“We Were Soldiers” Veteran Is Reunited with his Captured AK from Vietnam

    We’ve covered the story of the Dillon AK on TFB previously on the blog and due to the efforts of a faithful reader that actually put us in touch with Col. Dillon we were able to actually sit down and interview him about his service in the 1st of the 7th Cavalry, infamous for heroic actions in the Ia Drang Valley under Col. Moore. But in particular, Dillon shared with us the story about how he captured an early model AK47, carved his initials on the stock, was forced to abandon it, and then its miraculous journey to the National Firearms Centre in the United Kingdom.

    This video and interview was only made possible by the gracious efforts of multiple people involved:

    Col. Dillon and his family for accommodating the interview request.

    Jonathan Ferguson of the NFC

    Trevor Weston of the NFC

    TFB reader Mike T. who found Dillon’s contact information

    Harrison Bresnahan (Bresh) for constantly reminding me of 2/9’s inferiority complex in Sangin. Thanks man.

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    Transcript ….

    – Hey guys, thanks again for tuning in to TFV.TV.

    We would really like to thank our sponsors and when we do that, we would really like to thank you, our viewers, for coming into the channel.

    Our sponsors are Ventura Munitions and Proxibid.

    They really help out with getting the kinds of video cameras and equipment that we need to film future episodes.

    So today, I think we’ve got a really cool episode in store for you.

    So, what we did is, myself and my friend Brush, whom you guys have seen in the Marco Mar videos, is we went out to Colorado and we got in touch with the Vietnam War Veteran by the name of Colonel Gregory Dillon.

    He was an infantry officer in Vietnam served two tours of duty during the conflict.

    Dillon, you know him, but you don’t know him specifically by name.

    If you’ve read the book or seen the movie We Were Soldiers, written by Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway, the reporter that was at the battle at the Battle of la Drang, at the Battle of la Drang Valley, where, first the seventh cavalry was essentially dropped in and it was a hell of a couple days for them.

    And it was one of the largest significant battles in the beginning of the war that really opened the public’s eyes for the war.

    Anyways, Dillon was Colonel Hal Moore’s Operations Officer.

    Dillon, after the battle, was engaged in another battle called the Battle of Bong Son.

    Dillon captured an AK at this Battle of Bong Son and it was one of the older versions of the Kalashnikov some of the earlier ones produced in the 1950’s.

    But he captured this, and somehow this rifle came to exist in a reference collection in the United Kingdom.

    And we were able to go to the NFC and get a bunch of pictures and video of that particular rifle.

    And we were actually able to meet the actual guy who captured it and carved his initials into the stock.

    So, to me, as a military history enthusiast, and just a history enthusiast in general, this is fascinating.

    We’ve got this rifle that he captured and we’re actually talking to the real guy almost 40 or 50 years after the fact.

    So I hope you guys enjoy, and I hope you guys stay on for future episodes in which we have future talks with currently Colonel Gregory Dillon.

    – Tell the story of the rifle? How it went by? – Yeah, yes.

    So just so this came to pass.

    – It’s amazing.

    – So this particular AK-47, it’s a milled type one or two, one of the very early variants, has a very early magazine.

    This particular AK-47 currently rests in the Royal Armories, and that, otherwise known as the National Firearm Centre in Leeds, in the United Kingdom.

    The story behind it, from what our perspective before I got in touch with Colonel Dillon, was that it was sitting in the National Firearms Centre, and for the longest time, it had this engraving, which said G.P. Dillon 1/7 on the stock of it.

    And for the longest time, the staff in the National Firearms Centre had no clue as to how, what the history of this particular rifle was.

    Eventually, in the early 2000’s there was some research done and people at the NFC got some research done and they found out who you were, and they got in touch with you.

    And I think Jonathan Ferguson emailed you and then you confirmed it a little bit.

    – Actually, I think I talked to him on the phone, the first time anyway, wanting to know, “Hey, is this be you?” “Yes, that’d be me.” And, uh, but, uh…

    We had conducted an operation in the Bong Son Plain, which is about two or three hundred miles north of Saigon, right along the coast.

    – [Miles] So just real quick, something that confused me at the beginning, Bong Son and the la Drang Valley, completely different campaigns? – Oh yeah, a couple hundred miles away.

    Yes, yes.

    Different operation all together.

    This was in April and that was in November.

    – Of 1965? 1965 or ’66? – It was in ’66, spring of ’66.

    – Okay – I previously had gone up to that area to take some mail to some US troops who were in a small outpost that belong to the 22nd ARVN division.

    I took the mail to them, and the chopper landed inside their compound and I was talking to them and they looked apprehensive and I said, you know, “What are you worried about?” And they said, “Look over there.” And over among all these pine trees in the middle of this plain, You could see bad guys digging trenches and bunkers.

    – This was straight up NVA, this wasn’t- – Oh yeah, no, these were the, were the, yeah, first team.

    (both laughs) – The first string.

    – Yeah, first string.

    And, so I said, “Who you been telling about this?” “Oh, we tell divisional all the time, and they said, oh, don’t worry, we’ll get around to that.” So I got in the chopper and I went back to An Khe.

    And we were responsible for the security, you know, that was our turn, so I asked Colonel Moore, I said, you know, “That’s a great target, why aren’t we doing something about it?” He said, “Okay.” I said, you know, “It looked to me like it was a battalion, maybe even larger, trying to count up the troops running around.” Anyway, we got them surrounded before any of them could get away and we put a lot of firepower in on them throughout the day and by early the next morning, we pretty much had wiped everybody out.

    So Moore and I landed there, in the, in the complex with the Sergeant Major, we were walking around and Moore is talking to the battalion command, one of them who was involved in it.

    (coughs) Excuse me.

    And Sergeant Major and I were walking around looking at bunkers, and I see this foot sticking out of a bunker with sandal on.

    And I said, “Oh, I wonder if he’s got any weapons in there.” And I grabbed his ankle and yanked on it, and he yanked it back.

    And that was like, “Oh!” You know, that was an oh shit moment.

    (Miles laughs) And I, so I got him pulled out, Sergeant Major and I pulled him out and he was delirious because he had been…

    someone had thrown a smoke grenade in the bunker and the smoke had got into his lungs and everything.

    So, we had him laying and he had on a nice looking pistol and holster.

    I gave that to Sergeant Major and I think he gave that to Colonel Moore.

    And he had this brand new AK, brand new AK.

    I said, you know, “That’s gonna be my prize.” So I picked it up and I slung it over my shoulder and I picked up this NVA guy, he was in uniform.

    I knew he was an officer ’cause he had the little clips on his collar.

    So I picked him up, threw him over my back, and went walking to the helicopter.

    I didn’t realize it but he was bleeding out of the mouth, he bled down the back of my back and later, someone would say, “Oh, you’re wounded!” “No, you can’t get my job, I’m not wounded.” (Miles laughs) And, uh, so, uh…

    Anyway, by the next day, he was conscious so we took him back in there and he went around and identified all the different bodies.

    Now, we could tell the officers because they had little things on the collars but he identified the battalion commander, a couple of company commanders and so forth.

    So it was pretty successful from that point of view.

    I don’t know what happened after that.

    I think we have to turn him over to the ARVN.

    But, you know, so…

    – And the operation in general was, you had very few casualties as well, you mentioned earlier.

    The operation for the clearing out portion.

    – Yeah.

    – Do you know how many casualties were taken or- – That one was very few casualties.

    – Compared to what you inflicted on the enemy? – Yeah, there was, 400 and….

    I think, 424 enemy killed and we had like, uh…

    maybe five and a couple guys wounded.

    So it was a pretty…

    a good following the book operation.

    – [Miles] Of course loosing guys is never- – [Gregory] While we were there in April, the division sent down and said “Everyone who has an AK has to turn it in.” And they knew I had it.

    – Uh-oh.

    – “And especially tell Captain Dillon he has to turn in his.” And I thought, this is bogus.

    They said it was for an ARVN unit that was going to work in Cambodia and they wanted them to have AK’s so if they had to fire them, it didn’t sound like M-16s.

    They have two different sounds.

    – Plausible deniability.

    – Yeah.

    So, okay, so I turned it in.

    And, oh, about two months later, one of the guys from division sent me this magazine.

    – Well before that, before that though, – Oh, I carved my name in it.

    – Where you carved your name in the stock.

    – Yeah, so no one could display it, yes.

    Sorry, I took my hunting knife and cut that in there and said, if someone, some faker had that and tries to put it over his fireplace, he’s gonna have the name.

    – At least your name is gonna on that.

    – He won’t be able to say, “Hey, I did that.” But, it was gone and I had already forgot about it, I guess and this guy sent me this magazine that was from some big show down in Saigon.

    And he pointed on the picture, and there’s the AK right there with, you can read the name on it.

    And I said, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun. There it is.” I knew it wasn’t going to Cambodia.

    – [Miles] Yeah. So that was the last time you ever saw it.

    – [Gregory] That was it. Yeah. I was gone. It was gone.

    – [Miles] 1966 – [Gregory] Yeah. And then, what, 2005? – [Miles] 2005 – [Gregory] Yeah, this guy calls me up and said, “My name is Jonathan Ferguson and I’m the curator of the British Small Arms Museum in Leeds, England.” “Okay,” (laughs) “What can I do for you?” He said, “Did you ever have an AK that you put your name on? G.P. Dillon 1/7?” I said, “Yeah, I did.” He said, “We have that. Tell me the story about it.” – [Miles] So from what we know from Mr. Ferguson’s side, what he’s told me is that, so, this particular rifle got put in a bunch of pile of rifles that were going to go to Cambodia.

    However, there was apparently, there was an American officer who walked by that pile, saw it, realized the significance of it with your name on it, and said, “Hey, I’m gonna keep it,” because it had your name on it.

    – Ohhh.

    – So, apparently he took the rifle for safe keeping, or something, and that’s probably how it ended up into this magazine right here.

    – Oh.

    – Displaying a bunch of weapons right here, with your name there.

    That’s probably how it ended up right there.

    And interestingly enough, the magazine, in this photograph it’s not present at all which might lead us to believe that the magazine currently on the rifle isn’t the correct magazine that came with it, it isn’t the same magazine that you probably picked it up with.

    So that’s just a note on the magazine.

    However, after it showed up in this photograph, the trajectory of events which lead it from Vietnam to the United Kingdom…

    So it appears that the rifle got into the hands of an American intelligence officer or an American intelligence agency within South Vietnam during the war, probably like ’66 or ’67 or so.

    And a lot of these intelligence agencies and, you know, MI6 and CIA and stuff, they all talk to each other.

    And especially the whole purpose of the Pattern Room in the United Kingdom, part of it was to gain intelligence of foreign weapons over seas.

    It was strictly an intelligence forte to gain, you know, what is the enemy using and what is the enemy developing.

    So I think along the lines, we figured out there was a British intelligence officer who cooperated with an American intelligence officer.

    And the Americans said, “Hey look, this is a pretty neat AK, you know, it goes back-” Whether or not they realized that it went back to the Battle of la Drang, we’re not exactly sure.

    However, in that sort of transit bit, the rifle then migrated from South Vietnam to the United Kingdom into the original Pattern Room, which was in Enfield.

    But then that was shut down in the late ’90’s, early 2000’s and then it was moved to Leeds where it is today.

    Anyways, well thank you so much, sir, for sharing this story.

    – Oh, yes. God. That’s the craziest thing.

    Funny how all this stuff comes back.

    (military music)


    Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

    Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at [email protected]