P 38 Military Can Opener
Story by Maj. Renita Foster
It was developed in just 30 days in the summer of 1942 by the
Subsistence Research Laboratory in Chicago. And never in its 52-year
history has it been known to break, rust, need sharpening or polishing.
Perhaps that is why many soldiers, past and present, regard the P-38
C-ration can opener as the Army's best invention.
C-rations have long since been replaced with the more convenient Meals,
Ready to Eat (MREs), but the fame of the P-38 persists, thanks to the
uses stemming from the unique blend of ingenuity and creativity all
soldiers seem to have.
"The P-38 is one of those tools you keep and never want to get rid of,"
said Sgt. Scott Kiraly, a military policeman. "I've had my P-38 since
joining the Army 11 years ago and kept it because I can use it as a
screwdriver, knife, anything."
The most vital use of the P-38, however, is the very mission it was
designed for, said Fort Monmouth, N.J., garrison commander Col. Paul
"When we had C-rations, the P-38 was your access to food; that made it
the hierarchy of needs," Baerman said. "Then soldiers discovered it was
extremely simple, lightweight, multipurpose tool. I think in warfare,
the simpler something is and the easier access it has, the more you're
to use it. The P-38 had all of those things going for it."
The tool acquired its name from the 38 punctures required to open a
C-ration can, and from the boast that it performed with the speed of the
War II P-38 fighter plane.
"Soldiers just took to the P-38 naturally," said World War II veteran
John Bandola. "It was our means for eating 90 percent of the time, but
used it for cleaning boots and fingernails, as a screwdriver, you name
it. We all carried it on our dog tags or key rings." When Bandola
first and only P-38 to his key ring a half century ago, it accompanied
him to Anzio, Salerno and through northern Italy. It was with him when
II ended, and it's with him now. "This P-38 is a symbol of my life
then," said Bandola. "The Army, the training, my fellow soldiers, all
the times we
shared during a world war."
Sgt. Ted Paquet, swing shift supervisor in the Fort Monmouth Provost
Marshal's Office, was a 17-year-old seaman serving aboard the amphibious
ship USS New Orleans during the Vietnam war when he got his first P-38.
The ship's mission was to transport Marines off the coast of Da Nang.
On occasional evenings, Marines gathered near Paquet's duty position on
the fantail for simple pleasures like "Cokes, cigarettes, conversation
C-rations." It was during one of these nightly sessions that Paquet came
in contact with the P-38, or "John Wayne" as it's referred to in the
Paquet still carries his P-38, and he still finds it useful. While
driving with his older brother, Paul, their car's carburetor began to
"There were no tools in the car and, almost simultaneously, both of us
reached for P-38s attached to our key rings," Paquet said with a grin.
my P-38 to adjust the flow valve, the car worked perfectly, and we went
on our merry way."
Paquet"s P-38 is in a special box with his dog tags, a .50-caliber round
from the ship he served on, his Vietnam Service Medal, South Vietnamese
and a surrender leaflet from Operation Desert Storm provided by a
nephew. "It will probably be on my dresser until the day I die," Paquet
The feelings veterans have for the P-38 aren't hard to understand,
according to 1st Sgt. Steve Wilson of the Chaplain Center and School at
"When you hang on to something for 26 years," he said, "it's very hard
to give it up. That's why people keep their P-38 just like they do their
It means a lot. It's become part of you. You remember field problems,
jumping at 3 a.m. and moving out. A P-38 has you reliving all the
came with soldiering in the armed forces. Yes, the P-38 opened cans, but
it did much more. Any soldier will tell you that."
Courtesy of Soldier's Online