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Dad's WWII Luger Pistol

More than 60 years after T/Sgt. Robert Emary recovered it from a fallen German tanker, a 1937-manufactured Luger is returned home.

Dad's WWII Luger Pistol
The author didn’t get to see his father’s P.08 Luger as a boy, but a family friend retained it for 60 years, returning it to an older Emary in 2006. The tale of how he came to have the Luger is a story of hard combat and an enduring friendship. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

From an early age, I knew my father, T/Sgt. Robert J. Emary, had served in World War II in the U.S. Army. As I became older, my mother explained to me that my father had been a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne and had fought at Bastogne.

At that point in his life, my father talked very little about the war. This started me to reading as much as I could as a second or third grader on World War II history. This early knowledge of my father’s service has had a huge impact on my entire life leading to an early fascination with the military, my own military service and a lifelong interest in history, especially firearms and all things shooting.

I remember as an eight-­ or nine-­year old, reverently looking through the box of my father’s war memorabilia. In that memorabilia was an AG USFET No. 33 official capture paper for a Luger pistol.

As any eight-­year-­old who had some knowledge of World War II history and guns would think, where’s the Luger? My father’s answer to that question was that he had given it to a friend.


Luger
In contrast to current military policy that strongly discourages the practice, the U.S. Army of World War II worked to facilitate a soldier’s natural desire to bring back their war trophies. Unfortunately, most troops today can’t bring home non-gun souvenirs. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

As you can imagine, I was quite disappointed to not be able to see or handle such an incredible piece of militaria. However, this was not the end of the story. Sixty-one years after it was captured and 40 years after my first knowledge of the Luger, it was given to me by my father’s best friend from high school, Gordy.


Background

My father graduated from high school in 1942 at the age of 16. He worked for 16 months and then enlisted in the military on his 18th birthday in 1943. He wanted to be a naval aviator, but was rejected because he was told his teeth were too crooked to work with the oxygen masks. After getting this news, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Airborne.

Luger

Several days after his enlistment he received a letter from the U.S. Navy saying that he could report for induction. The problem had been resolved, but it was a little too late for the Navy. After basic training and jump school, my father arrived in England shortly after D-­Day and was a member of the first wave of replacements after the invasion of Normandy.

He was assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 3rd Battalion, I Company, 101st Airborne. For those of you who are history buffs, this is the same regiment as E (“Easy”) Company in Stephen Ambrose’s book, “Band of Brothers.” My father was a couple companies down the line from E Company.

The Capture

I had a long talk with my father in early February 2006, right after I received the Luger from his friend Gordy because I wanted to know the history of where and how he got it. Here is what he said: “That Luger belonged to a Panzer commander. It was after Bastogne and after we had attacked Foy. We were charging out of some woods when we were attacked by the Panzer, but one of our bazooka teams hit the Panzer. I ran up to the tank and jumped on it.


Luger
The toggle shows almost no wear. Some German tanks had firing slits to allow the crew to shoot at enemy soldiers clambering aboard, but Panzer crewmen had relatively little occasion for shooting pistols in anger. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

You know that’s what the procedure was. After you hit one with a bazooka you were supposed to jump on the tank and throw grenades in the hatch. I noticed that the hatch was partially open and I pulled it open to throw a grenade in.

It looked like a side of meat hanging there, it didn’t look like a person. He hadn’t just been hit in the head, his head was gone, his lungs had been sucked out and you could see his rib cage. I thought, Wow! I didn’t see anybody else moving in the tank. Then I noticed he was wearing a Luger. I just cut his belt off and took the belt with the holster and put it in my musette bag.”

Luger
We’ve all seen perfect, factory-new Lugers, but the author’s has the benefit of honest wear and a true story. A trophy pistol of this condition and having a real war story behind it is a prize for any enthusiast. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

My father had given me his 1945 506th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment) scrapbook with very detailed maps of the major actions involving the 506th. There were also detailed maps of the actions at Bastogne, day by day. It also contained a period topographic map of the Bastogne area that showed where woods were. From these maps, I was able to locate where and when the action my father described had to have taken place.


Gen. George Patton’s Third Army broke the siege of Bastogne on Christmas Day, 1945. The 101st and attached units began being resupplied by ground on December 27th. Rather than being relieved, the 101st was ordered to hold and then lead the counterattack to push the Germans back.

A part of this effort to push the Germans back was the attack and capture of Foy by 506 PIR E and I companies on January 13 and 14, 1945. At the end of this combat, I Company was down to less than a platoon: 21 men. This is the engagement my father was talking about when he said he captured the Luger after Foy. I Company and the rest of 3rd Battalion were then withdrawn and held in reserve in the woods north of Bastogne near Lake Fazone, which is no longer there.

Luger
Photo by Mark Fingar

I Company was not in combat again until January 16, when it participated in a regimental attack that pushed the Germans east of the small town of Wicourt. There were only two wooded areas along I Company’s line of advance. There were woods northwest of Noville, but this area had been taken by 1st Battalion 506th on January 15. In addition, 3rd Battalion’s line-­of-­advance was just north of Vaux, which would have taken them north of these woods.

There were also woods southwest of Wicourt that I Company had to have advanced through. The action my father described in which he captured the Luger occurred on January 16, 1945, and had to have taken place just north of the woods, southwest of Wicourt, Belgium.

This action all took place between modern day Belgian highways E25 and N30, between Cobru and Wicourt. The 101st Airborne was relieved by the 17th Airborne Division on January 17, 1945. I company was down to 11 men.

Finally Seeing the Luger

In early January 2006 during a conversation with my father, he told me his friend Gordy had called and asked if my father wanted the Luger back. My father said no. I told my father if Gordy no longer wanted the Luger, I would be happy to buy it from him. About two weeks later, I received a letter from Gordy that briefly gave the history of how he got the Luger from my father, and an incredibly generous offer to give me the Luger.

My father and Gordy were best friends in high school. Gordy served in the U.S. Merchant Marines as a crewmember on an anti-­aircraft gun and was badly wounded in a kamikaze attack in late 1944. He said in his letter, “As I remember things, I was in the South Pacific in 1944 and I wrote your dad, who was in Europe. I said, ‘If you can, I’d like for you to get me a Luger.’ To my great delight, when we both got home he came to my parent’s house and handed me a package and said, ‘Here’s your Luger.’

“He related to me some of the incident in which he acquired the pistol, and I realized that there is a great deal of sentiment and meaning attached to the gun. Knowing how much my son is interested in certain aspects of my naval experience, I imagine you probably have the same interest in your dad’s service. If you wish, I would be very pleased and honored to turn the Luger over to you so you can have this memento which is really a tribute to your dad.” I was quite overwhelmed and said “Yes,” of course.

Luger
German arms makers obsessively serial-numbered everything, including small Luger parts. Finding a battlefield capture “numbers matching” Luger is an accomplishment for any collector. Expectedly, this one was missing the spare magazine. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

I was able to sit down with my father and Gordy in the summer of 2006, and talk to both about some of their war experiences and their life after the war. This was a very special time that I will never forget.

The Luger

I received the Luger about a week after the letter from Gordy. I wondered what I would see when I opened the box, and I about fell over when I got it open. Inside the leather holster was a pristine Luger. It looked like it was nearly brand new. The only wear on the gun was some compression of the checkering on the right grip from the holster brass closure button, and some bluing wear at the muzzle.

Luger
The “S/42” mark indicates manufacture at the Mauser factory in Oberndorf. The 1937 date is correct with the excellent prewar finish having straw colors and bright blue parts. The gun was likely in storage for years before being issued. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The gun was all matching with a mismatched aluminum- bottom magazine. There was no spare magazine in the holster magazine pouch. The Luger is a S/42 Mauser Orberndorf-1937 manufacture gun. It has a 4-­inch barrel with a vivid straw color on the trigger and extractor. It has deep and bright bluing, and what I would consider commercial-­quality fit and finish. The barrel is very lightly frosted inside, but shiny.

Luger
Straw colors on the trigger and takedown lever are usually a sign of prewar manufacture when commercial standards were still in effect. Otherwise, there is little wear anywhere on the specimen. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The holster is very interesting, as it is not the standard German period-­issued hard-­leather holster. I took the gun to a dealer who specializes in Lugers and was told the holster was a “Swiss” holster. The bottom of the holster had been cut off at some point, which allowed the muzzle to protrude from the bottom. This accounted for the bluing wear at the muzzle.

Luger
For reasons unknown, the pistol was carried in a Swiss holster with the muzzle end trimmed off rather than the usual hardshell German holster. This left the muzzle unprotected, but makes the ensemble all the more interesting. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

I asked Gordy if the gun ever had a spare magazine and he said, “No, only the one in the gun.” I find this very interesting, as the Panzer commander either acquired the Luger and holster from someone who didn’t need it anymore or was issued whatever the quartermaster could scrape together. At this point in the war, the Germans had not been issuing Lugers as standard equipment since about 1940 when the P.38 was standardized. It’s also interesting that there was not even a spare magazine available. The ad-­hoc weapons being thrown together probably reflects the desperate supply situation the Germans were in by then.

Luger
The P.08 Luger was produced through the 1930s, but was largely supplanted by the P.38 after 1940. As the noose tightened around the Third Reich, all sorts of small arms began to appear from storage depots. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

I have fired exactly five rounds from the Luger. During my visit to the dealer who appraised it for me, he said if I was going to shoot it to use replacement grips; The original grips crack quite often if the guns are shot very much.

I fired five rounds of Hornady’s 90-­grain XTP factory ammo through the gun. The rounds chronographed 1,246 feet per second (fps). This load is long discontinued, but it was loaded to a nominal 1,275 fps. This shows the barrel is in quite good shape.

The five-­shot group I fired was quite small by my standards at 2 ½ inches at 25 yards. The gun functioned flawlessly and had a heavy, but crisp, trigger.

Luger
The Luger has had few opportunities to slide out of its Swiss-made leather holster in the 60 years it was held by the author’s father’s friend, Gordy. It functioned flawlessly when recently test-fired. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Closing Thoughts

My father and his friend Gordy have both passed away. I am deeply thankful that they allowed me the opportunity to share in this piece of history, and have a sense of connection to the history that they lived and participated in.

Certain elements in our society are doing everything they can to erase our history. In my opinion, this is an effort to convince people, especially the young, that American history is not a story of accomplishment and honor, but rather one of failure and shame.

If you know veterans of military service from any era, please talk with them. If they are willing to relate their experiences, please write them down. Theirs is a living history that can’t be replaced when they are gone. We need to preserve this history for our own sense of who we are and where we came from. One of the most powerful ways I know of doing this is recording and remembering the experiences of those who lived history and why they did it.

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