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