One Pistol, Three Heroes

[Sorry, Crunchie – didn’t mean to step on your post. It’s back on top now. -DV]

The .45 caliber 1911 was the standard sidearm of the U.S. military for 80 years, faithfully serving through four major wars and countless smaller conflicts remembered mainly by those who were there. It’s reliability spurred an intense love for “old slabsides” by the men who carried it, and it has become an American icon, so much so that Utah, home state of its designer, the prolific John Moses Browning, named it their official state firearm, the first ever such designation.

One of our nation’s warriors who carried the iconic pistol was Staff Sergeant John J. McGinty III, USMC. On July 18, 1966 he was the acting platoon leader of 1st Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines participating in Operation Hastings, pushing back NVA troops who had infiltrated the DMZ in force. S/Sgt. McGinty’s platoon was providing rear security while the battalion withdrew after three days of heavy combat when an NVA regiment launched a savage assault. Outnumbered 50 to 1, for the next four hours S/Sgt. McGinty and his 32 man platoon beat off repeated human wave assaults from a fanatical and skilled enemy. With each attack S/Sgt. McGinty skillfully led his men and directed their fire. During one assault two squads became cut off by the enemy. Disregarding the intense enemy small arms and mortar fire, S/Sgt. McGinty broke through the enemy to the beleaguered Marines, finding twenty wounded and a dead corpsman. He loaded empty weapons and magazines for the wounded men, tended to their injuries, and directed their fire against the continued enemy assaults. Despite being wounded himself, he led his men in beating off the enemy hordes, adjusting intense air and artillery strikes to within 50 yards of his own lines. At one point the NVA tried to outflank his line, until they ran into S/Sgt. McGinty and his .45. He killed five of them with it and saved his flank. For his actions that day, S/Sgt. McGinty was awarded the Medal of Honor on March 12, 1968. His citation specifically mentioned the 1911 he used.

After the war S/Sgt. McGinty returned to the States and retired from the Corps as a Captain in 1976 after 17 years of service. He also brought home the very same Colt pistol, a rarer model originally manufactured in 1914 and stamped with USMC on the slide. It was proudly displayed along with his uniform and Marine Corps saber in his home in Beaufort South Carolina.

Another man who loves the 1911 is George Berry, a 71 year old retired Navy warrant officer from Medford Oregon, who also served in the Corps. Berry had a lifelong dream of owning a 1911, especially one stamped USMC. So he searched the internet and found an auction house in Pennsylvania that was offering one during an auction on July 12 this year. He purchased it for $1,000 and fulfilled his lifelong dream of owning a USMC stamped 1911. But the left side of the slide was stamped with the name “John J. McGinty USMC”. Curious, Berry did an internet search and found that McGinty was a Medal of Honor recipient. Wanting to know if it it was the same person, he tracked down Capt. McGinty, now 71, and asked him if it was his pistol.

“Do you mean 0103889?” McGinty replied, reciting the gun’s serial number by heart. McGinty told Berry that his pistol had been stolen in 1978, and that it was the same pistol he had used that July day in 1966. Berry knew what he had to do and had the pistol shipped to McGinty, reuniting them after 33 years.

After he got the pistol back McGinty called Berry and offered to pay all of his expenses, but Berry refused, stating that he didn’t want money, he had only wanted a 1911.

John William Finn was a Navy Aviation Ordnance Petty Officer serving at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. At home when the Jap attack started, he ran to his squadron’s hangars where he found his men manning the machine guns mounted aboard their PBY Catalina’s, some while the planes burned around them. Grabbing a .50 caliber M2 from a squadron painter, he mounted it on an improvised mobile platform and began engaging the attacking enemy aircraft. Some of the planes were so close Finn distinctly remembered seeing the pilot’s faces. Despite being wounded more than 21 times, Finn continued firing at the enemy aircraft for two hours, finally having to be ordered to seek medical attention after the attack was over. The next day he was back at work helping to rearm the remaining aircraft.

“I got that gun and I started shooting at Jap planes,” Finn said in a 2009 interview. “I was out there shooting the Jap planes and just every so often I was a target for some,” he said.

Admiral Chester Nimitz presented the Medal of Honor to Petty Officer Finn in September 1942 on board the USS Enterprise. He passed away on the morning of May 27, 2010 at the age of 100. He was, at the time of his death, the oldest living Medal recipient, and the last of 15 Navy recipients from the Pearl Harbor attack.

Before his death Finn and McGinty had become friends, and McGinty had received an all original Colt 1911, manufactured in 1918, from Finn.

Along with a note that said “Can’t thank you enough for your kindness”, McGinty sent Finn’s pistol to Berry, along with a Medal of Honor challenge coin and a card honoring Petty Officer Finn. Berry at last had his 1911, but even more than that he had the pride of having done the right thing.

“I am absolutely deliriously happy it turned out this way,” Berry said.

“John McGinty could have just said, ‘Thanks, have a good life,’ ” Berry said. “But no matter what was going to happen, I knew I would feel good about getting that gun back to him.

“Concern yourself with what is right and you’ll never second-guess that decision,” he concluded.

Three American heroes, two for their actions on the battlefield, one for his integrity, and a pistol that binds them all. Thank you to Mike M for sending this on.

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LC OgrrreLC Sir Rurik, K.o.E.FrankOKSlightly to the right of Gingis Khan Recent comment authors
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Slightly to the right of Gingis Khan
Slightly to the right of Gingis Khan

I read the first line and was all set to launch into a love letter to the 1911 and the genius of John Moses Browning…. Then it suddenly got all dusty in here.

Thank G*D for American Heroes, and I pray I never see the day when they are not revered.


Slightly to the right of Gingis Khan growls and barks: August 27, 2011 at 12:21 am I read the first line and was all set to launch into a love letter to the 1911 and the genius of John Moses Browning…. Then it suddenly got all dusty in here. Thank G*D for American Heroes, and I pray I never see… Read more »

LC Sir Rurik, K.o.E.
LC Sir Rurik, K.o.E.

Crunchie, and Mike M thanks for sharing along such a remarkable story. I will be standing a bit taller and straighter for hte rest of the weekend.

LC Ogrrre - Imperial Heartless Bastard
LC Ogrrre - Imperial Heartless Bastard

Our local Sheriff’s Deputy Auxiliary is holding a raffle to be drawn on November 11. The prize is a M1 Garand and a new .45 model 1911. If, after all the important stuff, if you guys and GLORs could send some kind words to the Big Guy Upstairs, I should surely like to win that raffle.