By Dick Martin
You may not know what a P-38 is, but I can assure you that every soldier that ever trained or spent any time on patrols or in the “Bush” knows exactly what it is. During the Vietnam War, if one was magically able to have all P-38s disappear from grunts’ gear, every one of them would have to return from the field. The P-38 was very cleverly designed to be a simple can opener. It is compact enough that a soldier can attach it to the neck chain carrying his dog tags. It has a strong spine (forged rib) that makes it unbreakable, a hole at the top that makes it easy to attach to the soldier’s dog tag chain or lower a can into boiling water, a fulcrum that allows it to grip the lid of the can for firm steady cutting, a blade that pops out to cut the can around the edges until it pops off or is completely cut off, and finally and most importantly the P-38 can be used for a multiple of tasks, limited only by the soldier’s ingenuity, i.e., prying the cap off of a bottle of beer, as a flathead screwdriver, or stripping wire.
The P-38 was first used on a large scale with the widespread distribution of C-Rations cans during WWII. A P-38 was included with each case of C-Rations. No one knows for sure where the name
P-38 came from. It is about 38.31 millimetres (1.508 in) long. More than 12 million were produced by 1970 and the trusty P-38 remains in production worldwide today.
Taken from the April 2021 issue of Vietnam Magazine in an article entitled “The P-38 ‘John Wayne’ Can Opener” by Carl O Schuster