The Single Shot Machine Gun
The most important weapon in an airmobile infantry company during the Vietnam War was the M-60 machine gun. With a sustained rate of fire of 550 rounds per minute, the M-60 provided us with a heavy volume of continuous fire when needed during a firefight and its long range enabled us to engage targets beyond the range of the M-16 rifle. In addition, the M-60 provided us with a shock and awe capability and our gunners were experts at exploiting this by rapidly engaging enemy forces in order to suppress their fires. It was for these reasons that the NVA earmarked our machine gun crews as high-priority targets and they came close to eliminating a Blackfoot gun crew during this firefight…..
In July 1968, our battalion was tasked to establish a firebase on Hill 927, located on the eastern fringe of the A Shau Valley. We did not know it at the time, but Hill 927 was located in a major enemy staging area and this hilltop achieved a notorious reputation; first during our time with the dreaded name of “Landing Zone Carol” and this was later changed to “Fire Support Base Ripcord” by the 101st Airborne Division, who sustained a total of 248 KIAs in their attempts to defend Hill 927.
Bravo Company conducted the initial combat assault on Hill 927 with the mission of securing the hilltop and providing cover for the deployment of an artillery battery and receiving other units of our battalion. Although we had been warned that enemy forces could threaten our occupation of Hill 927, the initial combat assault went smoothly and we quickly established defensive positions on the perimeter and started clearing the hilltop of debris in preparation for receiving an artillery battery and other reinforcements.
One of our Blackfoot M-60 crews established their position on the rim of a 750 bomb crater and stocked it with plenty of ammunition and grenades. As the occupation of Hill 927 had been accomplished without enemy contact, one of the gun crew had the brilliant idea of taking a photo of his buddies. As the three troopers stood arm in arm poised behind their M-60 machine gun, the fourth snapped a picture of the smiling trio. About the same time, a group of three or four NVA soldiers opened up with their AK-47s from about 100 feet in front of the crater. Miraculously none of the Blackfoot troopers were hit and they immediately hit the dirt. One gun crew member managed to grab the machine gun and while the others frantically screamed “open up with the M-60,” he quickly aimed at the enemy and squeezed the trigger. Instead of a long burst of deadly steel to suppress the enemy attackers, the M-60 fired a “single” shot. Our trooper repeatedly pulled back the slide while uttering some appropriate cuss words, but the end result was always the same, the firing of a “single” shot.
It was our good fortune that these enemy soldiers obviously did not excel at their marksmanship training course and we had no friendly casualties. The NVA made a hasty retreat when engaged by some other members of Blackfoot and so ended the first of many combat actions on Hill 927. The reason for the M-60 malfunction was a broken spring and this was replaced before nightfall.
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