M-79 – M-148 – M-203 in Vietnam continues

327 Infantry Veterans

M-79 – M-148 – M-203 in Vietnam continues


I hear all this tripe about John Fonda Kerry winning a Purple Heart by getting hit but scrapmetal from his own 79 round. Well, one beautiful night in the Ashau, one of our guys threw a frag a little too close. I took a hit in the butt. It was just big enough for me to go from “Move out” to “Get the hell out of my way”. As far as I know, it’s still there. Am I eligible for a Purple Heart for that?
I seem to remember somethying about a 79 round having to spin a certain number of times before it would explode. It has been a long time since I think I heard that, and I am not certain. I wonder how close a shooter could be in order to still get scrapmetal from the round? Do you know?

I would check your eligibility for a PH by sending a picture of the affected area to the campaign headquarters and attach a detailed explanation of the incident and how you expect Kerry to personally kiss the boo, boo once he is elected.
I believe you are right about the thump gun requiring a certain number of revolutions to arm the round. There are plenty of thump gunners here that could answer your question.

The distance for the 40mm round to arm it’s self was I believe either 30 feet or 30 yards, it has been such a long time since I had on of those babies in my hands, I forgot,


Seven revolutions. 25-30 ft.
Abu Aries

Back in the good ole days 65/66, I carried the M79 with a 45 side arm. One night as our ambush was set up near a RR track along comes a VC resupply patrol. When I shot off the flare all hell broke lose on them. My 10 man squad only had 1 – M60, 8 – M16 and my M79. The VC were about 20+/- ft. in front of us. As I sent several M79 rounds their way, I could see that all I was doing was knocking them down, I heard no explosions. So I laid the M79 down and pulled out the 45 and fired off most of my spare clips. If you check my web site and at the bottom there is a photo of 3 of us that was taken from the RR track.


I was also told, that the M79 round had to go out so far to activate. I believe it was a safety issue. Although I only had a verbal on this when I was issued it.
1 & 2/327th
61 – 67

I remember carrying the thump gun for a couple of days till we had a replacement and I believe that the round had to turn 9 or more revolutions to explode. One of our medics was hit at close range by one and it didn’t go off but it did dislocate his shoulder. I handed the thump gun over to a cherry and he dropped a shot gun round in it and asked what was this for and accidentally pulled the trigger and about blew my ass off as I passed by him. It scared him almost as much as it did me. He did go on to become a great thump gunner and could drop those rounds where ever we told him.
No Slack,
Doc Burton 2/327th 101st ABN VN 69-70

My life long bud John Coleman and then my squad leader was hit square in the nuts by a HE thump gun round when it bounced off of a bamboo thicket, did not explode and nailed him. At the time it caused quite a bit of discomfort to him, years latter he had to have surgery to correct some long term trouble from the incident. By the way he didn’t receive a PH or even an EVAC to the rear.
May/June of 1970, 1st SQD, 2nd PLT A- 2/327th suffered a friendly fire incident while on a water run the thump gunner had a buckshot round chambered and against SOP, the breach closed. A waitaminute vine snatched the weapon from his hand and when it hit the ground it discharged, blowing a big piece of calf muscle off George “The Bear” Tolsty’s leg (LT MIKE KIRGIS you remember this?). Two years later I ran into The Bear back in the world he was on leave from the VA hospital where they were again tying to graft skin over the wound.
My good Bud and 2nd SQD’s Thump gunner Jack Ponson who as a Cherry took out Coleman’s groin became quite proficient with the weapon as with most gunners I never saw him use the sights to place accurate rounds on target.

Neil Murphy

I carried the M79 for a long time in 1969. Won a bet of a case of beer from the First Sgt. if a could hit a tree off of FB Los Banos twice( without the sites) at about 200 meters. No problem made two direct hits, first half way up the tree and the other about a foot from the bottom. Funny thing though, I never got to collect on the bet, Hmmmmmmmm?
As I remember the round had to travel 10 to 28 meters from the muzzle before it would activate.
Had a guy named Grabble in my outfit who took out the main rotor of a Chinook while we were sitting on the helipad at Camp Eagle wait to make a CA into the Asha Valley. C.O. ran him back to the company area, Gave an article 15 and we continued on our way. I put a round through a V.C.s’ head one time. Punched a perfect hole in his forehead and punch clean out the back. Left the guy a real no brainer.
We didn’t have access to side arms as all the forty-fives went to officers or interpreters. Just to be on the safe side I carried 114 HE, 10 flachet rounds, 5 paracute flares, 5 star clusters, 5 WP’s and 10 shotgun rounds. Never was able to get a shotgun round to go off. Put ten dents in the primer of one one time and finally pulled it out of the chamber and threw it into the NucNoc River.
While pulling bridge security on the bridge about a mile south of Nuc Noc we had three guys up on the railroad tracks siteing their rifles and one of them fired a HE round from a M79 and got a piece of brass from the round in his left inner elbow. Medivaced him to the rear to have it removed. Next thing we know there is a Lt. investigatibg the incedent. Never heard the outcome and still don’t know how the dude got the brass in his arm.
Wasn’t long after that we starting getting the M16’s with the M79 barrel underneath. I never got to fire one. But I think I would just as soon have my thumper. It was an excellent weapon.
There was a guy in my outfit named O. D. Green who carried the 79 the same time I was carrying mine. If you have a 1969 Annual from the 101st Airborn/ Airmobile, look on page 34 about Operation Kentucky Jumper and in the bottom right picture is O. D. Green filling canteens in a mountain stream. He is wearing a piece bracelet on his left arm. He got to take his helment home with him because in a firefight one night a piece of shrapnel went in the front of his helment , made a crease around the left side and came out the back. O. D., if you’re still kickin’, drop me a line if you see this letter. Have been in touch with Craig Quimby,Chuck Butteweiler, Joe Won, Steve Brogdon, Dan Car, Dale Grabb, (Whittey) Tom Waggoner, Richard Scott Webster and Garl Lee Cross’s Family.
I know this is long, but once I got started I couldn’t find a stoppin” place. Sorry. No Slack!!!!! Buz “Cherry” Lemons
Co. B, 2/327th Inf.
101st Airborne/Airmobile
CP Senior RT

I know we took M14s with us as well as our standard M4s. But check out this picture. I found it on the Center for Army Lessons Learned webpage (www.call.army.mil). This is real “old school.” I’ve never seen a soldier carry this during my time….only seen them in museums.


Sgt. Bradley Leblanc, a military policeman with Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, pulls the casing from a practice round from his M-79 grenade launcher. Marines tested the “blooper” guns as a possible solution against improvised explosive devices for convoy operations in Iraq. (USMC photo by Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva)
CPT Holden

We old timers are very familiar with the thump gun (M-79). It was a squad level weapon in Nam and very handy. A good grenadier never used the sights and had a variety of rounds at his disposal. Besides HE, he could choose Illumination, Shotgun, CS gas rounds.

I guess the thing that sticks in my mind most about the M-79 is it was great to have along when it hit the fan and Always the gunner needs to carry it with the breach open. If the weapon is going to be redeployed I hope this one little bit of safety advice goes with it. It will save lives if breach open SOP goes with the weapon.
Bastogne, Sir!
Yankee Jim

I remember it was policy, at least in my platoon, to have someone with a thumper following the point man. I also remember that a round fired from a thumper could kill a man at close range: the round has to travel a certain distance before it’ll explode, but it can make a 40mm wide by 2-3 inches deep hole in a man’s chest without exploding.
Neil Murphy

The M203 was introduced to US military forces during the early 1970’s, and replaced the older M79 grenade launcher. However, while the M79 was a separate weapon entirely, the M203 was designed in order to increase the efficiency at which a soldier could alternate between bullet fire and HE grenade fire.

It is sometimes thought that the M203 was a poor replacement for the M79, as while the M79 was quick to reload and more or less accurate under adverse conditions, such as in Vietnam War, the M203 was more difficult to operate, and could be sent off-target more easily by variables such as a gust of wind.
Tee Thomas

M203 40mm Grenade Launcher

Weight: Launcher: 3 pounds (1.36 kilograms)
Rifle (M16A2): 8.79 pounds (3.99 kg)
Total (including 30 rounds): 11.79 pounds (5.35 kg)
Bore diameter: 40mm
Maximum effective range:
Area target: 1148.35 feet (350 meters)
Point target: 492.15 feet (150 meters)
Maximum range: 1312.4 feet (400 meters)
Minimum safe range:
Training: 426.53 feet (130 meters)
Combat: 101.71 feet (31 meters)
Unit Replacement Cost: $601

Features: The M203 40mm Grenade Launcher is used while attached to an M16A2 5.56mm rifle. It is a lightweight, compact, breech loading, pump action, single shot launcher. The launcher consists of a hand guard and sight assembly with an adjustable metallic folding, short-range blade sight assembly, and an aluminum receiver assembly which houses the barrel latch, barrel stop and firing mechanism. The launcher is capable of firing a variety of low velocity 40mm ammunition. The launcher also has a quadrant sight which may be attached to the M16A2 carrying handle and is used when precision is required out to the maximum effective range of the weapon.

Background: The M203 was designed and procured as the replacement for the M79 grenade launcher of the Vietnam era.
Marine Corps Inventory: 10,500
Tee Thomas

The XM-203, over and under didn’t make an appearance until mid 1970. I got in country in July. After I was with A Co, 1/327th, for probably no more than a month, I was sent to the rear at Camp Eagle to learn how to use one. They were brand new.
Above the Rest,
ABU/HHC 1/327th, Jul ’70 – Aug ’71
Mike Carretero

Add to that, me an my guys plud most I met didnt have much love for the M79 ‘grenade launcher’ … TOO many dud rounds and wouldnt fires… an ammo problem. YET, the night we made contact with a larger (?), large enough to fire at us from 4 directions, surrounded, we fired EVERYTHING we had. The only man with ANyTHING left was the M79 Corporal… stuff zinging in our defensive circle, that got got a Bronze star from running from point to point to plop out something even flares to defend the squad and me… THAT was the night crazy green beret CO Cpt Spaulding (?) stole someones LOH from the FB to bring us ammo in the pitch black DRIVING rain! We tried litting Zippos under steal pots to give that crazy chopper jock something to see so he wouldnt slam in the ground!

I got to see the XM203 for the first time around the middle of 1970 at FSB Tomahawk. Didn’t care for it and how it fired.Too confusing to this hillbilly Doc.
Doc B.


Sorry I caused so much confusion,,, I think the over and under I carried was a XM148.
I carried it for about 3 months….but they took them away from us…..they had trouble with the long trigger, which got tangled in the brush…but I liked it for the fire power carried it around November 1967,,,,,,,and they did modify it to a xm203 a couple years later.
rich walsh

My two bits worth. Rich Walsh is right.. A model of the M203 was in Nam as early as late in 66. I remember seeing half dozen of them in Company for I left to go home in April 67.. I believe Tuck can back me up on this, cause I think they came into the Battalion before he went home also. Anyway this is all on the Web Site from a year an half or longer (2004) I think. Anyway I believe it was around July or August 1967 at Ft. Belvoir I read in Amry Times that they had been withdrawn from Nam because of firing problems. I don’t remember seeing them there when I went back to Nam in late 69 or 70. But I do know they were there in 66 because they showed up right after that short M-16 that the platoon leaders and CO carried in the field that were worthness if the target was more than 50 yards away. ( Anyone remember the model number on that short thing ??)
Russ Palm A/2/327 N/S 66-67

The short 16 was called a Car 15 or “@!^%@!*^ jamalot” by those who had them. I only saw them carried by a few of semi-Remfs at TOC in 70 and most of those Guys knew they were crap since all had been humping rucks and were either short or extended their tours. The XM-148 was before my time and the M203 was shortly after I left. I respected the guys who humped the M-79 because they were artists when it came to firing them for effect…

I carried an xm148 in July and Early August of 67, when they took it away and issued me a 79. I later had a lot of experience with the 203. The problem with the 148 was that it was a real pain to load and fire. I could get off 2or 3 HEs from the 79 in the time it would have taken to go through the sequence with the 148.

Here is the sequence as I can remember. 1 grasp a little grip (like a 1/3 pistol grip with a release on it) push the barrel forward, the cartridge dropped and you inserted a new round and closed the barrel ( seem to remember that I sometimes turned the weapon over to do this part) 2 cocked the weapon with a little trigger looking cocking rod, we replaced the rod with a shoe string which was easier. (I inherited mine that way). 3 slid the trigger back to somewhere near the trigger for the rifle. It was attached to a flimsey rod. If I remember correctly you could bypass the sliding thing and pull the trigger located under the juncture of the 16 barrel and receiver. 4 fire.

I guess if you really wanted an M16 with the ability to shoot a couple of HEs it was OK. As YJ notes on several occaisions we got our 79 gunners together like a mini artillery battery and rapidly put 30 or 40 HEs on a target. This would not have been very effective with the XM148.

I still prefer the old thumper to the 203 even though it is better than the 148. The 203 guy is still a rifleman and carries ammo for both weapons. Given my choice I would still have the 79s in the infantry squad. I think that the 79 gunners would be more effective and they would spend more time practicing how to aim and fire the 40mm round. Just my opinoion here but the guys that were good with the 79 had a unique talent. I think that it is more difficult to get good at the thumper than it is to learn to shoot a rifle.

the Car15 made in several variations, we had them in two barrell lengths, was in my humble opinion a piece!! The small buffer allowed it to fire faster than a M16, they jammed a lot. We had them in my last unit, Kco 75th Rangers 1970. 2 per team issued to the team leader and asst team leader, but most guys were on 2nd or 3rd tours and knew better so they opted for the M16A1. I would not allow them in my team.

After reading all that you all have had to say about the question that I brought up about the picture of rich and the grenade launcher, I have dug deep into my memory and now I believe that I do recall seeing the xm148. got some good conversation out of some of you. No slack.

We were taught at Ft Gordon that an M-79 round had to revolve three times before it armed itself. That was about 25 meters. In March 1968, I fired many rounds from my 79 during an ambush in a heavily wooded area. My first several rounds did not go off, but once the machine guns had cleared the brush, all my rounds exploded.
Mike O’Connell, C 1/327, 1968

One thought on “M-79 – M-148 – M-203 in Vietnam continues

  1. David Williamson (Blue)

    Very glad to see this site back up and running. Was with C. Company 1st platoon in 69-70.

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