Avid shooter, gun collector and retired U.S. Navy Warrant Officer George Berry said he’d always wanted to own a classic Colt 1911 A1 .45 cal. pistol like those issued to generations of American soldiers, and he found one to his liking on an online auction website in July.
“Colt 1911 A1 semi-automatic pistol. Cal. 45. 5" bbl. SN 0103889. Re-blued finish on all metal, plain walnut Colt grips, after-market rear sight, no magazine,” the description posted on the Alderfer Auction website 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 would later tell a reporter from his hometown newspaper, the “Medford (Oregon) Mail-Tribune” that he was at first hesitant because the gun had been re-blued, the grips were not originals and it had someone’s name engraved on it, but he felt he purchased it at a fair price, paying less the $1,000 for the gun made in 1914.
Upon receipt of the pistol he began some research online, where he quickly made an astounding discovery: Capt. John J. McGinty, the man whose name was engraved on the pistol, was a recipient of the coveted Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest and most prestigious military award.
It gets better.
Doing further online tracking, Berry found that the retired Marine, McGinty, 71, lived in Beaufort, South Carolina, so he gave him a call and asked him about the 1911 pistol.
“He said, ‘Do you mean 0103889?’” Berry told the Medford newspaper, noting that McGinty automatically recited the gun’s serial number from memory.
McGinty went on to tell Berry that the pistol had been stolen in 1978 while on public display. Further, it was the sidearm McGinty carried on a fateful 1966 July day in Vietnam, using it to kill five enemy troops at point-blank range as he saved the lives of his comrades during Operation Hastings.
President Lyndon Johnson presented John J. McGinty with the Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the White House on March 12, 1968, for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
As for the Colt with serial number 0103889, it has now been returned to a true American hero, John J. McGinty, USMC. It was sent to him, without charge, by another American hero, U.S. Navy Warrant Officer George Berry.
"I told him I didn't want any money, that I had just wanted a Model 1911," Berry said. "Concern yourself with what is right and you'll never second-guess that decision."