Carter Rila, My Friend

Our fellow collector Carter Rila (WebCat) passed away the morning of 30 Apr 09.

Carter was a cartographer by trade, pursued his craft with a passion, and took great satisfaction from these contributions to the National Defense. By avocation, he covered just about everything else. He was a historian, researcher, teacher, collector, Scouter, singer, mentor and friend.

His early years in Franklin, PA, on the banks of the Allegheny River, generated his interest in railroading and bridge engineering. Relocation to New Mexico stirred an interest in Mexico and the history of the Mexican Revolutions and the era of Pancho Villa and the US Punitive Expedition of 1914. Scouting and service as an adult Scout Leader fostered an interest in camping and outdoor skills and a passion for campfire and folk songs. His wanderings around the Southwest opened an interest in the lore and skills of the Cowboy and the lore of the Old West.

Carter was a Cold War soldier, serving as a U.S. Army Nike Missile technician on the East Coast and near Washington DC. He found access to the National Archives and immersed himself in the documentary treasures to be found there.

We knew Carter as an expert and teacher of things military - U.S. web and leather field and individual equipments; canteens and mess gear; first aid and Hospital Corps equipment and materials; aircrew survival gear, uniforms, intelligence and espionage activities, and in blacksmithing and metalwork. His interest in knives and other blades was as tools – Scout and other pocket knives, aircrew escape and survival knives, machetes and bolos, axes and entrenching tools – and he was a skilled axman. He tallied up years as a tireless researcher and reader, and gleaned countless personal histories of the common soldier of all wars for accounts and descriptions of the soldier’s experiences with the tools of the trade.

Carter was a member of the Company of Military Historians with many contributions to the Journal. His articles, and contributions to the works of other authors, have been published in magazines and books, and he currently has a collection of monographs on military blades available on the web.

During his last illness, he was still actively researching the works of reporters covering the activities of Pancho Villa and the U.S. / Mexican Border problems.

Carter was my mentor, collecting competitor and friend. He left us a rich legacy in historical research and documentation and in friendship. I, and the community, will miss him.

Carter, Rest In Peace.

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

Above Written by GerryRA


My personal relationship with Carter started back in the old pencil and paper days long before computers and e-mail. I was forever asking questions of him and always thinking it would be the last. Carter kept on answering me, usually on the back of a post card. After some time he judged that I was serous about research and the longer letters started. He was a strict wordsmith, forever lecturing me in the proper use of a word and the subtle differences between a knife type and a knife pattern. Many of his lectures went on to become Carters Commentaries right here on this website. Carter did not suffer fools lightly nor did he like to answer the same question more then once, it was up to me to pay better attention, and he would say so.

With being precise in his research he would often go off into a left field in his answer reminiscing on his younger days and the major surplus retailers of the time. We had something in common and that was geography that he knew. In his younger days he spent time at a Nike missile base just a few miles from where I currently live. He knew the area and the town names. He would spend time in Philadelphia with the large surplus dealers and would often test me on the area. I well remember his first computer and the lengthy dissertations that would follow from that point on were epic in length and content. Carter would hit so many points I would answer or comment on them in spurts over the course of a few days or even a week.

We worked together for a few years on rewriting his book with newly found letters and evidence that would confirm his opinion or refute it and send him back to rewriting. Some chapters had many such rewrites. He had his manuscript in a handwritten form which he later transcribed on an old Apple or Commodore computer in the mid 1980’s. It did not transfer to the newer format so we exchanged chapters and two finger typed the whole book into chapters. In the end it wasn’t who was right it was the point of getting it right. Carter had many friends who had written books in which he had contributed to, his worry was in stating the fact correctly as he had seen too many of them state and opinion only to find out it was wrong and now in print.

Carter was not a condition collector, one of his favorite sayings was "on the first one condition machs nix", it doesn’t matter. I would argue the point with him but he would not change his thought on it. He believed one could always upgrade later if the item presented itself to do so. Never pass up one you don’t have regardless of the condition.

Among his pet peeves were his Military Myths and Misconceptions pages, items that seemed to take on a life of their own usually based from a partial or entirely wrong fact. The OSS machete and the Model of 1905 Hospital Corps Knives were among the favorites to lecture on. The tired old V44 story of his friend Ed Henry would not die along with the Engineer Bolo. It would be fun to sit back and watch Carter go to work on the subject with some unknowing "expert" quoting Cole or Peterson. Having been on the receiving end of those lectures from many years ago I could appreciate that he was teaching if you would only open your ears and put aside your ego.

Carter was my friend, he was funny and dear, supportive and talented, he was one of my heroes and I will miss him so.

Frank Trzaska 2009