By Joe Kirkup

I read Jo Durden-Smith’s interview of Mikhail Kalashnikov. What crap. Durden-Smith’s inane questions and insinuations about the morality of a person doing his best for his country beg to be answered. May I, please.

In 1967 I was a ground soldier in Viet Nam. At a huge field outside a tiny village called Sui Tres my unit and others were attacked by a force of roughly 2500 VC. When it was over we had killed over six hundred enemy soldiers. We lost roughly one hundred of our own, among them, several members of one unfortunate squad.

The squad had been assigned to what commanders referred to as an early warning ambush. It works like this. One squad, usually eleven men, sets up an ambush five to eight hundred meters outside the main unit’s defensive perimeter. If a large enemy force moves into the area under the cover of darkness, the squad is engaged (and usually annihilated) giving ample time for the larger unit to prepare its defenses. It’s not the best of jobs. My own experience with this type of duty has left me with a Purple Heart and a disability.

In the wee hours before the main battle began, this one tiny squad crouched silently in the brush smoking cigarettes under the cover of rubber ponchos and crushing red ants by the battalion. Most ambush patrols were uneventful, some resulted in a hellacious fire fights, and others ended with the methodical slaughter of a totally unsuspecting adversary. There was never a hint as to which it might be.

Just before dawn a VC was spotted moving through the brush nearby. The squad leader ordered his unit to hold their fire to see if more enemy would appear.

Almost immediately they did. Small groups passed by carrying mortars and ammunition then larger numbers of riflemen. Accompanying them were “sapper” teams which consisted of a man with a large explosive charge strapped to his chest and another behind him carrying the detonator. I’ll let your imagination fill in the blanks on that one.

The squad leader radioed his observation to HQ then tried to stealthily withdraw. It didn’t work.

At the end of that bloody day I helped carry one of the four surviving members of that unit to a medivac chopper. He told me the squad carried ten M16 rifles and one M60 belt fed machine gun. Almost immediately after the fight began nearly all the M16s jammed. The machine gun ran out of ammunition, leaving the frantic ground-pounders with nothing but hand grenades and their fists.

The young GI sobbed as he told of having to leave his best friend (who had been shot in both legs) because his gun had jammed and there was just nothing left he could do. He looked up at me crying and said, “He was begging me not to go, but shit, I couldn’t just stand there and die.”

After the battle was over and the area was completely, absolutely, positively, totally safe, General Westmoreland came out to give us a speech. When the grunts in one of the units close to him waved their guns in the air and complained loudly about the weapons lack of reliability, the half pint general chewed out their company commander. Weeks later I read in the Army Times that Westmoreland, upon visiting President Johnson, had assured the Commander-in-Chief that we were all delighted with the M16.

So let me suggest to Jo Durden-Smith that she conduct an interview with Mr. Stoner, the guy who designed the M16. She can ask Stoner how he feels about the morality of sending the sons of his countrymen off to war with a gun that didn’t shoot. Kalashnikov, for all the real or imagined imperfections attributed to him by Durden-Smith, was certainly not guilty of that.

Comments, suggestions, contributions? Let me know