18 Feb 12

“There was a right
There was a wrong
The gun was quick
The man was strong”

From the theme of “Colt 45,” a Warner Brothers television western series, 1957-1960, staring Wayde Preston. Music and lyrics by Hal Hopper

Personal notes from Major General (USAF) Gerald C Brant, 1880-1958

Upon his graduation from West Point in 1904, 2Lt Brant was assigned to Army Cavalry and sent to the “Disciplinary Barracks” at Ft Leavenworth, KS, as a supervisor of prison guards. While there, a young Lt Brant naively took pity on an incarcerated trooper from the 9th Cavalry who was serving a life-sentence for murder, and was never again supposed to “see the light of day.”

At the prisoner’s request, Brant assigned him to an outside work detail. Later, while riding his horse, Brant heard the whistle, signaling an escape in progress. The miscreant trooper had murdered the guard for his detail, apparently with whatever tools he had at hand, and escaped.

Brant immediately galloped into the City of Leavenworth and went to see the chief of police. The chief advised him that all prison escapees predictably headed for the freight yard and hid in brick piles until they could hop the next freight-train out of town. The chief assured the young lieutenant that he would find his man there.

As Brant walked out the door of the police station, he spotted the escapee across the street, pistol in hand, exiting a store in new (non-prison) clothing. The escapee simultaneously spotted Brant and began to raise his pistol.

Recalling an old sheriff who once advised that, if he ever had to shoot a man, he should aim for his solar plexus, Brant drew his Luger Pistol and fired a single shot. The escapee instantly fell to the ground, writhing in pain.

Within a minute or two, a physician ran up, complete with black medical bag. As he knelt by the fallen man, he called out to Brant, “Where did you shoot him?”

Brant replied confidently, “… in the solar plexus.”

The physician then opened the escapee’s shirt and began his examination. He eventually located the single entry wound… in the escapee’s knee!

Brant closed that chapter of his memoirs saying, “… and I learned that afternoon that it’s an entirely different matter shooting at a man, than at a paper target!”

Even at his young age, Brant was considered one of the best pistol shots in the Army, having come out on top in many competitions. In fact, he was slated to compete in the 1912 Olympics in Sweden, but the escapee incident ended any possibility of that.

In 1907, Georg Luger personally brought over from Germany two copies of his Luger Pistol chambered for the uniquely American 45ACP cartridge, the only two ever made in that caliber. Georg intended to compete in US Army trials for the adoption of a new pistol to replace 38S&W revolvers then in service. Georg’s Luger pistol eventually lost out to John Browning’s design, known thereafter, at least in America, as the “1911.” Of the two 45ACP pistols brought over by Georg Luger, only one is known to exist today. The fate of the other is unknown.

However, the Luger Pistol carried by Lt Brant on that fateful afternoon in Leavenworth was chambered for 9mm, from of an earlier shipment of fifty copies, and issued to Brant and others as part of the testing process.

One thousand “test” Lugers (7.65 caliber) were delivered to US Springfield Armory in late 1901. Most were distributed to US Cavalry troops involved in police actions in the Philippines and Cuba. As American Cavalry troops had previously used revolvers (as noted above), relatively complex Luger Pistols were viewed with suspicion and not readily accepted. There were complaints, mostly theoretical, as to small caliber, safety while riding on horseback, and functional reliability. As a result of these reports, fifty additional Lugers, this time chambered for 9mm (as noted above), were briefly tested by the Army in 1904-1906, and two Lugers in 45ACP caliber were tested in 1907 (also as noted above). After Luger’s design was passed over in favor of Browning’s, most “test” Lugers were sold at auction. Some were destroyed.

In those days, all officers carried pistols, all the time, on duty and off. It was considered a point of honor and manifest acknowledgment of special trust and confidence. Today, of course, in the modern “profession of arms,” no one is ever trusted, much less armed, as we discovered recently at Ft Hood!

Brant went on to complete a distinguished military career, ultimately retiring at the rank of Major General in the USAF.

He died in 1958.

A contemporary of Brant’s and expert pistol shot in his own right, Lt George Patton, did participate in the 1912 Olympics but did no better than fifth place. In the pistol portion of the Pentathlon, his bullet holes were clustered in the centers of four targets, and judges decided, since they couldn’t precisely count all of them (eighteen holes instead of twenty), he could not be given credit for the two “missing shots.” Patton’s “missing” shots may have passed cleanly through previous holes, or may have missed the target altogether. Either way, Patton was not given benefit of the doubt and thus missed out on an Olympic medal.

Decades later during WWII, Patton was famous for wearing a pair of revolvers, one on each hip, and many photos show him thus armed. However, they were not a matched pair, as many have incorrectly assumed! On his right, Patton wore the 45-caliber Colt SAA that had “tasted blood” during Pershing’s 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico in which Patton had participated. On the left, he carried a 3½” S&W 357Mg revolver. On those rare occasions when Patton was photographed without his famous two revolvers, he still carried his Colt 380Auto “Pocket Model” in an inside, breast pocket. Patton, like Brant, never went unarmed!

The point of all this is that even “expert” pistoleros, with many trophies to their name, can still pitch a critical shot, or two, in their first real gunfight, or Olympic competition! Brant’s hit to the escapee’s knee, while unplanned, nonetheless ended the fight, and all is well that ends well. However, Brant learned an important lesson that day, a lesson none of us should ever forget:

It doesn’t matter how wonderful you’ve been in the past. It is only your next shot that counts for anything!

In Brant’s words, “… it’s an entirely different matter”