From antiques and collectibles to guns and everyday household items, if they make it, chances are you will find it at the VFW Post 1115 Labor Gun Show & Flea Market in Hillsville.
An author of more than 20 books is probably one of the last things you would expect to see there, but Tom Perry said that just sort of adds to the charm of the huge annual event.
“On one side of me there is a guy with fishing poles and on the other side is a man who makes these handmade, crafted wooden bowls,” said Perry, who has been setting up inside the VFW lot for five years now. “It’s hilarious in Hillsville that you have fishing poles on one side and high arts and crafts on the other.”
Perry travels all over Southwest Virginia for signings of his books, which are mainly geared toward the history and historical figures of nearby areas such as Patrick County, Henry County, Wythe County and Surry County, N.C. He’s quickly found Hillsville’s Labor Day Flea Market to be one of the best shows he attends annually.
“You wouldn’t necessarily think it would be a literary crowd, but there are so many people I move a lot of books that weekend,” Perry said. “It amazed me at first. It is one of the biggest weekends I have all year long.”
Perry said he typically has about 30 titles with him at each gun show – copies of all 20 books he’s written, in addition to about 10 more he has published for others. The founder of the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace in Patrick County, Perry has written extensively about the legendary Confederate General of the U.S. Civil War. He’s written several other military books, but his most popular book by far has been “Beyond Mayberry,” the story of Mount Airy, N.C. and its most famous son – Andy Griffith.
“It outsells the rest of my books ten-to-one,” Perry said. “It’s like I wrote ‘The Man who Moved A Mountain.’”
Perry has also written two books about The Graham Mansion in Wythe County, with a third title on the subject due out later this year. His most recent book, “Extraordinary Service,” delves back into the military. The book is about his friend, David Minter of Martinsville, an ordinary man, who along with his family, gave extraordinary service to this country. Minter served the U.S. in the Korean War, while his father fought in D-Day at Normandy in World War II. Minter’s son fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. All three were Sergeants in the U.S. Army.
“His father was in the 29th Division, Company H of the 116th Regiment. They went in on D-Day on Omaha Beach and survived all that. If you have seen Saving Private Ryan, that is about where he went in, and he survived that,” Perry said. “About a month later he was at St. Lo in France, which was the largest bombardment I think up until that time in the history of mankind. Eisenhower couldn’t get the Germans out so they decided to carpet bomb the place. It also hit some of our boys and David’s father unfortunately got a terrible concussion and was in a coma for six weeks after this. It ruined his father’s life. He had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and never got over it.”
Minter’s father ended up taking to the bottle after WWII as he had a hard time coping with the aftermath. He eventually died at the tender age of 40.
“David had a tough life growing up. War is not pretty. It affects the men who fought in it and their families,” Perry said. “David is a Primitive Baptist preacher, he owned a couple of businesses in Martinsville, and he was in the U.S. Army himself. Has an amazing capability for forgiveness. He also had a brother who was schizophrenic. He has had to handle a lot of things in his life.”
Perry’s great appreciation of the men who fought and died for our country is a big part of the reason he always sets up in the VFW Post 1115’s main lot, both for the Memorial Day and Labor Day Flea Markets.
“I deliberately go in the VFW lot because I really want to support those guys. That is a conscious decision I make to go and sit with them,” Perry said. “I could probably have a better spot somewhere else, but I do that deliberately because it is important to me to support the VFW.”
Perry’s booth will be located inside the VFW lot on the side gate “right beside Gun Hill,” in row 24, space number 1261.