By: Randy Tucker
One October afternoon, I was raking up piles of cottonwood leaves in my backyard in Riverton, Wyoming. A sudden gust of wind came up and shifted all those leaves back into corners of the yard. My next-door neighbor was cleaning out his chimney with a multi-section chimney brush when that same wind blew the ladder leaning against his second-floor roof to the ground.
“Give me a second Pete, I’ll put that ladder back up for you,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Pete said, and he jumped the 18 feet or so off the roof, rolled on the ground, and walked over to the edge of our boundary fence with a grin.
“Once you’ve been to jump school, it’s not so bad,” he said.
That afternoon in 1990, I learned my neighbor of six years, Pete Brown, had been a U.S. Navy Seal in Vietnam.
Hollywood always features the M16 in films about Vietnam. Occasionally, you’ll get a glimpse of an M60 machine gun in action, or more often, images of a helicopter gunship flying into combat, dripping 7.62 mm shell casings like drops of heavy rain in a downpour from its miniguns.
You’ll have to watch close to see the weapon favored by many soldiers, Marines, and yes, Navy Seals like Brown.
Brown opened up on a few of his experiences in South (and later, in North) Vietnam.
As a Seal, he was sometimes sent to patrol the Mekong River and its tributaries for weapons being smuggled from the North or from Cambodia, destined for the Viet Cong.
“You had to be careful if they opened up on you when you intercepted them,” Brown said. “If you hit them with an M60 or a deck gun, they might just blow up, taking you with them.”
His preferred weapon for this type of assignment was a stainless steel, “Marine” model Remington 870 12-gauge shotgun.
The 870 can hold a half-dozen 2 ¾” shells in its magazine, and when loaded with 00 buckshot, is a formidable weapon. The .33 inch shot inside the shell is approximately the same size as a 32-caliber pistol projectile and can be packed with eight to 16 buckshot, depending on the size of the load.
High brass shells were usually loaded with the maximum of 1.5 ounces of shot, 16 total, with a muzzle velocity ranging from 1,100 to 1,600 feet per second.
“Buckshot wouldn’t set off explosives, and you could hammer away with that Remington pump pretty fast,” Brown said.
A shotgun always makes an impression, whether in a military setting, in home defense, or in police work.
Dave Orbell, U.S. Army M60 gunner fighting in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1969, had similar respect for the power of a shotgun in combat.
“A position next to ours was overrun,” Orbell said. “We were sent over to back them up.”
As Orbell’s unit moved out, they regrouped with the survivors of the unit that had been overrun by North Vietnamese Army regulars, and the joint group moved back towards the original position of the unit that was overran.
“A guy from the other unit had a 12 gauge 870, and he was in the lead,” Orbell said. “We moved into the entrance of their bunker, and he put his shotgun inside first. There was a blast of AK47 fire, and the guy with the shotgun was knocked back and swung around by the sling on the gun.”
An NVA soldier just inside the bunker fired his weapon and made a perfect hole through the side of the barrel, just above the front of the slide on the 870. The 7.62 round punched a clean hole right through the shotgun barrel. The force knocked the gun out of the soldier’s hand, and as it hit the sling, it threw him backwards.
A shotgun was used to clear a path like a street sweeper in dark, tight areas, but nobody wanted to try getting one inside that entrance again.
“We helped him up, looked back at the entrance, and decided we weren’t going in there,” Orbell said. “I had a white phosphorus grenade I was dying to get rid of. That’s nasty stuff, and you never knew how far it would reach if you didn’t get a good throw, but it was tight, and I didn’t want that stuff on us. Instead, we threw four conventional grenades in the hole and took out the NVA gunner.”
That 870 was out of commission for a while, but the ease of replacing barrels on Remington’s most popular shotgun had it back in action just a few hours later.
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.