The M1911 served the United States military from 1911 to 1985 as the conventional infantry pistol. In that time, it saw action in two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and dozens of small conflicts around the world. And in these wars, it served in the hands of heroes over and over again.
Today, I decided I’d dive into the world of the heroes who used the M1911 and the actions they took with the pistol. Here are my top five heroes armed with M1911s.
Alvin York – Took Out an Entire Company With an M1911
Alvin York might’ve worked harder than any other soldier ever to earn his Medal of Honor. With a rifle, he took on German machine gun nests with brilliant accuracy. His rifle fire was devastating to the attacking Germans, and one finally nutted up enough to charge him with five other soldiers.
These German charged him with bayonets attached. Alvin York took notice and surely assumed that wasn’t good. He set down his M1917 Enfield and pulled his M1911 pistol. He calmly dispatched the attacking Germans with precision fire. After killing the six Germans, the rest of them got wise.
They surrendered and York took them with an M1911 pressed to the German officer’s ear. Along the way, he gathered 131 more German prisoners. He used the German officer to order the men to surrender. Alvin York single-handedly killed and captured his way through an entire German company.
John J. McGinty
John J. McGinty did the ole Eagle, Globe, and Anchor proud in 1966. Staff Sergeant McGinty and his troops were providing rear security for a battalion movement. As they provided cover, they predictably became engaged by a North Vietnamese regiment. They were doused by mortar, machine gun, and small arms fire.
Well, it was on, and Marines did what Marines do best, they murdered their way through the North Vietnamese forces. His 32-men force destroyed human wave after human wave. In the chaos, the squads became divided. A disorganized fighting force ain’t much of a fighting force, so McGinty went to find his lost squad. Along the way, he flanked around a fireteam of NVA soldiers and dispatched them all with his M1911.
He continued to maneuver until he found his lost squad. McGinty immediately organized them into a fighting force, reloaded weapons, and directed fire. He treated the wounded and directed artillery fire. At the end of the battle, Staff Sergeant McGinty and his men were responsible for the deaths of 500 enemy soldiers. He even got a commission to 2nd Lt and was allowed to keep his famed M1911.
William B. Turner
William B. Turner led troops under heavy artillery and machine gun fire to violent success in World War One. He and his troops became separated from the main fighting force, but they never lost faith. World War One was the realm of the machine gun and machine guns decimated troops.
Once, a machine gun opened up on Turner’s troop. He knew it was only a matter of time before casualties became high. So, he charged the machine gun by himself, wielding an M1911. He killed the entire machine gun crew with just his handgun. Then he did it again against a second machine gun position.
After this, he led his men through three trenches, leaving a wake of dead bodies behind him. Along the way, he picked up three wounds and killed with his pistol and bare hands. He eventually ran out of ammo with his M1911. So, he picked up an enemy rifle and bayoneted and shot his way through the fourth and final trench line.
He took the trench. But that was his last captured objective as eventually the trench was surrounded and Lt. Turner died fighting.
As a fellow machine gunner, I knew what Jack Hanson felt as he laid down hate and discontent in the Korean war. On June 7, 1951, at 0300, PFC Hanson found himself right in the center of hell when the defensive positions his troop had occupied came under heavy attack.
Yet, his big brass balls didn’t fail him. He laid down suppressive fire and, even while wounded, maintained his position so his fellow soldiers could retreat. He volunteered to stay behind and keep on fighting to ensure his friends and fellow soldiers could live another day.
Once his platoon reorganized and counterattacked, they found Jack Hanson at his machine gun position. In his right hand sat an empty M1911, and in his left hand sat a bloodied machete. He went down fighting and took 22 enemy soldiers with him between his 1911 and machete.
Every Vietnam Tunnel Rat
Imagine the balls you need to have to take a flashlight and an M1911 and climb down into hell. The guerrillas in Vietnam famously used tunnels to hide, stash supplies, and resist the American Dragon. Soldiers and Marines had to clear these tunnels. The men who did were called Tunnel Rats.
These men descended into the tunnels armed with M1911s, KA-BARs, flashlights, and humongous sets of balls and did what had to be done. They went feet first into hell and killed their way through tunnel after tunnel.
They faced booby traps in the forms of hand grenades, poisonous snakes, and pits full of sharpened bamboo. These men never received much recognition. It was just part of their job.
The M1911 in Action
The M1911 was the first automatic pistol adopted by the U.S. Armed forces and served for decades. After seeing action across the globe, it was retired in 1985 after a very distinguished career in the hands of American warfighters.
The above were only five of the many stories in which the M1911 as the star, and I could only imagine the stories we’ll never hear. Here’s to the M1911, America’s first and longest-serving automatic pistol.