Share the Story of Your Ka-Bar

Story Of My Knife: This is my KA-BAR, there are many like it but this one is mine!

Mad Duo Nate

Mad Duo Nate's Ka-Bar5On the heels of last week’s article discussing the KA-BAR Company’s 115 year anniversary and inspired by many of your posts, I figured I’d share my own unique KA-BAR story. The allure of their fighting knife started during the Second World War, and exists to this day. It is universally recognized as a symbol of the United States Marine Corps, but it has been carried by all branches in literally every war since WW2.

I’ve owned several over the years, including one of the originals carried by a young Marine in the Pacific.  I purchased the blade from the devil dog’s widow at a yard sale in Oceanside, CA. When I asked her why she wouldn’t like to keep it as a memory of husband’s service, her answer was blunt. She said that she had plenty of things around to remind her of him, and frankly the big combat knife had always scared her. Well worn, with a few small nicks in the blade, the knife had obviously seen use.  I asked if he had used it much after the war, and she said that his KA-BAR went into a box along with his uniform and war souvenirs, which it had remained in till this day. It was a proud and eerie purchase.

My own KA-BAR was given to me as a birthday present by my grandfather at the age of 15. At the time, I wasn’t really considering military service. He told me not to throw it, or pry with the tip. Apparently he had broken a few during the island hopping campaign that way. Brand new, I was in awe of its balance and size. I used it camping and as a utility knife until I joined the Corps. After boot camp it became a real fighting knife.  I modified the blade by adding a WW1 trench knife handle to it, replacing the classic stacked leather for a pound of brass. After hand threading the tang and setting the blade into the brass knuckles, the KA-BAR was the talk of my platoon.

During the early years of Iraq, My KA-BAR killed unknown numbers of MREs, and it was replaced with a smaller, more practical knife. I never killed a man with the vicious looking blade but if it would have been needed in such a role, I have confidence it would have been more than up to the task. It served me well in all the other roles a knife plays in combat. To this day, hanging on my wall, it’s still a conversation starter.  That’s the Story Of My Knife; we’d like to see yours! Send us a picture and a brief write up at breachbangclear(at), and share your part of the legacy of this historic blade.

Mad Duo Nate's Ka-Bar4


First contribution, from M.B. Libman:

Guys, I should be working but this is an issue that means something to me. And it’s a lot more fun than work…

As a Boy Scout, I used my Dad’s Ka-Bar, the USN Mk 2, on dozens of camping trips and along the Appalachian Trail. He had carried on Okinawa and later at Inchon as a young Marine. There really wasn’t a lot of sentimentality attached to it- it was just a damned useful tool. More than anything else, the knife was great for chopping saplings as poles. I learned how to sharpen and care for a blade with it. I gutted my first deer with it.

Later, at The Basic School at Quantico, I picked up a newer Ka-Bar  (with no sense, in so many ways, as a new Lieutenant, of the saltiness of Pop’s knife). You never saw anything else anyway. There was never a ‘custom’ blade in sight. I kept it in my aviator’s survival vest throughout my active service. The little Camillus Survival Knife they issued had no heft to it and I had no confidence in it. The steel seemed too soft. I never had plans to slit a throat anyway. As the squadron’s SERE Officer, I was more concerned about lean-tos, spears and field-dressing wild game. ‘My’ Ka-Bar was used to great effect on numerous survival exercises in deserts, jungles and forests.

I knew the tip of the blade was thinner and a potential weak point. If I needed to pry, I moved the pivot point down the blade. If I had to do something more delicate, the tip worked well- especially with a carefully sharpened top side. It never broke.

I got out and went to work for a federal 3-letter organization and spent over 27 years there. I ended up flying again although that wasn’t the original plan. Remote terrain became a concern once more. Survival training and gear acquisition became one of my collateral duties. It was great. With a fairly generous budget, we equipped each of our aircraft with substantial survival kits. We refined those kits over the years but I always ended up placing a Ka-Bar into each kit in addition to a smaller knife. I replaced my old, leather-handled knife with one of the newer production blades. I like the new plastic sheath, too.

I retired and went to work flying, for a while, in a place described as “another planet’s Hell.” I started carrying a smaller, very stout, custom knife probably because there just weren’t many trees. Aside from indoor plumbing, I missed my Ka-Bar and had it sent over. I really didn’t care about ‘contractor chic.’

I love to backpack, hunt and fish. I like knives. My Randall model 15 is a work of art yet exceptionally rugged. The old, little USN ‘Diver’s Knife’ is remarkably useful. But after all these years, on any trip where the possibility of spending an unplanned night in the woods exists, I take my Ka-Bar.




Second contribution: J. Johnstone

Army surplus stores had KA-BARS aplenty on their shelves after WW2 and Korea. As a young boy and teenager I bought three for personal use. I was a knife collector who enjoyed throwing knives’s. Like anything else, the more you throw knives, the better you become at it. I must honestly admit I became very good at it and one of my favorite throwing knife’s was the KA-BAR. One reason was it’s balance and durability. The KA-BAR would eventually break, but stood up longer than other knives.
I could stand on the opposite side of a alley way and plant my KA-BAR in the center of a silhouette target from across the street. My knife would make two to three turns (depending on how I let it go) after leaving my hand. I could also take a playing card out of my buddies mouth, while he stood in front of a wooden fence, holding the playing card between his teeth. I would always be close when doing this,  at a one turn throw. I can’t remember how many times I did this trick, but I do remember it was the last time he allowed me to do it. I layed my KA-BAR right against his lips. I practiced a lot with wooden crates and other objects.
I signed on to a DOD contract as a security officer in Vietnam during the war in March of  1966. I was pretty green and my main experience was while in the 82nd Airborne at Ft Bragg. Even so I had seasoned Korean Marines and various other 3rd world types under my charge. I was working the night shift at a huge supply depot in Tu Duc, on a  highway outside of Saigon. It was quite an adventure patrolling this high theft area at night. My assistant was one of these retired Korean Marines, a Takewando black belt. I could tell he didn’t like this kid being in charge of him. He was the real deal and could break rocks with his fist on railroad tracks. I tried it and it only injured my hand.
One night we were on foot patrol together and walking through a warehouse of high value electrical items in crates. My Korean assistant did not know I carried my KA-BAR under my shirt. He asked me what I would do if I was attacked while on patrol? I in turn asked him where this attacker would be coming from, he pointed to a line of wooden boxes some distance from us.  I spun around and pulled out my KA-BAR–throwing it at a large crate. The KA-BAR buried its self through a one inch board and made this vibrating sound
I glanced at  my Korean assistant and he had the most surprised and startled look on his face. The next evening for the first time he brought me a cup of coffee. I know it sounds funny but when Kim finished his contract he came to my apartment for a beer  and presented me with a 33 & third album of Korean Marine marching music. It seemed like something special the way he handed it to me. In a real situation I don’t think I would ever throw  my KA-BAR. I wish I would have known early on, that Kim would have been so impresssed with my abiity with my KA-BAR. A Korean Marine honors prowess with weapons.
J. J. Johnstone
Note: The weapons picture is taken in my apartment , on my bed in Saigon.









Mad Duo Nate in Iraq



About the Author: Mad Duo Nate is a USMC Sergeant and graduate of the Camp Lejeune School for Wayward Boys. Formerly an Infantry Platoon Sergeant he is currently filling the billet of Scout Sniper team leader. He has many years of experience as a Lead Farmer spiral tube tech, is a fully qualified American Jedi and all around handsome badass. He has numerous deployments to the Middle East and Africa (combat and CFID), is something of an idiot savant when it comes to trigger-pulling and is probably best described as a Quixotic knuckle-dragger, tilting at Big Green windmills. He may very well have vestigial (grunts: vestigial) sociopath-philosopher tendencies. You can read more from him on Breach-Bang-Clear.



  • moondawg

    Well for one, I would not own the knife pictured. In my state owning a combination knife and brass knuckles or knuckle duster will land you in jail and/or a stiff fine. I cannot ever remember seeing anyone carrying such a knife anyway. Personally, I never carried a K-Bar In Viet Nam and other places I carried a Gerber. It functioned fine.

  • gunslinger6

    My Ka-Bar was given to me buy my father who spent 27 years in the Corps

  • majr0d

    Great story. Great knife (yours and the Ka-bar brand).

    I carried an all black version made by the Ontario Knife Co for 20 years. Solid, sturdy, reliable and affordable knife that filled a wide variety of roles necessary to live in the field. Can’t recommend it enough if nothing else as a solid first knife as one decides what one’s needs are. On top of that it’s a classic with a distinguished history.

  • glockman

    mine has a stacked leather handle,I got it when my squadron was upgrading all of the pilots emergancy gear.used it for everything,camping,working on my car and cleaning fish.somebody offered me $50 once,told them if you want one,either go into the military(I was joking) or go to the army surplus store.he went into the Marines,stayed 22 yrs.,once told me it was the best advice he was ever given.he has 3 in a display with a picture that we are both in.

  • IEAJim

    I have 2 as well, one i was giving by my USMC Recruter, just before I went to bootcamp. The other one I was issued when I became a M-203 Gunner. This one Went to the Desert Shield/Storm with me. I but Black tape (ons strip and wrapped it around the handel, working from the pommel to the blade guard). Once i was told while serving with the National Guard that I was out of uniform, do to the fact that i was carring my ka-Bar and not my issued bayonet,( Still 203 Gunner). i just laughed and still carried my Ka-Bar. And told them OK, do you want me to take the 203 launcher tube my M16a2 off and put the bayonet on to carryon the fight or just use my knive. i got no answer back from that.

    • Jack

      I found it interesting that your description of the use of black tape fits the photo of my Ka-Bar ” authors weapons on bed, apartment in Saigon”.–at the end of my article on the Ka-Bar.

  • ColdWarVey75

    I got mine in 1975. Then on a NATO exercise in 1977 in Turkey I traded it to a Royal Marine for a “Wooly Pully” and a Beret.

  • Peter Voelker

    I was a Corpman in Vietnam 68-69, I had sharpened and stropped the blade on my Ka-Bar until I could comfortably shave with it. If I had to cut through 782-Gear I didn’t want to waste time sawing at the straps. I passed it along to Cpl. Fealy when I rotated and hope he still has it.

    • Michael Ram

      Peter, do you remember Who I call Josey Wales you might remember him as Slade Freeman!

  • Koolaid

    I sent mine home when I wasn’t allowed to keep it in the barracks at 29 Palms because it was too big to have. My dad got it. A few weeks later, my brother cut his finger to the bone with it while cutting Irish Pennants off of a mattress.

  • Hubbub

    The knife pictured is a 1918 trench knife (or repo), not a KABAR…

    • oscar d

      Hubbub. Sir, please re-read the whole story. It will explain why the author’s Ka-Bar looks that way.

      • Hubbub

        You Sir, are 100% correct. I missed the re-handle part of the article. My apologies.

  • ronnie pond

    I have two or three K-Bar pockets knives and one of them is older then me and I am 69.It was found in between the walls that had laths in walls not sheet rock in Joplin mo. in an old house that was built in the thirties.but was torn down back in the 1990’s .One eventually had the spine break. And I got ahold of K-Bar knife company and they would not consider repairing it. all they wanted to do was sell me another knife.But I like that one. So it still is in my collection of knifes but in the broken knife area.Its older then me and probably gave some one a lot of usage before it failed.So I think it deserves a good resting place.Broken but not forgotten.

  • liam

    I used to have a K-Bar knife, they are good for Combat and all around use, but I switched to a TOPS smokejumper knife. They are are simply tougher knives under, especially the TOPS knife, The K-Bar does not stand a chance against the smokejumper knife, the thickness and edge on both are of different qualities; the K-Bar is primarily a combat knife, the smoke jumper knife can handle all that…and more!! Sorry!! I do not mean to offend any one, but the fact is that the knives are designed with two different dynamics in mind! That is the way of things. K-Bar’s are good knives, but not compared to TOPS or Ontario knives! But then again…we all have our preferences!!

  • Brian

    I have my grandfather US Navy issued K-BAR from WW2. It’s the most cherished knife of my collection, because of its rarity and being from grandfather too.

  • ramjet

    I bought mine in Oceanside California. I carried it to Viet Nam from March 1967 to July of 1968. After that I used it to field dress the game I hunted in Wyoming. When my nieces son (a Army Ranger) went to Afghanistan, I gave it to him.

  • Mike

    Marines just like K-Bars. They became the classic fighting knife on Guadalcanal and all through the Pacific during WWII. I carried mine through three tours in Vietnam and managed to smuggle it and my jungle harness out on my last tour and still have it. I also carried a modified Korean War vintage carbine bayonet as a diving/parachute knife while in Force Recon – can’t have too many blades in the “bush”.

  • artymgysgt

    During my 30 years in the Corps I carried many a Ka-Bar.I still own one . The WWI trench knife was something that a buddy and me bought from a catalog in Vietnam in 1966-1967 I thought it would be handy if I had to search a tunnel. The damn thing was really heavy and it hung blade up on my cartridge belt. I more preferred the pilots survival knife overall as the size was ideal and it came with a sharpening stone and had a saw blade built in.Never used any of them in combat other then to cut brush and rope oh and c-rat cans.

  • SGT. Steele

    It’s interesting to see how many people don’t know the true story of how K-Bar really got its name. I contacted the company years ago when I was in the Marines. long story short a trapper many years ago bought a Camillus knife and killed a bear with it. He was impressed with the knife and wrote a letter to the company. His sloppy hand writing meant ” killed a bear” but it looked like K bar. some dialect pronounce bear as bar.
    the marines state k-bar means knife-browning automatic rifle in reference to B.A.R issued marines were also issued a browning automatic rifle.
    I never had the opportunity to hook & jab with my K-bar in Iraq; but it was reassuring that I had one at the ready on my belt. I preferred the k-bar fighter model I bought in 1998. I think this model is discontinued now. mine has the silver blade. It worked well for pioneering, killing small game, and the most common use… opening MRE’s.
    It now rest in my bedside night stand in the event an burglar comes in the house.

  • Jack

    While in Vietnam I had two occasions to throw my Ka-Bar, both of these times were instigated by a wager. One day in the motor pool an American bet me he could beat me throwing at a target on the wooden walls of the motor pool. With my K-Bar I made short work of him. The other was competing with a Filipino throwing at beer cans in the sand, I enjoyed collecting these bets. I’m still waiting for the film to be produced that accurately depicts how incrediably good Jim Bowie was with his knives. Most people know nothing of his extreme talent.

    • Freddyb123

      The military was issued Ontario during the Vietnam war, not kabar. Unless you personally bought the kabar, you were issued Ontario. My dad always talked about his kabar from Vietnam, but come to find bout years later, that it was actually an Ontario kabar style knife that he had.

  • 547206

    My K-bar was issued to my dad in 65, before landing in Danang. He carried it for 2 tours. After the war, gave it to me, 12 years old. I hung on to it. When I enlisted in the Army, I carried it for 12 years. It was against policy for us to carry K-bars back then, but when a troop went thru the ice on a FTX in alaska, the battalion SGM watched me use it to get the web gear off said troop, and made an exception. Years later, after I was out, my folks were visiting, and dad mentioned the K-bar, thinking I had lost or gotten rid of it over the years. He was putting together his old web gear. I proudly presented it back to him. I can’t think of a better blade to have when in harms way.

  • Freddyb123

    Case designed the kabar in 1942 but, camillus, union cutlery, and 2 others were contracted to manufacture the knife. Camillus was the biggest manufacturer of the kabar during world war 2. The military knives have been referred to as kabars before the company kabar was even around. Union cutlery which later became kabar brand, was only one of 4 manufacturers of the kabar for the military during world war 2. Camillus was the biggest manufacturer of the kabar during world war 2 and union cutlery was second to camillus. After the success of the kabar fighting knife, union cutlery changed their name to kabar razors. But truth be told, kabar only made knives for the .unitary for a short time, and chances are most of the stories you have heard about kabar knives have been about Ontario or camillus. Kabar brand was only issued in the military during the beginning of world war 2, and kabar brand only made a couple hundred thousand knives for the military during this time. So most of the kabars used in world war 2 were camillus. Ontario has made all of the military’s kabar knives since the end of world war 2. Most of the stories of the durability and toughness of the kabar come from the Vietnam war which during that time, the military issued Ontario kabar knives or the Ontario 498, so chances are most of the great things you have heard about the kabar military knife have been in reference to the ontario or camillus kabar knife. Alot of people credit kabar for its military knife, and some even believe kabar brand made the original military fighting knife neither are not true. Soldiers have called these knives kabar since 1942, before kabar was even a company. The kabar was only issued in the military for a short period of time, and during that time it was only 1 of 4 manufacturers of the kabar for the military. Camillus was the number one manufacturer of the kabar during world war 2 and kabar was second to camillus. So basically what I’m saying is that kabar didn’t play as big of a role in the military as people may think. Kabar was only used by the military during the better part of world war 2, and it was only 1 of the 4 manufacturers, so basically only 1/5 soldiers during the better part of world war 2 were actually issued kabars made by union cutlery (which later lchnaged the company’s name to kabar razors). Most of what people have come to know as the kabar in the military is actually the Ontario 498. Ontario has held the military contract for over half a century, and Ontario is the only company who has had a contract with the military since world war 2. Even the kabar made by case is actually made by Ontario for case. Basically what I’m saying is that case designed the kabar, camillus made the original kabar, and Ontario is the number 1 military knife manufacturer of the kabar style fighting knife. The kabar you can buy today is different then the kabar used in world war 2. The kabar used in world war 2 was made by union cutlery, the kabar today is owned and made by cutco.

  • Freddyb123

    Camillus was the first to make the kabar, or the mark 2 knife for the military, so I guess you could say camillus made the first kabar. But kabar which was formerly known as join cutlery, was only one of the 4 company’s to manufactur the mark 2 fighting knife, and they were second to camillus. Kabar only made Knives for the military during world war 2. If you were issued a mark 2 fighting knife from th end of world war 2 until now, it was an Ontario 498 (mark 2/ kabar style fighting knife) kabar brand was actually short lived in the military and only had a contract with the military during world war 2, and they were second to camillus with camillus manufacturing over 1 million of the soldiers knives during world war 2. So the only people that were actually issued kabar brand knives in the military, were maybe 1 out of 6 people during world war 2. Most of what people have been issued in the military and come to know as the kabar, is the Ontario 498. Ontario now makes the mark 2 style fighting knife for the military, and Ontario has manufacturered knives for the military since world war 2 and they been the only knife manufacturer to have a military contract since Vietnam. So if you were issued a kabar during Vietnam, it was an Ontario. The only soldier who had kabars in Vietnam were those who bought them personally. all of these knives no matter the maker are Considereal kabars. Camillus, Ontario, and kabar are all in the tri-state area, they all have probably shared ideas, and perosonel, and they probably got their steel from the same place. I mean all of these knives followed the same mark 2 design, and were made of the same materials, 1095 steel, leather handle ect… one thing I will say is that in my experience, the Ontario has held up better, is is made more rugged. I mean some people may not like the black handle on the ontario , but Ontario is the only one who has voted their leather to resist dry rotting, from the rain or hitting wet, and also Ontario is the only one who has kept the same quality and design of the mark 2 over the years.

  • Freddyb123

    When you all refer to kabar, do you mean kabar brand, or kabar style usmc knife ? Because the kabar has been made by many company’s, union cutlery who later became kabar brand was just one of them, and they weren’t even one of the biggest manufacturers. Most of what people in the military have come to know as the kabar was actually made by Ontario. And if you served during world war 2 chances are you had a camillus kabar or mark 2. If you were issued a kabar in the military during Vietnam it was an Ontario 498 (which had the same mark 2 design) not kabar brand. Kabar brand hasn’t been issued in the military since world war 2. Ontario makes all the military’s knives including the cl***ic mark 2, which soldiers have come to know as the kabar. But alot of people buy kabar brand thinking its the original usmc fighting knife and or think others like Ontario copy it, this isn’t true. Kabar, Ontario, Camillus, pal cutlery, etc.. all have followed the same design, of the mark 2, which case designed in 1942. Kabar brand has just become the most well known due to union cutlery stamping kabar on their knives during world war 2, and they later changed their name to kabar razors. Kabar was just one of the manufactuerers of the mark 2 during world war 2, and they weren’t even the biggest, not to mention kabar only had a short contract with the military, and every mark 2 issued in the military since the end of world war 2 has been made by ontario. Ontario makes the military’s bayonets, hatchet tool, and the mark 2, otherwise known as the kabar. The government puts all their gear especially their knives through harsh testing and Ontario has obviously met their requirements due to the fact that they have solely held the contract with the u.s military for over half a century, while other company’s contracts ended after world war 2.