The great offensive had begun and Camillus made a perfect record on deliveries!
The men and women on the job were industrial defenders of freedom. They backed up the 117 Camillus employees who had gone into the armed forces and the millions of others in service whom they supplied with essential knives.
The Marine Corps ordered a seven-inch fighting knife with a heavy butt and a threaded nut. Camillus Cutlery Company did not approve of the government specifications, and said so. But we had our orders to proceed as the need was critical.
The first delivery of 18,000 knives passed inspection. And then something happened. One of these heavy knives fell on a concrete floor and the butt broke.
Camillus’ President, Alfred B. Kastor insisted that all fighting knives be returned to the factory before any could be shipped to the field for service.
Meanwhile our engineers had been working on a redesign. They came up with a stronger and more practical weapon, capable of digging a fox hole and even chopping kindling. They devised a new method of making the handle, with leather washers milled to fit the hand for a good grip.
The authorities gave our new design their OK and production was quickly resumed, sped up by original methods of manufacture. New dies were designed so that the blade was blanked from narrower steel strips and many thousands of pounds of steel were saved. The company voluntarily reduced the price to the government.
One day Marine Private Fulmed, a resident of Syracuse on furlough, visited the front office and told how he and his comrades in close fighting on Saipan had made good use of Camillus knives fitted into their rifle barrels. Unwrapping a package, he showed his knife to the pleased audience as evidence that it was still in good condition. The handle had never loosened. It had never needed repair. This was one of the 1,9500,024 fighting and utility knives made by Camillus for the armed forces during World War II.
We were called upon to make folding machetes for the Asiatic emergency kit supplied to the Army Air Corps. Here again Camillus went beyond the original specifications and added operations of heat treatment to the lock.
“Tell Mr. Wallace that one of his knives saved my skin once.” This news came from Marine Captain John P. Salmon, a hero of Guadalcanal, in a letter to his father, whose electrical firm in Syracuse did work for our plant. The young captain and his men, charging the enemy at Mantaniku River, were counterattacked with swords and bayonets. What saved his life was a Camillus stiletto. (see image below)
This weapon – another stranger to a pocketknife factory – was at first ordered as a duplicate of the British Commando knife. But we reproduced it with a much simpler construction, maintaining the exact balance and dimensions, and succeeded in reducing its cost by half.
Speaking of life-saving, the harrowing experience of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, adrift with his companions in the South Pacific, led to the adoption of our fishing knives (247,380 of them) as part of more ample equipment of life rafts. And the Maritime Commission and Merchant Marine adopted our sailor knife, with its single large sailor blade (698,020).
The greatest wartime production at Camillus, however, was in Army and Navy general utility pocket-knives. They were indispensable equipment for the man in uniform. For a year before Pearl Harbor, sensing the possibility of United States participation in the war, we prepared ourselves to help America prepare. We supplied the Navy with jack knives.
In the course of the war there was steady production on them, bringing the total to 1,711,012. Besides these, we furnished 2,564,220 four-blade Navy and Coast Guard knives including a screwdriver-caplifter and a can opener. And 38,146 Navy marlin spike knives.
All divisions of the Army kept demanding production. For the Engineers we made 3,282,988 tool knives containing a punch tool knives containing a punch tool among others. The Signal Corps, along with the Navy and other forces, received 2,183,136 electricians’ knives from us with lock screwdrivers. Three-blade utility knives for the Army Air Corps totaled 1,042,040.
The Quartermaster called for bread knives, butcher knives, paring knives, spatulas. We responded with 855,472 of these items.
It took a heap of manufacturing to produce this enormous output. It took planning, resourcefulness, loyalty – and good humor in those hectic years.
Forced schedules had to be met. Difficulties were faced in procuring supplies of raw materials, in charting production, breaking bottlenecks, and training new personnel. Ingenuity was exercised in undertaking new products and creating new techniques.
All knives had to be kept within the exceedingly close tolerances of the government’s specifications. This meant building new dies and fixtures, new grinding machines. It required special skills. We set up an inspection system providing 100 percent inspection of every article.
As the war effort reached a peak early in 1945, the War Production Board declared that the military demands for knives were so high, and the shortage of manpower in the knife industry so acute, that the number of knives available to cattleman, fishermen, mechanics, carpenters, and other civilian users must be further limited. “Knives are vital equipment for bomber crews, ski troopers, sailors, and signalmen.”
Army-Navy “E” Award
“It is the work of your hands that has given American soldiers from Alaska to Australia, from Britain to Buna, from the Solomons to Sicily, the knives they need for fighting.”
The speaker was Lieut. Col. Ros-well P. Rosengren, representing the Army and the Navy at a gathering of the Camillus family in their recreation hall on August 17,1943. First he told them of his student days at Colgate, in the neighboring Chenango Valley, when he came to know Camillus Hill. “I then owned a pocketknife, since lost, which was the product of your skilled workers.”
He was proud, now, “of the greater privilege of revisiting Camillus and the Camillus Cutlery Company on this momentous occasion.”
The occasion was the honoring of the heroes of the production line in this village.
In presenting the Army-Navy “E” Award flag to the management and employees of the company, Lieut. Col. Rosengren declared that this award was a recognition by “your government, the people of the United States, that you of Camillus Cutlery have been elected to receive this civilian Distinguished Service Cross for your service ‘above and beyond the call of duty.’”
We were the first in the industry to win it and one of the few firms in the entire land so honored so early.
“E” stood for excellence. Spurred on to further accomplishment, our people won a star for their flag on March 4, 1944, and another on October 21 of that year, as symbols of continued excellence. And a third star was added on August 18, 1945, acknowledging the final exertion of effort to achieve victory.
This is our war story – in part. What is missing are the personal sacrifices, the individual strivings and satisfactions, which woven together form the fabric of American patriotism.
Article originally published in the October, 1951 issue of Camillus Digest