Sweetheart, The Return Of A Lost Love: Building the Duckbill

By Kevin Dockery

Tan Son Nhut Air base, Saigon, June 21, 1970

.....As I walked over to the jeep, an Air Force Colonel stopped to talk to me.

“Excuse me mister,” the Colonel said, “But what’s that hanging around your neck?”

“That’s my Sweetheart,” I said. “My twelve gauge.”

“I’ve never seen a weapon like that before.”

“No sir,” I said. “It was custom made for me at Frankfort Arsenal. This is the only one there is.” I had made the pistol grip myself, cutting down a regular wood stock. But the rest of the weapon had been one of the first duckbill Ithaca’s with a special magazine extension to come out of Frankfort Arsenal back in 68.

“Sir,” he said, “do you realize that shotguns are against the Geneva Convention?”

In fact, shotguns themselves were not against the Geneva Convention, only soft lead bullets, such as [old style] buckshot, were. But I just looked at this twerp wondering where the hell he thought he was. “Colonel,” I said, “if they ever send me to Geneva, I’ll leave her at home. But between now and then, she and I just don’t part company.”

Excerpt from “Point Man” by Chief James Watson and Kevin Dockery. C. 1993, Avon Books paperback, page 288.

The duckbill-fitted Ithaca was the most popular of the special shotguns used by the US Navy SEALs during their involvement in the Vietnam War. When I wrote the biography of Senior Chief James Watson of SEAL Team Two and covered his three combat tours in Vietnam, his use of a shotgun came up often. When I asked him which weapon he was carrying on a specific operation, he told me, “my pistol-grip shotgun, my Sweetheart.” Though Chief Watson never did actually name his weapon, Sweetheart was what his customized shotgun was called in the books “Point Man” and “Walking Point.”

When Chuck Madurski joined with me at Great Lakes Arsenal to reproduce the first-model duckbill choke, one of the first chokes available went on an Ithaca Model 37. The weapon available was an earlier commercial model without a disconnector. In addition, the barrel had a solid rib, something we won’t put another DuckBill on.

The SEAL Teams had very few if any of the Ithaca Model 37s without a disconnector, the so-called “slam-fire” models. At any rate, I have yet to talk to a SEAL who used a non-disconnector Ithaca in Vietnam or even examine a specimen in the Navy small arms collection. The slam-fire Ithaca was known to some SEALs, but the technique of holding the trigger back and just working the action to fire the weapon was considered a great way to waste ammunition and not hit anything. Instead, shotgun-armed SEALs would simply train with their weapon until releasing the trigger and pumping the action for every shot became second nature to them.

Modifications to the weapon we had we fairly simple and straightforward. The barrel was cut back to 20.1 inches and crowned. The rib was removed enough to clear the DuckBill choke. With enough clamps and colorful language, the choke was brazed onto the barrel after being bored out to a slip fit.

A magazine extension and barrel clamp were duplicated from an original SEAL specimen. There is a locator hole underneath the barrel lug of an Ithaca that is removed to mount the magazine extension. A small piece of barrel scrap brazed over the locator hole seals it completely and explains the existence of such patches on SEAL-modified Ithacas.

Instead of cutting back the stock, a Pachmayr pistol grip was installed, a much more comfortable grip. Parkerizing will later give the new Sweetheart the proper metal finish.

Watson was right, she is a Sweetheart.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V3N4 (January 2000)
and was posted online on September 4, 2015


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