Some U.S. Troops Choose Historic Tomahawk

U.S. forces are using two types of tomahawks in Iraq: one, a high-tech cruise missile — the other, a bit more like the weapon Mel Gibson used in the movie The Patriot.

Members of Air Force security groups, Army Rangers and special forces are some of the U.S. troops who have chosen to add tomahawks to their basic gear.

So why would a member of today's armed services want a relic of the American frontier? According to one modern tomahawk manufacturer, the reasons soldiers carried them in the Revolutionary War are still valid today — and it all comes down to science.

"The physics behind it make it an appropriate choice for any kind of battlefield conditions," said Ryan Johnson, owner of RMJ Forge.

"You take a knife, a knife has a certain amount of leverage that's given to you. The tomahawk can be used like a knife, but you also have that 18 inches of handle that gives you a huge amount of difference in power as far as the power of the cutting stroke. It's much more practical as a field tool because you can again use it like a knife or you can use it like an ax."

Tomahawks Also Used in Not-So-Distant History

The tomahawk was commonly carried by soldiers even prior to the Revolutionary War, but its use in modern times is not unprecedented.

According to Johnson, soldiers have used tomahawks in most of the major wars the United States has fought.

"In World War II, there were not only Native Americans using them, but also just your regular GI. A lot of these people were just carrying stuff from home, stuff that they used on the farm," Johnson said.

He added that an uncle who had served in the Korean War told him soldiers would take the standard hatchet that they were issued and grind the back down into a spike to make a "fighting hatchet."

World War II Marine veteran Peter LaGana was a pioneer in the modern military use of tomahawks. He created an updated tomahawk design and, from 1966 to 1970, sold about 4,000 of them to members of the armed forces serving in Vietnam before closing down his company.

While tomahawks have historically been made in a variety of patterns, LaGana chose a "spike hawk" design — which has the cutting blade common to hatchets, but a sturdy penetrating spike on the opposite side.

In November 2000, professional knife and tomahawk thrower Andy Prisco approached LaGana and got his approval to license his design and restart the defunct firm, the American Tomahawk Co. — which Prisco did in January 2001.

Prisco's revitalized firm sells several different tomahawk designs, mainly to sportsmen and collectors. But he said that among members of the military, the top-selling product is the Vietnam Tactical Tomahawk, which uses LaGana's original head design and an updated synthetic handle. LaGana died in 2002 after a battle with cancer.

Johnson, who had a childhood interest in historical weapons, says he began hand-forging tomahawks at age 12. It became a way of life for him, as he put himself through college selling hand-forged tomahawks and knives, and made it his full-time occupation once he graduated.

Originally, most of his customers were period re-enactors or people interested in early American history. He first made tomahawks specifically for members of the military in the spring of 2001.

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