This Day in History: Watermelons Help Secure AR15 Military Order

Colt Armalite AR15 Model 01 serial number 000106. (Courtesy James D. Julia Auctions)
Colt Armalite AR15 Model 01 serial number 000106. (Courtesy James D. Julia Auctions)

Maryland – -(AmmoLand.com)- Were it not for the military's adoption of the AR15 as the M16, the gun designed by Eugene Stoner may have just been a footnote in American arms development. As is often the case, civilian interest in arms is driven by what the military is using. On July 4, 1960, when Air Force General Curtis LeMay attended a BBQ at a farm in Maryland owned by Dick Boutelle, President of Armalite Division, Fairchild Hiller Corporation, he unknowingly set in motion the steps necessary for the AR15 to become widely regarded as “America's Rifle.”

LeMay was a seasoned veteran of World War II and still holds the distinction of being the youngest four-star general in American history, having earned the fourth star in 1951 at the age of 44. At the time of the BBQ in 1960, he was the Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, making him one of the event's most esteemed guests.

Air Force General Curtis LeMay (Courtesy USAF)

Like all good Independence Day celebrations, the BBQ attendees enjoyed some trigger time with a variety of firearms. Most notable among them was Colt Armalite AR15 Model 01, serial number 000106.

Watermelons were placed down range and General LeMay was given the opportunity to shoot this new rifle at the delicious targets out to, at least, 100 yards. After the general had destroyed the melons with ease, it was brought to his attention that there was one melon remaining.

When asked if the final target should be placed down range, LeMay declined. Instead, he offered an alternate plan: “Let's eat the son of a bitch!”

To say that the general was pleased with the rifle's performance would be an understatement. General LeMay knew that the military was looking for a new rifle to replace the heavy M1 Garand and M14 rifles, but without reducing firepower to the level of the M1 carbine.

After the target practice (and impromptu military trial) concluded, it became clear to the general that the Colt Armalite AR15 rifle may be just the gun they were looking for. As the men stood on the farm eating the final watermelon, talks turned to the possibility of a government contract. Because LeMay was so impressed with the rifle, he placed an order for 8,500 units to be delivered by Colt to the Air Force.

A soldier in Vietnam fires his M16.

Of course, nothing involving the government is ever easy, quick, or efficient. As such, it would take a number of years before the rifles that LeMay ordered would actually be delivered. Issues related to powder charges in the cartridges, a lack of soldier training with the weapon, and the failure to issue cleaning tools with the gun gave it a rocky start.

Now, with the benefit of 59 years' worth of hindsight, one can easily draw a (relatively) straight line from Air Force General Curtis LeMay's watermelon shoot in 1960 to the M4 rifles currently fielded by countless American soldiers overseas, as well as the AR15 rifles in equally as many American homes.

Interesting gun collector tidbit: The rifle used in LeMay's demonstration was sold by James D. Julia Auctions in September 2011 for $103,500 – shattering the pre-auction estimate of $40,000-$60,000.


About Logan MeteshLogan Metesh

Logan Metesh is a historian with a focus on firearms history and development. He runs High Caliber History LLC and has more than a decade of experience working for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Park Service, and the NRA Museums. His ability to present history and research in an engaging manner has made him a sought after consultant, writer, and museum professional. The ease with which he can recall obscure historical facts and figures makes him very good at Jeopardy!, but exceptionally bad at geometry.

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KURT MAX VELTE
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KURT MAX VELTE

The entire AR family of weapons, the Armalites, were the weapon of choice by the Irish Republican Army. The IRA chose the best weapon for the money.

That is why I own one.

Austin
Guest
Austin

“…and a clip of ammunition for my Little Armalite!”

Deplorable Bill
Guest
Deplorable Bill

A good 762 x 51 is much more powerful BUT, most engagements are 250M or less. We carried 720 rounds basic load of 556, 2 belts for the pig, a LAW and what ever frags they would give you. I wasn’t much more than a stick in weight only 130# at the time. I was glad I didn’t have to carry the pig too often (M-60) because it was heavy, the ammo was heavy and it drew fire as soon as you opened up with it. Most of our business was way under 200M and 556 does pretty well that… Read more »

Lorenzo Steven Drakeford
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Lorenzo Steven Drakeford

Your words ring true. God’s Grace upon you and your family.

Baron
Guest
Baron

You may be slightly older than even myself but I too hav said the same things. The Bills of Rights are the Supreme Laws of the People and the foundation of liberty and democracy. Without them you have nothing but the cold steel you hold in your hands for law.

Rattlerjake
Guest
Rattlerjake

You were doing fine until you included the judeo-christian LIE! Christianity has NOTHING to do with judaism, NOTHING! Christianity was formed from the Hebrew texts given to us by God and a belief in Jesus Christ a the Messiah, from his short time on earth. Judaism is a false religion that that only subscribes to the first 5 books of the Hebrew text, they call the Torah, and then they worship the Talmud which were written by the Rabbis. Judaism is no different than Islam in that aspect. Christians today have been bombarded with this jewish BS and have no… Read more »

Ej harbet
Member
Ej harbet

Wait until you meet the final judge! Hint,HE aint a southern baptist! Lol!

Deplorable Bill
Member
Deplorable Bill

Sorry you feel this way. Maybe it would be a good idea to read the declaration of independence, the constitution, the bill of rights and also some of the writings of the founding fathers. You will find that they, as I, do believe and this nation really is founded upon Judeo/Christian beliefs and principals as mandated in the BIBLE. Yes sir, I am aware about the other 642 “laws” that are there to be found. I still think the world would be a much better place if even the ten I mentioned were followed. What a world it would be… Read more »

DWEEZIL THE WEASEL
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DWEEZIL THE WEASEL

Whether you like this weapons platform, hate it, or damn it with faint praise; it’s the .mil current go-to gun. It is also the go-to rifle/carbine of most police agencies. The prices for a good one have come down in recent years and there is still plenty of ammo available. Buy one if you have not already done so. Learn how to clean it and maintain it. Practice! Even if you prefer a .308 or 7.62X39 platform, it is good to have one of these little black rifles in your gun safe. And remember, the first rule of any gun… Read more »

Bud Hall
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Bud Hall

And, the AR platform canbbe had in both 7.62×39(same receiver as the 5.56) or in .308/7.62Nato(slightly largwr receiver). Numerous other calibers as well, some even sud-sonic capable for supressing.

baron
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baron

The AR platform is the prevailing victor over all other firearm designs because of it’s versatility. It is ubiquitous and whatever one may think of it’s astetics, it truly represents an apogee of gun design. Destined to be around for a very long time.

Ej harbet
Member
Ej harbet

300 blackout is a awesome round for ars and other 5.56 platforms!

Gdubb
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Gdubb

It’s good to have high standards and all, but can we please stop fighting internally? Some of the shit people on here bitch about is fucking stupid. Every time it happens, the communists get one step closer to destroying our beloved country. United we stand, divided we fall.

Evan
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Evan

Interestingly enough, I still enjoy shooting watermelons today. Often with an AR.

Henry Hall
Guest
Henry Hall

I’d rather eat the watermellon and shoot warm cans of no-name cheap soda pop!!

wally moyer
Guest
wally moyer

warm cheap soda always taste like the can,yuck!

Ej harbet
Member
Ej harbet

Id let my girls eat the watermelon and ill drink the soda and shoot steel.poppers,plates and a distant gong or two.
Miss my steel collection

William
Guest
William

For Pete’s sake would someone look up Project Agile?!?
Just because you know a few oddball facts about an event doesnt make you an expert on the subject or a historical genius
If they didnt have watermelons they would have shot at beer bottles. And just as Mr. Stoners design impressed at the BBQ it would have done the same at any review.

Dave
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Dave

I liked the story, I learned something and was entertained.

Johnny Bravo
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Johnny Bravo

OMG!!!

Wow. I’m ashamed. Disgusted.
Your photo of the Vietnam soldier firing the m-16… Is an actor from an 80s Vietnam movie.

George Conklin
Guest
George Conklin

So what, the author is trying to illustrate a point.
It’s a great article and you had to go looking for something wrong. An example of the ugly world today.
Step up and be part of the solution and not part of the problem .

Evan
Guest
Evan

I’d say that pointing out that a “soldier” is actually an actor playing a soldier is a legitimate criticism.

Brian Miller
Guest
Brian Miller

The article also misidentified the inventor of the rifle as Eugene Stone…that is not correct, the man that invented the rifle is Eugene Stoner, and yes the photo of the Vietnam soldier is a still from a movie, not actual combat footage from Vietnam. Facts are important when writing an article that most people will believe.

Rattlerjake
Guest
Rattlerjake

It is also important to include a photo of a REAL soldier, not some Hollyweird wannabe who was likely a draft dodger in Canada. It’s like including the picture of a Tempest in a story about GTOs.

Baron
Guest
Baron

You don’t know, he could have been a combat vet….right…right? Lol~ 🙂

Will Flatt
Guest
Will Flatt

It’s good to see history tidbits like this article in Ammoland, so the newbies can learn something of how and why we are where we are with firearms. For the avid reader, I recommend the digital copy of John Ross’ 1994 novel, ‘Unintended Consequences’, which weaves the fictional storyline very nicely with actual firearm development & history as well as the (not-so-recent) history of firearms legislation and court cases. I say the digital copy because the hardcopy has been out of print for a while now… but still a heckuva read at 749 pages!

Wild Bill
Guest
Wild Bill

@Will Flatt, Unintended Consequences by John Ross is one of the best five books that I have ever read and the very best novel that I have ever read.

Ej harbet
Member
Ej harbet

I have a original hardcover,read it several times. It’s heavy enough to use as a weapon and if i sold it right i could buy a good pistol with the proceeds. But ill keep it

PATRICK E GEORGE
Guest
PATRICK E GEORGE

My dad served in nam. A lot of service men didn’t agree with the M-16 , bwea

ut after a week they all agree! It was a useful weapon.

Rattlerjake
Guest
Rattlerjake

bwea ut?????

57Phil
Guest
57Phil

While mostly known for the rifle design, Eugene Stoner was an excellent pistol shot w/.45. A 60 Mins reporter asked him
why he was not enamored w/ the new at the time, 15 shot 9mm.
He replied, “if you need more than 2 or
3 shots, you have a much bigger problem.

Vanns40
Guest
Vanns40

That was a great line from Stoner. Unfortunately, as we’ve learned the hard way, there ARE “much bigger problems” that loom all the time. The other great line that applies is “no ever complained, after a gun fight, about having too much ammo”.

Henry Hall
Guest
Henry Hall

The purpose of the pistol is to fight your way to your rifle!! The higher capacity pistol might just come in handy.

Baron
Guest
Baron

I don’t want to sound like I told you so, but if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, don’t leave your rifle laying out of arms reach because the moment you do is when you get attacked. I hope you’ve finally learned your lesson this time.

Floyd william
Guest
Floyd william

My father was Curtis Lemay’s driver. He came over lunch.

Wild Bill
Guest
Wild Bill

@Fw, I would love to read anything and everything that you would be willing to share with us about that lunch. And thank you to your Dad for his service.

ENIGMA6
Guest
ENIGMA6

Swallow-well is dangerous. Unless I’m mistaken, he stated he’d use nukes on US citizens if we resisted gun confiscation. If his judgement is that bad, he’s a clear and present danger to our Republic. And Cuomo isn’t much better. Why can’t democrats see how dangerous this road is they’re traveling down. Sooner or later, the Tree of Liberty’s roots are going to be nourished with the blood of tyrants and Patriots again, if things don’t change I pray it’s the former and not the latter.

baron
Guest
baron

Because they are employee’s of billionaires and not patriots, which I guess means that just like all many other traitors throughout history the thing which motivates them to seek public office or authority is personal profit. Our enemy is the same as it’s always been, and which is centralized power, because evil can only succeed with centralized power. The enemy is centralized wealth, excessive wealth that has hijacked both political parties, on the demo side they are going after guns while on the reb side they going after free speech.

William Floyd
Guest
William Floyd

My father was Curtis LeMay’s navigator. He was a visitor to our home, I just knew him as my father’s boss. He was quite kind.

Thanks for this article, I had no idea he was involved with the M16.

StreetSweeper
Guest
StreetSweeper

The designer’s name was Eugene Stoner, not Stone.

Logan Metesh
Guest
Logan Metesh

Auto correct sucks.

William Jones
Guest
William Jones

It certainly does!!!

baron
Guest
baron

Try Grammerly for the completely robotic effect.

Vanns40
Guest
Vanns40

You’re correct and the author, I’m sure, knows this but, as usual, proofreading stories as many times as it takes to get it right just doesn’t seem to be a priority. This is a common complaint that goes unanswered and, apparently, is of no concern to the authors to whom it is leveled at. The occasional reply is “hey, we’re busy and we don’t get paid”. My reply is; hey, take pride in your work, put out a quality product or stop writing. I don’t write professionally anymore and I still proof the best I can, even at my age… Read more »

Phil in TX
Guest
Phil in TX

Agree 100%! Ammoland does not hold the patent on these mistales either. I see it everywhere on the internet and in books as well.

Phil in TX

Phil in TX
Guest
Phil in TX

See, even I do it sometimes.

Phil in TX

Mike
Guest
Mike

“At whom it is leveled.”

Rattlerjake
Guest
Rattlerjake

I concur. When I was in the military I was OFTEN called upon to proof read documents, speeches, briefings, etc. especially higher up the chain of command. Even then, before this common core foolery, even college educated officers could barely spell their name right – but at least they took the time to have someone check it. Today these idiots get all offended when you correct them when they should take more pride in their being “educated” and try to show it.