Nam vets is this true about Kabars????


December 18, 2012, 04:26 AM
I read a book recently about the Vietnam war. The book is called Matterhorn by the way. The guy that wrote it was a Marine grunt so I assume that he used a lot of personal experience when writing this fiction.
Anyway, in the book he talks about building bunkers out of logs as well as clearing huge fields of fire using nothing but Kabars. So my question, is this true and if it is how did the knives hold up? I would really like to hear some firsthand accounts of using a knife for damn near anything when that is all you had.

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December 18, 2012, 03:54 PM
It can be done, but I'd think a sharpened e-tool might be a better choice. (Though US e-tools tend to have aluminum handles.) It's definitely possible, though an USMC fighting knife wouldn't be ideal for such work.


December 18, 2012, 04:05 PM
Clearing fire lanes with a Ka-Bar or other utility knife?
Yes, for sure. BTDT. (Just not in Vietnam)

Building log bunkers with nothing but Ka-Bars?
Not very likely.

Every units TOE included real shovels, axes, machetes, etc.
And every grunt had an E-Tool.


December 18, 2012, 04:11 PM
Actually VN era e-tools had hard wood handles. They were for the most part the Ames folding shovel of 1945. They took a fair edge and could be dressed in the field with a file quite nicely.

I hated the newer tri fold that came out in the mid 1970s with a passion and when I went back in in 1981 made it a point to carry an old Ames despite the looks I got from others. I understand that the tri fold is less likely to cause an injury when exiting vehicles or falling down.....but if I am going to carry a shovel I want one worth having! When enlisted earlier and in Europe my company carried the e-tool upside down so the handle was attached to a field gear suspender with a boot blouser. This kept the handle out of the way of our legs and out of the seats of trucks,tracks, and helos. Worked fine.

A few guys had the earlier combined folding shovel /folding pick in an attempt to have one in every fire team.

The other thing we did different was to carry our wound dressing upside down on the left shoulder rather than right side up on the right as taught stateside. right side up on the right it interfeered with getting the rifle to shoulder and correct quickly and wsa hard to get the dressing out of laying on one's back with either hand. We caught flak for both from our "betters" but did it anyway

Having done a bit of yard work with a big honking bowie I would not want a Kabar to be my only tool, but it would beat making like a beaver with my teeth!


December 18, 2012, 04:18 PM
I never saw a Kabar, an E-tool or bayonet for that matter when I was in RVN. We all carried machetes and cleared a lot of helicopter re-supply pads out of the triple canopy using them on the local teak and mahogany. Of course I was in the Army so we had all the high tech, labor saving devices that the Navy didn't think Marines were qualified to operate. We also carried "D" handled shovels and pick axes, about one each per squad.
It took a long time to chop through a 30" teak tree with a machete so, on occasion we'd get permission to use C-4 on the big ones.

December 18, 2012, 04:19 PM
Thanks for the historical insight, kBob. I really appreciate it. :)


December 18, 2012, 04:28 PM
in the book he talks about building bunkers out of logs as well as clearing huge fields of fire using nothing but Kabars

Personally I was not in Vietnam era..., however family from Korea and Vietnam talked very highly of Ka-Bars part of the reason why I own one. In a pinch it can do a great many things but I don't know about all that. Bldg. bunkers not really likely unless it was crude in nature just to provide simple cover at best. The military GI's are issued other tools for that type of work, as a matter of fact I have a grandfather that actually use to swear by his shovel he was issued more than his knife.

I had a cousin once when he was about 16 yrs. of age build a tree stand blind using mostly a Ka-Bar knife from my grandfathers military collection and boy was it crude!

December 18, 2012, 04:44 PM
I grew up with an old Marine who still had the one he carried onto the beach of Iwo Jima. It lasted him through that war, and the next two, he retired in about '75. It was well-worn but intact.

December 18, 2012, 07:06 PM
We used Rome plows for fields of fire and Daisy Cutter bombs for lz's .The odd clearing around a camp by what ever was at hand, but plenty machetes were allways available. Yes I have wrapped detcord around trees in the way :evil: I saw guys useing axes on logs as I saw no chain saws.Mostly we would EMPLOY local laborers everywhere.
A lot of Kabars there and you could use them for a lot of things but time all ways seemed in short supply for everyone in the 2 years I was there (1968-69 and 70).

December 18, 2012, 07:36 PM
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes...Matterhorn? Great guy, even after you get a few beers in him. Got to meet him a few years ago at a conference.

In Vietnam and now, the average soldier uses their Kabar for many things. Including cutting through logs. Used properly even a small blade can score and cut through much larger logs than you would expect. Even though they are not standard issue anymore, I rarely see someone go overseas without one they have bought.

December 18, 2012, 10:47 PM
You can't trust what's presented in works of fiction. Good fiction should have enough truth to make the story telling believable.

December 19, 2012, 01:38 AM
I was a Marine and served in Iraq, we had Kabars but I personally didn't do a lot with mine. When I read that part it just peeked my interest and I wanted some clarification. So thanks for the responses.

December 19, 2012, 02:08 AM

This one is mine. It's around 45 years old and I've even used it for surgery.:eek:

December 19, 2012, 02:15 AM
I have one from 1942 but it has spent most of its life in its sheath. Is that knife hard used?

December 19, 2012, 06:36 AM
Every troop fought a different war over there.
The guys in the delta had it different from me in the A Shau. Humping the boonies all day in 100 degree heat all day and then dig in for a NDP didn't leave a lot energy to hack at logs.

Fire base perimeters were a different story, We did sand bags, and engineers did their thing.

Like I said everybody had a different war.

December 19, 2012, 04:23 PM
You can't trust what's presented in works of fiction. Good fiction should have enough truth to make the story telling believable.

Normally I am first to agree with you about novels. But Mr. Marlantes was awarded the Navy Cross, just a few steps below the Medal of Honor. I asked Mr. Marlantes why he didn't write his book as a non-fiction and he basically said his editor and publisher didn't want an auto-biography. So he changed the names, places, courses of events to label it as fiction. The message and experiences are the same.

Double Naught Spy
December 19, 2012, 05:39 PM
Normally I am first to agree with you about novels. But Mr. Marlantes was awarded the Navy Cross, just a few steps below the Medal of Honor.

There is no reason to try to associate the Navy Cross or the author with the Medal of Honor when the former isn't the MOA and the latter wasn't awarded the MOA.

Neither medal has anything to do with authorship of a fictional book decades after the fact.

December 19, 2012, 07:06 PM
Just a critique here but I did not like the book I just wondered if the part about the Kabars was true.

bubba in ca
December 25, 2012, 10:17 PM
I spent a year in vietnam and never saw a Kabar.
Our unit used APCs to clear LZs. Special forces used detcord. I pity anyone doing it by hand, especially under combat conditions.

Kabars are a classy piece of history. As a field/combat knife they are dinosaurs. Check out newer designs and they usually have a more direct point to facilitate stabbing in addition to slashing. This can be done without jeopardizing its use for a field knife.

I just bought a new Baby Kabar because I`m a sentimentalist for tradition--carbon steal and stacked leather for me! After re-configuring the front end and bending the front guard forward a tad I have the greatest letter opener/boot knife I have ever had.

Wes Mantooth
December 25, 2012, 11:42 PM
I've gutted more than a few deer with one. Not in Vietnam...but SE Kansas and Texas.

If you learn to throw them right, they'll stick in trees and impress your cousins.:D

December 26, 2012, 12:51 AM
You can't build a bunker of logs with just a kabar. That doesn't pass the most casual of critical examination.

December 26, 2012, 03:19 AM
I would say that particular use is only found in fiction. Kabars had more uses than duck tape but they certainly would not hold up well against trees. clearing out bushes and stuff to make a spot to sleep maybe but not removing whole trees.

December 26, 2012, 09:40 AM
The KaBar was a low bid answer during WW2 to the need for a non-strategic materials made 'Utility Knife', meant for depalleting supplies, opening crates, and, yes, personal defense. No hi-tech materials, like SS and rubber as they were needed in the aircraft industry. Just 1095 carbon steel, leather, and brass/copper rivets. I inherited my Dad's old KaBar in the sixties - took it camping and even off to college in '66. My Dad carried it, a USN version, in the South Pacific during WW2 while in the USCG and stationed on troop ships. One thing it was of no use in defense from were the Japaneese torpedoes.

I was a USN ET from '69 thru '72 - and seldom carried even a SAK. Camping saw that KaBar with me - until I dropped it on my concrete workshop floor in the eighties - and the pommel broke off at the reduced tang - eventually to be refitted with a monel pommel, some 'weathered' new leather washers, and... JB Weld! Still serviceable, I just wish I had preserved it. KaBars are still available new - don't do as I did and damage one that has some history- just buy a new one to use as a 'user'. I've found commemorative models for as low as $30! Here is a recent production, my Dad's old one as it is today, and a Bark River Boone - obviously, like so many other modern models, it owes much to the KaBar's timeless Bowie interpretation. My Dad's old KaBar never had the secondary bevel of the new ones. Still useful piece of history.

I trust everyone had a Merry Christmas - and will have a safe New Year!


PS I almost forgot! A KaBar to fell a 30" tree? Mighty ambitious! I used mine to chop firewood when camping - but I quickly learned the utility of a Plumb 'camp hatchet' in that endeavor. It was relegated to making walking sticks and even attempts at a flute - too much knife. One day I realized I had a Buck 110 with me - and a SAK - and never toted the KaBar in the woods again. Nowadays - with a myriad of choices - my woods treks involve my wooded backyard. Time!

December 26, 2012, 10:38 AM
Reference my youthful inexperience with an MOS change I was issued a 1911-A1 along with the complement items of the period which included a Ka-Bar knife. The Ka-Bar was used for rather mundane tasks. I ordered a Randall knife along with a sheath that worked with the web pistol belt of the period. It was also used for rather mundane tasks.

The Randall advertisement of the time said you could cut thru the skin of a helicopter to escape the wreckage. I was in a helicopter that landed hard and rolled over on its side. I got out of it with putting the Randall to the test.

The Randall I still have and have been offered substantial money for it because of the model variation options I requested at the time which Randall complied with.

December 26, 2012, 10:45 AM
On Tuesday nights, Ho Chi Minh would meet me (he liked the air-conditioning in my barracks) and we would play poker all night. If I needed a field of fire cut, he would send over as many NVA soldiers as he could spare to cut it for me. Sometimes he would send them without being asked.

This is fiction.

December 26, 2012, 03:50 PM
Sometimes he would send them without being asked.

I hated when that happened. :)

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