Sep 03 2011
It’s not much to look at, and it’s certainly not high-tech, but it goes with me whenever I hit the road. It’s made of stamped steel, weighs next to nothing, and takes up no room to speak of. Known to Pentagon bureaucrats as the “OPENER, CAN, HAND, FOLDING, TYPE I,” for some unfathomable reason this handy gadget was also labeled the P-38, but to several generations of grunts it was always the “John Wayne.” And one came in every carton of Charlie-rations.
Well, C-rations are history now, and few will mourn their passing. Even the P-38 has fallen victim to technological progress, though it’s larger successor, the P-51, is nearly identical in most salient respects. In any case, I have an original. And here it is:
As you can see, it lost its showroom shine some decades back. But looks aren’t everything, are they? Performance counts, too. And my John Wayne is still up to the job. It’s prone to wandering off, however, which is why I’ve fitted the short lanyard. (Some folks attach a P-38 to their key chains. I don’t, however. The sharp, piercing point makes short work of pockets.) But enough throat-clearing. Let’s take a look at the old campaigner in action:
The drill is simple: Having chosen your can, hook the P-38′s little notch over the can’s raised edge. Then roll the sharp steel point down, stabbing it through the can lid. (Heavy steel lids will test the strength in your fingers, but John Wayne wouldn’t let a little thing like that stop him, would he? And we won’t, either.) Now rock the P-38 back upright, stopping just before the point breaks free. Roll down again. Rock back. Roll down. Rock back. Repeat as often as necessary, easing the can round till you’ve rolled and rocked the P-38 full circle.
A couple of cautions: Keep a firm grip on the can at all times. And mind the jagged edges of both can and lid…
Of course, more and more cans come with pull tabs. But you can never be sure that the can in your hand will prove so accommodating, can you? No matter. With John Wayne at your back, you’re covered. But suppose you don’t own a P-38? What then? First, ask around. If there’s a vet in your circle of family and friends, he (or she) may have a spare. No luck? Then try the surplus outlets. P-38s are still being offered for sale, usually for less than a buck. Which is probably less than the Pentagon paid for them. But that’s another story.