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George And The Kopek
There are a lot of people I wish were still around, and right at the top of the list is the South Carolina knifemaker George Herron. George was not only a genius with his hands, he was one of the most generous men I have ever known. I have no idea how many beginning knifemakers he coached, or how many thousands of hours he spent teaching them the art, but it was enough to found a whole school of knifemaking—the South Carolina school. And none of it was for money. He did it because he was glad to do it.
He was also a war hero. I knew him 20 years before he even began to talk about it, and even then it was not much. Once we were looking at a huge old tree that a hurricane had uprooted, and he started talking about artillery barrages, and how in a few seconds they could change everything, and I’m sure he was seeing in his mind’s eye something he would much rather not have seen.
After the Korean War, he worked for a government agency whose job was finding out stuff. He mentioned that he worked for them in India, and had occasion to kill a king cobra with a hand grenade. But my favorite story was about the time in Germany when he was ordered to crawl through the no man’s land between East and West Germany, into a tank park, and take photos of the interior of a new Russian tank.
George took his Minox camera, and made his way through the barbed wire and minefields, got into the tank park, into the tank, and took his photos. Just as he was ready to leave, he noticed a Russian coin—a kopek—lying on the floor. On a whim, he stuck it in his pocket and, in its place, he left a quarter.
Then he crept back to the Western side, a smile of pure mischief on his face.