In the past 100 plus years the 1911 handgun has grown to nigh Herculean proportions. It has morphed into a dragon slaying, never failing, super powered Excalibur that knows no equal.
I tend to agree.
In service for over a century the pistol has withstood the test of time and is even seeing a resurgence in recent years as some units in both the military and law enforcement are leaving behind the Glocks and Berettas for the trusty 1911. Example of these include Marine Corps Special Operations Command, LAPD SWAT, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, F.B.I. regional S.W.A.T. teams, and 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment—Delta (Delta Force).
But what of the truly awe inspiring stories that have cemented the legend of the 1911?
For those we look to war, for it is in wartime that the mythos of the 1911 has been fostered. In the 75 years from 1918 to 1993, at least 55 Medals of Honor were presented to men carrying the 1911, here are a few of the tales.
Private Thomas Baker – On July 7, Baker’s position came under attack by a large Japanese force where he was wounded. When a comrade was wounded while trying to carry him to safety, Baker insisted that he be left behind. At his request, his comrades left him propped against a tree and gave him a 1911, which had eight bullets remaining. When American forces retook the position, they found the pistol, now empty, and eight dead Japanese soldiers around Baker’s body
Col. Charles Davis – While leading an assualt up a hill on Guadalcanal, then Major Davis’ rifle jammed after the first shot. He pulled his 1911 and continued the charge with he and his 1911 in the front.
Lt Col William J O’Brien – At the island of Saipan, on 7 July 1944 his battalion and another battalion were attacked by an overwhelming enemy force estimated at between 3,000 and 5,000 Japanese. With bloody hand-to-hand fighting in progress everywhere, their forward positions were finally overrun by the sheer weight of the enemy numbers. With many casualties and ammunition running low, Lt. Col. O’Brien refused to leave the front lines. Striding up and down the lines, he fired at the enemy with a 1911 in each hand and his presence there bolstered the spirits of the men.
Sgt. Darrel Cole – On Iwo Jima when his machine guns jammed, armed only with a 1911 and one hand grenade, Sergeant Cole made a one-man attack against the two remaining gun emplacements in the area. Twice he returned to his own lines for additional grenades and continued the attack under fierce enemy fire until he had succeeded in destroying the enemy strong points.
PFC Jack Hanson – Korea. Hanson, a 20-year-old Mississippian, volunteered to cover the withdrawal of four wounded men from his squad. When his platoon counterattacked, his body was found with machine gun ammunition expended, his right hand grasping an M1911 with the slide locked back, and a bloody machete in his left hand. More than 20 enemy bodies were found nearby.
MSG Gary Gordon and SFC Randall Shughart – Somalia. Shughart and Gordon were Delta Snipers were dropped by helicopter 100 meters away from a crashed Blackhawk helicopter whose crew was about to be overrun by hostiles. The snipers, working their way through the narrow streets that made their rifles ineffective cut a path using their 1911’s. Upon reaching and saving the only survivor of the crash both Shughart and Gordon fought on until running out of rifle ammo and died with their 1911’s in hand.
While these stories are legendary as are the men who wielded the pistols there are other stories that border the mythic. Such as the tale that the 1911 pistol downed TWO planes during WWII.
Col. Owen J. Baggett – In March of 1943 in the skies over Burma Col. Baggett’s bomber was shot down by a squadron of Japanese Zeroes and he and his crew parachuted from the doomed plane. One Japanese pilot made passes the parachuting men and shot the survivors and wounded Col. Baggett.
Though playing dead, Baggett still drew his .45 and hid it alongside his leg. As the plane approached within a few feet of Baggett at near stall speeds. The pilot opened the canopy for a better look at his victim.
Baggett raised his pistol and fired four shots into the cockpit. The Zero spun out of sight. One report said the plane was found crashed, the pilot thrown clear of the wreckage with a single bullet in his head.
1st LT Duane Francies – LT Francies received the Distinguished Flying Cross for combat actions while flying an observation mission some 100 miles west of Berlin on 4/11/45. Lt Francies was piloting a Piper L-4 Cub artillery spotter plan when he an his observer, Lt William Martin, spotted a Fieseler Fi-156 Storch (a German spotter plane) flying about 200 ft above the trees.
They dove on the German plane an opened fire with their .45 ACP Colt 1911A1 pistols. The Americans emptied their weapons into the German’s windshield, fuel tanks, and right wing. Francies held the stick between his legs while reloading, “The two planes were so close I could see the German’s eyeballs, as big as eggs, as we peppered them.” Their sustained fire forced the German plane to crash land in a field. Whereupon the American’s landed and took the German pilot and observer prisoner.
For all these reasons and more, I think the fabled mystique of the 1911 is well deserved.