Gunny on the Edge

Since the filming of the classic movie Full Metal Jacket,…

Since the filming of the classic movie Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Ermey has been the world’s most famous Marine Drill Instructor, “The Gunny.” He has had a great run with the TV show Mail Call on The History Channel and has a new show there called Lock N’ Load With R. Lee Ermey on the history of military weapons, including the latest and greatest. His website is Gunny will be with us now every issue to answer any questions on knives and the uses our readers and editors can throw at him. We caught up with him between his filming and visits to military bases and our troops…

TK: Back in your Vietnam days, what was your carry knife?
It was nothing to carry five to seven canteens in Vietnam. It was a hot, humid, hell. So anything else we could drop off, we did. ‘Course we kept knives. You couldn’t use the damn bayonet for anything because it was dull. So, we had to carry a knife and the bayonet—and a machete, in a lot of cases.

TK: Survival knives are a big subject on the Internet. Some people beat up on the Rambo-type knives, the hollow-handle kind. How do you feel about those?
Well, I think the one-piece hollow-handle knife does have its merits. If you put a sharpening device in there, you always have something to sharpen that knife with, and if it doesn’t stay sharp, you could be in trouble. And you can put a lot of gear into that hollow knife handle–sharpening tools,  fire-making stuff, some fish hooks and line. With the hollow handle, the knife becomes a survival tool.

TK: Don’t you have to reduce the strength of the tang to do that?
In some cases it does affect the strength of the knife. So, it’s a question of what you’re going to be using that knife for—chopping down trees or normal cutting chores like dressing out game. Anyway, knives today can be made with a hollow handle without weakening the tang at all. They just redirect the tang.

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  • Dear Gunny:

    What do you think of the Corps new OKC 3S bayonet?

  • Jonathan C. Halperen


    Dear Gunny:
    I do not subscribe to any knife magazines, and this letter is too long for them, anyway. But I have included my E-mail address.
    First of all, what the hell do you mean, you don’t know where “doughboy” came from, you dried-up old wad of rancid pigs’ vomit? British soldiers in the First World War called our troops doughboys because of their fondness for doughnuts, an American invention. Indeed, the Army sent special doughnut-making machines to the front lines. Any other questions?
    Well, I have some (Yes, I’ll get to knives). Both you and the World Book Encyclopedia list the hierarchy of military units as such: squad, platoon, company, battalion, brigade, division, corps, field army. Notice anything missing? Well, I’ll give you a clue, genius: It starts with “R” and appears in about every piece of military literature ever written. Webster’s Third International Dictionary describes a regiment as “smaller than a division.” Well, duh. Stephen Crane implied that a regiment is also smaller than a brigade. And a real-live soldier told me something about a pure unit–infantry, for instance–without ancillary back-up. So is a regiment the same as a battalion or something between a battalion and a brigade in size? Hell, does any clear definition exist for a regiment at all? (I know, this isn’t “Mail Call.”)
    Now, about the knives. I never had the courage to enlist in the armed services, I have never fired anything more than a BB gun at a day camp, I have not learned to dress anything besides myself (which I don’t do all that well), and I don’t know outdoor survival from breakfast at Tiffany’s. I am, however, the best knife-sharpener in Raleigh, North Carolina, at least with flat bevels. And I have learned a little about steels lately.
    I see that SOG uses AUS-8 as its standard. I have not found AUS steels to hold an edge well in the past; but I was using Kershaw and Cold Steel knives from Japan, not SOGs. Perhaps SOG’s cryogenic quenching method makes a difference. Heat treatment is as important as raw material, I have read.
    I have to part with you on multi-tools. The Victorinox Swisstool is the most rugged and versatile such tool on the market. I owned a SOG powerTool, of which a hinge broke with little provocation. SOG offered to repair it free of charge, but after I discovered the Swisstool I didn’t bother.
    However, Victorinox makes its blades from a wimpy steel called 12C27M that has too little carbon for my taste. I would not make one of their blades my primary knife. I carry an old Schrade, Gerber, or Cold Steel folder separately.
    As for outdoor knives, I suppose that my ignorance shines brightly here. When I camp I carry a Ka-Bar camp knife with an 8-inch kukhri-style blade and that handy steel butt-cap for hammering stakes. I have heard from several quarters that such a knife is bigger than I need on the trail, and you seem to indicate a preference for smaller and lighter blades. Well, for now I’ll stick to the Ka-Bar. But you’re the expert. What do you say?
    SOG’s Fusion revolvers are a fantastic design, and if I ever find a job I may actually be able to afford one. But SOG kept that price down by having the knives made in China out of 440-A, which probably does not hold and edge as well as SOG’s standard, American, cryo-quenched AUS-8. Joe Talmadge writes that “The general feeling is that 440A…is just good enough for everyday use, especially with a good heat treat (we’ve heard good reports on the heat treat of SOG’s 440A blades, don’t know who does the work for them).” So do you think 440-A and Chinese metallurgy are up to snuff? I have never used or trusted a Chinese knife.
    Can you advise me on shovels as well? I have strong legs, but the U.S. military-issued entrenching tool is too heavy even for me. I have two other such tools: an Austrian Glock folding spade and a Cold Steel spade. The Glock has a deep blade with a wide groove in the middle, making it most efficient for digging. It has a hollow, telescoping thermoplastic handle with a built-in saw. But its blade is thin at the hinge and might not take kindly to the acute lateral stresses of chopping.
    The Cold Steel spade has a flatter blade and will not dig a hole as fast as the Glock but is far stronger. It consists of a thick, one-piece slab of medium-carbon steel hafted with screws to a solid, well-treated, wooden handle that ought to be a wee bit longer but is still solid and well-treated. Thus it doubles as a rough-and-ready axe. And if you want a longer handle, you can always find a branch and make one. Airborne forest-fire fighters in Russia save space in their packs by carrying only the heads of their shovels and making their own handles after they land. When one is literally under FIRE, one learns to do so PDQ.
    So would you prefer the digging efficiency of the Glock or the rugged simplicity of the Cold Steel? I lean toward the latter today, but you’re the expert. Some civilian backpacking lecturers say that a small plastic trowel is sufficient. But in my experience that depends on how badly that turd wants to come out and how many roots one has to cut through. We’re not planting flowers.
    Oh, and about those old Ka-Bars and other knives of yours. If you want to know what sharp is, Let ME at them.
    I’ll finish this wordy tome with your song. Maybe I’ll send you a tape of it someday. Hit it, maestro:

    Hello, Gunny.
    Well, hello, Gunny.
    From your fury and your rage there’s no escape.
    You’ve got that yell, Gunny.
    Give ‘em hell, Gunny.
    You’re still grinding us poor maggots into fighting shape.
    We’re in the sauce, Gunny.
    You’re the boss, Gunny.
    You’re a rugged old war-horse from way back when, then:
    Semper fi, Gunny.
    Shoot first and do or die, Gunny.
    Gunny, don’t make me do push-ups again.

    Hello, Gunny. Well, hello, Gunny.
    From your fury and your rage there’s no escape.
    You’re no-one’s fool, Gunny. (DON’T SAY IT!)
    And you’re cool, (WHAT?) Gunny.
    You’re still whipping us poor maggots into fighting shape.
    You’ve got the plan, Gunny.
    You’re the man, Gunny.
    You’re a rugged old war-horse from way back when, then:
    Semper fi, Gunny.
    Shoot first and do or die, Gunny.
    Gunny, don’t put me on KP again.

    Jonathan C. Halperen
    2606 Wells Avenue
    Raleigh, NC 27608-1946
    (919) 787-9660