The atrocity that shocked the world continues to transform it, and knives, too. Here is a look at some of the memorials 9-11 spawned from that fateful day.
It began as an ordinary Tuesday. It ended with the world changed forever.
The atrocity of the terrorist attacks at 8:45 a.m. EDT on Sept. 11, 2001, will never be forgotten. Now, 20 years after planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, retrospect brings not only memories of sadness and profound loss, but also an acknowledgment of the heroism of 9-11 and the humanity that emerged.
A measure of that humanity took the form of custom knives made from the twisted and scarred steel of the World Trade Center (WTC) buildings—forged once in the conflagration of that terrible day and then again in tribute to lives lost, and for the benefit of those who miss them and live on.
Ladder Company 131 (L131) and Engine Company 279 (E279) of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) were housed in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn on 9-11. Keith Kaiser was a member of L131. Moved later to enlist the support of several custom makers to produce knives with blades made from WTC steel, Keith remembers the horrific day vividly.
“Because of the proximity to lower Manhattan, both companies started to gear up,” he recalled. “As we were approaching the tunnel into lower Manhattan, we saw the second plane hit the south tower. The engine company went into the buildings first, and the ladder company soon followed. L131 was in the lobby of the hotel on the ground floor of the south tower when it fell. We breached a wall and got out a group of civilians before we realized what was going on. The engine company was never found.”
Five members of E279 were killed, and the FDNY lost 343 firefighters in all. Since then, according to Kaiser, nearly as many have died from 9-11-related cancer and other illnesses. His older brother, Wayne Kaiser, an electrician who worked to restore communications in the wake of the terrorist attack, recently died of illness due to extended exposure to toxic dust and debris.
Keith was seriously injured on 9-11. “Oddly enough, my getting injured probably saved my life because I was not able to dig in the pile subsequently,” he said. “I was looking for something to occupy my mind and time, and one of the men lost from my company, Christian Regenhard, was a knife collector. I thought I would try to get my hands on some steel and get knives made out of it for charity and to keep me involved.”
Early efforts to get the project started were difficult, but Kaiser persisted. Eventually, he contacted several of the biggest names in custom knives and secured their commitment to contribute to a benefit for the New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation. Bob Terzuola, Bob Dozier, Jerry Fisk, Pat and Wes Crawford, Allen Elishewitz, and BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® members Gil Hibben and Mel Pardue made one knife each with blades incorporating steel from the fallen twin towers (page 90, August 2003 BLADE®).
“It was planned with the help of Christian’s father, who was a New York City police detective,” Terzuola said. “Seven knifemakers, including myself, volunteered their time and materials. Keith presented the idea to us and offered to supply a piece of steel from the wreckage of the fallen towers to each knifemaker, from which they could make a knife of their choosing.”
The knives included signature works: a Dozier damascus folder; an Elishewitz folder; a CQB from Terzuola; a Hibben dagger with scrimshaw handle; a skeletonized folder from the Crawfords; a damascus folder from Pardue; and a damascus stag Sendero hunter from Fisk.
The task brought the added challenge of making the Trade Center steel usable for knife blades. “It was low carbon structural steel,” Dozier related, “and I asked Daryl Meier to make damascus for me. At the first show after 9-11, Keith brought some steel to me and wanted me to make a knife with it. I wouldn’t take it. A friend of mine who was a state police investigator here in Arkansas said to leave it alone because it was evidence. Then about a month later, a big cardboard box came in the mail and there was the steel. I cut it into pieces and Daryl made some ladder-pattern damascus.”
Once the knives were gathered, they became tangible remembrances. “They were placed in a beautiful cocobolo box with a beveled glass top that was etched with the World Trade Center,” Terzuola commented. “The idea then was to put them up for auction for the benefit of the burn center. Keith sent them around to various museums prior to the auction, and after several years they almost became permanent exhibits in some places.”
Keith reached out again to Terzuola, who helped arrange an auction, and the set sold in June 2020 with the proceeds benefiting the hospital. “Keith sent me the knives, and I cleaned them up and got hold of Rock Island Auction in Illinois, one of the top auction houses for knives and firearms,” Bob states. “They did a beautiful two-page spread in their catalog and after the auction sent a check directly to the burn center.”
Murry Carter Knives 9-11 Custom
Like so many others, the atrocity of 9-11 touched custom knifemaker Murray Carter significantly. He was asked to partner with FDNY343, an organization of retired New York firefighters dedicated to keeping the memory of those lost on 9-11 alive, and Building Homes for Heroes, a charitable enterprise that provides homes for those injured while serving their country and in the 9-11 attacks.
Carter has produced several kitchen and outdoor knives, each incorporating a laminate of Trade Center steel with a 1084 carbon steel core. The motivation to produce the knives was strong, and Murray notes that the components of fire, water and stone were present both in the 9-11 incidents and the making of the knives. He reasons that fire enabled the forge, water quenched the blades and stone honed them into tools. Conversely, fire brought the towers down, water hampered rescue efforts, and lives were lost in the crush of stone.
“So, the same elements are here in the knives, and they bless people daily,” Murray explained. “When iron is red hot, that’s how we get steel, and some of the victims were burned, the elements fused in a chemical trade. The depth of the fusion was dependent on time and it was brief. So, I didn’t want to do much grinding in order to leave these elements in the surface of the steel.”
One of Carter’s kitchen knives was auctioned for $10,500 and the proceeds were given directly to Homes for Heroes. He calls the effort, concluded in the spring and autumn of 2017, an honor and one of the most humbling tasks of his long knifemaking career.
RMJ Tactical 9-11 Spike Hawk
Ryan Johnson was just starting up his Chattanooga, Tennessee-based RMJ Tactical when 9-11 shook the world. He had always been interested in tomahawks, and was making pipe and spike hawks before that desperate day. Then, things changed quickly.
“I had made a spike hawk and a gentleman saw one of them on my website,” Ryan remembered. “He was with Air Force security forces and said, ‘We’ve got some guys securing air strips, and we’re looking for something that will punch through body armor.’ He said my French-and-Indian-War-style hawk looked perfect for the job.”
The first shipment of five spike hawks had just gone out before 9-11. “The same guy called me up and he was already in the Gulf,” Ryan said. “He said to get busy making these things because they would be big.”
Like lightning, the demand for hawks soared—not only with the catalyst of 9-11, but also with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed. “I received a call from a gentleman working as an attaché to Donald Rumsfeld [Secretary of Defense] and made him a hawk. He sent me a picture back of him in his office at the Pentagon with a letter that said when the planes hit the towers, all the brass in the Pentagon were out in the hallway in front of his office passing that hawk around. A few moments later, a plane hit the Pentagon. Just before that happened, an admiral had walked by and said, ‘This war will be fought by hawks at the ends of the hands of soldiers.’”
A short time later, a story on Ryan’s hawks appeared in the Chattanooga newspaper and was picked up by the Associated Press, ultimately appearing in countless media outlets. “The article was on making hawks for the military,” Johnson recalled, “and before long Green Beret units were getting in touch with me and asking why they weren’t getting hawks. When you look back at the early days of the wars, Task Force Dagger included the first 300 special forces and others into Afghanistan. We had hawks going in with them.”
Orders kept coming, and civilian deliveries were postponed to fill the demand from the military as RMJ Tactical got started. Twenty-five Eagle Talon hawks went to Marines in the town of Najaf, Iraq, just before the battle for control of the city of Fallujah.
“I got a phone call concerning those 25 hawks,” commented Ryan, “and it was from the wife of a Marine officer. She said there was a plane leaving that night with room aboard for the shipment if we could get it ready. I called my friend Richard Carmack and knew his kids might have the time to help wrap the handles if I could provide the pizza and a movie. Now, Richard makes sure things run right here, his son Jonathan is our production manager and I’m still working in design.”
The atrocity of 9-11 and the lengthy conflicts that emanated from it continue to echo through the lives of every American. Remembrance is tinged with vigilance and the pledge to never forget the sacrifices of those lost.
Though nothing is for sure at this time, there may yet be other knives produced with the venerated World Trade Center steel. Terzuola still has a small amount of the steel but probably not enough for another knife blade. He is considering a knife with Trade Center steel bolsters and G.L. Hansen Micarta® that includes a thin blue line in its composition. Proceeds from the sale of such a knife would go to benefit a law enforcement officers relief fund.