The following article, about a small event, gives an idea of the symbolic importance attached to a bowie knife carried by a soldier killed in the Vietnam War.
Commercial bowie knives such as this model by Western model W49 were popular with troops in Vietnam. The knife in the story probably was of this type.
Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
July 24, 2005
SOLDIER'S WISH IS HONORED
A PLEDGE MADE IN VIETNAM
35 YEARS LATER, BOWIE KNIFE IS RETURNED TO FAMILY
Author: Jim Warren, Herald-Leader Staff Writer
MOUNT VERNON -- A Vietnam soldier's pledge -- made and delayed, but never forgotten for 35 years -- finally was fulfilled yesterday in an emotional moment at a tiny rural cemetery in Rockcastle County.
"I made a promise," Richard Hines said softly, standing by David Chaney's grave, "and I'm here to keep that promise."
With that, Hines placed a battered scabbard containing an old Bowie knife in Steven Chaney's hands, while about 50 Chaney family members, friends and neighbors looked on and tried with little success to halt their tears.
David Chaney's knife was back home.
He bought it in 1969 and took to it with him to Vietnam, where he served in an Army tank unit. The Chaney family had always assumed the knife was destroyed in the attack that hit David's tank and killed him in 1970.
What the Chaneys didn't know, until recently, was that David had given the knife to Hines, his closest buddy, for safekeeping shortly before he died. David had a premonition that he might not get home.
A snapshot from the Vietnam War of a soldier with a Case bowie knife.
Hines brought the knife back to the United States when his Vietnam tour ended, and it remained with him for years while he moved about the country. But he never forgot his pledge to David to keep the knife safe.
And yesterday, Hines and five other buddies from David Chaney's old outfit -- Troop A, 2nd Squadron, 1st Armored Cavalry -- came from cities scattered around the country to stand at Chaney's grave at the little McKinney Community Cemetery and present the knife to the Chaney family.
David's brothers, Steven, Stanley and Dennis Chaney, and his sister, Twila Luening, said they were both gratified and stunned, not only that their late brother's prized possession was returned, but by the unlikely story of how it happened.
Members of David's old unit used the Internet and some help from Myrna Childress of Rockcastle County to locate the family. They initially contacted Childress, who placed some information about David Chaney on a veterans' Web site. She then located Steven Chaney, and the two groups got together.
"I was totally shocked," said Steven Chaney, 45, who was 11 when his brother died. "It just amazed me that they would want to do this, and come all this way, after 35 years."
But David Chaney's former buddies -- Hines, of St. Helen, Mich.; Larry Drummond, of Overland Park, Kan.; Randy Teal, of Ocean Springs, Miss.; Vic Reyes, of Berwyn, Ill.; Tony Dodson, of Philadelphia; Jon "Brian" Kosteck of New Haven, Indiana -- said that returning the knife was something they had to do.
"It was our duty," Dodson said.
"It's a step in the healing process," said Teal, who was on the same tank with David Chaney the day he died. "There's not a day that David is not in our minds, not a single day."
David Glenn Chaney grew up in the Rockcastle County community of Bloss, the oldest son of Lewis and Georgia Chaney.
"He was a man of steel," said Bobby Phelps, of Mount Vernon, who went through basic and advanced training with David. When David was killed, Phelps escorted his body back home.
"I was with him when he bought the knife," Dennis Chaney recalled. "Just before hunting season in 1969, we each bought a Bowie knife at the Western Auto store in Mount Vernon. I still have mine; he took his to Vietnam."
David Chaney was killed when his tank was hit by rocket-propelled grenades while responding to a mortar attack in central South Vietnam on Aug. 31, 1970. Hines, known in the unit as "the Reverend," pulled Chaney's body out of the burning tank. "To this day, I don't know how I was able to do it," Hines said.
He said Chaney had given him the Bowie knife not long before.
"He told me he knew that I would respect it and care for it," Hines said. "He had a premonition that he wasn't coming home. My promise to him was that I would get him home, and give him the knife before we came home."
When that wasn't possible, Hines held onto the knife. Last year, during a unit reunion, he revealed to some buddies that he still had the knife. The former soldiers then began trying to reach the Chaney family with the intention of returning the knife.
They initially planned to deliver the knife quietly. But when the word spread here, a small memorial service was organized, with a color guard from Rockcastle County's American Legion Post 71. Harold Burdette, 18, for whom Vietnam is only a piece of history, played taps, and family members and friends from around the county turned out to be part of the moment.
David Chaney's parents died some years ago.
"I just wish they could have been here for this," Luening said yesterday.
Ricky Bullock, a cousin who was only 5 when David Chaney died but vividly remembers his funeral, perhaps summed up the day best: "This is not just about a knife. It's like getting a part of David back home."