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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bowie Knives for the Troops: 1943

In the early stages of the Pacific campaign during World War II, the military's failure to provide troops with a serviceable knife was recognized as a problem, one that civilians took it upon themselves to rectify. Citizens donated bowie and hunting knives, the machine shop at Crozier Technical High School in Dallas began turning out knives by the hundreds, and one Missouri farmer took it upon himself to do what he could. The following article appeared in the Maryville Daily Forum on December 15, 1943.
Farmer Makes Bowie Knives for Soldiers
Maryville, Missouri. --When it comes to "beating plow-shares into swords," Les Kenny, Wilcox farmer, is doing his part to discommode the Japs and the rest of the Axis crew. He is making Bowie-type knives for county boys in the Southwest Pacific.

Although he has done the work as a hobby for the last six years, his present entire production, which is from three to eighteen knives a week in his spare time, is sent to Nodaway county servicemen. Kenny ventured a rough guess that he had made between 400 and 500 knives, 'the majority of which are now being used to "point out" to the Japs that the U. S. wants to revenge the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

From Saw Blade
Several years ago he made a knife from the blade of a cross-cut saw, adorning it with a carved handle of second-growth hickory. It was of such fine quality that several restaurant men ordered similar knives from Kenny, who lives in Wilcox with his mother and uncle, Mrs. Eva Kenny and Edson German. When he started, he had to devise a means of cutting the knife's blank blade from the hard steel of the cross-cut saw blade. The steel was so hard that it could not be cut or drilled.

He takes a hard point punch and marks out the blank knife, "breaking it out" with a few blows of the hammer. He finds this method the best, because it does not destroy the high temper of the steel.

Three Knives a Day
He then heats one side of it and pounds the temper into the opposite side of the blade, the cutting edge, then grinding it down, shaping it and, sharpening it on a small emery wheel attached to an orchard motor.

If everything goes well, he can turn out three knives in one day.
After the knife has been shaped and sharpened, the blades being from six to 22 inches long, depending on the wishes of the recipient, he carves out a handle in hickory.

With due modesty, Kenny, who operates a small orchard and vineyard on a lease, said that he could make the handles as "pretty as a doll," and carving any design wanted.

Boys Come First
At present he has orders for more than 100 knives, most of them for servicemen, but some for private individuals who will have to wait until after victory, for Kenny says "the boys come first."

Last week he sent about a half dozen knives to Africa and the Southwest Pacific, he said, remarking that Capt. Earl Wyman, Maryville, is wielding one of his knives. Most of the knives are ordered by the parents of the boys in service, for the legend of the Kenny knives is growing. To have one made, they must bring an old crosscut saw blade with them, which Kenny uses, saving the scraps for other use. He makes a small charge for the knives, due to the expense of running the motor and cost of other materials.

Work Is "Essential"
The story came out that he was engaged in the work when he appeared at the Wodaway county-rationing board to make application for a spread allotment of gasoline for the motor. He was asked if his work was essential. Kenny couldn't answer that, for he knew that there might be a lot of red tape in getting the allotment. But he did tell his story.

The only reply, when he received his allotment was, "Sure, that's essential."

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