On the back of the sheath, it says, "A.F. Linde, O-930832." That was the pilot's name and service number. And the knife is a handmade "theater knife," meaning, it was made during WWII in-theater. Probably by the guys in the maintenance shop who, when they weren't maintaining B-24s like Linde's, were making knives for whomever wanted them. Payment was usually in beer rations.
It's unknown what A.F. Linde paid for the pair of knives that now lay on my desk as part of my accumulation of "stuff." However, I do know exactly how they wound up on eBay: No one in his family apparently cared enough to remember him through his mementos.
There were tens of thousands of theater knives made during WWII in every corner of the globe, and they constitute one of the lesser-known forms of what's sometimes called "trench art," hand-crafted artifacts made in the rear areas right where the combat was taking place.
The shared characteristic of all theater knives is that no two are even remotely alike. Some are finely crafted, like Linde's. Some are laughably crude. Some are wickedly effective tools of war. Others are comical in their exaggerated shape and dimension.
Many are pristine, having been carried for effect, while others show the patina and wear from use in actual combat. Linde's two knives appear to have never been used. They are as he packed them in a duffel bag or footlocker when he headed home.
In almost every case, as soon as a knife was handed to the customer, the name of the craftsman was lost. And once the war was over and the edged artifacts drifted into bottom desk drawers, attics, footlockers and flea markets, their origin and the name of the owner also was lost.
They became just another curiosity of war, their history gone forever. Not so, Linde's knives. I made them mine because I saw them as a tangible connection to a young pilot and a younger nation. And, I felt driven to know more about Mr. A.F. Linde, service number O-930832.
From service records, I found that he was flying B-24s out of Italy as part of the 55th Bomb Wing, 456th Bomb Group. And he was probably a copilot, as he was only a shavetail (second Looie). Later, I learned that he was 23 years old at the time he came home, so he was almost certainly less than 21 when he went through flight training.
Everything was guesswork until the helpful eBay seller, identified as "Rainbowseeker" in Wisconsin, forwarded me a newspaper clipping that tied the whole thing together. In only a few paragraphs, I learned that 2nd Lt. Arlyn F. Linde was from Fond du Lac, Wis., and returned from Italy in June of 1945, so he was in-country during VE day.
The clipping said he was back in the United States to receive "…training and new equipment before being reposted to the Pacific." Another clipping showed he separated from the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) with 37 months of service, so he was amongst the thousands of aircrew members who were released and never went to the Pacific.
But, then what? He had a life after the war. Did he become a father and grandfather? An upstanding member of his community? I don't know. And I probably never will.
A Google search tells me an Arlyn F. Linde died age 85 in May of 2007. That would have made him 23 in 1945. Right age. Too close to be coincidental.
The "Big G" also led me to a book written by an Arlyn F. Linde and published by the Wisconsin Conservation Department in 1963 titled Muskrat Pelt Pattern And Primeness. That's a little too esoteric for my normal reading. Still, the Dancing Goat Book Store in Norfolk, England, could make it mine for only three and a half pounds. I'll pass. It may not even be my Lt. Linde. But, it was published in Wisconsin. Did his career path lead him into wildlife conservation? I had a lot of questions, but no answers.
It drives me nuts that a man can return to base with gaping holes in his airplane. Maybe with a flight deck slick with his friends' blood. Or, his own. Yet, his deeds are lost to history, and I could find no specifics on his military life at all.
After the war, did he marry and have kids, and did he tell them of his role in rewriting history? Or, of friends he lost? Or, of enemies he vanquished? Or, did he go through life with only a very few knowing of his sometimes-horrific experiences in combat?
It drives me even more nuts that his personal items, including knives, uniforms and even dog tags, wound up with Rainbowseeker in her antique store. She says she picked everything up in a footlocker at an estate sale. So his heirs, maybe his kids or grandkids, placed so little personal value on items on which their father and grandfather had left his DNA that they were happy to convert them into cash at a yard sale. To me, that's tragic on so many levels.
If something existed from such a historic time that had my forbearer's name inscribed on it, I'd go through the flames of hell to make sure it stayed in the family and was passed down to successive generations. No way would I let it wind up in a yard sale. But, that's just me.
P.S. If there are any descendants of Arlyn F. Linde, 2nd Lt. of the USAAF, reading this, and you can prove your family connection, email me at [email protected], and the knives and news clippings will be on their way to you, free of charge! They belong in your house. Not mine.