Tuesday, September 01, 2020

A Fourth of July cruise on the Saigon River


I'm reading a book about DARPA, the defense agency responsible for so many military (and ultimately civilian) innovations, including the internet that makes it possible for me to post these pages and you to read them. The book prompted me to suss out the remarkable little machine gun that I encountered on a Fourth of July cruise down the Saigon River in 1964. The holiday was organized by three US Navy officers who liked to get out and about, so they commandeered a Junk Fleet riverboat and who invited me to come along. Another straphanger also turned up, a US Army one-star general who was in-country to test out some innovative field rations and a light assault machine gun that I now realize was a Stoner 63. It didn't work awfully well -- it kept jamming, apparently because the cartridges were too dry -- but the Junk Fleet sailors loved it. Here the Trung Si (sergeant) fires the weapon from a kneeling position, though dang if I can see where his right leg has got to!

Eugene Stoner came up with the weapon after the ArmaLight company sold his AR-15 design to Colt's. The model 63 variant was chambered for the same 5.56 mm cartridge as the AR-15. It was manufactured by Cadillac Gage in Costa Mesa, California, from February 1963 to September 1964, to a total of 234 examples. DARPA bought 25 of that batch, with wooden stocks, and this may well have been one of them, though about 2,000 more Stoner 63s were manufactured in the next few years. I confess I don't remember whether the weapon we fired along the Saigon River had a wooden stock or a plastic one. The Marines were more interested than the Army, but in the end the Stoner 63 was deemed to be "unacceptable for service use."

For more, go to www.warbirdforum.com -- Dan Ford



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