By Christopher Miskimon Petty Officer R. J. Thomas, a U.S. Navy SEAL, wound up in deep trouble one day in 1969. As he was riding in a UH-1 Huey helicopter gunship during a scouting mission, the aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed, killing or wounding everyone on board. Despite serious injuries, Thomas helped drag the flight crew away from the downed helicopter. Within minutes, a group of North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong troops arrived and approached the wreck. The only weapon the American had at hand was a Model 1911A1 .45 Automatic pistol. Unfortunately for his enemies, Thomas was a competitive shooter for the U.S. Navy as well as a SEAL. He opened fire on the advancing Vietnamese at 100 yards, a range beyond the skill of a typical pistol user. Thomas proved quite atypical, hitting his target and forcing the rest to advance more slowly and cautiously. For the next 30 minutes, he kept his enemy at bay with careful shots from his .45. Depending on which account is accurate, Thomas killed between 10 and 37 soldiers. More SEALs soon arrived and laid down covering fire while an Army gunship landed to extract Thomas and the flight crew. Nearly out of ammunition, he shot one more Viet Cong as he was pulled aboard the helicopter. Thomas’ actions present an extreme use of a pistol in combat, but the .45 automatic pistol is a weapon well-suited to extremes. It served as the official sidearm of the U.S. Military for more than 70 years and still sees use in Special Operat


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