By Jeff W. Zimba
There are several famous firearms that we have all looked at, read about or simply heard of that we would like to claim personal ownership of. No matter the style or discipline of interest, such a famous or personally important gun exists. For those of us who take fondly to the black rifles, the most famous of all may arguably be the Colt ArmaLite AR-15 Serial Number 000106, also known as “The Coconut Rifle.” This particular gun is credited for the adoption of this weapon system eventually becoming the primary service weapon of the United States Military for almost 50 years.
The mystique of this special rifle begins its journey from Hartford, Connecticut to Baltimore, Maryland on February 17, 1960 and ends up in Fairfield, Maine in 2011 after traveling around the globe more than two times.
According to the research of David Norman, and later confirmed by Mr. William Mullen, Vice President of Cooper Macdonald Corp., it is believed that in December of 1959 Colt manufactured 20 of their new Colt ArmaLite AR-15 automatic rifles and it is documented through Colt that rifle #00106 was shipped to Cooper Macdonald Corp. on February 17, 1960. Cooper Macdonald Corp. was contracted to market this firearm.
It was in a July 15, 1992 meeting where many of the former suspicions were realized as factual. When Mr. Mullen was asked if #000106 was indeed the rifle that traveled around the world on two occasions and the rifle involved in the famous July 4, 1960 “Watermelon Demonstration” he replied, “Absolutely.”
When asked to recount the demonstration that would eventually lead to the adoption of this weapon system Mr. Mullen recounted the day. He stated the event was actually a yearly gathering at the Macdonald’s farm, usually for recreation: in his words, “a cookout and beer-bust.” A few days before the date he was asked to bring the rifle along because there would be “…some brass there.” Little did he know that the guests that day would include General Curtis LeMay, the United States Air Force Chief of Staff.
When it came time in the day to shoot this new rifle some watermelons were placed at approximately 50, 75 and 100 yards. General LeMay fired at and destroyed two of the watermelons. The General was very impressed with the results and noted there was one target remaining. When he was asked if he wanted to shoot the last watermelon or just go down and eat it, General LeMay sighted in on the lone melon and replied, “Let’s eat the son of a bitch!” It was in the middle of a field, eating watermelon where the discussion arose about an 8,500-unit order for the Air Force. It was at that point that Colt ArmaLite #106 became the rifle that made the M16 weapon system happen.
Another piece of information that seems to follow this rifle and its history is that it was fired by President Kennedy from the deck of his grandfather’s yacht, the Honey Fitz. Though this writer to date has uncovered no official documentation, this claim has been personally seen in an ad in Shotgun News dated November 15, 1977 and more recently in several Internet sites and blogs. Though very far from irrefutable proof, it is just another bit of lore that follows this legendary rifle.
The coconut part of the rifle’s adopted nickname came from its sales trips where it traveled to South Vietnam and several other “tropical” places. Coconuts were often used as targets to demonstrate the lethality of the rifle, hence the nickname. Other targets were also used in these demonstrations but due to the number of countries it traveled to and the newness of the weapon system it was quickly associated with the most common target engaged with this new, tiny projectile from a completely different type of rifle and the nickname “coconut rifle” stuck like glue.
Being a perpetual student of the black rifle, it has been an honor to actually handle this historical firearm and share its exciting role in the direction of the United States weapon procurement process with the readers of Small Arms Review. Fortunately for all of us, and especially for one extremely lucky individual, this story does not end here. Like we have all joked about when a pitchman on late night infomercials barks, “But wait, there’s more!” it applies to what you will read next. This rifle is not just something of lore that can never be seen, but it will actually be offered for sale October 4th of this year. The famous Colt ArmaLite #106 will be sold to the highest bidder at the James D. Julia Auction Company in the 2011 Fall Firearms Auction. Even though it is far above my pay grade you can bet I will be there to view and photograph this exciting piece of American history. Maybe I will see you there…
For more information:
James D. Julia, Inc.
203 Skowhegan Rd.
Fairfield, Maine 04937
Tel: (207) 453-7125