While this may be America’s day to celebrate our Independence, it always brings back a fond memory of old. After arriving on the Indochinese Peninsula in early May ’70, I discovered vast quantities of 5.56 mm x 39 mm tracers in ammo cans scattered about at our operating location. Seems the troops weren’t overly fond of them and stripped them out of the magazines. Ours were loaded in the 16th, 17th and 18th position in the 20-round mags to remind us we were on the verge of shooting our weapon dry. Considering we were Air Force, we were presumed to know how to count. I don’t mean that as an affront to the other military services, but it was somewhat of an insult to the cream of America’s fighting forces.
Being a fond adherent of all things explosive, I racked my brains trying to find any possible use for all these wasted pyrotechnics. I liked irritating my fellow servicemen by throwing them into the fire in the evening occasionally. This has an important, twofold purpose. It keeps you at a high level of operational readiness and primed for combat should the need arise. A lot of folks seem to think this is dangerous. Not true. The round merely explodes harmlessly and gives you PTSD. There is no downside as far as I can see.
Shortly before the 4th, my sister sent me a brand spanking new Model 19 S&W .357 and 500 rounds of 158-grain jacketed hollowpoints. $85.38 new in that signature blue box with splendid Cherry grips. Being in that certain neutral country to the north of Thailand that rhymes with ‘mouse’, we pretty much carried whatever we wanted for personal defense and certainly weren’t limited to using GI-issue ball ammunition. I chose the .357 for its knockdown power. All my friends seemed to think Browning Hi-Power 9 mms with thirteen-plus-one in the chamber were the dernier cri in self-defense. I disagree. From my experience, all a 9 mm did was piss a gook off if it didn’t hit something solid. Murphy’s Law of Ballistics guarantees it won’t.
.45 ACP’s were the cat’s pajamas for sheer blunt force trauma if you could manage to hit anything with them. As near as I could tell, the only reason they put sights on a .45 was to make it look more aerodynamic. The downside to all semi-automatic weapons, both long and short, was the insidious, fine red clay powder that gummed up everything- including our fuel lines in our aircraft. Before monsoon began, every time a chopper came in to land it stirred up tons of the dust. The dust gummed up everything it got into. You could blow it out of your nose every evening and see just what you were inhaling. In addition, all that fine particulate carried our old friends Agents Blue and Orange. But that’s another story.
For that reason, and the fact that in a pinch there were tons of .38 ball ammo lying around, I chose a .357. You couldn’t jam a wheel gun. Quite simply, it couldn’t get a smokestack round at the worst possible moment and what’s more, I noticed folks who encountered a hit anywhere on their body tended to stay put. Pathet Lao didn’t just get up and keep running after being inoculated with a JHP. I don’t think I need to remind any of you who were participants of the Vietnamese Boundary Dispute how disconcerting it is to have your weapon jamb. In those moments your brain seizes up and you just keep pulling the trigger and wondering why you’re not getting any reciprocal bang. It takes about ten seconds to sink in.
Back to all those tracers. Included in my care package from my sister, I found several 30-round mags for an M-16. These were becoming available back in the World about that time. We wouldn’t see them in the military for another decade. The gun shop in downtown San Francisco, which went out of business (or more likely was run out on a rail later), threw them in as a bonus for buying the ammo and a nice shoulder holster. Several months later, I bought out their entire stock of 30-rounders. You could barter them for 5 cartons of Marbs or two fifths of Johnny Walker Black.
Well, it didn’t take me more than a few seconds to think up a nifty way to celebrate the Fourth. I promptly packed both mags with tracers and awaited nightfall. As expected, they created two of the most gorgeous rainbows of bright orange. Everyone thought that was cool beans. It’s too bad we didn’t have tracers like the gooks. They had bright green ones. I used to watch them arc up to greet us as we flew over with envy. After I emptied the mags, I noticed the barrel was positively glowing like the element on a stove turned up to high. I even lit my Marb on it. The three-pronged roachclip on the end of the barrel even had a slight glow. Remember them? I always admired Colt Industries for being thoughtful enough to put that accessory on there for us.
The next day I broke the rifle in two and began cleaning it. After swabbing out the barrel, I dutifully looked down it to make sure it was clean. Boy howdy was it. Clean-as in I’d shot the twist clean out of it. We’re talking smooth bore here. One of my buds was preparing to clean his weapon too so I volunteered to do it seeing’s as I had the Hoppe’s #9 and the patches already out. Since Larry wore glasses thicker than coke bottle bottoms and was blind without them, I switched out our barrels. I doubted he cared one way or another. I never did figure out if it was the tracers or just 60 rounds in 8 seconds that erased the twist.
I love tracers. I even found an outfit down in Las Vegas that manufactures red and green .223s but they’re pretty pricey at 75¢ a pop so we save them for special occasions like… yep, the Fourth of July. My next door neighbor doesn’t share my enthusiasm but what the hey? I’m not doing it for his entertainment. Who says shit stays in Vegas?
When I DEROS’d in ’72, I was offered $200 for the revolver. No dice. I still have it. My son tried to hornswoggle me out of it, too. I found another at a gun show and bought it for him. My attachment to this weapon is complete. It’s like an American Express card. Don’t leave home without it. I’ll be buried with it if I have my druthers. I’m not sure how that works if you’re cremated.
Congratulations to my new Veteran 100% P&T Chicken Dinner Winners this week. VA has been bery bery goot to me-Bob Livingstone, Bob Green and Roberto Perez-Soto. They must be having a special on Bobs this week. Sadly, Bob Livingstone passed on the First from AO cancer. We’re falling like flies. So what does Congress do? Give Blue Water Navy guys presumptive who were 40 miles from the nearest spray operation. Okay, I’ll bite. What about all my brothers in Thailand, Okinawa and Guam who were actually getting it on (and in) them? And we wonder if there’s intelligent life at 810 Vermont Ave. NW.
Cupcake and I wish you all a very Happy, well-illuminated 4th with many more to come.
And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.