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 now has launched a new show there called Lock N’ Load With R. Lee Ermey on the latest military weapons. His website is rleeermey.com. 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: Did you have a special knife as a kid?
My great grandfather gave me a Case pocketknife. I still have it. I grew up on a small farm in Olathe, Kansas, and I just can’t imagine a kid on a farm growing up without a pocketknife. Mine had three blades on it, about 10 inches opened up. He had sharpened that sucker so many times that the blades were so thin they were almost worn out. One of them eventually broke off—it’s now the screwdriver. I always had that old Case knife with me. I bet not a day went by without me using my knife three or four times on the farm. I even carried it to school; all the boys carried one. It was a two-room, farm-country school.
TK: How about Zero Tolerance laws?
My school years were back in the days when kids were taught responsibility—our actions had consequences. Nowadays, many parents don’t teach that. Some kids aren’t responsible enough to be carrying knives. Now, because of the Zero Tolerance laws, we have a couple of cases out there where school officials have not used their common sense. They wanted to throw one kid into reform school for eating with the spoon on one of those camping utensils with multi-blades. And in another bizarre incident, school administrators went after this outstanding kid (a 17-year old high school senior, Eagle Scout and honor roll student) who had a knife in his survival bag in his car. In his car, not even in the school! There is no earthly reason those two kids should have been treated like criminals.
TK: Did you use the Case for hunting?
I started hunting rabbits when I was eight years old. I used my knife skinning and cleaning those rabbits, and then moved on to pheasants and ducks. As I started deer hunting, I added a hunting knife on my belt in a leather kit that included a small hatchet.
TK: Do you still carry knives every day?
I still have what I like to think of as a mini-farm, where I do in fact use a knife every day. I’m west of Palmdale, California, In the Mohave Desert, and I’ve been out here 25 years. It gives me peace of mind. I’m out here on a gravel road, no streetlights. I have a little barn. I have animals, chickens, peacocks, dogs; we raise a steer every year for slaughter, we have a few sheep.
TK: What knives do you carry daily?
Well, I carry my little Swiss Army knife (SAK) and a SOG Multi-Tool. It’s got pliers, a wire cutter, a knife blade, screwdrivers, a lot of neat stuff. You never find me out without it on my belt. The SAK has a blade, tweezers, a toothpick, a little scissor. It’s about 1-1/2 inches long, and it’s invaluable. I bet that as much as I travel, the airlines have taken away at least 20 of those little knives from me. You forget you have it…and you’re suddenly at the metal detector…and you have to hand it over.
TK: Do you have a Bug-Out Bag?
I have a knife and some stuff in every one of my three trucks and my car. I have a toolbox in each of the trucks where I put my hunting stuff. I have hunting knives, hatchets; just about everything you’d need to go camping within each one of the trucks.
TK: Best all-around size for a folder?
If I wasn’t carrying my Swiss Army Knife and the SOG Multi-Tool, I would carry a folder with a 6-inch blade, for all-around tasks in the outdoors, dressing game, cutting limbs. I figure 58 to be a good all-around Rockwell hardness.
TK: Does the perfect knife exist?
As a spokesperson for SOG now, I’m getting a chance to design a few knives. SOG’s creator, Spencer Frazer, came to my house and we started designing a series of knives they’re making for me. We designed four knives in all, my dream knives. We’re probably going to have limited editions of just a couple of hundred sets. The designs are being finalized by the engineers as we do this interview together.
TK: Ever find the bayonet useful?
As far as I’m concerned, the bayonet is the most useless weapon known to modern man. In my Marines, our go-to blade was the famous Ka-Bar knife, not our bayonets. I’ve still got the old beat-to-shit Ka-Bar I carried in Vietnam. We used them for everything. Digging holes. Opening up cans. You name it. But training with the bayonet has become traditional. It’s a confidence builder. You can use it as a tool. So if you carry an M-16, you carry a bayonet. They teach the troops knife fighting as well. But I always figured that if I ran out of ammo and had to face the enemy with nothing but a bayonet, I might as well play dead or run like hell.
TK: Are you a collector?
My collection is massive, over 100 knives. I’ve even got three Samurai swords that took the last sword maker on Okinawa two years to make for me—museum quality! I also have an 1850 Marine Staff NCO sword. I have swords from almost every branch of the military. I even have a few WWII-era collectibles. I’ve got Samurai swords that were taken off the battlefields. I’ve got probably 10 Ka-Bars that appear like they’ve been through the wars.
TK: Silly, but, you ever cut yourself?
Oh, I’ve done it my share, but only Band-Aid stuff. Never anything that sent me to the ER. That’s partly because I keep my knives sharp. A dull knife will slip and get you. Somebody smart once said that the only thing a dull knife can cut is you!
TK: How sharp should the edge be?
I still like the old test—will it shave hair off your arm? That’s razor-sharp!
TK: Any sharpening tips?
Oh, I just use a whetstone. But if you’re a hunter, here’s a special sneaky way: When you show up at camp, there will always be a guy who claims that he has the best method in the world for sharpening a blade. That guy’s always anxious to demonstrate. Just turn your blades over to them, and they’ll get them sharp for you.
For all kinds of Gunny memorabilia and DVDs, including DVDs, including “Full Metal Jacket” and “Mail Call” episodes, check out the Gunny Digital Px at px.rleeermey.com.