This object is a M1917 Enfield rifle mounted on a commemorative wooden display donated to the ITC by Colonel William Mastoris Jr. The object was originally gifted to Colonel Mastoris by his company in honor of his leadership as a lieutenant colonel during the Vietnam War in 1968.
Ten metal plates on the gun and the wooden display board tell us more about the leadership of Colonel Mastoris and the respect he earned from his company. A large silver plate on the rifle’s stock reads, “Captured by Co B, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, 199th Infantry Brigade on 7 April 1968, Near Tay NINH, Republic of Vietnam.” Nine other square plaques are mounted to the display board below the gun. The largest of these reads, “LTC William Mastoris, Commanding Officer January 1968 to July 1968, from the Officers of the 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, 199th Infantry Brigade.” The smaller eight plates list the names of the officers from Col. Mastoris’ Company who gifted the rifle. The rifle and the commemorative plaques offer a lot of information to be explored, including the origination of the M1917 model rifle, the life history of this particular rifle, and the life and leadership of its eventual owner.
LTC William Mastoris, Commanding Officer January 1968 to July 1968, from the Officers of the 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, 199th Infantry Brigade.
When the United States entered the First World War in 1917, the US military needed guns and ammunition to support the troops they were sending to the Wars’ the Western Front in central Europe. The United States rifle companies, Winchester and Remington, had been manufacturing infantry rifles for British allies since entering the War in 1914. The US Army Ordnance Department supervised these two companies to manufacture a new model of the rifle with a .30-06 caliber ammunition. The M1917 Enfield rifle was manufactured by Remington Arms. This particular rifle was made at the Eddystone Rifle Works in Eddystone, Pennsylvania and used by US infantry troops in 1917 and 1918.
But how did a World War I rifle come to be captured in Vietnam in 1968? The life-history of this object is an intriguing story in itself. According to ITC records, the rifle was originally used in WWI, where it was acquired by allied French soldiers. It is unclear exactly how it was acquired, but it was likely given to a French ally or picked up off the battlefield. Forty years later, the gun was taken to Vietnam, who resisted French colonial rule during the Indochina War (1946-1954). Sometime during this war, the rifle was likely captured by Viet Minh (North Vietnam) troops. France was defeated and Vietnam won independence in 1954. The Geneva Accords in the same year divided the country along the 17th parallel. To the north, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (who led the fight against France) and to the south, the Republic of Vietnam, to whom France transferred authority. The United States, in the thick of the Cold War, continued to support South Vietnam against the Vietnamese Communist Party to the north. In 1964, the United States intervened in the ongoing conflict between North and South Vietnam forces, beginning the Vietnam War. By 1968, half a million US troops were in Vietnam. On April 7, 1968, in the Tay Ninh province of South Vietnam, Col. Mastoris’ Company B recaptured the rifle from North Vietnamese troops. The rifle served as a commemoration of the leadership of Mastoris during this conflict. On May 6 of the same year, he earned a Silver Star for his bravery and leadership.
The 38-year military career of William Mastoris Jr. is even more extensive than this commemoration suggests. He enlisted into the US Army in 1945, at just 18 years old, and was deployed to Europe during the Second World War. He attended West Point, the United States Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1950. He served no less than nine overseas tours during his career. Throughout his illustrious career, Mastoris was awarded the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Meritorious Service Medal. When he retired from the Army in the 1980s, he moved to San Antonio and earned three more bachelor’s degrees from University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).