The M14 “In Country”

By Tom Laemlein
Posted in #Guns
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The M14 “In Country”

December 3rd, 2019

5 minute read

Much has been written about the M14, most of it about the rifle’s development and surprisingly little about its use in combat. The select-fire M14’s time in action was relatively short, but those who fired it in anger during the Vietnam War will never forget the last American military rifle constructed of walnut and steel.

M14 rifleman of the 1st Infantry Division with two 20-round magazines taped together, near Bien Hoa, October 1965.

From the Source

I recently spoke to an old friend who had considerable experience “in country,” and with a wide variety of U.S. infantry weapons. Captain Dale Dye enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in January 1964. He served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1967 through 1970, surviving 31 major combat operations. He emerged from Southeast Asia with numerous decorations, including a Bronze Star for valor and three Purple Heart medals for wounds suffered in combat.

The M14 in USMC service during March 1965, near Da Nang.

He spent 13 years as an enlisted Marine, rising to the rank of master sergeant. He was chosen to attend officer candidate school and was appointed a warrant officer in 1976. He later converted his commission and was a captain when he was sent to Beirut with the multinational peacekeeping force in 1982-83.

An M14 in action at Long Binh during the Tet Offensive in early 1968.

When I asked him about the M14, Captain Dye commented: “The M14 was a rifleman’s rifle and most Marines carried it with enthusiasm early in the Vietnam War. I can distinctly remember guys trying to hide their favorite M14 when the word came down that we were going to be issued the M16.

Despite the best efforts by some commands, many Marines continued to carry an M14 for quite some time after the switch-over was ordered. There was just a certain factor of trust in that rifle. Or maybe it was some kind of Marine Corps ‘mojo’ but it seemed reassuring to carry a weapon that looked, felt and shot like a ‘real’ rifle.”

MP of the 89th MP Group stands guard at Tan Son Nhut base hospital during the Tet Offensive, February 9, 1968.

Another Era

There is certainly no denying the difference in weight between the U.S. Military’s M14 and its M16. The M14 (loaded) tips the scales at a solid 10.7 lbs. Its 7.62 NATO ammunition weighs more than the M16’s 5.56mm. The M16 (loaded) weighs in at more grunt-friendly 7.5 lbs. In many ways, the Vietnam-era troops’ initial affinity for the lighter M16 is similar to World War II GIs’ love for the M1 Carbine (5.8 pounds, loaded) compared to the standard M1 Garand rifle (11.5 pounds loaded).

Marine supporting his M14 with the base of the magazine during the battle for Hue in February 1968.

Several worlds were colliding as the U.S. Military changed from the M14 rifle to the M16. At their very core, the concepts for the rifles were different. Both were built from sound foundations, but they were extremely different from one another — as was their ammunition. The military generations were changing, and this fact was dramatically illustrated by the differences in the M14 and the M16. Walnut and steel versus aluminum and plastic; .30 versus .22 caliber.

M14 sharpshooting at Khe Sanh, February 24, 1968.

It’s All Relative

Taste, and trust in rifles is clearly a generational issue. My father was an infantry sergeant in World War II. When he looked at an M16, he thought they were not “proper” rifles. My grandfather, a World War I infantryman, would likely have looked at the M1 Garand with suspicion, considering it inelegant and brutish compared to his M1903 Springfield rifle. My brothers and I considered rifles like the M16 to be completely normal, and truly appreciate the semi-auto AR-15 variants designed for the civilian market.

Men of the 3rd Marine Division during Operation Beacon Hill, March 1967.

Combat seems to have an “evening-out effect” about the opinions of small arms. In that light, many of the combat lessons learned in Vietnam about the capabilities of the M14 were overlooked. Since the turn of the millennium, our military has been “rediscovering” the rugged M14’s powerful capability, much to the dismay of America’s enemies.

The M14 still serves in a specialized role today. This image was taken during Operation Southern Strike II in southern Afghanistan in June, 2012. Image: Photo Credit: Sgt. Brendan Mackie

Alongside the select-fire M4 Carbines and M16 rifles serving on the battlefield, the U.S. Military M14 also serves. Elements of the U.S. Special Operations Command use the Mk14 Enhanced Battle Rifle (the EBR) as a designated marksman rifle, and in Afghanistan the U.S. Army assigns two M14 EBR-RI rifles per infantry platoon.

The Springfield Armory M1A is a semi-automatic, civilian-legal sibling of the M14 rifle.

Civilian-Legal Sibling

While the M14 is still serving as a U.S. Military rifle, civilian shooters can thank Springfield Armory of Geneseo, IL, for offering a semi-automatic, civilian-legal version of this rifle in its M1A. Proven on the competition fields and exhibiting the timeless beauty of wood and steel (although you can get it with a black composite stock if you so desire), the M1A is a wonderful opportunity to own the civilian sibling of a classic American rifle.

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Tom Laemlein

Tom Laemlein

Tom Laemlein is a historian. While that might sound mind-numbingly awful to some, he enjoys it. His deep dives into historical research keep him (mostly) out of trouble and, yet, too often away from the rifle range. Tom is the author of more than 30 books on military history and weapons systems. He regularly contributes articles to national magazines and websites on military history and firearms topics, and historical photos from his collection are used by publishers around the world. In those times that he is cornered in a corporate environment, he will talk about marketing until he is released. Tom is married to a very patient woman, and they live on America’s North Coast, near Lake Ontario. His regular misadventures with Wally, his young Tibetan Mastiff, remind him that life must be enjoyed full-bore, at least until you are ready for a nap.

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