November 30, 2021
Due to the USMC’s impressive PR campaign, I’m sure many readers would just assume the top sniper during our war in Vietnam was a Marine wielding an M40. However, the truth may surprise you. Not only was a relatively unknown US Army Staff Sergeant the highest-scoring sniper in Vietnam, but he did it with a semi-automatic XM21. Credited with 109 kills Staff Sergeant Adelbert Waldron proved an M14 based sniper rifle could run with the USMC’s Model 70 Winchester target rifles and newer Remington M40 sniper rifles in actual combat. As a member of Company B, 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division he found himself hunting with the ‘Brown Water’ Navy in the Mekong Delta. His feats included nine kills in one night using an AN/PVS-2 Starlight scope and a 900 meter shot from a moving naval vessel.
The XM21 sniper rifle he carried was basically a M14 National Match topped with a 3-9x Adjustable Ranging Telescope (ART). This combination would be designated the M21 in 1972. The M21 was developed during Vietnam and remained the standard US Army sniper rifle until replaced by the bolt-action M24 in 1988. The M21 sniper rifle itself though was little more than an M14 built to National Match specifications topped with a scope. An offshoot of a straight competition rifle, the US Army sniper program benefited directly from technology developed by the ‘yellow glasses’. Selected rifles received match-grade barrels, unitized gas systems, trimmed handguards, reamed flash suppressors, triggers were adjusted to slightly over 4.5 pounds, National Match sights were fitted and actions glass bedded.
Mounted to the side of the receiver was a unique sniper scope, the ART. Designed by Captain James R. Leatherwood and manufactured by Redfield, this optic allowed a sniper to easily range a man by zooming the magnification in or out until he fit between two marks on the reticle. Simultaneously the magnification ring cammed the scope up or down, automatically adjusting the range. So all the sniper had to do was bracket his target (which automatically adjusted the elevation), adjust for wind/lead and fire. It proved to be a very fast and simple system to use under actual battlefield conditions. Using a M21 rifle and ART scope Staff Sergeant Adelbert Waldron showed what a skilled marksman and hunter could do becoming the highest-scoring and most decorated sniper of the war in Vietnam.
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About the Author:
David M. Fortier has been covering firearms, ammunition and optics since 1998. He is a recipient of the Carl Zeiss Outdoor Writer of the Year award and his writing has been recognized by the Civil Rights organization JPFO. In 2007 he covered the war in Iraq as an embedded journalist.