Editor’s note: Few if any writers were better equipped to write about one of their peers than knife-throwing legend and BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member Harry K. McEvoy. Join us in celebrating BLADE®’s 45th anniversary with a recap of Harry’s story “The Saga of Skeeter Vaughan” from the April 1982 issue of The American Blade.
George E. “Skeeter” Vaughan holds the distinction of making the most fantastic knife throw in recorded history—and considering the circumstances surrounding his legendary feat, he most likely will maintain his grasp on that honor for a long time to come.
An American Cherokee Indian whose given name was “Grey Otter,” Vaughan was a member of an elite Army unit called the U.S. Moccasin Rangers, all 15 members of which were American Indians especially gifted with excellent night sight. At the age of 19 he enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry in 1942, and later landed with his unit on Omaha Beach two days after D-Day in June 1944. Two weeks later the Moccasin Rangers were formed.
On a snowy November night in 1944, Skeeter and five other members of the Moccasin Rangers were given the assignment of knocking out a German bunker with pillbox on the Siegfried Line to make way for an American advance. Belly down in the snow behind the bunker concealed on the brow of a hill in a small stand of timber about 35 yards away, Vaughan and his men were faced with the problem of how to neutralize the emplacement.
Outside the bunker was a German sentry with his back to the hill where Vaughan and his men were positioned. The sentry had to be eliminated—and eliminated silently so he could not warn the other German soldiers. There was too much open ground for one of the Rangers to cross it and silence the sentry, and a gunshot would alert the enemy.
A sergeant and commander of the patrol, Vaughan was asked by one of his men if he could take out the sentry by throwing his bayonet/knife. As a boy, Vaughan had lived on Indian reservations and was taught all about weapons by his grandfather, old Limping Bear, a Cherokee born in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Skeeter’s training included throwing knives and tomahawks, and he had put that training to use prior to the war hurling hawks and 16-inch knives made from old bayonets in performances at rodeos and in “Doc Willetson’s Big Medicine Show” that toured the West.
However, that training was about to undergo a test like no other.
Skeeter crawled from the timber as far as he dared and stood, hoping he would not be spotted. The sentry’s back was still toward him. Skeeter threw the knife with a high trajectory, aiming about three feet above the sentry’s head. The knife turned silently over and over in its long, downhill pinwheel flight. The sentry dropped without a peep face down in the snow.
Considering the distance thrown—later measured at 87 feet—it was probably the longest successful throw in battle in the annals of knife throwing.
Later in life, Skeeter found acting roles in Happy Days, Gunsmoke, The Six Million Dollar Man, Magnum, P.I. and Revolution, per IMDB. He died in 1989.
To get a better feel for what happened on that snowy day in 1944, here’s a re-enactment. Remember that Skeeter only had one chance to get it right.