The original KA-BAR United States Marine Corps World War II Knife is "an American legend."
Ask World War II Marines what knife they depended on during the war and you will get only one answer was- a KA-BAR! This is the story of one of the world's most famous military knives.
On December 9, 1942, after the start of World War II, KA-BAR submitted a military/utility knife to the United States Marine Corps in hopes that it would become general issue to that branch of the military. At the first signs of offensive operation on Guadalcanal, Marines received a Marine Raider Stiletto, made by another company (after the shipment had first been delivered, in error, to San Francisco). The Marines weren't happy with this knife, and soon a new, improved military/utility knife - the KA-BAR - was under production.
These knives soon became the prized possession of every fighting Marine. Marines depended on it for a combat weapon and for such everyday tasks as pounding tent stakes, driving nails, opening ration cans, digging foxholes, and of course, defending their lives. A KA-BAR was constantly at the side of a Marine.
The dependability and quality of the wartime KA-BARS were the result of a stringent approach to their production. In addition to the contact on-premised quality control procedures of the U.S.M.C. and Navy Supply Depot inspectors, Dan Brown, then president of KA-BAR, and the entire KA-BAR company, were dedicated to making this knife their contribution to the war effort. As a result of this personal involvement, the KA-BAR knife met all types of tests without failing. Even tough Marine Corps and Navy tests were supplemented by additional trials: driving the knife deep into a 6" x 6" timber and straining the blade back and forth at extreme angles, constantly testing edge retention in cutting through all types of materials, and submitting the leather handles to severe atmospheric and corrosion tests to be sure they would hold up under cold, heat, or jungle rot without loosening or decomposing. The many thousands of KA-BARS produced during World War II performed well, and the people at KA-BAR were proud of the reports that came back from all areas of operations.
As the war escalated, the demand for these knives was so great that the KA-BAR factory alone could not keep up. The government assigned several knife companies to create similar knives as supplemental pieces. Among these companies were Camillus, Robeson, and Pal. KA-BAR's wartime production totaled more than one million. The KA-BAR knives became so well recognized for their quality and so abundant in number that "KA-BAR" became the reference to the entire knife pattern, regardless of whether the knife was manufactured at the KA-BAR facility.
During World War II, the KA-BAR Fighting Knife earned the greatest respect, not only from the Marines, but also from those who served in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Underwater Demolition Teams, all of whom were eventually issued the U.S.M.C. KA-BARS.
Years later, during the Korean, Vietnam, and Desert Storm conflicts, many KA-BARS were informally re-activated into military service, as World War II veterans remembered how well the knife served them and passed their personal KA-BARS onto their children.
The Commemorative KA-BAR
World War II ended and KA-BAR Military Knives went out of production for 32 years. At that time, the original KA-BAR factory in Olean, New York, and some of the craftsmen who worked on the original knife began production again to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the United States Marine Corps. KA-BAR wanted to recognize this great milestone in U.S.M.C. history by issuing a "full dress" model of the original KA-BAR, a limited edition that would be meaningful to the Marines.
Throughout the production of the commemorative knife, a few KA-BAR senior employees proudly performed the same tasks they had worked on during the war effort, 1942-1945. The completed knives were a true work of art and spirit, retaining the look, feel, and performance of a battle-ready combat knife. KA-BAR was proud to present Serial No. 1 to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. This knife is now on display in the U.S.M.C. Museum at Quantico.
KA-BAR comes back
The U.S.M.C. Commemorative was so enthusiastically received that it became obvious that the old KA-BAR Military/Utility Knife had retained its reputation throughout the years. The limited production Commemorative was quickly taken up by Marines, knife enthusiasts, and collectors, and KA-BAR knew that it should now be returned to production, in its standard issue form, with all of the original specifications. Fortunately, the original blueprints were in the company archives.
So the "fighting KA-BAR" got back into its original gear and today it continues to be a favorite among Marines who adopt it as their own personal option knife and carry it into active service. The KA-BAR is also a favorite of adventurers, survivalists, outdoor sportsmen, and knife collectors who know that this knife is an "American legend."