Anoka County History: The best military invention ever

According to many soldiers the best military invention ever was the P-38.

I initially thought P-38 referred to a .38 caliber and “P” was for “pistol.” My friend thought it was a troop transport plane, and the “P” was for “personnel” or “passenger.” Wrong.

The best military invention ever is a can opener. It was used to open cans of C-rations from 1942 until the introduction of MRE’s, that is “Meals ready to eat.”

It is made of stainless steel with a half inch blade hinged onto a one and a half inch steel piece.

Each has a small round hole punched in the corner for convenient placement on dog tags or key rings.

In its long history, it has never broken, rusted, or needed to be sharpened or polished.

The P-38 was invented in less than a month during the summer of 1942 by Maj. Thomas Dennehy at the Subsistence Research Laboratory in Chicago.

It allowed soldiers to open the metal cans in which their food could be stored indefinitely.

Each meal was supposed to include a P-38, but that was not always the case, so a soldier who got a hold of one kept it in case his next meal was lacking.

The soldier soon realized that his can opener was also an extremely simple, light weight, multi-purpose tool.

It was useful for cleaning boots, and fingernails, and it could replace a screwdriver for small jobs.

The blade was adequate for slicing through small cords or ropes.

If other tools were unavailable, it could repair an engine, slice through rubber hoses or adjust valves.

Being precisely and inch and a half, it could be conveniently used for measuring.

During World War II and the Korean War, when millions of them were distributed, they were found to be useful to field strip and clean the finer components of the M1 rifle.

One veteran of Vietnam relates that someone from home sent him a tacky foil Christmas tree.

“It didn’t come with anything so we mounted it on top of a 50-caliber machine gun on an armored vehicle and decorated it with brass shells from ammunition, C-ration cans, and of course, P-38’s,” he said.

“The hole made them perfect for hanging.  So whenever I see that little can opener, it takes me back to singing carols in 80 degree weather around a P-38 decorated Christmas tree.”

Some veterans will tell you that the P-38 brings them back to reliving all the adventures of soldiering in the Armed Forces.

Vietnam veteran John Koehler claims, “It ranks with your first girl and your first car.”

Editor’s note: Maria King is a volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society.

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