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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

High School Made Bowie Knives for WW II Troops

During the early days of World War II, a call went out for bowie knives from troops serving in the Pacific. Americans donated personally owned knives, and several high schools manufactured them in their machine shops, most notably the Crozier Technical High School in Dallas which shipped more than a thousand. The story was first covered in February 1943:
Texas Bowie Knives Making New History In Solomons
DALLAS - Dark night in a Pacific jungle .... patrols .... the slither of steel .... one less Jap, then the blade of a knife wiped clean.

Perhaps a knife of the sort Jim Bowie used and made famous with his name, or one modelled after those the Sioux Indians handled, so well.

Both kinds, fashioned from discarded hacksaw blades and files by a group of Dallas boys, are going to war to prove worth as weapons or utility as tools.

The boys -- students at Crozier Technical High School here -- shaped a few by hand, sent them to Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines. This week they set up a regular factory production line. They've been getting letters such as that from a soldier in Guadalcanal: "I need something to slash off my pack when we're surprised. Something, too, to use at close quarters."

Ed Thatcher, a retired mechanical engineer whose hobby is metallurgy, and the school's machine shop instructor, P. W. Loucks, put their heads together. Hacksaw blades were the first available material.

From his private edged weapons collection Thatcher took a Sioux knife for a pattern, but went a bit further; left one edge sharp enough to shave; the other with its hacksaw teeth.

"They slice right through barbed wire, and are useful for ripping containers," says Thatcher. The first supply of hacksaws, which had come from war plants, ran short. An air craft plant offered all the files the boys could use.

Thatcher dug into his collection again, found a Texas Bowie Knife. Delicately balanced. Heavy enough to swing with vicious hiss. Now the knifemakers turn out both styles, but more of the Bowies.
There was a follow-up story in August of that year:
Knives Made by High School Boys At Dallas in Great .Demand Among Men in Armed Forces Overseas

Dallas, Tex.. Aug. I. AP "Thanks for the knife. First chance I get to use it. I'll send you back a couple of Jap teeth for souvenirs."

Crozier Technical High-School Principal Walter J. E. Schiebel penciled "ugh!" in the margin of Marine E. L. Moore's letter and sent it to his machine shop boys. The boys grinned. Then they spit on their hands and returned to their grinding wheels and furnaces.

It was one of several hundred letters received since they began making steel combat knives from defense plant scrap for servicemen in months ago. To date, Principal Schiebel said today, the boys, assisted by a half dozen business men who work at the shop occasional evenings, have made and mailed 929 knives.

Vicious, tempered weapons patterned after the traditional Texas Bowie that sang in battle song at .the Alamo, the knives have been sent to servicemen in every battle area except China, proper.

"And," appended Schiebel, whose pilot son is in Burma, "some of the airmen who asked for our knives may be in China by now."

Men of every service branch have requested the knives, Schiebel said, although most have gone to the navy and the marines.. One went to an army nurse embarking for the southwest Pacific. An other to a WAC already overseas.

Thank-yon letters include many from buck privates, one from a marine general now somewhere in the Pacific, and another from Col. Clayton P. Kerr, chief of staff for the 36th Infantry Division. "If is the best balanced knife that I have seen and will undoubtedly stand a lot of hard use," wrote the colonel.

While the boys get special pleasure from sending knives to Texans, Schiebel said, most of their knives have gone to out-of-staters.

"Well, pal, and I mean pal," Pfc. Milton Henderson wrote Schiebel upon receiving his knife at Camp Roberts, "I am not from Texas, but from Tennessee. And, don't forget, all the Tennessee and Texas boys all stick together. We say: T stands for Texas and T stands for Tennessee. If you fight him, you got to fight me.”

Ed Thatcher, retired mechanical engineer who presented the project to the boys and has been serving as adviser, plans increased production.

'We're going to keep making more and more knives as long as we get letters like this," he said, exhibiting one from Capt. Martin W, Roberts, stationed at an Eastern port of embarkation.
"We have seen two of the knives that you so kindly sent Lt. Lowry and Lt. Besser of our section at this port," Capt. Roberts wrote. “We are sure that both Lt. Besser and Lt. Lowry will find these knives very useful. In fact, there are six other officers here who would like to have a knife of this type before leaving for foreign service ..."
These were not beautifully crafted knives like Randalls, nor were they comparable to commercially available knives from Western or KA-BAR. They were crude, functional, heavy-duty knives that could do the job expected of them. There was an excellent article on the Crozier bowies by Frank Trzaska, published in Knife World.

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