|The ubiquitous P-38 can opener was arguably the most important tool used by ground soldiers in Korea.|
Each C-rat carton included six cans of food (sufficient for one day's meals), some rudimentary toiletry items, and a pack of cigarettes and matches. Also included was a P-38 can opener: a 1.5-inch device fabricated from two pieces of hardened, stamped steel. It was hinged together so that the tool folded flat for sotrage. It turns out that P-38 could handle a multitude of tasks.
This simple yet brilliant design had a hole in its face that allowed the bearer to thread it on the same chain with his dog tags, thus precluding its loss:
The War Department had its unique bureaucratic nomenclature for this device: "Opener, Can, Hand, Folding, Type I." Aside from opening cans of ham and eggs or franks and beans, the P-38 could substitute for a standard-head screwdriver when field-stripping a weapon. One could use it to scrape a mess kit (plate), strip wires, or strike a flint. If need be, the P-38 could cut the fabric of a wounded soldier's uniform. Or deflate a tire, adjust a carburetor, or pick shrapnel out of a wound. Need decorations for a combat Chrismas tree? Simply collect a handful of P-38s from your squad.
Originated by the Army's Quartermaster command just prior to World War II, the P-38 emerged from the Subsistence Research and Develoment Laboratory on Pershing Road in Chicago. Leading its development was COL Rohland A. Isaker, a veteran of Army field deployments dating back to the veracruz Expedition of 1916. His first-hand experience from these operations inspired his development of modern methods for food preparation and packaging. Manufacture of the P-38 was alloted to Washburn Company of Rockford, Illinois and the Speaker Corporation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While the total count of P-38 units manufactured is not available, we can be confident that many millions were made.