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Medal of Honor Recipient’s Colt .45, Stolen 33 Years Ago, Turns Up at Auction

When George Berry bid on a rare 1911 Colt .45 in an online auction in July, he had no idea it had been stolen years before from a Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient. Berry, 71, of Medford, Ore., had been hesitant to bid on the gun because the finish had been “reblued,”it no longer had its original sights and grips—and it had stamped on its left slide: John J. McGinty USMC. But, Berry said, he’d always wanted to own a 1911 Colt .45, and the price was right.

After getting the pistol, Berry researched the name John J. McGinty III and discovered he was a Marine who had received the Medal of Honor in 1968 for his action on July 18, 1966, while leading a 32-man platoon near the demilitarized zone during Operation Hastings. McGinty’s citation reads:“When the enemy tried to outflank his position, he killed five of them at point blank range with his pistol.”Wounded, Sergeant McGinty also ran through enemy fire to reach two of his squads that had become separated from the rest of his platoon and directed artillery fire and airstrikes to within 50 yards of his position to halt an NVA assault and force their retreat.

Excited about the possibility of returning the pistol to McGinty, Berry tracked him down in Beaufort, S.C. When he told him about the .45, Berry said, the 71-year-old McGinty calmly recited the serial number stamped on the pistol, “Do you mean 0103889?” McGinty then explained how the Colt .45 had been stolen in California in 1978, when it was on display with his uniform and sword.

Contrary to newspaper reports claiming that the .45 was the same weapon that McGinty used in the 1966 action that earned him the Medal of Honor, McGinty explained that it was actually his personal weapon that he had acquired in 1969. “Those stories that it was the same gun I used in Vietnam were BS,” he said, adding that the gun he used in Vietnam was an ordinary Army-issued Colt .45 out of the battalion armory.

In gratitude to Berry for returning his cherished Colt .45, McGinty gave Berry another original 1911 Colt .45 that had been owned by John Finn, who was a longtime friend of McGinty’s—and who had received the Medal of Honor for heroism during the attack on Pearl Harbor. “I am absolutely deliriously happy it turned out this way,” Berry said.

Hanoi Bomb Shelter Where Joan Baez Sang During 1972 Christmas Bombing Is Uncovered

During renovations to a poolside bar at Hanoi’s French Colonial-era Metropole Hotel last summer, a worker drilled through the thick concrete roof of an underground bomb shelter that had been sealed and forgotten following the Vietnam War. Inside, workers discovered a wine bottle, a rusty paint can and a light bulb still in its socket, cold reminders of the days when the North Vietnamese government used the hotel to house foreign guests during the war. With news of the bunker seeing the light of day once again, so are the stories of famous guests who once took shelter there during U.S. bombing raids, including American folk singer Joan Baez and actress Jane Fonda. “If these walls could talk, they would tell a lot of stories,” said hotel general manager Kai Speth, who gave the Associated Press an exclusive first glimpse in October.

During the Christmas season 1972, 30-year-old Baez, joined a peace delegation traveling to North Vietnam and was caught in the U.S. military’s 11-day“Christmas bombing”of Hanoi.According to the Washington Post, Nguyen Thi Xuan Phuong, who worked for the government as a doctor assisting foreign guests, remembers being in the bomb shelter with Baez when the lights went out, prompting a few foreigners to scream.“Can you sing a song?” Phuong, now 82, asked the young singer.“We may not change the situation, but your songs may help calm people down.” When Baez’s voice rang out, Phuong recalled, the bunker was revitalized. Phuong said war correspondents and Jane Fonda also took shelter there while staying at the hotel.

The future of the nearly 500-square foot bunker, sealed and forgotten for nearly 40 years, remains uncertain. While historians want it preserved and opened to the public, the hotel isn’t interested in attracting “mobs of tourists.” Speth told reporters: “I have an obligation to my guests to keep the Metropole luxurious and exclusive. If I just leave it open, can you imagine? All of the tour guides of Hanoi would take everybody down there.”

Supreme Court to Rule on Legality of Lying About Valor Medals

After a number of federal district courts split on whether to uphold the 2006 Stolen Valor Act, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed in October to consider the law’s constitutionality. The court took Alvarez v. the United States after the U.S. Solicitor General asked it to determine whether the law infringes on free speech. In Alvarez, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of a man who lied about being awarded the Medal of Honor, finding that the Constitution protects“all speech, including false statements.”

In September, the U.S. 9th Circuit upheld the conviction of David Perelman, 58, who served in Vietnam for three months in 1971. Perelman used falsely obtained medals to get $180,000 in disability benefits—telling a lie in the commission of a felony.

Also in September, a man who nearly persuaded Sen. Arlen Specter to recommend him for a Medal of Honor pleaded guilty in federal court to making false statements about his military service in Vietnam. At his sentencing, Terry Calandra, 62, was forced to surrender four fraudulent medals, including the Silver Star he had received for his self-fabricated claims of heroism. About 60 people have been convicted under the Stolen Valor Act.

Connecticut Artist Exhibits Portraits of One Week’s Casualties

In November, the University of Bridgeport Gallery exhibited Peter Konsterlie’s 242 portraits of U.S. soldiers who died in one week in Vietnam, an undertaking inspired by the June 27, 1969, Life magazine cover and article, “Faces of the American Dead,” which contained photos with age, rank and hometown of the young men who were casualties from May 28 to June 3, 1969. Following the suicide of a friend, Konsterlie discovered the Life magazine photos in 2005 and decided to paint a few of them. He soon realized he needed to paint them all, which has been an ongoing project of his since 2007.

San Francisco Premieres Opera About Hero of Ia Drang and 9/11

An opera about Rick Rescorla, the Englishman turned American Vietnam War hero who died in the 9/11 World Trade Center collapse while trying to save others, premiered on Sept. 10 with the San Francisco Opera. Heart of a Soldier, by Christopher Theofanidis, with libretto by Donna Di Novelli, and based on James B. Stewart’s 2002 book of the same name, tells the story of Rescorla’s life leading up to the fateful day when, as head of security for the Morgan Stanley firm at the World Trade Center, he helped to successfully evacuate 2,700 people.

“I love the fact that…when a situation became difficult, whether during the horrifying battles in Vietnam or on 9/11, [Rescorla] quotes lines of poetry, or breaks into a Cornwall song,” said Thomas Hampson, the baritone who played Rick Rescorla in the opera. Tenor William Burden played Daniel Hill, who was Rescorla’s lifelong friend, and soprano Melody Moore was Susan Rescorla, his second wife whom he met in his 50s. “Music was so central to his life,” Susan Rescorla told The New York Times. “He sang to calm his troops in Vietnam, he sang while we drove in the car, and he sang through his bullhorn on 9/11 to lead people to safety.”


Originally published in the February 2012 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.