Untitled
The author conducting a ‘hot refuel’ on his aircraft “Maid Mary” in 1966

 

By James “Bud” Harton

Years ago, actually eons ago, I was a crew chief/door gunner on a UH-1D 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 . . .

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, Specialist Gary Wetzel, 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.


hipower

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.

It won’t be my everyday carry, but now I have the ultimate BBQ gun. It comes with its own story of war and service on three continents. How cool is that?

 

108 Responses to P320 Entry: There and Back Again-My Vietnam Hi Power

  1. wow, I guess you will win the back yard BBQ gun story.
    I love my Hi Power, but I bought it new, so no history with the gun.

  2. THAT, is very very cool. No doubt, Dave Williams will take great care of you. I can’t think of anyone else I’d let touch it.

    • Wow, someone failed basic English. Its called figure of speech. Jerk.

      “Eon: noun,

      An indefinite and very long period of time, often a period exaggerated for humorous or rhetorical effect.”

        • I don’t know if its alcohol, I’ve been pretty lit before, and going on to website to criticize a veterans story because of the use of the term “Eon”, would be the last of my “dumbdrunk” ideas. I’d say its more than likely he’s just a angry, spiteful, sad man.

        • I hope alcohol is involved. The alternative cause wouldn’t be gone when he wakes up.

    • Of all the things you could have said you chose to quibble about grammar and word usage. Yeah…

      I award you no points and may John Moses Browning have mercy upon your soul.

    • Well, I was 18 going on 19 when I first got the Hi Power.

      I will be 67 next month. In the in between, I came home from VN, became a cop, retired as a Chief in 1987 at age 40 and went back on active duty with the Army where I learned that PT requirements were a lot more serious then 20 years earlier.Got badly injured in a training accident in 1997 and medically retired two years later. I then went to work for the US Department of Veterans Affairs and stayed eight years with them until I got fed up and walked away..

      It sure seems like EONS to me but I will bow to your obvious superior intellect.

      You have a bright sun shiny day okay?

    • I did not I am sorry.. My unit was the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company. Our radio call was Robin Hood (gunships were Crossbow) and we were assigned to Lai Khe in the II Corps.

      • Bud, I enjoyed the post. I, too, was in the 173rd AHC, but a few years later, 1971. After getting a new boss as a civil affairs coordinator at 12th Group HQ in Long Binh Plantation, I requested work in my MOS, UH-1 Mech (I actually don’t remember the number…). A day after arriving in Lai Khe, we packed everything up and flew to Dong Ha, just north of Quang Tri, in I Corp. Pistols: I went through three black-market 1911’s, each one periodically bought from me by one of the pilots who couldn’t grok the market. We later picked up a pair of Thompsons, but the sear on mine went. Such is life.
        “Lai Khe, oh Lai Khe is a hell of a place,
        The f’g morale is a g-d damned disgrace,” …and so forth

        • Hah! Coincidences are fun! I arrived in Quang Tri in August ’71, as a Trail FAC flying O-2s. Stayed until we shut down the FOL, think it was December, when we moved to Phu Bai, living in Hue. I was one of the lucky (not) selected to fly a jeep down to Hue, scared the crap out of me, but no troubles. We kept flying the same area, From the Ben Hai river Down to Camp Evans, out to Khe Sanh and I even wandered the A Shau valley a couple times, before the war got so hot in Quang Tri area it was fast FAC only area (F-4s); probably a good thing, since I got to go to an after action party given by a fast FAC who had been shot down that afternoon right in the middle of where I had been working weeks earlier, since he had been picked up by an old friend of mine flying a slick on a maintenance test flight out of Phu Bai. Quite the party. Next day that captain strapped my bud in the back seat and flew him down the beach supersonic at 50 feet, upside down. He puked his guts out and told me a couple years ago it was still the high point of his life. He was six days from DEROS at the time, got the Silver Star for it. Dangerous place in 1971-72. My pistol was an issue .38, but my constant companion, which I intended to take with me if I ever had to bail out, was an XM177-E2, similar to the AR I carry now except select fire and SBR.

        • Oh, and I forgot, “You’re going home in a body bag, Doo Da, Doo Da…”

  3. +1,000,000 for this being p320 worthy!

    Thank you for your service in a war that many did not understand and a for enduring the awful treatment that many so called Amerikans heaped upon y’all.

    You sir are a hero in my eyes.

  4. The Hi-Power looks good to me. It makes me feel good you finally got it back.
    I’m surprised that I can still see at least one Huey flying over a week. That’s staying power.

  5. Thanks for the post and for your service, Bud. As a Marine officer in I Corps from 5/69-7/70 I always enjoy hearing stories about personal weapons in country. As you probably know, Marine officers were issued sidearms (predominately M1911s) only, as doctrine required officers’ use of weapons to be limited to their personal protection. Well, I was OK with that except that the .45 just didn’t provide the, um, “level” of personal protection that I considered adequate under the circumstances. I was lucky to spot an unclaimed Ithaca M37 riot gun at the regimental armory and a couple of favors thrown at the NCOIC via the division PX officer secured its service to me for the next year or so. Now, I have located a similar Ithaca from that era and am having it restored. I’m looking forward to having one next to me again.

    All the best and welcome home.

    • Well, shit. I was a FAC in I Corps at the very end, arrived at Quang Tri in Sep ’71 and left with everyone else in Dec. I had been told by the AF that personal weapons were verboten, so I left my Colt Python at home, only to (eventually) discover that the only problem with private weapons was you might not be able to take them home. Having lost my brother close to where I was serving, 18 months earlier, I was not particularly planning on GOING home, would have really liked to have my Python instead of the issue .38 I carried in my survival vest.

      Fine. In 1990, I fell victim to the same shit, told personal weapons were prohibited, didn’t get it, and carried only a 9″ Cold Steel knife, not my (same) Colt Python. Once again, the only problem was bringing the gun HOME. If I had it to do over, I’d carry my Python to both wars, replacing it as necessary if it was confiscated on return.

      Cute gun! Don’t improve it too much, just buy another!

        • As a former Zoomie, I found that story imminently satisfying. Mess with the Air Force, eh? Bwahahaha!
          <story>
          A marine and a zoomie were in the latrine peeing. They finished, the marine headed for the sink, the zoomie headed for the door. The marine called out, “Hey, flyboy! Don’t they teach you to wash your hands after you piss?” “No, in the Air Force they teach us not to piss on our hands.”
          [rimshot]
          </story>

        • Bud, that link took me to a page with the heading 505 Tac Air Control Group. Along with the great story, that gave me a kick, since as the war wound down I got stuck in that outfit as a DASC Fighter Duty Officer in Pleiku. As a 1/lt, I always thought that FACs had so much responsibility that all should be at least Colonels, then I got into the DASC and discovered all FDOs should be general officers. I actually told an Army 3-star to fuck off one day, he was making all manner of demands on my time and Air Force assets, and I was busy working a real shooting war at the time while he was trying to plan for next week. Something like “I don’t have time for this shit, FUCK OFF!” All they could do was fire me, anyhow. Never heard any more about it, although the Capt who was standing beside me at the time couldn’t get his mouth to close for several minutes, he told the other FDOs, and my beer was free for a while.

  6. Might be a but blunt, but that’s fucking cool. If he doesn’t win the SIG, I’ll chip in for his gun of choice.

  7. Awesome work!

    I lost a dear friend on a Huey. He was a Marine, returning from a mission when he was shot in the heart and killed on Halloween. To this very day, I cannot abide that so-called holiday.

    I joined the Air Force, where the enlisted guys stay in the rear with the gear and the officers go out and fight. I was happy with that arrangement.

    Jim was a real nice guy. I still miss him. Glad you made it back, Bud. Too many good men didn’t.

    • never thought I would stand up for a “zoomie”

      Don’t put AF folks down. If you want to read about true heroism, read about the Air Police at Tan Son Nhut Air Base or Bien Hoa Air Base on January 31-1Feb 1968 (the first night of the 1968 Tet Offensive) I was overhead in a Huey gunship and I watched Air Policeman fighting off human wave assaults on both airbases.
      And I was picked up by an AF HH3 after being shot down once so I have personal reasons to liove the AF.

      Thanks for the note!

  8. That’s F#$%ing cool. Too cool, actually.

    I know I will never ever see my M9 from Afghanistan, but my M4 I was carrying when I got hit by an IED was carried the next year by a friend in our sister Company, scratches and all.

  9. I really enjoyed your story. I’m just taking a wild guess here, but I know that the East Germans sent surplus weapons to the NVA/VC, so it’s possible that pistol was part of one of those consignments. I own a Hi Power too, though mine was made in the 1960’s and is a former French police sidearm. They are really great guns, way ahead of their time when invented, and as you know, extremely durable.

  10. What a terrific post. You should win the contest. Very vivid & descriptive language. Too bad the young buck doesn’t understand being older. My ex-military son is turning 40. I too feel eons oldLOL

  11. Well, shit. I was in the process of writing an entry for the Sig, but there is no way I’m going to better this. Uncle! UNCLE!!

  12. 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.

    It may not have been a captured weapon at all but a weapon belonging to one of the Germans who joined the French Foreign Legion and served in Indochina.

  13. Very cool pistol, I have a new one and its my favorite shooting gun.

    IMHO I’d leave it just as is in the picture, the wear and chrome tell the pistols story.

  14. “In September, 1968, I was told I could not extend my tour any longer and I would be going home almost immediately.”

    Thirty two months in that piece of hell called Vietnam and you wanted to stay longer? Wow. I don’t know whether to commend you for bravery or have your mental health examined, but I tip my hat to you.

    Thank you for your service.

        • I never said it was a bad thing. That’s why I reupped in ’72 in the AF, for the Thai Stick and, well, I was only guessing at the VN short-times – in Korea, the short-times were two bucks, but in Thailand they were five. I’m also a coward, which is why I preemptively joined the AF to dodge the draft when I flunked out at the U of Minnesnowta in ’72. I also escaped all the killing. Once, at Ubon Rachathani, an airplane came back from a mission with a bullet hole, and everybody on the base came over to look at the bullet hole.

          So, sorry if I sounded hostile, it certainly wasn’t personal; I was trying to make a generic snark, apparently I shouldn’t have, and I apologize for giving offense. Can I be forgiven for the shot?

        • This Sillly Software!!!!

          Here is the text of the email that I wrote the above treatise in response to:

          “Nice shot Rich
          I actually enjoyed being in a unit that was totally dedicated to the mission.and serving with men who were dedicated to helping each other survive.
          After listening to 40+ years of people like you bad mouthing VN vets my hide is pretty tough.but please continue with your self satisfying assurance in the fact that you’re better than people like me.”

          So after writing the Great American Novel, I hit [Post Comment], and then when the page reloads, it’s nowhere to be seen, but was already replaced with the humor note.

          But I’m going to leave it there anyway, because none of it is untrue.

          And I also ask forgiveness if the email I’ve quoted here wasn’t intended for public consumption.

          I think what we can learn from this is, before hitting the (REPLY) button in the email, I should click the commented link to see what I’m actually about to reply to!

  15. Thank you sir for your service to this nation and for the great story you shared. So awesome you were reunited with an incredible firearm with such a history of travel all its own. You have my vote for contest winner.

  16. I loved this.

    My grandfather had one.. made in the same plant. How he came about it involved a chicken, a hand grenade, and a thompson with an empty magazine with a freshly broken in buttstock. He got his paperwork in, brought it home. everything matching, eagles, swastikas, and tangent sights.

    An unnamed and unforgiven relative took it to a pawn shop for booze money.

    • Also..

      When I was a kid, I used to read Dad’s gun rags. In the back few pages, there was always some story that was shooting related. Everything from war stories, hunting stories, to grandpa with his bb gun stories. I loved those last few pages more than the rest of the magazine. Your story belongs right there with the others… Thank you for sharing it.

  17. Hi powers are my favorite. If this gentleman does not win the tupperware, at least get him into a new mk iii

  18. Welp, there goes my shot at winning the contest!
    FANTASTIC story. I literally do not have words for a story of this caliber. That pistol was clearly meant for you, sir. It found its way to you after being pretty well LOST FOR GOOD. That’s divine intervention right there. You couldn’t have asked for a better pistol than the one you served with. Thank you for this amazing tale and thank you for your service.

    Give this man the pistol lol. I’ll second Tyler Kee’s chip in offer if he doesnt.

  19. Any chance for multiple prize guns like the FNS-40 contest? If not I’m screwed…

    Great story and thanks for your service.

  20. Great story. If there was voting I’m sure you would win in a landslide. What was with that guy bitching about the use of “eons”? What a loser!

  21. Bud,

    First, thanks for your service. That is truly a fantastic story.

    What’s funny is that the very first service pistol I was issued for the vest was the .38 S&Ws also, just 25 years later. I remember thinking to myself, what the hell am I supposed to do with this???

    Fast forward twenty more years, after my grandfather passed, my grandmother gave me one of his pistols. As it turns out it was her brother-in-law’s Army service revolver from late 1944. I’ll be damned if is wasn’t the basically the same S&W they issued me.

  22. If Bud doesn’t get the Sig, I’m quitting TTAG.

    When I was 19, I spent a summer lounging around the boatdocks of a small lake managed by a local park district, renting canoes to anyone that might show up needing a boat. The groundskeeper, Bob, dropped by frequently to tell me about his exploits at 19, experiencing multiple crashes as a chopper pilot and his ventures after Vietnam. made a big impression on me. Really enjoyed hearing this story.

    • Please don’t quit in any event

      TTAG provides a valuable service to all of us. There isn’t a day that goes by that someone, either on staff or someone making a comment causes me to stop and think about my own position on a topic, consider a new piece of gear or firearm or just make me consider, “what if……..”

  23. Bud, great history there. The P320 should be all yours. You get my vote as well.

    My brother in law on my wife’s side passed away 4 years ago. He too was a door gunner in VN. Tight nit crew from what he told me. They went down hard four times. They flew a lot into places that were not referred to by name (west). The last time they went down they spent a month getting out on the ground with some other guys that were also not supposed to be there.

    He once told me that they worked out a fire system where the gibs would call “switch” on the comm and the pilot would pivot 180 so the gunner who was firing could change his barrel while the guy on the other side kept rounds going downrange. He told me they carried quite a few extra barrels.

    Again, great post!

  24. Thank you for posting this wonderful story. I was saddened that you left the hi-power in country, and surprised to read that it was eventually returned! Do you have any pics of it restored?

    My father flew Huey’s out of Chu Lai with the Americal Div. in 68-69. He mentioned the revolver he had on that tour. By the time he returned to VN with the 101st, flying chinooks, he had with him a 1969 FN Hi-power. He too carried it in a shoulder holster throughout his tour in I Corps.

    He presented that pistol to me 2 days ago on my birthday. A friend of his who is a master engraver, and a navy Vietnam vet, engraved the pistol beautifully, including listing the main areas of operation from my dad’s last tour. 1971 is marked on the top of the slide – my dad’s last year in VN and the year of my birth. I’m still nearly speechless at this incredible gift. I wish I could post a picture here to show it off.

  25. Awesome story.I recently discovered a single action army revolver that my father owned and was stolen from our family .It was in auction and I have the original police report from1970.I am in the process of rscovering it as that was the gun that started it all for me when I was ten.I can understand being reunited with a firearm!

  26. Excellent story Bud and you have my vote for the win.

    I too once lost and found a pistol that was important to me but not with the storied history of yours.
    My first center fire handgun was a Mod. 64 S&W .38. It was a gift on the occasion of my 12th birthday and as such became the gun I learned to shoot hand guns with. It radically altered and eventually saved my life.

    In my early 20’s someone I thought was a friend found himself robbed of all his guns and desperately needed one for home defense. I sold him that Smith for $100 on the condition that I had first option to buy it back if he ever sold it. 10 years and a lot of living later he had moved away, we’d lost track of each other and I didn’t figure to ever see that wheel gun again. Then one day I walked into another friends house and was presented with that same pistol, complete with the distinctive little circular depressions in the bottom of it’s grip panels where it had tapped a broken seat belt latch several times in a junk car I’d driven in my teens. He’d found it in a pawn shop for $200, in a town 400 miles away, recognized the unique marks on the grips and ventured I’d want it back. I hadn’t exactly missed the gun, but having it back brought a flood of memories. I can only imagine what being reunited with the Hi-Power must mean for Bud.
    Now that .38 has taught a few more people the skill and joy of shooting and while it’s just about the plainest handgun in my collection it’s still one of my favorites.

  27. I was unable to bring back anything from my trip to SE Asia, however I do have the Remington Rand 1911A1 dad brought back from WWII. That’s almost as cool.

  28. My vote for the shotgun rider 🙂 I dont care much for the reviews lately, but the stories are hands down some of the best content ever posted on here. Thanks for the story and your service Bud.

  29. Great read, I hope you keep a copy of this bit of history written down and kept with the pistol. Like a lot of service weapons it carries the marks of much use and many years of providing service for several owners under very trying conditions. Restoration and continued use are a fitting continuance for this pistol. I think we should all thank you and those who followed for the service you rendered this country. Cheers
    FYI because of this I’m taking my new/old High Power out for a shoot with some friends this upcoming weekend. This my 2nd High Power, the first I shot and carried for many years before being caught up in the new “wonder nines” camp. Time for me and a few other folks to shoot an iconic pistol and remember why it is still around.

  30. Glad to see you were reunited with your sidearm and what an awesome story, your entry deserves the win. That Hi-Power probably came from Soviet Russian stock-piles. They dumped the foreign guns on fledgling regimes so the best of the domestically-produced gear could be kept for themselves. It was because of this rearmament program that my friend’s grandpa found a Luger during his time serving in Korea, and Vietnam bring-back K98s with Russian capture markings still pop up for sale once in a blue moon.

  31. Hats off to you Bud, I too was a 67N (Huey Crew chief) but served in the war following VN – ODS/DS…..in my opinion, no other story can match this submission and you are deserving of the P320 as well as the thanks of a grateful nation.

  32. Bud, I hope you’ll post a photo of your refinished Hi-Power.

    It would be great to be reunited with my first gun – a brushed stainless Colt Government 5 inch Series 80, that I had to turn in during the 1997 UK gun ban. I expect it went to the smelter though, but maybe, just maybe, it’s out there somewhere in good hands.

  33. Great story, my Dad had a similar story but with a nickel plated Colt Police Positive Special he brought home from Vietnam. I still have it and will always cherish it. Never have shot it, probably never will.

  34. Not surprising to find an ex-Wehrmacht pistol in Vietnam. When the French army first returned to French Indo-China after WWII, they carried a mixture of weapons which included captured Wehrmacht items. Photos show Lugers, MP38/MP40 in use. Later, French and US made weapons predominated.

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