Shotguns in the jungle – The story of two Vietnam Veterans and the Remington 870

The venerable Remington 870 shotgun is considered by many to be the best pump-action shotgun ever produced. Reliable in all types of weather, with an action that rarely jams, and easy to disassemble, clean, and reassemble. There are hundreds of versions of this popular shotgun across Fremont County.

While it is a popular sporting gun, it has a military history as well.

A pair of combat veterans with ties to Fremont County witnessed the effectiveness of the 12-gauge model of the 870 on the rivers and in the highlands of Vietnam in the late 1960s.

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One October afternoon, a neighbor was raking up piles of cottonwood leaves in his backyard on Eastview Drive in Riverton. A sudden gust of wind came up and shifted all those leaves around his yard. His next-door neighbor was cleaning out his chimney with a multi-section chimney brush at the same time when the gust 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,” the neighbor 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 their boundary fence with a grin.

“Once you’ve been to jump school, it’s not so bad,” he said.

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That afternoon, the neighbor learned that 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 mini-guns.

A stainless steel Remington 870 exclusively designed for the US Navy – {h/t Wikipedia}

You’ll have to watch closely to see the weapon favored by many soldiers, Marines, and yes, Navy SEALs like Brown.

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Brown had many 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.

His SEAL team traveled the river on a Patrol Craft Fast (PCF) better known as a Swiftboat. The 50-foot-long, aluminum boat was designed to work in shallow water and became the emblem of the Brown Water Navy as the men who patrolled the many rivers of Vietnam became known.

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A pair of PCF “Swiftboats” patrolling the Mekong River {h/t Wikipedia}

His PCF had a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the bow. They used it to engage snipers from shore but never fired on another boat with it.

His team was alert for explosives hidden in boats on the Mekong. They could be as small as the tiny basket boats used by fishermen, or as big as a motorized sampan.

“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 1960s version of the 870 could hold a half-dozen 2 ¾” shells in its magazine, and when loaded with 00 buckshot, was 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, a 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 toward the original position of the unit that was overrun.

The shotgun saw extensive action in World War II and made a comeback in Vietnam – {h/t Wikipedia}

“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 shotgun.”

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 hands, and as it hit the sling, it threw him backward.

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.

It’s the same shotgun you can purchase at almost any sporting goods store in America. The only difference is the magazine can pack more shells since they weren’t required to have a plug to limit the number of rounds it could carry as is mandated in waterfowl hunting.

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