With this week marking the Navy's 246th Birthday, we bring you the story of a Colt Government model in the Navy's archives and the resilient officer who carried it.

The pistol itself at first glance would seem to be an otherwise ordinary M1911A1 Colt Military, martial marked "US Army" and "United States Property" along with the correct inspector's marks. The serial number, 732591, falls within Colt's circa 1941 production range. 
 

(Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)


We often say, "if only a gun could talk," but in this case, the voyage through history that the above .45 ACP took is well-documented.

Also joining the fleet in 1941 was Ensign Victor Antoine Moitoret, a Californian who was admitted to the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1937 and graduated with the Class of '41. Moitoret's first ship was the brand-new aircraft carrier USS Hornet, which he joined three months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that ushered America into World War II. 

Moitoret served as an assistant navigator on Hornet during the flattop's secret mission to carry the Doolittle Raiders to bomb Tokyo in 1942 – possibly best remembered today as the third act of Jerry Bruckheimer 's 2001 film "Pearl Harbor" – and was also aboard the carrier for the massive American naval victory at the Battle of Midway
 

Flanked by torpedo boat escorts, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet arrives at Pearl Harbor after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, April 30, 1942, just five weeks before the Battle of Midway. (Photo: U.S. National Archives)


When Hornet was irreparably damaged by enemy torpedo and dive bombers during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942, Moitoret was armed with the above pistol while serving as the carrier's Officer of the Deck on the bridge. The young officer still had it buckled around his waist when he was pulled out of the ocean more than two hours after Hornet went to the bottom in 17,500 feet of water off the Solomon Islands, carrying 140 sailors with her. 
 

Moitoret's pistol belt, consisting of an M1936 Belt, M1918 Magazine Pocket, and russet leather M1916 Holster. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)


Two years later, Moitoret, with his relic of the lost Hornet still with him, was a lieutenant aboard the brand-new light carrier USS Princeton, fighting to liberate the Japanese-occupied Philippines. 
 

USS Princeton 1944. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)


In October 1944 – almost two years to the day that Hornet was lost – Moitoret was on the bridge of Princeton when the ship was hit by a Japanese bomb and was wounded by shrapnel from the resulting explosion. 

According to his Silver Star citation for that day, Moitoret "remained on board for a period of seven hours, fighting fires, maintaining communication with other ships in the area, preserving confidential publications and obtaining all available lengths of fire hose for use where most needed." 

Leaving his second sinking aircraft carrier, Moitoret reportedly kissed the hull of Princeton before boarding a waiting small boat. 

After the war, he remained in the Navy through the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring in 1972 at the rank of Captain. Moitoret died in 2005 and is buried at Fort Bayard National Cemetery, New Mexico, next to his wife, Rowena, and son, Alan. 

His well-traveled sidearm and pistol belt are in the collection of the NHHC, held in the Headquarters Artifact Collection.  

As noted by the Navy, "The central theme of this year’s 246th Navy Birthday and Heritage week is 'Resilient and Ready,' which speaks to the Navy’s history of being able to shake off disaster, such as the loss of a ship or a global pandemic, and still maintain force lethality and preparedness. It allows the messaging to showcase readiness, capabilities, capacity, and of course the Sailor – all while celebrating our glorious victories at sea and honoring our shipmates who stand and have stood the watch."

Happy Birthday, Navy!

US Navy 246th birthday logo
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

 

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