A 1st Lieutenant’s Legacy
THE ORIGINAL DAN-D GREEN BERET KNIFE
“GODSEY LOVED WEAPONS. HE WAS A GO-GETTER. HE HAD ONE OF THE FIRST ’65 MUSTANGS. HE WASN’T REAL BIG, BUT IN A FIGHT, YOU’D WANT HIM ON YOUR SIDE.”
In every military conflict since 1967, soldiers have carried DAN-D Green Beret Knives. Here’s the story behind the very first DAN-D Green Beret Knife—its maker, the soldier who commissioned it, and the tumultuous times that surrounded it.
Patriotism in the 1960s
Patriotism was not always popular during the 1960s. The nation was deeply divided during this time of political assassinations, civil rights struggles, and the Vietnam War.
Many popular songs were anti-war. But in January 1966, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” rose to the top of the charts. The patriotic song was Billboard’s No. 1 single that year. Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler had written the song while he was training to be a medic. Here are some lines from the lyrics:
Silver wings upon their chest
These are men America's best
100 men will test today
But only three win the Green Beret
1st Lt. James F. “Fred” Godsey
Think about that: three out of 100. You must be tough, resilient, and intelligent to earn the Green Beret. The training is physically arduous and mentally exhausting. But James F. “Fred” Godsey was up to it.
Godsey had already served four years in the Marines, having enlisted in 1959 at age 17.
After a brief stint in the Marine Reserves, Godsey enlisted in the U.S. Army in early 1964. He began his Green Beret training.
Why would someone who’d already served as a Marine go through all of that?
“Fred had a yearning to succeed, to be the best in his class,” Godsey’s brother recalls. “He was ‘gung-ho’ and self-confident.” I have had the pleasure of hearing from some of his classmates and those who served with him. Godsey was a patriot who felt the need to serve, recalls a classmate who served with him. Fred was “the real Rambo type—highly skilled in every way,” another classmate recalls.
Godsey Commissions a Knife
Godsey could have made do with the standard issue Ka-bar, but he wanted something special. He needed something much stouter, something he could depend on while he was fighting in another country. He sought out Chief Petty Officer Dan Dennehy (my dad), who’d been making fighting knives since serving in the Navy during World War II. At the time, our family was living in Virginia Beach, and my dad was stationed at Naval Air Station, Norfolk.
Godsey and Dennehy exchanged drawings and the work on the knife commenced. The drawing that Godsey sent looked like a larger and stouter Ka-bar. Dennehy sent back his version with notes. That is the one that became the Green Beret model. The original drawing was returned to me with the knife. While faded, the handwritten notes are still legible.
The knife was made from quarterinch high carbon steel. It has a 7.5 x 1.5-inch blade with the top edge sharpened. It sports a double lugged brass hilt and a brass butt cap. The handle is Philippine Kamagong with a brass escutcheon.
The hand-tooled leather sheath is in great condition for a 52-yearold piece of work. Dennehy was
well known for his sheaths. He customized sheaths at a time when customization wasn’t common, and they always earned him extra kudos from his customers and other makers.
Naming this model “The Green Beret” in 1967 was a given.
We do not have any firsthand knowledge of how Godsey used the knife in Vietnam. That part is left up to our imaginations. We do know that Godsey received it. In one of his handwritten letters, he brags about being the inspiration for Dan-d Knives to his peers.
After Godsey was killed, the knife— along with the original drawing with Dennehy’s notes—were returned to Godsey’s family. The family found me online awhile back. A few years later, the knife finally made it back to the Dennehy family.