Flying Tigers
revised and updated


Celebrating the Fourth of July on the Saigon River

The Stoner 63, July 1964
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 one of them 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. (See below for more about that.) 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."

A tip of the virtual hat to Rick Dunn, who got me interested in this bit of my past. Rick also pointed me to a report on DARPA's counterinsurgency program, Project Agile, that it ran in South Vietnam in 1961-1962. The report explains DARPA's role in developing the M-16 rifle that became the standard infantry weapon of the US and many other militaries. It's rather self-serving, like most government documents, and it may well exaggerate DARPA's role in the rifle's development. But it's well worth reading. Read it here.

A swift yarn about the Hiroshima bomb, and other good reads for September

I am in that fast-shrinking minority of Americans who remember the bewilderment of President Roosevelt's death and the lesser shock (because it happened during summer vacation, while Joe and I were bringing in the hay for 35 cents an hour) of atomic fission over Hiroshima. Of all possible futures, we could never have imagined that, 75 years on, a celebrity author would turn those few months into a book for quick reading at the beach. TV newsman Chris Wallace has done just that, with help from a Pulitzer-winning ghostwriter. The book flags a bit in the mid-section, but otherwise Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days That Changed the World is a grand gallop toward a rousing finish. Well done, Messrs Wallace and Weiss! There were a few howlers, to be sure. The authors regularly stress the billions spent on the Manhattan Project, as though it were the most expensive of the War. (Developing the plane that carried those bombs cost quite a bit more.) But the lapses are dwarfed by many brilliant touches. Harry Truman is called to the White House to learn that he is now the president -- but there's no Bible handy, until "a Gideon" is found in the chief usher's desk. Taking the oath, Truman places his palm on its cover, so the Chief Justice asks for a do-over, with the President's hand properly raised. We glimpse the weariness of his Secretary of War: "Henry Stimson's old bones ached." In the run-up to the mission, Before the mission, Enola Gay's pilot changes his call sign from "Victor" to "Dimples," and when the crew tidies the plane, the trash includes "a pair of ladies' panties." After the explosion, Enola Gay circles back toward Hiroshima so the crew can view the fantastic cloud, and a crewman wonders if it contains "all the souls of the victims rising to heaven."

Then, alas, Mr Matthews gives us his second thoughts, rehashing the tired old arguments about the use of Little Boy and Fat Man. I was particularly amused by his discovery of a generational divide on the subject: "Seven in ten Americans over age sixty said use of atomic weapons was justified. Less than half of those under thirty agreed." Well, sure! What does it cost the kids to disagree? -- even the ones who wouldn't be alive today if their grandfathers had come ashore on a Kyushu beach in November 1945, or on Honshu four months later. Read Countdown 1945 by all means, but skip the breast-beating that's tacked onto it.

Also reviewed this month: Dave Baranek's Tomcat Rio: A Topgun Instructor on the F-14 Tomcat and the Heroic Naval Aviators Who Flew It, for those of us who expected to be watching Tom Cruise reprise his aerial antics on the big screen at about this time; and Markus Zusak's extraordinary novel, The Book Thief, about a young girl, Death, and a town roughly halfway between Munich and Dachau. For those books, see the Warbird's Book Club. Blue skies! -- Daniel Ford

Welcome to the forum!

Here are a thousand or so files on airplanes, pilots, and the wars of the past hundred years, grouped under these headings:

Annals of the Flying Tigers
Annals of the Brewster Buffalo
Annals of Poland: war and exile, 1939-1948
Japan at War, 1931-1945
Annals of the Chinese Air Force
Glen Edwards and the Flying Wing
Remembering Bluie West One
Annals of Vietnam
War in the Modern World

Plus these excellent places to look for more:
The Warbird's Book Club
Daniel Ford’s books
The Piper Cub Forum

Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

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