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USMC Knives Of WW II

May 11 2003 at 3:28 PM
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Dick G  (Login Dick Gaines)
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by Bernard Levine (c)1990 Bernard Levine
research assistance by Carter Rila and Tom Williams


Picture for a moment the scene on the U. S. Army troop
transport ship Hunter Liggett on the evening of August 6, 1942,
as the ship approaches the sandy beach on an obscure South
Pacific island in the Solomon chain, an island called
Guadalcanal. Aboard are about 3,500 men of the 1st Marine
Division, part of the second wave that is to go ashore the
following morning and dispossess the Japanese army of its newly
built airfield on that island, an airfield that directly
threatens the sea-routes between Australia, New Zealand, and the
United States.

In the ship's holds, where enlisted Marines are stacked in
tiers of bunks, almost like loaves of bread on bakery racks, the
air is rich with the smells of amphibious warfare: fuel oil,
vomit, paint, acrid sweat, cleaning solvents, greasy food, damp
web gear, tropical decay. Yet in contrast to the wretched
merchant ships that brought these Marines from San Francisco to
New Zealand, the Hunter Liggett seems a floating palace. And
viewed in retrospect, from their squalid dugouts on Guadalcanal,
this ship will seem to these Marines a very vision of paradise.

In the first hours of August 7 these men, all volunteers,
check over their gear one last time, put on their packs, and wait
their turns to board Higgins boats to be ferried ashore. Most of
them are pre-war enlistees, and the more senior of them are
veterans of Belleau Wood in the First World War, of Haiti, of the
Dominican Republic, of Nicaragua and the battles against the
original Sandinistas, and of the recent defense of the
International Settlement at Shanghai, China.

These Marines, about to embark on the first major ground
assault in response to Japanese aggression in the Pacific, are
well armed by the standards of the day. They carry rifles or
sub-machine guns -- slow but accurate 1903 Springfield rifles, a
few new M1 Garands, ponderously splendid Browning Automatic
Rifles, too few of the dependable Thompson sub-machine guns, and
far too many of the abominable Reisings. They have both heavy
and light machine guns. They have light tanks, artillery, anti-
tank guns, and mortars. They have grenades and high explosive
charges. They have bayonets and they have knives.

Looking back today, we picture all World War II Marines
armed with "Ka-Bar" combat utility knives. Yet the fact is that
the very first of those "Ka-Bar" knives were shipped from
the factory more than five and a half months
after the 1st Marine Division had landed on Guadalcanal,
indeed more than a month after all the survivors of the original
force had been relieved and withdrawn from the island, where they
had stood firm against the worst both the Japanese and the jungle
could throw at them for more than four months.

It was January 27, 1943, when the first lot of 2,100 No.
1219C2s (as the Marine Corps designated its version of the Navy's
Mark 2) were shipped from the factory in Olean, New York.
Before that, there was no standard Marine Corps combat utility
knife. And even after the Marine Corps "Knife, Fighting and
Utility," was approved and in production, it took some months for
large numbers to be manufactured, and even longer for adequate
quantities of these popular new knives to be pushed through the
supply "pipeline" and out into the hands of the troops. "Rule A"
of military logistics states that the troops in the front lines
are always the last to receive any new items of equipment.

Before the 1219C2, the choice of a knife was left up to
individual unit commanders, and often to individual marines. For
example, in the 11th Marines, Col. Del Valle's artillery
regiment, which was to be the backbone of the defense of
Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, some of the troops had been
issued World War I trench knives while still in training at Tent
City, North Carolina -- the future Camp Lejeune. These old-style
knives went well with their '03 Springfield rifles and bayonets,
their BARs, Browning machine guns, and other left-over World War
I weapons, clothing, and equipment.

PICTURE: TRENCH KNIFE (courtesy M. H. Cole)
Yet when these same Marines were preparing to leave
Jacksonville, North Carolina, and also after they had arrived in
San Francisco, prior to shipping out, most of them bought
commercial "hunting knives." T. G. Gallant, then a corporal in a
special weapons company (37 mm anti-tank cannon and .50 caliber
machine gun) of the 11th Marines, told it this way in his book,
On Valor's Side ((c) 1963, Doubleday):
"The final hours before D-Day were employed in checking
personal equipment, sharpening the knives we had bought in
Jacksonville and San Francisco and the regulation bayonets."
(page 219).

On his transport ship with the first wave, Richard
Tregaskis, in Guadalcanal Diary ((c) 1943, Random House),
described similar scenes:
"Friday, July 31 1942:
"Some of the lads were sharpening bayonets, which indeed
seemed to be a universal pastime all over the ship. I saw one
with a huge bolo knife, which he was carefully preparing. Others
worked at cleaning and oiling their rifles and sub-machine guns.
Some of the boys had fashioned home-made blackjacks, canvas socks
containing lead balls for 'infighting.'" (page 15)

"Sunday August 2
"In our cabin tonight Capt. Hawkins [who was to be the first
marine ashore on Guadalcanal] and I talked over the coming
offensive. He said the men were ready. All over the ship, he
said, he had seen them sharpening their bayonets, oiling their
knives, cleaning and sighting along their rifles. 'And they do
it without being told,' he said, as if awed by the phenomenon."
(page 24)

"Tuesday August 4
"On deck, the lads lounged about, still shooting the breeze,
still sharpening knives. 'I just want to kill a Jap, that's
all,' said one of them to me." (page 29)

The first Japanese soldier to surrender in Corporal
Gallant's sector was studied with curiosity and amazement by,
"Marines gathered in a small knot of sweaty dungarees and
dangling web belts hung with sagging canteens, knives, and
bayonets." Gallant matter-of-factly described his use of his own
hunting knife. Once ashore, ...
"I had dug an L-shaped foxhole along the chicken-wire fence
line. This was what I considered a clever new foxhole design.
that anyone wishing to get at me had to stick his head into the
short end of the L. This put his neck in a convenient position
for me to grab it and rip it open with a very keen hunting knife
I had bought at Jacksonville. Before I had gotten the hunting
knife, I had owned a hook knife used to butcher hogs, but it was
stolen from me. It was too novel for anyone to resist [so] it
was not long in my possession. But the hunting knife that
replaced this hook knife was adequate to any job, I felt, and I
was proud of it. You cannot easily cut a throat with a bayonet;
it was too dull. It is a stabbing weapon, anyway. So, most of
us bought from our own funds various knives for emergencies, and
for cooking. The bayonet was a can opener, and a good one."
(page 260)

In the near-famine conditions endured by the marines on
Guadalcanal, "cooking" could take on a special meaning.
"The landing ration bars -- a chocolate bar fortified with
mysterious elements known only to the War Department -- were hard
slabs guaranteed to contain enough food value to provide energy
for a day or two. Ordinarily it took about two days to eat one
bar, as they were slightly bitter and served to kill the
appetite, rather than satisfy it. When we had canned milk, we
prepared a hot drink using the landing ration bars. ... The mix
was prepared by shaving the bar with a knife, allowing the thin
pieces to fall into an empty canteen cup. This process required
about fifteen minutes of careful work, as the shavings had to be
thin, or they would not dissolve in the milk. A large-size can
of condensed milk was then opened and poured into the canteen
cup, which was placed in the fire to heat. Occasional stirring
with a bayonet turned the mixture into a rich, thick cocoa
unequaled for its food value and ability to kill any known
appetite for almost twelve hours."

Gallant did not mention what brand of knife he had, but no
doubt examples of every brand then available were carried into
action by Marines at Guadalcanal, and in other early wartime
engagements. A photo in Tregaskis's Guadalcanal Diary shows a
headquarters company marine wearing a commercial hunting knife at
his belt. This knife, with its aluminum alloy pommel and leather
washer handle, could be a Union Ka-Bar, a Case, a Kinfolks, a
Marble's, a Remington, a Pal, or perhaps even something else.



Many of the 1st Division Marines who, in June 1942, had
boarded rusty old merchant ships in San Francisco, bound for New
Zealand, and thence to Guadalcanal, had purchased knives during
their brief liberty in the City by the Bay. At the San Francisco
Marine Corps depot, then, a popular private purchase knife was
the "raider" model sold by the old San Francisco cutlery jobbing
firm of Adolph Blaich & Co. ("Blaich" is pronounced the same as
"Blake"). Maryland knife collector Carter Rila uncovered this
fact, along with original correspondence in the National Archives
that details how the Blaich firm endeavored to persuade the
Marine Corps formally to adopt an improved version of its knife.
In a September 23, 1942, letter to Lt. Col. Clifford H.
Shuey in Washington, the Marine Corps engineering officer
responsible for developing raider knives, George Seebe, Vice
President of Blaich, wrote, "During the past several months we
have received many orders and contracts in substantial quantities
from the Marine Corps Purchasing Office, 100 Harrison St., San
Francisco, for sheath knives of the "raider" type for Post
Exchange and other uses." Seebe went on to offer Lt. Col. Shuey
a sample of an improved model of this knife. On the 26th Shuey
replied, saying send the sample, and inviting a company
representative to call on him.

On October 6, company president Robert Blaich wrote to
Shuey, and sent him samples, both of his current "raider" knife,
and of the new version. Toward the end of the month, George
Seebe called on C. H. Shuey. This is how Blaich described the
two knives:
Pattern No. 1677SP-7" is the knife which we have developed and
have been delivering for military use. This pattern, with
sheath, has been offered @ $2.35.
Pattern No. 1678ST-7" is our latest model "Raider" knife, full
stiletto type, with blood groove and larger grip. This pattern,
with sheath, can be offered @ $2.75 each.

Evidently, neither the meeting nor the new knife were
satisfactory, because on November 2, Lt. Col. Shuey received a
two page letter of excuse and explanation from H. R. Platts, the
vice president of the firm that actually made the knives for
Blaich, Western States Cutlery Co., Boulder, Colorado.
According to Platts, the problem was that the sample knife
sent to Shuey was a pattern piece, meant only to demonstrate the
lines of the knife. Shuey had assumed it was an actual sample.
He had tested the knife pretty strenuously, and it had failed.
Shuey's comments on this were not recorded, but he had
evidently had a few choice words to say, not just about the
knife, but also about its maker's allegedly deficient character,
standards, workmanship, methods, materials, and perhaps even
patriotism -- because Platts took pains to defend himself and his
firm at length on each of these points. Platts concluded by
saying, a bit icily, that when Shuey had finally determined the
specifications for the new "Commando knives," then under
development, Western States and Blaich would appreciate an
opportunity to bid on them.

I suspect that part of Lt. Col. Shuey's objection to the
Blaich / Western States improved "raider" knife is that Shuey
himself was the designer of the recently approved Marine Raider's
Stiletto (see below), meant to supplant commercial knives like
the Blaich. Even when it was first introduced, Shuey's design
was widely criticized as inadequate for jungle warfare, and he
was no doubt sensitive on this particular topic. Shuey was
evidently not involved in the 1219C2 development project.
For this article, I interviewed both Harvey Platts, son and
successor to H. R. Platts at Western States, and also the
surviving principals of the Blaich firm. Although none of us is
absolutely certain, all the evidence indicates that the the two
patterns of "raider" knives supplied by Blaich were the models
Western States designated as their own Nos. L76 and L77, both
with 7" blades. The L76 was probably the original pattern (No.
1677SP-7"), and the L77 the "improved," but that is not 100%
certain. I have yet to see or hear of one of these knives with
BLAICH markings.

(courtesy Harvey Platts and Western Cutlery Co.)
Despite Shuey's displeasure, the L77 remained a favorite
private purchase knife of marines throughout World War II, and on
into the 1950s. Harvey Platts recalls overseeing an emergency
overnight shipment of 30,000 L77s from the Colorado factory to
the San Diego Marine Corps docks in 1950, for immediate issue to
units being deployed to Korea.
On November 23, 1942, three weeks after Platts's letter to
Shuey, Colonel John M. Davis and Major Howard E. America
finalized the specifications for the 1219C2 (Knife, Fighting and
Utility). Western States eventually was to make a similar though
larger knife, the G46 with 8" blade, but never the 7" issue

When the 1st Division Marines landed on Guadalcanal on
August 7, they achieved such complete surprise that they met no
resistance at all. The Japanese garrison, mostly construction
troops, had been so frightened by the sudden appearance of the
assault fleet out of a fog bank, and by its massive naval
barrage, that they all fled into the jungle, leaving their
airfield, supply dumps, radio station, and field fortifications
all intact. This picnic did not last long for the Marines,
however, once the Japanese forces set out to regain both the
installations and the initiative that they had so recently lost.
While the 1st Marine Division was enjoying its initial
Guadalcanal walkover, twenty or so miles away, on little Tulagi,
Florida, Tanambogo, and Gavutu Islands, assault forces composed
of Edson's 1st Marine Raiders, the 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, and
the 1st Marine Parachute Battalion, were receiving a very
different reception. There, for the first time, marines
encountered the well dug-in fortifications and fanatical
resistance that were to characterize Japanese-held islands for
the remainder of the war.

Both the Raider and the Parachute Battalions were new
organizations in the Marine Corps. The raiders were modeled
after the joint U.S.-British Commandos, while the parachutists
were modeled after the German Fallschirmjager outfits. Much of
the training of the two new types of units was similar,
emphasizing hit and run raids. Neither type of unit actually did
much raiding in the Pacific Theater, because the vast over-water
distances there made most such actions impracticable.
The 1st Parachute Battalion was formed at Quantico,
Virginia, August 15, 1941. On June 7, 1942, the battalion
boarded ship at Norfolk, Virginia, and departed, via the Panama
Canal, for New Zealand. Exactly two months later, they went
ashore on Gavutu Island. Unlike the First Marine Division
landing on nearby Guadalcanal, the 1st Parachute Battalion met
serious resistance on Gavutu, but by nightfall the Japanese
garrison on the little island had been crushed.
That same day, Col. Merritt Edson's 1st Marine Raiders
landed on Tulagi Island. They advanced to heavily defended Hill
On the following day, August 8, the 1st Parachute Battalion,
depleted by heavy casualties, joined other Marine units in the
assault on Tanambogo. On the 9th, the battalion moved to Tulagi,
which by then had fallen.
Tregaskis, in Guadalcanal Diary, described some of the knife
action by both sides on these tiny rock islands near Guadalcanal,
writing a few days after the battles:
Wednesday August 12, 1942, Gavutu
"Corp. George F. Grady (of New York City) had charged a
group of eight Japs on Gavutu hill by himself. He had killed two
with his sub-machine gun; when the gun jammed [it was probably a
Reising], he used it as a club to kill one more Jap, and then,
dropping his gun, had drawn his sheath knife he carried on his
belt and stabbed two more of the enemy, before he was himself
killed by the three Japs who remained unharmed." (page 90)
August 12, Tanambogo
"... on the Tanambogo docks ... we passed two burned out
American tanks, ... the vanguard of the landing. The defending
Japs had jammed the treads with crowbars, swarmed over the tanks,
and set them afire with rags soaked in gasoline. 'The Japs
screamed and hollered, and actually beat on the tanks with their
fists and knives. ... One of the tank commanders had opened the
hatch and killed 27 Nips with a machine gun, before he was
stabbed to death.'"

A month later, on September 8, the 1st Parachute Battalion
joined Edson's 1st Raider Battalion in a raid the Japanese supply
bases at Tasimboko village, Guadalcanal. Then the two units
moved into the ridge defenses behind Henderson field on
Guadalcanal, where between the 11th and the 14th they bore the
brunt of the single bloodiest engagement in the course of that
campaign. In all these operations, as indeed throughout the rest
of the war, the Marine parachutists did not use their parachutes
to go into action.

In the early weeks of the Guadalcanal campaign, most 1st
Raider and 1st Parachute Marines, like the 1st Division Marines,
carried whatever commercial sheath knives they had purchased
before leaving the United States. However, back in early April,
the Marine Quartermaster Depot at Quantico, Virginia, had issued
1,000 "hunting knives" (possibly Blaich "raider" models) to the
1st Raider Battalion.

The 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, under Col. Evans Carlson,
also carried a motley of commercial hunting knives. On August
17-18, 1942, about two hundred men of the 2nd Raiders staged a
widely publicized but strategically insignificant hit and run
raid on Japanese held Makin Island in the Gilberts. Carter Rila
obtained an August 24, 1942, photo from the National Archives,
that shows four men of the 2nd Raiders just back from Makin.
They are wearing Springfield bayonets and commercial hunting
knives. The man on the right has what appears to be a Union
Cutlery Co. Ka-Bar with fancy celluloid handles. The man on the
left has a Western States, but only its distinctive pommel shows
in the photo.

Official Photograph, U.S. Marine Corps (courtesy Carter Rila)
In September of 1942, Col. Carlson purchased 1,000 Collins
No. 18 machetes, the same type of knife used by the Army Air
Force in its tropical bail-out kits since 1934. These were
christened "Gung Ho knives" -- "Gung Ho," or "work together," was
a slogan of the Chinese Communist 8th Route Army, with which
Carlson had served as an "observer" in the 1930s -- and were
issued to the 2nd Raiders at Camp Catlin, Hawaii.
The 2nd Raiders carried these Gung Ho knives when they were
landed on Guadalcanal, November 4-5, 1942. Most of the raiders
eventually sold these knives to sailors as souvenirs, obliging
Carlson to recall them -- by which time only 300 were left. He
reissued this remainder during the Bougainville campaign in 1943.
PICTURE OF GUNG HO KNIFE (courtesy M. H. Cole)


It was probably in October or November of 1942 that the
Marine Raiders began to be issued their distinctive raider
stilettos. In his article, "A New Marine Corps Knife" by Capt.
P. D. Carleton, USMCR (Marine Corps Gazette, January 1944), the
author starts out by giving the background of this dagger, made
on contract by Camillus:
"The first official knife adopted by the Marine Corps was a
combat weapon designed by Lt. Colonel Clifford H. Shuey, USMC,
formerly in charge of the Engineer Division at Marine Corps
Headquarters. Patterned after the British commando knife, this
weapon was a sturdy all-steel [he meant all-metal] stiletto, 14
inches long, with a short guard and a knurled steel [actually
zinc] handle, particularly adapted for use by landing parties and
the raider battalions. Though this type of knife had proved
admirable for quick raids on the French and Norwegian coasts, and
served excellently well the purpose for which it was provided in
the Southwest Pacific, it could not be used for both [of] the
purposes that any jungle knife must serve: hand-to-hand combat
and the daily chores of campaign life; that is, for hacking
vines, cutting saplings, or whittling branches; opening cans,
preparing food, possibly even for grubbing out foxholes, duties
for which the bayonet was awkward and too tender a weapon, and
the machete too cumbrous."

The inadequacy of the Marine Raider's Stiletto, with its
brittle cast zinc handle and fragile Fairbairn style blade, was
no barrier to continued production, but it probably accounts for
the very limited quantities actually made. The first stiletto
contract, for 5,000 knives, had been let back on April 20, 1942.
However, the first 1,500 of those knives were not delivered to
the Marine Corps Philadelphia Depot until August 6 of that year,
just as the 1st Marine Raiders were preparing to go ashore at
Blue Beach on Tulagi, half-way round the world. The remaining
3,500 knives were delivered to the Marine Corps San Francisco
depot September 1, 1942. These latter were allocated as follows:
909 - 1st Raider Battalion - 9/4/42
909 - 2d Raider Battalion - 9/4/42
760 - 1st Raider Battalion - 9/16/42
407 - 1st Parachute Battalion - 9/16/42
407 - 2d Base Depot - 9/16/42
[evidently for the 2d Parachute Battalion,
established two weeks later.]

I do not know when the first shipment of Raider daggers
actually reached the 1st Raiders and the 1st Parachute Battalion,
since in mid-September both of these units were heavily engaged
in the Guadalcanal campaign, and virtually cut off from resupply.
Eventually 14,370 Raider stilettos were to be made, although it
is unlikely that very many Marines, either raiders or riflemen,
found them to be of much use.

As evidenced by the chart above, Raider daggers were also
issued to the Marine parachutists, whose training and mission was
similar to that of the Raiders. The Marine Corps had meanwhile
been developing special knives for issue to the parachutists.
Prototypes of three versions were made by Camillus on October 30,
1942. Tom Williams of Camillus found the original dated
specification cards for these knives, but we do not know how many
were actually made, or if any were ever issued. [Western States
made a commercial and PX version called the W31.]
By the end of 1942, it had become clear to Navy and Marine
Corps planners that the United States did not have adequate
aircraft or bases to mount parachute assaults in the Pacific, so
the Marine parachutists, like the raiders, were thenceforth only
used in amphibious operations. Probably for this reason, plans
to make special Marine parachutist's knives were abandoned.
The #1 and #2 parachutist knives differed only in that the
#1 had nickel silver bolsters. Both were practical 8-1/4 inch
spear point knives with 3-7/8 inch blades. Their blades were
stainless steel, perhaps a first among U.S. military knives.
Their handle scales were rosewood, secured by two brass rivets.
The bolsters of the #1 were secured by two nickel silver rivets.
The #3 parachutist was a silly-looking little bowie style
hunting knife. It was 7-1/2 inches long, and had a 3-7/8 inch
clip point stainless steel blade. The cross-guard was cold
rolled steel. The handles were jigged rosewood secured by two
brass rivets. All three knives had their handles drilled with
7/32 inch lanyard holes, and all three had leather sheaths. Any
of these three little knives would now be a valuable collector's

The 1st Parachute Battalion was withdrawn from Guadalcanal
on September 18, 1942. In January 1943 it arrived at Noumea, New
Guinea. There it was combined with the 2nd and 3rd Parachute
Battalions, from the West Coast, to form the 1st Parachute
Regiment. The regiment served in the Bougainville campaign.
Then it returned to San Diego, where it was disbanded February
29, 1944. The 1st Parachute Battalion then became the nucleus of
the 5th Marine Division.

[added 8/15/2000
The Camillus Marine paratrooper knives were made only in prototype, and I
doubt any still exist. The Western parachutist knife is the only version
that was manufactured, as far as I know now, and it was a PX knife,
probably never issued -- but I can't be certain it wasn't.]

In his 1944 article, quoted earlier, Captain Carleton went
on to give the background of the new Marine Corps knife, the one
that was destined to supplant all the others:
"Colonel John M. Davis, of the division of Plans and Policies,
and Major Howard E. America, of the Supply Division of the
Quartermaster's Department, undertook the task of designing a
knife that could fill all demands that could be made upon it. In
cooperation with knife manufacturers, they evolved the form of
the present knife by a long process of careful experimentation
and test, and set up the final specifications. The necessity for
speed and shortages of critical materials made it essential that
the type chosen conform in methods of manufacture to those
already in use so that the contractors could use existing
machinery and materials at hand, and not have to waste precious
time in retooling. ...
"After a handmade sample embodying all the features desired
was produced through the cooperation of one of the knife
manufacturers [Union Cutlery Company, Ka-Bar brand], it was offered
to various officers returning from Guadalcanal prior to its
final adoption, and was considered by them as the ideal knife for
the purposes desired. The [Marine Corps] Commandant authorized the
production of the knife on 23 November, 1942; on 27 January, 1943,
the first shipment of 2100 knives to fill the most urgent needs was
nearing its destination."
PICTURE OF 1219C2 (courtesy of M. H. Cole)

****** END ******


Let me point that there are a few errors in my article.
Most important, when I said:

" In the early weeks of the Guadalcanal campaign, most 1st
Raider and 1st Parachute Marines, like the 1st Division Marines,
carried whatever commercial sheath knives they had purchased
before leaving the United States. However, back in early April,
the Marine Quartermaster Depot at Quantico, Virginia, had issued
1,000 "hunting knives" (possibly Blaich "raider" models) to the
1st Raider Battalion...."

I was not yet aware that the Marine Corps and the Army Engineers
had purchased quantities of "Hunting Knives" from Camillus and Utica.
These were probably the knives issued then at Quantico.

These are shown in Camillus factory WWII records, 1942-43.

I had these when I wrote the article, but I just hadn't studied
them carefully yet, or realized their importance.

Frank Traszka, who has known about these almost as long as I have,
says he has found three of the Camillus rosewood, and one bone.
He has also found a few Camillus commercial versions, with a different
rivet layout and different sheath.

Apparently at least some of these were issued to the Marines early on,
but gov't purchase of them seems to have stopped in early 1943, as the
1219C2/Mark 2 had replaced them.

I sent these pictures to Warren Jones, and the very next weekend
he went to a gun show and found a near mint Camillus of the type
bought by the USMC, with the USMC type sheath which is
different than the commercial sheath -- heavier made, more rivets,
different location for the keeper strap -- though not marked USMC
(none of these hunting knives were gov't marked).


My knife-related links page:

R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern
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