There and Back Again – A Huey Crew Chief Gets His Vietnam War Browning Hi-Power Back

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Vietnam Huey Browning Hi-Power
The author conducting a ‘hot refuel’ on his aircraft “Maid Mary” in 1966 (courtesy Bud Harton)

By James “Bud” Harton

Years ago, eons actually, I was a crew chief/door gunner on a UH-1D Iroquois 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 didn’t have any outboard weapons, just the M60D machine guns mounted on each side of the rear of the cargo hold. Slicks carried the troops into landing zones and then kept them supplied while in the field.

The gunships, armed with mini-guns, rockets and 40mm 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 Vietnam were the cutting edge of war technology at the time and were ongoing experiments in 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. Right from the start, 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, those permitted under the unit’s table of organization and equipment (TO&E). For the pilots, that meant a Smith & Wesson Military & Police Model 10 revolver in .38 special and M14 rifles for the two crew members 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 thing you were coming out of the aircraft with had better have been strapped to you. That meant 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.

(AP Photo/Henri Huet)

Because our M14s were in the way, back there in the transmission well where our M60s were mounted, they were slung over the pilots’ seats. It was agreed the pilots would be using those because the crew members could use their M60D machine gun once they were on the ground.

In real life, though, that almost never happened because leaving the aircraft quickly was all too often the number one priority and trying to remove an M60 from its 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 people were coming for you.

So we improvised and without too much command interference, we all started developing our own selection of 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 with a hacksaw. A good friend of mine brought back an S&W Outdoorsman, a .38 special 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 32 months I stayed in country 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.

(AP Photo/Horst Faas)

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 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 can’t 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.

Belgian Hi-Power pistol Pistole 640(b)
Courtesy Bud Harton

It’s pretty rough. The cheap ‘bumper’ chrome is thin and pitted, but otherwise it’s 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 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 what I consider to be the ultimate BBQ gun. It comes with its own story of war and service on three continents. How cool is that?


[This article was originally published here in 2014.]

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    • I have forgotten more about high powers than you will ever know. I am one of the few that can shorten up even the long reset of the trigger, one of the main bitches about the high powers. The only lying troll is you and your ignorance. Screw you.

      • Your dad is the gunsmith, vlad. You’re just his mentally ill embarrassment. And 27 years ago you were still in diapers.

        But you keep lying. You might believe them but we don’t.

      • I can’t tell if he’s fallen off the wagon for the new year but kept the AA speak or if he’s actually convinced that the spiritual realm runs on mechanical parts.

      • No Vlad you don’t know shit about firearms. You are a sewer rat that has overheard some BS and tried to repeat it to sound intelligent. Go back to sniffing through feces for a bite to eat and leave the gun talk to people who don’t live under bridges.

      • It is beyond the ability of the Neanderthals of the Far Right to fathom or admit or even recognize the fact that the Far Left owns guns too.

        Here is a question for you Morons. How do you think the Russian Red Army annihilated the Russian White Army (Conservative Capitalvanians who supported the Czar). Hint: they shot the shit out of the White Army.

        Or perhaps a much more recently when Ho Chi Minh beat two powerful nations, the Greedy French and later the Hillbillies of the U.S. of Hey who ended up destroying the rice industry and the rubber industry in Vietnam and ended up not making money on the rice profits (as the French were intelligent enough to do) but had to import rice to feed the people of Vietnam with U.S. tax money. Brilliant would you not say. I laugh every time I think of this.

        Try again Morons of the Right, every time you open your mouths you stick your foot in your mouth.

    • You Morons would be lucky to know which end the bullets came out of. You are all a laughable joke when it comes to knowledge about firearms. You prove it by what you do not say.

      • Aww. Now we done it. We got vlads panties in a bunch. When he goes to group today we’ll all be talked about.

      • And remember JM the Socialists beat you Nazi’s in WWII and the Socialists will beat you Nazi’s in 2020. He who does not know history is doomed to repeat it. I will be enjoying 2020. Kiss the rectum of Trump JM he will not be around much longer in office.

      • The funny shit is I don’t post on politics often. I’m an Independent. I attack you on your basis of not knowing shit about guns, from the garbage you post and you go right to calling me a Nazi. P.S. it’s called a Hi-Power you dolt. Do us all a favor and pull your bottom lip over your face and swallow.

      • “Prove it by what you do not say”

        You reading body language online? lol.

        Vlad sure was a funny character back then. I wonder if he was gutted by his own “kind” in CHAZ/CHOP and that’s why we never hear from him anymore.

      • jethro,
        Agreed the big giveaway was “capitalvania” and the timestamps, check out the dates.

    • I didn’t read Cisco’s comment and I never do, but either Hi-Power or High Power could be correct. Depending on who’s stamp it had on it, Browing or FN, or the year of manufacture or even the location of export, both terms were used by FN.
      The orignal French would have been more like high power, as it was the “Grand Rendement”.

      • Shhh I know, especially since it is a pre 50s model. Was waiting for the troll to actually argue about gun knowledge, but nope he went right to the Right Wing Nazi comment. My dream is a Canadian Inglis, Hi Power with the Stock/Holster.

      • The ejection port changes were implemented, and FN started production after receiving an order for 10,000 pistols, the first of which were completed in March 1935. For marketing reasons, the model was renamed Grande Puissance (High Power), often called G.P. or Model of 1935, after the Belgian military designations. Renaming the model was important, as FN wanted to capitalize on the improved design adopted by the Belgian government.

        “””””””””””””””””Shhh I know,”””””””””””””””””””’

        And by the way Jeff the Griz.

        Nice try at saving face but it did not work.

      • That vald character sounds like the democRat algore who served in Vietnam but was never issued a weapon but managed to return home with stories of bravery. Then there was algore’s democRat father who voted against Civil Rights…And I do believe it was cut and run democRats who withheld funding for Vietnam…so kent state socialist nazi party democRat lint licking vald if you see this, exactly what were you trying to say about those those hillbillies?

  1. That’d be a great question for DG. I cold blued a .22 a few years back, had to do small sections at a time because it would rust as soon as I sanded it and used water to rinse it (per directions). That was a pain in the butt, it looked okay once done.

  2. I once had an oddball FN, but it was stamped “Hi-Powr” if memory serves. It wasn’t “High Power”.

    Like an idiot, I let it go when life imploded in the late 90s. It had an *exquisitely* butter-smooth, super ‘slick’ action to it. I later found out it was worth about 1500. I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

    I hope the chrome-plated gun the guy who may be giving me that small collection is a High-Power. It was the softest-shooting 9mm I have ever shot.

    The reason I’m choosing to play home gunsmith on this is because the guy who may be passing it along to me had it appraised, and the shop said the chrome-job destroyed the value of what the appraiser said was worth about 1700 bucks, had it not been plated…)

  3. “The first being that when you hit the ground hard, the only thing you were coming out of the aircraft with had better have been strapped to you.”

    Exactly. If you ain’t wearing it, you ain’t gonna have it.

  4. “I can’t 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.”

    *Stares in PTSD

  5. Very cool story. I remember reading where an infantryman saw a Garand at a gun show and recognized the serial number as being the same rifle he was issued in WWII. Evidently people memorized their weapon serial numbers. Anyhoo, what are the odds?

    • Till the day he died, my dad remembered the Serial Number of his 1919 Browning A-6 Machine Gun.

  6. Speaking of German-affiliated guns ending up elsewhere, an old friend’s late grandfather served in Korea (US Army infantry) and a North Korean POW surrendered a P08 Luger to him; an eastern front Russian capture given to the North Koreans as war aid. He later traded it to a Sgt in supply for two bottles of whiskey so his squad could have a slightly merrier Christmas that year. Can’t blame him for wanting to make his guys happy.

  7. Stories like this are why I am building the AR15 Vietnam Era Rifle. After researching the upper it turns out its an A3. It should have been obvious to me as it is removable. But I am learning on the go. I don’t know if they were used in theater or not but it is an unfired Colt upper. I am constantly amazed at the bravery and tenacity of those that served in Vietnam Nam. For those that say these soldiers lost the war they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Our government lost the war at the expense of tens of thousands and I will always mourn and revere those lost and those that returned and I thank all who served. Happy New Year Everyone.

    • “For those that say these soldiers lost the war… “

      No, it was Robert McNamara and the whole “hey diddle diddle, right up the middle” strategy from the leadership, still fighting WWII.

      In any case, we were on the wrong side in that war. Harry Truman should’ve answered uncle hose letter and helped bring true democracy to Southeast Asia. Under international treaty, the United States was bound to help the Vietnamese achieve independence From the occupied colonial powers.

      Unfortunately, the multinational corporations that control our government ignored the treaties and instead supported their continued exploitation of the native peoples and their natural resources. The US would not have been in Vietnam if it hadn’t been for royal Dutch shell oil wells and Michelin rubber plantations.

      And my friend Steve would still have his legs.

      “Following the end of World War II, Ho Chi Minh reached out to President Harry S. Truman for support in ending French rule in Vietnam. In the document, Ho Chi Minh references both the Atlantic and San Francisco charters as a basis for his claims. The Atlantic Charter was drawn up in 1941 following the outbreak of World War II by the U.S. and England and the San Francisco Charter references the document that creates the United Nations (UN Charter). In both documents, the United States lends their support for support self-government by occupied peoples during World War II.“

      • In other words: the demtard party screws the pooch. Hasn’t gotten anything right since before Wilson (at a minimum). News at 11.

        • Well, you’re missing the Republican great depression, brought to us by Wilson’s successors, Republicans Coolidge and Hoover.

          And you are ignoring President Dick Cheney’s war of lies in Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis because they were responsible for 9/11…

          Of course, the Iraqis were not responsible for 9/11, it was Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s butt buddies, the Saudis who planned and financed the attack on the twin towers and the Pentagon.

  8. Was present a couple years back when a buddy fired his SKS for the first time since acquiring it in Vietnam. He was a better and faster shot than the guy that had just tried to kill him with it.

    Grandpa had his WW2 bring backs from Germany stolen by some scum. Luger and Hitler Youth training rifle as I was told.

    • That really sucks about the theft and sounds like something the loser thief might drop off at a “gun buy back”. You know they haven’t a clue.

      • Well before buybacks AFAIK, would have been the 80’s. Either at a pawn store or thrown off a bridge somewhere I suspect. Back then it wouldn’t have been for gangs, homeless, or drugs, probably opportunistic teenagers looking to make some quick cash.

        People didn’t expect that sort of crime to happen there, at that time, and I’m sure he had no serial numbers for them.

        Hopefully they ended up in a pawn shop and are being enjoyed as the collectibles they are.

    • I really enjoy the stupid crap that Vlad, now known interchangeably as dacian /
      Miner49er / Albert J Hall /
      possible others, used to post as gospel truth. He even used all of my present dacian favorites such as Capitalvanians, hilljacks, far – right morons, Neanderthals.
      Thanks for the memories !!!

    • Gadsden…
      Can you comment on my post below about the A3 upper? I would appreciate your input.

  9. Vlad, I don’t care what these guys say. You have a vast knowledge of firearms. You come across some rare ones too. The one you mentioned above is a perfect example. That is the only clip fed Hi-Power I’ve ever of. Mine, and the others I’ve owned, are fed with box magazines.

  10. @Vlad Tepes

    “And remember JM the Socialists beat you Nazi’s in WWII and the Socialists will beat you Nazi’s in 2020. He who does not know history is doomed to repeat it. I will be enjoying 2020.”

    Do you even know what year this is dacian….errr..Vlad?

  11. About 30 years ago I visited the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Columbus, Ohio. At that time I noticed a chromed High Power on display. I cannot remember the name of the person it belonged to but the man in question was shot down over North Vietnam and he used it to shoot his way to freedom. I know from time to time they often change exhibits in museums so if anyone has been to Wright-Patterson recently let me know if it is still on display.

    My father who served under General Patton’s 3rd Armored division carried an FN High Power in a U.S. made shoulder holster that originally held a 1911. He brought home that gun along with five other pistols. The ones I actually saw were the FN High Power, a 1906 FN.25 acp, a Luger and a Roth-Styer 1912 9mm. He had two 1911 pistols as well. Alas despite my begging him not to he eventually sold all of them. It was not until 55 years later I was able to acquire an FN High Power which was the same model as his (minus German markings). The weapon I found was made circa 1946 and came with two matching mags and the original holster and was miracles of miracles stone cold mint condition.

    My father sold his FN HP in the 1960’s for the paltry sum of $30 with two matching mags and original holster (which was slightly less than it was worth back then because a new High Power cost $100 back in the 60’s). The cost of my pistol was $1,200 which now 10 years later is worth more than I paid for it. My Dad’s FN .25 was sold for $3.00 which again was way less than it was worth as it should have brought back then about $30. The Luger was traded for a Leica camera and the Styer went for $15.00 to a collector. The collector had a basement full of machine guns bought back in the 1920’s and 30’s and 40’s which today would be worth several million dollars.

    Those were the real good old days of gun collecting. With today’s prices for military surplus and the Reagan ban on machine guns the price of military weapons collecting today has now gone beyond the working man’s budget. Yesterday a friend of mine was shocked when he saw a Russian Mosin rifle for sale for $650 when they used to go for $60 (it sold in one day) . A recently departed friend, who died last year gave the prophetic statement: It’s the end of a nostalgic era that will never come again”, I might add “Yes it’s all gone with the wind”.

    I was lucky to be born at a time in history where crime was so low that you could often spot a fellow during hunting season walking downtown with a long gun slung on his shoulder and no one paid the slightest attention to him. Sounds unbelievable today. I remember the first day of pheasant season in High School and there were no boys to be found in school that day as they were all out hunting and it was considered quite normal. We even got permission slips to skip school that day. Again this sounds unbelievable today.

    What is even more disturbing it was announced last week that 2/3 of the worlds wildlife has now become extinct in the last 50 years. Loss of habitat and global warming are the reasons. In my area pheasants no longer even exist. Gone is the anticipation of the upcoming bird season. Qual also are nowhere to be found and the rabbit population is only about 1/10 of what it once was. Hawks are seldom seen and ditto for bobcats. The muskrat population is so low its not worth trapping for them anymore.

    So on this New Years day I raise a glass of prune juice to the memories of long gone friends and the nostalgia of the past.

    • Dacky boy here doesn’t know his geography. WPAFB is NOT in Columbus, OH. Rickenbacker AFB, was in Columbus. It is, and has been the airport for Columbus since 1994 after the BRACC recommended closure of the military side in 1991.
      WPAFB and the Museum of the United States Air Force is located some 60 miles west of Columbus, in and about Dayton, OH.

      I live in the flight path for WPAFB, I have coyotes, bobcats, rabbits, squirrel, pheasant, deer (too many), O’possum, racoon all around.Qual(quail) are a ground nesting bird whose population was decimated by the consecutive winters of 1977/78 and 1978/79. They have never recovered. Global warmig, or climate change if you will had nothing to do with it.

      You sir, are a fraud and a liar. I would also conjecture that you are a coward. Begone and never enter the presence of honorable people again.

      • I never noticed before. It is the New Year and good for them taking some time off to spend with friends and family but reposting comments? Lame.

  12. Wow, I remembered this story and it is crazy it was 9 years ago. I purchased one of the Israeli police pistols around that time. It’s FN branded and it shoots pretty good for being a 1985 era pistol with a lot of use, that is after a massive cleaning, detail strip, and spring replacement.

  13. Seriously TTAG?
    You removed every comment from Jan 1 2020.
    Trying not to cuss this year so I have to say what the heck? This is absolutely pathetic.

    • So I need to repeat Gadsden,
      Because you are one of the commentators to TTAG that I respect so much can you comment on the A3 upper and how it might affect my naive offer of a Vietnam era rifle that I am trying to build for sale to benefit ohr heroes? I really appreciate your input.

      • If you’re wanting to re-create a Vietnam M-16, you need an original M16 (1964) or M16A1 (1969) upper, it’s all that was ever used during the war. Your best bet is to probably find an SP1 upper, it would be set up for the appropriate triangular hand guards. And don’t forget the 20 inch pencil barrel.

        The M16A2 did not come along until 1983

      • Brownells is remaking many of the various uppers and lowers from the early days of the Ar/M16 series for those building replicas.

    • Also a lot of ones from today, like where I called out one from Vlad Tepes for sounding EXACTLY like our present day dacian… in fact his preceding post today is verbatim of the vlad posting I noted. I really think that the website has been sold off again, and that dacian/ MinorIrritant/ AlbertHall is the majority shareholder. TOO FUNNY

  14. A heads up and some good news for a change. One of the Importers, I think it might be from Turkey is bringing in a smaller version (shorter barrel) of the High-Power, much like the “Detective Model” that once was imported from Argentina. So if you missed out back then now is the chance to get one like it. If you do not mind the weight it would make a very good carry gun. The price probably will be competitive with all the plasticky trash on the market. I will definitely be looking into getting one.

    • Likewise Dacian… back then, woulda coulda shoulda… some other toy, long since forgotten, was probably more important at the time… I did get a couple of the Buenos Aires police 1911’s that were available at the time also, and I was heavy into .45acp then.

  15. Really TTAG? Moderation for calling dacky boy a fraud, liar, and coward?
    You do want clicks on the site, correct?

  16. Wright Pat is in Fairborn, not Columbus, used to pass the b52s lined up near the road on the bus ride to school

  17. Not always, but great care in inspecting will reduce your odds of getting stung.

    A few years back I was a regular in gunbroker and was alwaos checkig the BHP listings. Came across a listing with a lousey photo.. rotten light,not sharp, badly exposed, grey in colour. Te text was not wrtiien by a seller for whim english was his first language., though being comprehensible. It claimed to be a Belgian made, low round count, in his collection fir many years. I thought it was ine if the nickel plated nes produced in the years around the time of manufacture based on serial number.Price was a low entry bid, obviously the guy hoping a bidding war would get it up igher.

    I bid on it and forgot about it, may an hundred bucks of=ver the low open. Was surprised when I got the eail that I had won. Still a bit sceptical of what I had done, I sent the money and FFL info. A few days later I got the call from my government mandated middler, rode over to claim it. He was busy on the phone on termina hold on a NICS call. He pointed tto my box, which I opened whilst stnading near his chair as he waited for our slavemasters to take up his call again. As the gun itself was revealed, he was looking at what I was doing and gasped.. what IS that? Well I KNEW he knew the BHP’s well, I was also very surprised. The piece appeared brand nws, bright shiney finish as if it had left the factory last week. Not theslightest hint of wear or damage anywhere. Wood grips perfect not a mark on it, barrel clean, etc. We took care of our business and I toook it home. The finhsh was almost tat of a well-silvered glass mirror. Not ne scratch anywhere. A few days later I wrote dwn the SN and brought it with me to the Gun Library at my local Cabelas. We looked it up. Neither my ffl guy nor the seasoned gun collector types in the Library had ever seen one like it, and they all knew HiPowers.
    I don’t carry this one,preferring to expose my old beater to the risks of going everywhere I go.


    • @NTEXAS….still can’t get used to the “nomenclature” calling the “SCREAMING EAGLES OF THE 101st AIRBORNE DIVISION”…. to the, 101 airmobile infantry (right spelling) and later as an air assault division! But that’s just me, my bad… and the history! My dad jumped with the 101st Airborne Division 1/506th Parachute Infantry Regiment on D-Day 6 June 1944 into Normandy, Drop Zone Charlie, Sainte Marie-du-Mont area. I was with the 101st at Ft, Campbell KY and also did one of my tours in Vietnam with the 101st Abn before they allowed the “legs” (“non parachute qualified” for those who don’t know) come into the division. I’m just being snarky now, seriously though welcome to the Screaming Eagles and thank you for your service!

  19. “…rice-propelled people…”?
    How racist 🙂 but REALLY funny!
    Almost as good as the Ukrainians calling Russian invaders Orks

  20. Nobody but nobody but needs anything other than a STANDARD ISSUE 9mm BROWNINJG HIGH POWER SLP for any legitimate purpose including self defence. That’s why they were the choice of a high proportion of the worlds Armed and Police Forces.

  21. “WERE THE CHOICE”…. are the operative words there. The BHP is being displaced by the Glock 19 or other pistols in the Glock series. Mine has also been retired to “safe queen” status while it’s the various Glocks I carry around. 19 gen 5, 21 gen 3, 20 comin up!

  22. Great Story Bud, and absolutely amazing that it ended back in your hands after all this time has passed.
    Thank you for sharing with us and Thank You for your service.

  23. wondered how long it would take to get off topic. rumors, conspiracies, agendas oh my!. Good story. Can only imagine the feeling of getting the gun back.

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