U.S. Army Captain Clarence A. “Bud” Holzmann served with the famed 101st Airborne Division in the European Theater. The division was renowned for action during the Normandy landings and in the Battle of the Bulge. For his gallantry under enemy fire, Capt. Holzmann was awarded the Bronze Star, our nation’s fourth-highest individual military decoration.
After the war, the retired officer returned to a peaceful life in Portland Oregon, where he and his wife Paula raised their family of three children while Mr. Holzmann pursued a career in automotive sales. But almost 20 years after his discharge, Bud began working on an idea to create a military knife, suited for "hand to hand" combat, for our nation’s soldiers serving in Vietnam .
INITIAL DESIGN |
Bud Holzmann met with Joseph R. Gerber Jr., President of Gerber Legendary Blades, on May 23, 1966 and submitted his design.
The left picture is a copy of a letter sent by Pete Gerber returning the original design document to Bud.
The second picture is a copy of the initial design, which shows a guard, grip and pommel very similar to a Fairbairn-Sykes knife.
But unlike the F-S blade which tapered to a point, it instead had a wide double edged blade. The blade had a wasp-waist shape and a square ridge ran down the center on both sides for added strength.
The handle was to be checkered or ringed with concentric circles. The pommel was drilled for a wrist thong.
But its unique feature was the canted blade with a 5-degree offset. The offset would allow the blade to be carried in the boot, on the hip or in the small of back without snagging and aid in concealment.
Also, the cant of the blade offset the natural wrist's tendency to raise the blade. The cant helped to keep the blade level for better penetration in a lunging move.
INTERMEDIATE DESIGN |
The design was submitted to an industrial design firm which made a number of changes. The square spine was eliminated and a one piece handle was suggested.
An undated intermediate design without any nomenclature is shown here.
In July 1966 a prototype was made and sent to Fort Lewis for evaluation. The assessment resulted in several additional suggestions and the changes were incorporated into the design.
Bud was very involved with the knife from the original design he brought to Gerber to the actual finished products. He worked for Gerber during design and for about a year after the knife actually hit the market. His son Mark, who was about 10 years old at the time, can remember him bringing home materials they were testing or deciding to use in prototypes. Sometimes it was a leather sample for the scabbard or a piece of metal sprayed with the cat's tongue material which eventually was used on the hilt.
MARKETING AND PRODUCT TESTS |
In August 1966 a second prototype was sent to Fort Lewis. This version was given a favorable rating.
When first starting to market the Mark II, Bud would travel across the country to visit all the major military forts, Benning, Bragg, Lewis etc. The goal of course was to obtain a government contract to have the knife become standard issue.
The picture at left is a copy of a notarized letter from Gerber to the Commanding General of the USMC base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. It identifies Bud as a Gerber Company Representative authorized to do business on behalf of the Gerber Company.
Tests were done with actual production knives under field conditions. I received the following information via email:
I have a early Gerber Mark II, Serial No. 001043 and that number is read with the blade pointing down. In 1967, I was a young Special Forces Officer and was given the knife to test by a Gerber Salesperson. He was observing a military parachute drop at McMinnville, Oregon and approached me on the drop zone and asked if I would like to test the knife. Of course I said yes and have had it since then.
I carried the knife for 10 years. It made a huge impression on anyone that saw it! I tried various methods of securing it, finally settled on taping it to my left LBE suspenders with the handle down. As I remember, I did make a couple of reports back to the Gerber sales person, one I remember was on the scabbard not securing the blade under impact. I had decided to try placing the knife on my leg during a jump. This turned out to be the wrong thing to do. After landing, I noticed the knife was missing. I discovered it sticking in the ground about 10 feet away.
Jerry Bowdle, Cpt. USA (Ret)
The salesperson might have been Bud.
But adoption of the Mark II as standard issue never happened. Had it, Bud would have become a rich man.
According to his son Mark, Bud always wore different mementos of his military service on his lapel. Either his 101st paratrooper regiment pin or his miniature Bronze Star campaign ribbon. Ninety-nine percent of the world was oblivious to what they were, but he would get a kick out of another soldier, young or old, recognizing it. He loved to engage others and would talk with anyone.
In Vietnam, among private purchase knives, the Gerber Mark II was second in popularity only to the Randall. It was carried by Navy SEALs, LLRP teams, Pathfinders and other SOG personnel. I'm sure that many of these military SF individuals felt more secure having this quality fighting knife on their person.
Bud's Mark II knife design is a classic. It is still being produced 44 years after it was introduced. The design has been copied by at least 6 other companies. Yet Bud never received the recognition he deserved. This is a shame.
Mr. Holzmann passed away peacefully, surrounded by family members, at the age of 87 on April 27, 2010 in Portland, Oregon. He was buried with full military honors at Willamette National Cemetery, in Oregon.