5.56 Timeline

When California was once home to some of America’s most talented gunsmiths.

By Luis Valdes

First, we’re going to start with Pachmayr. That is a name many do not think about when it comes to talented gunsmiths. Today, many simply associate Pachmayr as a company that makes handgun grips and recoil pads for rifles and shotguns.

But that wasn’t always the case.

Frank Pachmayr worked out of Pachmayr Gun Works located Los Angeles, CA and he was a master craftman when it came to 1911 pistols. We would make some of the most amazing competition capable guns you can think of and actually designed and made the grips and recoil pads that are being sold to this day. 

Frank passed at 90 years old in 1997 and was buried in Inglewood. The location of his workshop in Los Angeles is now an apartment building.

Another master gunsmith was Armand Swenson out of Seattle, WA and later moved to Fallbrook, CA. Amand invented the modern combat 1911 that we know today. He came up with things like the ambidextrous safety. He was world famous for putting Smith & Wesson K-Frame adjustable rear sights on 1911s. It was his idea to apply metal checkering square beveled mag wells His signature feature though was the square trigger guard.

Amand retired in 1990 and passed away in 1995.
The last master gunsmith we’re looking at today is Bob Chow of San Francisco, CA. Bob was a renowned gunsmith for 1911s and accuracy jobs on revolvers. He helped pioneer many of the features we see in carry gun today and his work on guns like Colt Pythons is amazing. He really could make a silk purse of a sow’s ear.

Bob retired in the early 1980s and sadly shed his mortal coil in 2003. 
Alas, California is now known as being home to some of the most draconian gun control laws in the country and any firearm innovation has long fled the Golden State. But there once was a time when some of the most talented and skilled hands crafted some amazing pieces of firearms art. 


By Richard H. Dick James

54 years ago, July 1966. I was a Sergeant E-5 newly assigned to Camp Vinh Gia (A-422), 5th Special Forces Group, on the Vinh Te Canal near the Cambodian border in the Mekong Delta, as the Demolition Sergeant on the team.

The team at Vinh Gia wasted no time at all sending me to Giang Thanh. A mere six days after arriving at Vinh Gia, 28 July, I was temporarily assigned to Giang Thanh, to join SP4 Stephens, our junior medic. I took a short ½ hour ride on a UH-1D “Huey” to the outpost. The poor guy I was replacing was mumbling to himself as he loaded onto the helicopter. He had been at the outpost for a few months.
Even though it was my first time in Giang Thanh, I was in charge of our two-man Giang Thanh “team.” Giang Thanh was where my buddy, Daryl Stannard, had been killed just two months prior. That weighed heavy on my mind. I learned to hate Giang Thanh, not just for that reason. There was absolutely nothing to do there. Being assigned to the boredom of Giang Thanh reminded me of what a person might feel like, if assigned to watch paint dry. It was that boring. Because there were only two of us team members at the outpost, we could not leave the outpost, even on combat patrols. That sucked!
The Giang Thanh outpost was at the confluence of the Vinh Te Canal and the Giang Thanh River, a mere 100 feet, directly across the water, from Cambodia. We could throw a stone (or hand grenade) into Cambodia from the outpost, and vice versa. This outpost was a worse assignment than Vinh Gia. The two assigned USSF (us) lived in a three-room building that had been the Giang Thanh River Custom House, a small building that could be best described as a cinder block, stucco-covered hell-hole. The building faced the Vinh Te Canal, and the Cambodian border, with the red-lettered, one-foot high, easy to make out from afar, USASF ADVISORY painted over the white-walled front “porch.”
The enemy sure didn’t need any damn intelligence, to know where we lived and worked. In addition, none of the building was strengthened by anything, not even sandbags. One well-placed mortar round (which the enemy was known to accomplish) would have flattened the entire building. Do you want a reason for sleepless nights? You’ve got it! The only perk we had was a Vietnamese cook/maid that came in daily.
There was bare minimum electricity at Giang Thanh. The outpost was manned by a company of Cambodian CIDG. Their families lived inside the compound. The outpost was basically surrounded by enemy supporters. The village of Giang Thanh was next to the camp perimeter on the south and west sides. The town and camp were separated only by a barbed wire fence. It was estimated that about 55% of the village was VC sympathetic. In addition, Cambodia was a Viet Cong haven, into which allied forces were not permitted to enter, or fly over. That didn’t make for a comfortable situation.
I always considered Giang Thanh to be a heartbeat away from annihilation by the VC. USSF personnel in the outpost pretty much realized that any serious Viet Cong attack on the outpost would be a sure victory for the VC. In fact, there was no safe direction for us to escape in event of an attack. According to the “Rules of Engagement” we had to adhere to, the Viet Cong or NVA (North Vietnamese) could have massed directly across the canal from us, and we could not have even fired upon them, until they crossed the canal. Any type of meaningful reinforcements would have taken at least an hour to reach our outpost.
The Giang Thanh outpost was one of the furthest from allied airfields, on the westernmost border of IV Corps and South Vietnam. Added to that, the fact that there would be no way to give us air support without either beginning or ending the bombing or strafing run over Cambodian soil (and either would be counter to the “Rules of Engagement” for allied forces), and we had a no-win situation.
To make matters worse, decisions about committing air or ground forces in a timely manner to a small outpost such as Giang Thanh would be made by commanders who weren’t anywhere close to our outpost, would never even have heard of it, and seemed to care more about following the rules, than about the lives of the endangered men on the ground. Apparently, the enemy considered the outpost to be no trouble to their operational plan.
Other than the above sickening thoughts, there was absolutely nothing to do in the outpost. I always figured that the only reason the outpost even existed was to protect the nearby village, and because the Giang Thanh River flowing out of Cambodia, and into the Vinh Te Canal, made for a perfect infiltration route for enemy troops. And, I guess the reasoning for having two USSF there as advisors, was because of the size of the unit assigned there, a CIDG company of about one hundred men.
Giang Thanh’s communications call sign was “Texas.” Because we had the feeling that our outpost, and thus us, was “out of sight, out of mind,” I always signed of at the end of radio communications with “Slurp, at Texas, out; remember the Alamo!” We couldn’t leave the outpost due to safety reasons, and there was no physical work to be done inside the facility.
Because of not having any trustworthy soldiers available to guard our team house, one of us had to be awake and alert 24/7. I again decided I wanted a new assignment, so I immediately busied myself typing a request for assignment to Delta Project. The request apparently never got further than the C-team.
From my soon to come out, book #4 (SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4), of my four-book set of SLURP SENDS! Book #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”) & #2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”) are already available on Amazon, and #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”) is also soon to come.
PHOTOS: Giang Thanh location (my diagram) / Giang Thanh on Google (Google maps)


Demolition Sergeant on Detachment A-421 (Ba Xoai)

By Richard H. Dick James

53 years ago, August 1967, I was the SSG E-6 Demolition Sergeant on Detachment A-421 (Ba Xoai), Company D (Detachment C-4), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam, having just been assigned there.

There was a major outpost located at Ba Chuc, the former location of the Ba Xoai team, with a company of CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group), all Vietnamese, and a couple U.S. & VN Special Forces (LLDB). The original camp was opened in January 1966 at Ba Chuc, an abandoned French fort on Nui Troung. Nui was Vietnamese for “mountain,” but I’d classify it as a hill. Until the fort was occupied by the Special Forces advised CIDG troops, the villagers at Ba Chuc had been forced to support the VC. The Ba Chuc outpost was manned by men from our camp.

An SF friend related to me that Ba Chuc had been a Vietnamese ethnicity village. Sometime prior to my arrival, a large group of Khmer Rouge had come across the border and, over a period of about a week, had killed all but one of the villagers (about 500 Vietnamese). The one villager who had escaped death was a woman who had managed to hide.

On the flip side of the coin, he mentioned that they once had a seriously wounded Khmer. They couldn’t get an American evacuation for the soldier. The Vietnamese, however, sent an evacuation aircraft. The Cambodian soldier and wife were loaded on the aircraft, for the flight to the hospital. The next day, the team contacted the hospital to check on the condition of the man. They were told that he never arrived. It could only be assumed that he and his wife were thrown out of the aircraft, at altitude, without parachutes. Such was the hatred between Vietnamese and Cambodes.

The Cambodian CIDG troops in Ba Xoai were Khmer Kampuchea Krom (KKK), indigenous Khmer people from the area, which at one time was Kampuchea (Cambodia). Krom, in the Khmer language, translates to “lower,” or “below,” referring to the fact that the South Vietnamese Khmer region was south of Cambodia, in the Mekong Delta. Kampuchea Krom, in South Vietnam, had been a part of the Khmer Empire at one time.

Many circumstances led to the region changing over to Vietnamese rule. War with Siam in the 17th century resulted in weak Khmer administration of its Mekong Delta region. In 1623 Chey Chettha II, the Cambodian king, permitted The Vietnamese government to operate a custom house in the fishing village of Prey Nokor. At the same time, Vietnamese refugees were fleeing from Vietnam, due to the Trinh-Nguyen War.

The Vietnamese fled to the Mekong Delta, and the fishing village became a major port, later known as Sai Gon. In 1698, the Mekong Delta became a part of Vietnam. The Nguyen Lords of Hue had commissioned Nguyen Huu Canh to organize the territory. Vietnamese settlers entered the area in waves. By 1757, Vietnam had absorbed the Mekong Delta area into their country, many Khmer remaining in what they considered their homeland.

The KKK was loosely linked to the Khmer Serei (meaning Free Cambodians), a not-so-secret anti- communist movement. They were also very anti-Sihanouk (the leader of Cambodia). In fact, about 50% of the KKK were also members of the Khmer Serei. The great thing about both groups was that they could be recruited in company-size groups, with a chain of command already in place.

Most of the militaristic groups were hired by United States Special Forces, to fight on our side. And, fight they did. They were ferocious. Because of their intense hatred of Vietnamese, they were also far less susceptible to being infiltrated by the enemy. They were physically strong, had good stamina, had good tactical prowess, and were reliable and trustworthy (mostly). They always stood by us Americans and would never leave a wounded American.

The Khmer Serei and KKK had groups in Thailand, Cambodia, and South Vietnam. Beside hating the Vietnamese, they wanted to overthrow Prince Sihanouk, the ruler of Cambodia. At the time. Sihanouk was also disliked by the American government. Those Khmer were a people without a country. They had fled their own country and organized into defensive fighting units in the local mountainous area. The Vietnamese certainly didn’t want them in Vietnam, and Cambodia wouldn’t permit them to live in Cambodia. They had become nomadic jungle guerrilla warriors, ready to kill Vietnamese, northern or southern, as well as Sihanouk’s henchmen.

In August 1965 the Vietnamese commander of Tinh Bien, with the help of U.S. Special Forces advisors, had talked a large group of KKK, 626 strong including their commander, into coming over to the South Vietnamese side. Tired of fighting the Vietnamese government and the VC, they finally accepted South Vietnam’s offer of amnesty, to help in the fight against the Viet Cong. The troops were trained at Tinh Bien, and formed into three companies, led by their commander, Chau Hien. Upon completion of their training, they were assigned to Camp Ba Xoai, on 27 March 1967, just four months before my arrival there.

Unlike most CIDG units, ours were led by the Cambodian (also KKK) commander, who was given the rank of Captain by the Vietnamese Army, at the urging of USASF. That made for some strange bedfellows. The Cambodians disliked (maybe hated, or despised, is a better word) all Vietnamese. When on patrol, they would claim every Vietnamese we spotted, was Viet Cong. Many was the friendly Vietnamese farmer that the Cambodes would claim to have seen carrying a weapon at an earlier time and wanted to shoot. The Cambodians’ loyalties were to their own group, and to Cambodia.

The LLDB and Cambodian commanders constantly bickered. It was especially difficult, given that both commanders held the same rank (Captain) in the Vietnamese Army system. Once, while I was in Ba Xoai, our team CO (a Captain) got involved in a verbal argument with the LLDB CO (CPT Baul). After the argument, the Cambodian CO asked our CO if he wanted them (the Cambodes) to kill the LLDB CO. It made for a good laugh for us but underscored the problems that existed in camp.

We loved to go on patrol with the Cambodians, because they were so trustworthy, fierce fighters, and seemed to love a good firefight. These Cambodians also hated the current ruler of Cambodia, Prince Sihanouk, because of his pandering to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.

Having since talked to many fellow Special Forces soldiers over time, I have come to find out that our situation in Ba Xoai was not unlike that in several other camps in which Cambodians served as CIDG. The stories of their hatred of Vietnamese are numerous, with the Bodes almost always winning any head-to-head battles. That hatred always made it difficult for the American Special Forces teams, who were having to advise, and be allies, with both the Vietnamese LLDB and the Cambodian CIDG.

The Cambodes were known for being fierce fighters, even serving with distinction in some special operations units. I have heard some stories of the Bodes cutting out the hearts of killed VC and eating them. They believed that doing so made them stronger soldiers. I was at Ba Xoai for a very short time. During that time I saw little or no social interaction between the LLDB and our SF team. In fact, relations seemed to be a little strained.

From my soon to come out, book #4 (SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4), of my four-book set of SLURP SENDS! Book #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”) & #2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”) are already available on Amazon, and #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”) is also soon to come.

PHOTOS: map of Camp Ba Xoai and Ba Chuc area (my diagram) / Google map view of Ba Chuc-Ba Xoai (my labeling) / Aerial view of Ba Chuc (Paul Kulik photo he sent to me)


Detachment B-42 (Chau Doc)

Richard H Dick James

53 years ago, 1 August 1967, I was a SSG E-6 demolition specialist on Detachment B-42 (Chau Doc), Company D (Detachment C-4), 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in the Mekong Delta (IV Corps) of South Vietnam, working as a Radio Operator. I had just completed one month of the most boring work of my life.

The B-Team life just became too boring for me. I wasn’t cut out for a B-Team assignment. I begged, and pleaded, to go to an A-Team for my last month in country. My next tactic was going to be crying. 1LT Tomlinson (my former Vinh Gia XO, transferred to Ba Xoai as XO) asked if I could be assigned to Ba Xoai, the A-Team he was assigned to. CPT Morris (my former Vinh Gia CO, and present S-3 at the B-team) managed to talk the B-Team into assigning me there. Hooray! It was most likely due to my constant whining and sniveling, that I was transferred from Chau Doc to Ba Xoai. Hell, I was becoming tired of listening to me.

On 1 August, I was assigned to Ba Xoai, Detachment A-421. I managed to hop on a Bell UH-1 “Huey” to Ba Xoai. A Special Forces advised “fighting camp,” it was tasked with the missions of providing security for the area Cambodian and Vietnamese villages, as well as interdicting VC supply and infiltration routes in the Seven Mountain area.

The original team had been located at Ba Chuc on 15 January 1966, and had been numbered A-429. Just four months later, in May of that same year, the team was moved to Ba Xoai, the old Ba Chuc location kept open as a major outpost for the Ba Xoai camp.

The area was great for growing coconuts and rice, and the local farmers welcomed the protection of the “A” camp, as well as the relief from VC persecution and taxation. The main camp fortifications were mostly constructed with rocks (of plentiful supply locally, from the tall rocky Hill 58 [58 meters high] on the east side of the camp, as well as the neighboring mountains), and cement. The outer berm was constructed from earth and sandbags.

Like Vinh Gia, the camp had no runway, but it did have a helicopter landing pad and road access. Unlike Vinh Gia, there was a major road passing by Ba Xoai. Because of the entire camp being within range of enemy mortars and .51-caliber machine guns in the mountains near us, helicopters didn’t stick around for long, staying just long enough to unload and/or load quickly.

Although assigned as the Demolition Sergeant, because of a shortage of men, I was asked to also act as Heavy Weapons Leader, backup Radio Operator, Assistant Supply Sergeant, and gunner for both the 4.2” mortar and 106mm recoilless rifle. The team had received the M40 106mm recoilless rifle but had nobody (except me) who knew anything about operating the weapon.

The 106, besides being a great anti-armor weapon, was great for direct anti-personnel fire and long-range harassing fire. In later months, more teams would receive the weapon due to the increasing danger of NVA armor, especially in the northern portions of South Vietnam.

The only real high ground in the Mekong Delta, surrounded by flat terrain, was the Seven Mountains. Ba Xoai was in the Seven Mountains area, which was a known Viet Cong and NVA haven. Nui Cam, a mountain home to a large group of the enemy, was only about 1,000 meters southeast of us, and Nui Ta Bec was 2,500 meters north of our camp. Nui Giai, a VC controlled mountain with an array of tunnels throughout the mountain, was within two miles.

The A-camp site on the west side of Hill 58 was chosen because of its natural fortifications. A neighboring mountain, a 2,000-foot high pile of granite named Nui Coto and known by the locals as “Superstition Mountain,” was also a VC stronghold. The sides and inside of Nui Coto (the mountain was a large network of caves and tunnels) were “owned” by the VC. It was believed to be inhabited by ghosts and spirits. Some of the villages at the base of the mountains were inhabited by dependents of the VC who were up on the mountain, supporting their relatives on the mountains.

The VC atop Nui Giai looked down on us from within firing distance, but rarely fired on the camp for some reason, although our outpost at Ba Chuc was a constant target. There were rice paddy berms and marshlands in all directions from camp, affording good cover for enemy attackers. The village of Ba Xoai was directly north of the camp berm, offering another good enemy approach, with a lot of good cover and concealment.

Within the camp was a fifty-eight-meter high, steep hill. Although it seemed to have a 45° slope all around it, it had about a 45° slope only on the top half of the west side, and 30° on the other three sides. The last time the Ba Xoai camp had been fired on heavily had been on 19 May, when the radio operator lost his eye.

The hill was great for surveying the terrain and had an 81mm mortar on top of it, as well as the searchlight. The camp was manned by our SF A-Team, a Special Forces qualified Medical Research NCO (part of a Special Forces Medical Research Team doing mosquito research), and two “leg” searchlight crewmembers (for the camp’s sophisticated night security xenon Visible Light-Infrared Searchlight, on loan from the 9th Infantry Division).

I could have told the Medical Research NCO all he needed to know about mosquitoes in Nam. They were BIG, NOISY, and always VERY hungry.

The indigenous personnel included an LLDB (Luc Luong Dac Biet, aka SF Special Forces) A-Team, a reconnaissance platoon (manned by ethnic Cambodians) and three CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group, aka indigenous mercenaries) companies of about 100 men each, mostly ethnic Cambodians and a smattering of Vietnamese. Approximately 100 more men were assigned to Ba Chuc. The ethnic distribution of Cambodes and Vietnamese did not work well at times. One example was the fact that the top of Hill 58 was a sacred Cambodian site, which required the Vietnamese (including the LLDB) receive permission before entering the area. Counting the men at the Ba Chuc FOB, Ba Xoai had about 470 CIDG.

From my soon to come out, book #4 (SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences in Vietnam Book 4), of my four-book set of SLURP SENDS! Book #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”) & #2 (SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”) are already available on Amazon, and #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret in Vietnam Book 3”) is also soon to come.

PHOTOS: My hand-drawn map of our area / Camp Ba Xoai (John Alexander photo) / Hill in Camp Ba Xoai (Kulik photo) / Looking at the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) from the 4.2” mortar pit (my photo)