(Southern Oregon Mail Tribune) — History buff George Berry, of Medford, finally located and purchased on-line the Colt Model 1911, .45-caliber, semiautomatic pistol he had wanted all his life, but he wouldn’t have to very long. (Mail Tribune Photo by Jamie Lusch).
In researching the pistol, he noticed that the almost 100-year-old semi-auto was stamped with the name “John McGinty”.
What Berry didn’t know at the time was that he possessed a unique part of Marine Corps history because the sidearm was stolen more than 30 years ago from Medal of Honor Recipient John J. McGintyIII in 1978 while on display in South Carolina.
“I knew if I found him and it was his gun, I couldn’t keep it,” said
“I’ve always wanted to own a Colt Model 1911 .45 automatic — always wanted one,” he says. “John Wayne had one in every World War II movie I’ve ever seen him in.”
Last July, he began searching the Internet and discovered that… an auction firm in Hatfield, Pa., was offering three of the Colt .45s. In particular, lot No. 78 caught his eye:
“Colt 1911 A1 semi-automatic pistol. Cal. 45. 5″ bbl. SN 0103889. Reblued finish on all metal, plain walnut Colt grips, after-market rear sight, no magazine,” the description read.
“Faint ‘USMC’ stamped on right side of slide, partial ‘United States Property’ wording is visible,” it continued. “The name ‘John J. McGinty USMC’ stamped on left side of slide. Very good.”
Berry was hesitant because it had been “reblued” and no longer had its original sights or grips, all factors decreasing its value. He had no idea that McGinty was a war hero, let alone a recipient of the nation’s highest military medal for valor.
Still, the gun was manufactured in 1914, making it an early model. And there was the USMC stamp he coveted.
“I decided to buy it in spite of the knocks against it,” Berry said. “It was the only one I knew of with ‘USMC’ stamped on it.”
Berry paid less than $1,000 for the pistol. The two other Model 1911 Colt .45s in the auction went for roughly $4,000 and $6,000 each, he noted.
Curious about who this McGinty fellow was, he began an Internet search. Up popped numerous articles on a John J. McGinty, a retired Marine who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage in South Vietnam in 1966.
“The value of the gun just went up five-fold — that was my first thought, anyway,” Berry recalled.
As he read more about McGinty and his story, he knew he had to locate him to see if he was the same man who once owned the gun. He also wanted to find out how he parted with the pistol, and whether the former Marine wanted it back.
“His medal citation actually mentions the pistol,” Berry observed, referring to the fact the wounded McGinty used it to kill five enemy soldiers attacking his position.
However, Berry did not yet know whether it was the same McGinty associated with his newly acquired pistol. He used the Internet to track down McGinty, 71, in Beaufort, S.C. McGinty had retired from the corps as a captain in October 1976.
The retired Navy warrant officer called the retired Marine Corps officer and asked him if it was his pistol.
“He said, ‘Do you mean 0103889?’ ” Berry recalled, noting McGinty had just recited the gun’s serial number.
That’s when McGinty informed him the pistol had been stolen in 1978 when it was on display along with his uniform and sword. It was the very same pistol McGinty had used in Vietnam to repulse that final assault.
“I told him I didn’t want any money, that I had just wanted a Model 1911,” Berry said.
Turns out that McGinty had a completely original Colt 1911 manufactured in 1918 that had been owned by John Finn, a longtime friend and legendary Pearl Harbor Medal of Honor Recipient. Out of gratitude for having received his pistol back, he sent the Finn pistol to Berry.
“Can’t thank you enough for your kindness,” read McGinty’s note accompanying the weapon. “I have enclosed some cards and a (Medal of Honor) challenge coin. The John W. Finn card was printed on the occasion of his 100th birthday. John passed away last year. Thank you again, George.”
With his signature, McGinty, who could not be reached for comment by the Mail Tribune, added “Semper fi.”
Finn, who died in the spring of 2010 at age 100, was the last survivor of the 15 Navy sailors who received the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Wounded nine times, Finn, who acquired the pistol during the war, was the oldest living recipient of the medal.
“I am absolutely deliriously happy it turned out this way,” Berry said.
With the Finn pistol he finally acquired a Model 1911 Colt, but he will tell you that’s not the point.
“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.
Berry and his wife, Lilliana, plan to visit McGinty later this year.
Marine John J. McGinty’s action–March 12, 1968
President Lyndon Johnson presented John J. McGinty with the Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the White House on March 12, 1968. In the presentation, then Marine Staff Sgt. McGinty was cited for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty” during Operation Hastings in July of 1966.
The troops had been battling toe-to-toe with a larger force of North Vietnamese army troops attempting to push south near the demilitarized zone. McGinty was commanding a 32-man platoon serving as a rear guard as the Marine battalion withdrew at the end of a three-day battle.
For four hours, his platoon was attacked by small arms, automatic weapons and mortar fire, the citation reads. At one point, two squads became separated from the main body of the platoon.
“With complete disregard for his safety, McGinty charged through intense automatic weapons and mortar fire to their position,” it read. “Finding 20 men wounded and the medical corpsman killed, he quickly reloaded ammunition magazines and weapons for the wounded men and directed their fire upon the enemy.
“Although he was painfully wounded as he moved to care for the disabled men, he continued to shout encouragement to his troops and to direct their fire so effectively that the attacking hordes were beaten off,” it continued.
(Editor’s note: Berry will probably never know just his beau geste means to John and how truly appreciative he is to be reunited with the personal weapon that no doubt saved his life and numerous others… ‘course John would immediately say that his marksmanship had a lot to do with it, and he would be right. John is a great advocate for our Medal of Honor Host City Program here in Gainesville Texas and has been unfailing in his friendship and support through the years.)