but it did occur once before, when the Henry repeating rifle and the Spencer carbine were developed during the U.S. Civil War. Both weapons were revolutionary because other rifles were cumbersome single-shot muzzle loaders, whereas the Henry and the Spencer, with their metallic cartridges, were rapid-firing magazine-fed repeaters. 

You’re 9, but I’ve always believed that you will do well in life because you have the unbeatable combination of an inquisitive, logical mind and a warm heart. That’s special, and that’s why I called you “Professor”—a title earned by someone with critical-thinking skills and expertise in their field of study. 

So Merry Christmas, Professor Zach! I hope you enjoy the book and all the exciting years to come. 

Your friend,

Mr. Ankony