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U.S. Military Bolos

Indiana Jones faces off with a sword-wielding opponent on the streets of Cairo in Raiders of the Lost Ark (source: Paramount Home Entertainment (Firm). (2008). Raiders of the lost ark. Hollywood, Calif: Paramount Home Entertainment).

When confronted by a henchman in a scene from the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) notices the fancy blade-wielding skills of his opponent. Unimpressed by the acrobatics and the fancy blade-twirling bad-guy, Indy retrieves his revolver from his holster firing a single, well-placed shot, dropping the adversary nonchalantly.

I don’t profess to have knowledge of the type of sword wielded by unimportant character in that film nor do I have expert knowledge in the field of military edged weaponry. What I do have in my scabbard is the ability to use the research tools at my disposal – which comes in quite handy when given an arsenal of knives, swords, bayonets and bolo knives.

A few years ago, I was asked to catalog and obtain value estimates of some militaria pieces that were part of a family member’s collection. He had passed away some time before and his executor was carrying out the responsibilities of handling the estate. In the previous years, I had only seen a few items from the collection so I was surprised when I saw what was there for me to review. After completing my work on behalf of the state, I later learned that I was to receive some of the pieces that I had appraised, much to my surprise.

Of the blades I had inherited, three were quite unique, different from the rest of the pieces. Two of the three blades were almost identical in form and the other was a slight departure from the others. What set these blades apart from the rest was machete-like design with more size toward the end of the blade, giving the blade a bit of weight toward the end of the blade rather than at the center or toward the hilt. The design of these blades were fashioned after the weapon of choice of the Filipino resistance fighters from the revolt that started at the end of the Spanish-American war in 1898.

Known simply as bolo knives, the U.S. military-issue blades were less weapon and more utilitarian in function.

M1904 bolo and scabbard

The unique brass belt hanger of the leather-clad scabbard is much different from most WWI web gear attachments.

WWI Bolo

The M1904 hospital corps bolo with its unique s-shaped brass hilt.

Now in my collection, the oldest of the three knives is the M1904 Hospital Corps Knife. Though many people suspect that the broad and heavy blade was important to facilitate field amputations, this thought is merely lore. Along with the knife is a bulky, leather-clad scabbard with a heavy brass swiveling brass belt hanger. My particular example is stamped with the date, “1914” which is much later in the production run. The M1904 knives were issued to field medical soldiers as the United States entered World War I in 1917.

WWI Bolo Madchete

The scabbard and blade of the M1910 bolo.

The second knife is less bolo and more machete in its design. The M1910 bolo was designed and implemented for use as a brush-clearing tool. Some collectors reference the M1910 as a machine-gunner’s bolo as it was employed by the gun crews and used to clear machine gun nests of foliage and underbrush. My M1910 bolo is date-stamped 1917 and includes the correct leather-tipped, canvas-covered wooden scabbard.

USMC WWII Bolo and scabbard

This 1944-dated USMC bolo and scabbard are a cherished part of my collection.

USMC WWII Bolo

The blade and hilt of the USMC World War II bolo.

The last bolo in my collection is probably the most sought-after of the three examples. Stamped U.S.M.C. directly on the blade, these knives were issued to U.S. Navy pharmacist’s mates who were attached to U.S. Marine Corps units. This detail leads many collectors to improperly conclude that the markings on the blade clearly indicate that the knives were made for the Marines. While this is indirectly true, the U.S.M.C. markings represent the United States Medical Corps, a branch of the U.S. Navy. On the reverse side, the blade is date-stamped, “1944” making the blade clearly a World War II-issued knife.

Although the blades are relatively inexpensive, they are considerably valuable to me as they come from a family member’s collection and were handed down to me.



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Bill I think the Corpman's bolo was probably used for foraging and brush removal as was the Marine bolo. the blade in the middle has a spear point made for thrusting, I believe these are more accurately "Heavy Fighting Knives" designed to penetrate the heavy clothing of the Kaiser's Soldiers in the trenches. Correct me if I'm wrong. Nice specimens. Bill October 18th, 2012 at 1:48 AM

M. S. Hennessy

M. S. Hennessy Bill - thank you for your input! Yes, the hospital corps bolos were primarily used to clear brush. Not only that, but one can imagine that they were a fairly general tool used for just about anything that required a bit of oomph. If you handle one of the USMC (which stands for United States Medical Corps - not Marine Corps as it is often erroneously referred to) blades, you'll note the weight and strength. I'd imagine they were used for hammering, opening coconuts, etc. along with whatever else was needed. The bolos with the pointed tips would, in my opinion, make lousy fighting knifes as they were too thick and broad to penetrate the heavy wool. I'd imagine most guys wanted to have the knuckle knifes (long, slender blades with "brass-knuckle" handles for close-in fighting) over the bolos. Overall, bolos were consistently a utilitarian tool rather than for combat. October 18th, 2012 at 1:27 PM

Brooke Carroll I have a bolo stamped U.S.M.C. Chatillon, N.Y. No date on the other side of blade. It looks exactly like the last image above. The sheath is stamped on the belt clip, USMC Boyt 43 and has an eyelet ringed hold in the bottom as if it could be hung upside down (?) Am interested in the value. Can you help? December 13th, 2013 at 1:35 PM

M. S. Hennessy

M. S. Hennessy Brooke, While I would love to give you a valuation for your knife, it would be reckless of me to conduct a sight-unseen appraisal. There are several factors that come to bear with collectible item such as specific identifying marks, condition and completeness, etc. What you can do is to monitor current sales of similar blades (not what the seller is asking, but what they actually SELL for). Use that as a guideline - specifically if you can find a blade that closely resembles yours in condition, year of manufacture (check the scabbard for a faint, tool-stamped date), etc. Here is a list of eBay auctions for U.S. Medical Corps (NOT Marine Corps as most people assume) knives. December 13th, 2013 at 2:14 PM

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