By Bud Harton

Over the years, I have read a lot of posts all over the Internet badmouthing the M60 machinegun. I always thought that strange because that wasn’t my experience at all. Back in 1966-68, I used an M60 every day and I would guess that I fired in excess of a half-million rounds through mine. The video above is of me and my buddy Jim who was a fellow crew chief on another aircraft. On the day the video was made he was flying with me because his aircraft was down for maintenance . . .

Jim stayed in Vietnam just as long as I did, but he was truly a badass. Once, in a landing zone, when we were both still on “slicks” – the UH-1D troop carriers – one of the aircraft in our flight hit a tree stump on landing and rolled over on the its left side, pinning the gunner and one grunt.

We had landed in a partially flooded rice paddy and while an aircraft hovered up to the rolled-over bird, Jim climbed up on top of the downed aircraft and attached a rope to the cargo hook of the hovering slick and then to the door frame of the downed bird. Then, while the hovering aircraft strained to lift the Huey up (sort of like grabbing yourself by the hair and lifting yourself off the ground) Jim crawled underneath the downed aircraft and pulled the grunt and the pinned gunner out. The grunt had drowned but he got the gunner out.

Badassery at its best.

But, this is about the M60, or as we called it, the pig. We fired our door guns from a bungee cord that was hanging from the ceiling of the aircraft. We had highly modified our guns and that included adding a half-length of operating rod spring to the operating rod and putting a couple of nickels or washers under the buffer in the butt stock. That brought  the cyclic rate of fire up to somewhere over 1,000 rounds per minute. We couldn’t tell the exact rate because we had no way of timing it, but I carried about 2,500 rounds in a minigun ammo can on the floor between my legs and it sure didn’t last very long. You virtually couldn’t hear individual shots.

We also twisted off the flash suppressor from the barrels and removed the bipod legs. By “twisted off” I mean that literally. We put the barrel in a vise in the gun shack and used a honking big pipe wrench to twist it off. We didn’t bother removing the locking pin first so once you put the flash suppressor back on the barrel it was only a matter of time until the suppressor was going to go down range while you were firing.

In the aircraft, because the guns were ‘free’ — that is not restrained by a mount and without a brass catcher — we had to make accommodations to keeping the brass inside the aircraft. That was because the brass flying out the right door would sail through the tail rotor.

Losing a tail rotor or even damaging one while flying at 90 knots and at fifty feet in altitude is a really bad thing. So, being highly motivated and absolutely dedicated to having firepower on the right side of the ship, we hung the right door gun upside down. Take a look at that video again and watch Jim on the right side. Here’s a fram from it that shows him firing and notice his M60 and the rounds ejecting to the left. You can see the front sight is upside down.

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All of the gunship door gunners developed incredibly ugly and deformed little fingers.

When we were hard up for ammo, and it sometimes happened, we were forced to use the straight 200-round cans consisting of four ball and one tracer. But in good times, we re-armed with 200-round cans (and later 1500 round cans) of 100% tracer. It was tre-F-ing-mendous for starting fires and getting on target with a minimum number of rounds expended. And of course, it was really pretty at night.

We typically fired suppressive fire while the aircraft was making a gun run at a target on the ground. Sometimes that was at a specific target and lots of times it was along a tree line bordering a field or rice paddy that was soon to become a landing zone. We fired to suppress enemy fire and also to cover our wingman as he made his run.

We normally operated in a race track pattern using two gunships known as a light fire team. (A’heavy’ fire team was three aircraft.) The object as we started our attack was to have the second ship start their attack as the lead ship was already breaking out to the left or right. We would then operate at 180 degrees from each other with the inside door gunners firing below their wingman’s aircraft.

That sometime went badly. In the Spring of 1968, I had the door gunner of a wingman who was firing down at enemy troops bounce one of his rounds in a flooded rice paddy and had it ricochet right into the engine oil reservoir of my aircraft. Down we went when the turbine engine blades welded themselves together.

But, this method worked great as enemy troops (or a lot of innocent trees in the jungle) were subjected to a tremendous volume of fire. That’s because we didn’t fire the traditional 6-8 rounds bursts. We fired 100, 200 or even 300 round bursts. Once we started the long descent towards the target, we kept the triggers squeezed and the gunner that was on the inside of the turn kept firing all the way back out.

If we were receiving a lot fire (and because we were always low, you could hear as well as see it) both gunners often kept firing and used the entire 180 degrees available to them. That’s why you often see pictures where a gunship door gunner is standing outside the aircraft on the skid below the fuselage. Using 100% tracers. We could even fire straight back to mark an enemy position so the following wingman could hit it with his aircraft armament.

Shooting long strings of ammo like that generated a lot of heat. You could tell when your barrel was getting too hot because it would start glowing red right behind the gas piston. We always carried as many spare barrels as we could scrounge and that usually meant at least three a piece. But I can remember times when I had up to six.

There were times when you couldn’t stop firing and let the barrel cool. Any enemy position that had a belt fed automatic weapon meant we had to put as much fire on them as possible because it only took one bullet hitting a vulnerable spot (engine, transmission, tail rotor gear box) to put you down right now. When someone did lock on to us or get lucky, you could hear the rounds hitting the aircraft or the blades. A sudden “whirring” sound meant you had taken a hit in a rotor blade, and the occasional “tink, tink, tink’ meant you had rounds going through the fuselage.

When you heard a “thunk!”, that meant something solid was hit. Time would suddenly stand still and you could see all four of our heads swivel to the center of the cockpit instrument cluster where all the warning lights were located and nobody took a breath until we assured ourselves nothing was suddenly throwing a red flashing light.

When we were firing the door guns like that, the barrel would start to glow red like I described before. But if we had to keep shooting, we ignored it and it would then turn to yellow. As it slowly turned to white you would notice it because the barrel would start to droop, your rounds were no longer impacting where you were aiming and the only thing you could do then was flip the barrel release lever up, fire another round and let the bullet carry the barrel “down range”.

We fired a lot. During an ongoing operational mission supporting troops in the field (almost every day) it was normal  to rearm/refuel two-four times a day. Each time, that meant 1500-2500 rounds for each door gun, 3600 rounds for each minigun and 14 aerial rockets at a time. During the 1968 Tet Offensive, there were many days when we launched, arrived at the target, expended all of our ordinance and returned to base all within 45 minutes. We normally didn’t even shut down the aircraft while we feverishly reloaded and pumped 1200 pounds of JP4 fuel onboard and launched again.

There were times when I pulled an Intermediate maintenance inspection (after 25 flight hours) every other day and there were times we skipped the inspection due to operational necessities. Those were times when I listened to every little noise the components made especially closely.

So, my experience with the M60 was it was the perfect weapon for me for a big chunk of my life. It did everything I asked it to do and when it broke, it could be fixed immediately and gotten back into the fight. Every time I go shooting now, I really miss it.

This is a summer content contest entry. Click here for rule and email your entry before midnight July 31.

60 Responses to Contest Entry: Bud and Jim and Their Modded M60s

  1. “…the only thing you could do then was flip the barrel release lever up, fire another round and let the bullet carry the barrel ‘down range.'”

    Damn. I guess that’s the M60 equivalent of knocking an empty AK magazine out with the next one?

    • With the possible added bonus that you could hit an enemy with the barrel, which may not kill them but would certainly be pretty painful.

  2. Welcome home, bro.

    I had my pig during two ‘Nam deployments for ground-based air base defense and then again for my last six months of active duty over northeast Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. I wish I had it still. With about a million rounds and a couple of dozen spare barrels and parts kits. And a pile of asbestos gloves.

    To this day, my right-hand little finger is bent crookedly, over forty years later.

  3. Think about overheating your pig. You’re doing 90+ knots with the gun fully exposed to the air flow and still firing enough to overheat the gun. That’s a lot of rounds in a short period oftime.

    If our current admin in dc hadn’t ruined the term I would even say that was fast and furious.

  4. 1,000 rnd/min is just about what is required (single barrel) for efficacious work, esp. when either source or target is in motion. Good work!

  5. “and the only thing you could do then was flip the barrel release lever up, fire another round and let the bullet carry the barrel “down range”. ”

    That is what I’m talkin about, great submission. Really enjoyed the old school video as well.

  6. And a Henry rifle to you sir.

    I don’t mean to seem flippant, nor that it applies to you, but I can’t help being reminded of …

    “Easy. You just don’t lead ’em so much!!”

  7. Thanks, Bud, Glad you made it back. One of my friends got his on a slick and never returned. We were about the same age. Spec 5 JVNM, KIA Gia Dinh Province 10/31/67. I still hate Halloween.

    • Sp5 James van Ness Muller killed and his pilot 1LT Garrett O. Lewis wounded by enemy fire in the crash of their OH-13 while assigned to the “D” Troop 1st Squadron 4th Cavalry 1st Infantry Division. Near Quan Loi, Rest in Peace

      I am also a retired military history researcher:

      Information on U.S. Army helicopter OH-13S tail number 63-09181
      Date: 10/31/1967
      Incident number: 67103131.KIA
      Unit: D/1/4 CAV 1 INF
      This was a Combat incident. This helicopter was REPAIRED
      This was a Recon mission for Unarmed Recon
      While in Operations Area this helicopter was at Level Flight at UNK feet and 070 knots.
      South Vietnam
      Helicopter took 30 hits from:
      Small Arms/Automatic Weapons; Gun launched non-explosive ballistic projectiles less than 20 mm in size. (7.62MM)
      The helicopter was hit in the Right Side
      Systems damaged were: PERSONNEL, COMM SYS, STRUCTURE
      Casualties = 01 WIA, 01 KIA . .
      The helicopter Continued Flight.
      The aircraft was diverted prior to accomplishing any mission objectives.
      QUAN LOI recovered the helicopter.
      Original source(s) and document(s) from which the incident was created or updated: Survivability/Vulnerability Information Analysis Center Helicopter database. Also: LNNF, FM232, CASRP (Lindenmuth New Format Data Base. Casualty Report. )

      Crew Members:
      P 1LT LEWIS GARRETT O RES
      OB SP5 MULLER JAMES VAN NESS KIA

  8. I shot the M-60 (in training) back in the 80’s and never heard anyone complain about it.

    I think there’s a lot of mythology about weapons systems that people create or believe or resort to to justify a new system. The new machine guns are good too, but I haven’t noticed much difference in their effectiveness. I’m sure a good contract was awarded to the right people.

  9. II Corp 1970. My 60 worked each time, every time I needed it. My only complaint was that, sometimes, it seemed to rust as I looked at it. But, it was a little humid. And, don’t lose that damn glove.

  10. Thank God we spent all that time, energy, money, and young men’s lives in Vietnam instead of doing literally anything else.

    • It happened. Coulda, woulda, shoulda is just a waste of time and energy. I feel the same about Iraq, but the reality is, it happened also.

      When the next one happens, and there will be a next one, let’s hold the politicians feet to the fire.

    • Roy, ‘Nam or something like it was in the cards back then. Quit your winning!):

      Amazing story BTW and everyone needs to read the books written by the Vets that were there. You’ll appreciate their efforts all the more!

      • Russian armor pouring through the Fulda Gap/North German Plain was what the A-10 and the AH-64 Apache were designed and built for.

        That we could use them in Gulf War 1 and 2 was a bonus.

  11. The footage alone was enough to win the Henry rifle. I think the story and service to our country afford a lifetime supply of ammo to go with it.

  12. adding a half-length of operating rod spring to the operating rod and putting a couple of nickels or washers under the buffer in the butt stock. That brought the cyclic rate of fire up to somewhere over 1,000 rounds per minute. armed with 200-round cans (and later 1500 round cans) of 100% tracer.
    I had a friend who was a door gunner in Vietnam and he had his M-60 set up exactly as you described. I heard that firing it looked more like a mini-gun blasting into the tree line.

    • The M-60 is the baddest of the bad. Designed after Hitlers Buzz Saw the
      MG-42 which put fear in those that were on the receiving end of it. The M-60’s cyclic rate was slowed down so that more ammo could be saved but in my opinion while in a Huey gunship that’s exactly what you needed. I have heard many people bad mouth the “Pig” but then again those were people that weren’t in the bush when that sweet mother would open up either. I love the “Pig” and those in my infantry unit that carried it loved it too. Carrying extra ammo for the beast was every mans job to include me, the medic, and I did so happily. Without a complaint in the makings. So please if youve never had trigger time on this baby keep your mouth shut. You have no idea just how much respect this weapons platform deserves. I wish we still had it in our line platoons. Anyway, that’s my two cents. This was the most awesome story and description I’ve ever read about. Thank you sir for your service.
      Doc Nimrod out

      • +1000

        Well said, Doc, and thanks also to you! Medics were like unto divinities to us and deservedly so, without exception.

        • Thank you DavidX I appreciate that very much. I lost some really good guys and will always secind guess my skills no matter how long I live. Thank you for that comment. You have no idea how much my chest puffed up and damn you for putting water in my eyes. Lmao

        • You are most welcome, and you and your fellow medics will never be forgotten. One of the guys in my vets group up here was also in that MOS and also lost many; I didn’t think then, and don’t now, that I’d have the sand to do that gig. I’d hang out of choppers with the pig all day and all night under whatever conditions, rather than do the medic or next-of-kin notification jobs.

          God bless, and welcome home, bro.

  13. I just read “Chickenhawk by Robert Mason – a great read, from the pilot of a slicks perspective in 1966. Really well written.

    • I read “Chickenhawk” twice. Excellent read. I think about the stories in it often. It is a wonder Mason made it home alive. However, he went to prison soon after coming home for flying marijuana. I learned about his book from an interview he did on the “Today” show the day before he was to report to prison.

  14. I love reading about fellow machine gunners stories. I served as a machinegunner in the Marines for 5 years, and carried the M240. I think the M60 gets a bad rap for the same reason the SAW does, the military keeps them in service way too long. I know for a long time the Light Armored Recon guys resisted transition to teh M240 and kept the M60 for way longer than the rest of the Corps.

  15. This was an awesome read, thank you for sharing it with us and for your service. I would have loved to have seen you ‘firing’ the barrel off of the M60.

    After reading this article I’ve had Alice In Chains’ “Rooster” running through my head all evening. I think this entry is a shoe in for the Henry.

  16. Thank you for sharing. I felt like I was there with you as I read this story. It was very powerful.

  17. A Helluva story, Bud. Glad you made it back.

    Er, I couldn’t help but notice…

    You were a skinny little sh!t back then.

    What happened?

    (I’m smiling when I say that, see?…)

    • Because I live on Bounty Brand Chili for the entire time I was in VN.

      A long time ago in a place far away, I could not stomach the food served in my unit’s mess hall.

      The food was absolutely garbage and the cooks who served it were so absolutely shell shocked from the frequent incoming mortar and rocket attacks (In early February, 1968, our base camp, Lai Khe, took over 2000 rounds of mixed 82mm and 122 mm rockets in just three days) that they didn’t even make an attempt of coming up with anything decent.

      But no excuse, we still flew our helicopters every day and they should have at least tried to make decent meals.

      I ended up eating C-rations for the better part of three years I was in the unit. I got real good at figuring out different recipes. My only other choice was eating those little bitty cans of “Bounty Brand Chile” that you could buy at the PX and sometimes the NCO club.

      I really loved Bounty Brand Chili and became an expert at cooking them. They came with an attached little tiny sterno can and after opening the can up you could place it over the sterno and have a great meal. You could even melt the plastic cheese that came in the C-rats over the chili.

      The pilots seemed to have a problem with doing this on the floor of the aircraft while you were in flight so i usually had to wait until we landed. If I was really flush (sometimes I was able to buy them by the case) I would dump three or four cans into a canteen cup and heat that up with two of the sterno cans and groan in engorged bliss.

      I can still taste how good that chili was even forty years later.

      When the kids were all young, we used to all go to the grocery store as a family. That was because we had to drive at least 20 miles in any direction to get to a grocery store. As my wife and the kids would start doing the aisles with the cart, I would head for the soup and chili aisle in hopes that Bounty Brand Chili would finally make an appearance. Because we shopped in a multitude of stores, I was always searching and if we were on a trip to another State, I always made up an excuse to go check out the local grocery store just on the odd chance that they carried Bounty Brand Chili. But, I was never ever able to find any.

      As the kids got older and we continued our family outings to the grocery store, my wife would sometimes ask the kids, “where’s your Father?”. My daughter Caryn, figuring out what was going on, came up with the classic answer on one occasion. She told her Mother, “Oh, he’s in the Chili aisle hoping for a flashback”.

      • “A long time ago in a place far away, I could not stomach the food served in my unit’s mess hall. ”

        My Dad told me stories from his tour of ‘Nam of chipped beef on toast (AKA – SOS, Sh!t On A Shingle).

        He even made SOS for us kids, once.

        Once.

        🙂

  18. On Forgotten Weapons on Full30 they explained why Vietnam Vets loved the M-60 while it has such a bad reputation with those that came after. Basically there is a design flaw with the firearm that as it is used the receiver wears in a way that causes major issues with it’s operation. So during the Vietnam War when they were all basically new they ran great. By the 80’s and 90’s though the receivers on them had all been worn from years of use, so they generally all had major issues.

    • You make a good point. I personally witnessed an M60 coming apart at Camp Bullis back in the mid-80s while it was being fired during an assault. And this gun was shooting blanks! The Air Force armorers had stenciled “Blank Fire Only” on the dust covers of these old guns because they were so worn out.

  19. I carried a 60 on the ground and true enough the 60 could bring some smoke. And from someone who spent all his time with his boots on the ground I want to thank the author because men like him pulled our fat out of the fire on more than a couple of occasions.

  20. This was awesome! Great story. I carried a pig for a week in training. I only shoot blanks through it, but it was still fun.

  21. Outstanding story! Thanks again.

    I was the 60 gunner in my motor pool in the army. I can’t claim anywhere near the same amount of time on it that you can, for obvious reasons, but I had a similar experience – and I am almost certain my m60 was a Vietnam Vet.

    : the only thing you could do then was flip the barrel release lever up, fire another round and let the bullet carry the barrel “down range”.”

    The line above floored me. I have only ever seen that done by accident. I can’t imagine needing to do it out of necessity. I do, however have the forearm burn to remind me about those glowing barrels, though.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  22. Never shot the M60, but I shot a lot of MG 42, which should be the father of it.
    Never had so much fun in my life!!!
    One day, at Officer School, half my team was down due to accidents (happens a lot among Mountain Troops), so, since I was the leader of my course, the Colonel told me to get uo a boulder and shoot covering fire for all the other squads, since squad attack was true BS (his words) and he wanted the squad’s MG to move under covering fire from another MG.
    So I spent two full days blasting like a fool out of my MG 42, with a few spare barrels (4 or 5) and some comrades, the ones with some punishments pending, bringing up ammo.
    I could total 15.000 rounds in two days, which is not bad for peace-time!
    The asbestos gloves where long gone in ’94, so I used a piece of blanket, which, on one time, after a particularly slow team, even caught fire while changing barrel.
    I’m grateful to the Lord I never had to fight a war, but I guess those like you who made it back in one piece can consider them blessed. You probably know who you really are. That’s not for everybody!
    Thanks for your great history!

  23. I was a 60 gunner in for my platoon as well as a 240E1 gunner for our vehicle. Because I was in from 1990 to 1994 it was the transition years. I can attest that my M60 never once had failures to fire or work when needed. I on the other hand can not say the same thing about the 240. The M60 was easy to walk onto target because of the slow rate of fire. I routinely qualified by single shooting/(trigger fluttering) the range targets. The high rate of fire and close tolerances of the 240 made it difficult to keep working in a very dirty environment.

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