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The Browning HP I carried in Vietnam


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Years ago, actually eons ago, I was a crew chief/door gunner on (first six months)a UH-1D and then a UH-1C gunship (last 22 months)helicopter in Vietnam. I was assigned to an assault company and our unit was comprised of 24 UH-1D “slicks” as troop carriers and eight UH-1C gunships in our armed platoon. The “slicks” earned their nickname as they did not have any outboard weapons, just the M60D machineguns mounted on each side of the rear of the cargo hold. Slicks carried the troops into the landing zones and then kept them supplied while in the field and the gunships, armed with mini-guns, rockets and 40mm automatic grenade launchers, escorted the slicks in and then provided overhead cover for the grunts in the field. Here's my first gunship, "The Undertaker" in 1967:

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Army Aviation helicopter units in Vietnam in the early years of the Vietnam were the cutting edge of war technology and were ongoing experiments on what worked and what didn’t. Every single piece of equipment and gear, tactics and crew coordination and standardization were all being developed while we fought the war.

We were allowed great flexibility in how we equipped ourselves and right at the beginning, it was learned that the personal weapons assigned to flight crews were lacking and the possibility of “going down” meant you had to be ready to leave the aircraft and fight on your own until rescued.

Originally, we were limited to our assigned weapons, that is, the weapons permitted under the unit’s table of equipment and organization (TO&E). For the pilots, that meant a S&W Military and Police Model 10 revolver in .38 special and M14 rifles for the two enlisted crewmembers or “GIBs” (guys in the back).

As time went on a couple of valuable lessons were learned. The first being that when you hit the ground hard, the only think you were coming out of the aircraft with had better be already strapped to you. That meant that most of us developed a “bailout bag”, often an empty Claymore mine bag containing some basic equipment such as first aid supplies, pen flares, some “C” rations, cans of food and ammo.

Because our M14s were in the way, back in the transmission well where our M60s were mounted, they were slung over the pilots’ seats and it was agreed that they would be using those because the crewmembers could use their M60D machinegun once they were on the ground. But in real life, that almost never happened because leaving the aircraft quickly was all too often the case and trying to remove and M60 from the pedestal mount or getting an M14 unslung from the back of a seat was difficult to do when the aircraft was burning or the rice-propelled little people were coming for you.

So we improvised and without too much command interference, we all started developing our own weapons.

After experiencing war for almost 40 years, Vietnam was rife with weapons from all over the world. Getting an AK was easy enough to do, but if you were really ultra-cool, you traded for a Swedish K or even a Thompson M1A1,

, a door gunner in our 1st platoon had a Thompson the night his aircraft was blown up by an RPG in a landing zone and he earned the Medal of Honor. M2 Carbines with both standard and paratrooper stocks became all the rage as did shotguns sent from home and specially modified using a hacksaw. A good friend of mine brought back an S&W Outdoorsman, a .38special on a .44 frame, and I found a German made Browning Hi Power to carry in an M3 tanker’s shoulder holster.

The Hi Power, probably brought back from World War II as a captured weapon, had been chromed but you could still see the German Army proof marks on the frame and barrel. The FN plant in Belgium had been overrun in 1940 by the Wehrmacht and the plant continued making weapons but under German control. The Hi Power became the Pistole 640( B). How it got to Vietnam I haven’t a clue. But it became all mine for the thirty-two months I stayed in Vietnam and it flew on well over 1,000 sorties while I was a crew chief on a “slick” and for the greater part of my tours on a gunship.

In September, 1968, I was told I could not extend my tour any longer and I would be going home almost immediately. I didn’t have time to go to the local Provost Marshal to get an export license so I passed my beloved Hi Power off to another crew chief and left for home.

Over the years, I have often very much regretted leaving it behind. But this past January, that other crew chief, Dale Hensley of South Carolina found me and asked if I wanted my Hi Power back. I cannot begin to describe the flood of emotion that I felt when it arrived at my local FFL. Sounds, smells and even the chatter on the aircraft intercom and radios came flooding back.

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It’s pretty rough, the cheap ‘bumper’ chrome is thin and pitted but otherwise it is just fine. I contacted Dave Williams of the Springfield Armory Custom Shop and he agreed to strip the chrome for me and restore the original finish as much as possible. The barrel was too badly pitted to fire so I have put it away and replaced it with another. I have changed the grips out and also saved the originals because I don’t want them to suffer any more hard use.

Here it is today:

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Bud

I believe many of today's social ills and political party bickering could be solved by the simple implementation of legalized dueling.

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Thank you for your service. Thank you for sharing your story and Im glad you were reunited with the weapon that served you faithfully during your time in country.

 

 

Wade

OIF 05-07 "Triangle of Death" 2/101 ABN DIV

OIF 07-09 Baghdad 2/101 ABN DIV

OIF 10 & OND Basrah 1 ID

OEF 12-13 E. Paktika 4/1 ID

OFS & ORS Laghman 3 ID

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Very cool!!!

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I "primarily" collect Gulf War 1 patches. All branches (USA, USAF,USN, USMC & USCG) and ALL Countries..
US - Op.'s Desert Shield / Storm / Provide Comfort /Some Southern Watch - F-4G's Wild Weasels
UK - Op.'s Granby / Sabre / Warden
Canadian - Op. Desert Storm / Op. Friction
French - Daguet / Aconit
Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, South Korea, etc.
Looking for the oddities, including unfinished & flaws
I HAVE EXTRA's!! Will trade as well.

 

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One of the best threads I've read on here in quite some time. Thanks for sharing this with us.

Always looking for US and foreign militaria from the Central American wars circa 1970-1990

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What an excellent story!

 

I guess the HP was captured on the Eastern Front by the Soviets and later sent by them to Vietnam to help the communists, and captured again. If only it could talk... I believe most of the German production HP's went to the SS.

 

I would love to see more photo's of your Hueys too, if you want to share them :)

Money can't buy happiness -- but somehow it's more comfortable to cry in a Corvette than in a Yugo.

 

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Most of the stories I have written were published in Viet Now magazine in the late nineties. Many of them are on line here:

 

http://www.vietvet.org/jhbio.htm

 

This is me in late 1967 or about 100 pounds ago as my son describes it. I made SSG in January, 1968 just before Tet and i also changed to a "frog" gunship which was armed with a 40mm gun on the nose and 38 (two 19 rocket pods) 2.75" rockets besides our door guns]

 

Scan_BMP.jpg

 

And this in me on left side of the aircraft (with stripes on my helmet visor) and a good friend who was also a crew cxhief but was "gunning" for me on this day. Couple of things to notice is that my gunner is firing the M60 upside down. This was done on all the gunships to keep the brass from going through the tail rotor. Also, the aircraft commander (now, Pilot in Command) realized that we were taking movies of each other so the camera ended up flying

 

 

Thanks for all the kind words

Bud

I believe many of today's social ills and political party bickering could be solved by the simple implementation of legalized dueling.

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One of the best threads I've read on here in quite some time. Thanks for sharing this with us.

 

 

Agreed.

 

Outstanding story and thanks for sharing.

 

Thanks for your service and WELCOME HOME.

In Memoriam:
Lieutenant J.Kostelec 1-3 First Special Service Force MIA/PD 4 March 1944 Italy
I HAVE SEEN THE ENEMY AND IT IS DAYLIGHT
Forget about the tips..We'll get hell to pay (AC/DC)
"If you cant get out and run with the big dogs then sit on the porch and bark at the cars going by.."

Have you Hugged a Clown Today?

You Cant Get A Sun Tan On The Moon..





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Most of the stories I have written were published in Viet Now magazine in the late nineties. Many of them are on line here:

 

http://www.vietvet.org/jhbio.htm

 

This is me in late 1967 or about 100 pounds ago as my son describes it. I made SSG in January, 1968 just before Tet and i also changed to a "frog" gunship which was armed with a 40mm gun on the nose and 38 (two 19 rocket pods) 2.75" rockets besides our door guns]

 

Scan_BMP.jpg

 

And this in me on left side of the aircraft (with stripes on my helmet visor) and a good friend who was also a crew cxhief but was "gunning" for me on this day. Couple of things to notice is that my gunner is firing the M60 upside down. This was done on all the gunships to keep the brass from going through the tail rotor. Also, the aircraft commander (now, Pilot in Command) realized that we were taking movies of each other so the camera ended up flying

 

 

Thanks for all the kind words

 

Wow. Seeing your original footage was really amazing. It's great that you were able to save that for history. Thanks again.

Paul

 

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