Skip to comments.Knives of GIsí lives: Blades were made in crucible of war
Posted on 09/05/2006 5:34:26 PM PDT by SandRat
SIERRA VISTA Certain knives tell stories.
But, unfortunately, many of these stories remain mysteries. Trapper Jon Carpenter has a number of special knives made by World War II GIs, each with some kind of story behind its making.
He once had a knife that was tailored for or by some soldier.
It was different, Carpenter said.
The handle was personal.
On the butt of the handle, underneath Plexiglas, was the photo of a GIs family, he said.
I wanted to know about that family and the person who carried it (the knife), Carpenter said.
Today, there is an increase in collecting the special personal knives GIs carried into battle or made to while away periods of boredom.
As the owner of Trapper Jons Knives, Carpenter said he has a variety of instruments that are collectibles.
The New England transplant and former professional chef and restaurant partner, said he always has been interested in knives.
As a chef, knives are part of the profession, but his interest increased to include becoming a collector and opening a store where all types of blades are sold.
At 62, he continues with what once was a hobby and now a business, after moving from New Hampshire to Arizona a few years ago.
From pen knives to large broad swords his store on Fry Boulevard is full of a variety of blades, and yes that includes kitchen ones as well.
During Americas Civil War soldiers on both sides took large kitchen knives and reshaped them into personal knives, which they carried into combat, he said.
There is something about having a knife, beyond a bayonet, that makes a soldier feel safer when in battle, Carpenter said.
Today, knives made by GIs or made for soldiers by others fall into the category of Theater Made knives, he said.
Historically, military people have always wanted something personal when it came to a blade, the store owner said.
And, those who served during World War II, where men who could work with their hands and understood knives, Carpenter said.
According to historians there was a game boys played called mumblety-peg, in which a jackknife was used in a contest to show off the knife-throwing skills of a person.
During the war, many GIs played the game, according to a number of Googled sites about mumblety-peg, which is thought to go back centuries during the times of sailing ships.
Carpenter said that during WWII, soldiers from all nations made personal knives.
His main interest is in the American-made ones.
GIs then had access to material, like Plexiglas, insulation materials and aluminum, as well as scrap steel, such as large files, he said.
They had access to good types of tool steel, too, Carpenter said, adding any piece of strong metal would be used.
One knife he has is made from a large file, the serrated portion visible on the top of the device.
Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines also had easy access to machine shops, whether on ships, at airfields or in camps, making it easier for them to make their personal blades, Carpenter said.
He looked at one knife that had a brass handle shaped into a line of skulls, probably created through a lost wax casting process. This was a special blade.
It was not a commercial blade that had been modified, Carpenter said.
Like many of the Theater Made Military Knives he has, he has no idea of the story behind the skull knife.
Maybe it was made by a paratrooper, he said, because to him the handle symbolizes somehow death from above.
Then there is a knife he has that has a special engraving on the blade.
It states: Made by R. Arthur for Pete Belton, Dec. 45.
By December 1945 the war was over, but Carpenter said what he will never know is if Arthur and Belton were friends and the knife was made as part of the friendship.
Or did Belton ask for the knife to be made.
Was it made in a ships machine shop as the two sailed home after the war?
Or, was it made at an airfield or Army camp?
The story of the Arthur and Belton blade, like many of the other collectible Theater Made Knives, will remain a mystery.
Perhaps Churchills oft-used quote about Stalins Russia is appropriate.
For the stories surrounding the knives also can be seen as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
And, as the surviving GIs who served in World War II fall to the Grim Reaper, the stories of the special blades go with them into a deep shroud of fog.
Herald/Review senior reporter Bill Hess can be reached at 515-4615 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Jon Carpenter, owner of Trapper Jon's Knives, displays two sharp-edged tools used during World War II. On the left is a spax which is still used as a breakout instrument on larger aircraft. On the right is a theater made knife using a bayonet built by a soldier. (Mark Levy-Herald/Review)|
The Cutting edge of ground combat.
I carry a Gerber MK-II and a Gerber MK-I backup when I am in the field.
Nice post. I live right outside SV. I'm gonna have to check this place out when I get back.
I traded a pair of desert boots for a Gorka (their spelling) knife. It is razor sharp and quite a weapon. It is serialized and has a unique sheath.
The Gerber MK-I is nice and I own one...and I've found it's essentially a dagger and doesn't have a useful "belly" for typical cutting chores. My latest preferred fixed blade for around the campsite is a Busse Steel Heart variant.
~ Blue Jays ~
I still have my Kabar from 30 years ago. I've chopped brush, dug holes, opened c-rats, cut wire, and a myriad of other things with that old clunker. Not as fancy as some, but still a great knife.
Poor old company is on hard times right now (union labor trouble).
Gerber knives are the absolute best in my opinion.
That's a keeper.
Randall makes some nice ones .. http://www.randallknives.com/index.htm
"I still have my Kabar......"
Wish I could have afforded it when I needed it.
SOG is offering some very fine and functional knives for a very competitive price.
Nice knife! Way Cool!
Is a pretty good knife. I really like it.
Around campfires I find my Estwing:
and my faithful scout knife very useful.
I too have a really old blade. It is a German long sword made about 400 years ago.
I still want to buy a SOG Gov-Tac.
That's what we hope is said about our Hobbit Hole knives, 30 years from now. We give away several styles, most from Camillus, but a number of favorites from Gerber, CRKT, and other manufacturers, too.
Part of the reason we decided on knives (and other tools) is because it's highly unlikely anyone will have around the candy, socks, or toiletries they were given as gifts, 30 years from now. Any way of thanking the troops is good, we just wanted something useful and durable.
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