Vietnam War Memorabilia
Vietnam War Memorabilia is comprised of collectible items originating from the military conflict in Vietnam between 1955 and 1975.
Vietnam War memorabilia can include items such as aviation and paratrooper equipment, field gear, protective gear, uniforms, hats, helmets, sunglasses, personal items, insignia badges and patches, medals, firearms, flags, weapon accessories, documents and ephemera, torches, communication equipment and zippo cigarette lighters. It can encompass items used by the South Vietnamese Army and their American allies, and also items from the North Vietnamese Army, the Vietcong, and their communist allies.
Collectors find this memorabilia at auctions, antique shows, flea markets, in military surplus stores, and through inheritance.
For some collectors, Vietnam War memorabilia also encompasses items relating to the Peace Movement and hippy culture backlash that occurred in America during the 1960s-70s.
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-provoked conflict fought in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The communist North Vietnam, supported by Russia, China, North Korea and Cuba, fought against South Vietnam, supported by America and various other anti-communist countries. The Vietcong were a lightly armed South Vietnamese communist front who fought a guerrilla war against the anti-communist troops.
The U. S. Government became heavily involved in a bid to prevent the further spread of communism. This was viewed by North Vietnam and the Vietcong as a colonial war. The capture of Saigon by the North in 1975 marked the end of the war, and the divided Vietnam was reunified the following year, the immense loss of thousands, possibly millions of lives rendered completely futile to America’s drive to prevent the spread of communism.
Types of Vietnam War Memorabilia
Uniforms and Headgear
Uniforms are a popular area of collectibles. A complete uniform is a collecting project, as often only pieces can be found. Some people, rather than collect whole uniforms, focus on one area, for example, badges and patches, belt buckles, hats, sunglasses or buttons. This area is suffused with replicas, so it often takes some detective work to ascertain if an item is genuine.
Specific to the Vietnam War, some of the most popular uniform items include jungle boots, boonie hats, rucksacks, body armour vests, green berets, field suspenders, jungle fatigues, wristwatches, standard issue sunglasses, pistol belts, ammunition pouches, flight gloves, and steel pot helmets. These helmets are particularly iconic. Soldiers would store cigarettes, repellents and lightweight items in the helmet band, and would also decorate their own helmets with pen drawn graffiti type art. Original Vietcong helmets are also a popular area of collectibles.
Combat field gear employed by U.S. forces was superior to that used in previous conflicts. It also saw the instigation of special operation forces, such as the Green Beret, when a few skilled individuals were send on missions. This necessitated certain kinds of specialist equipment in addition.
Badges and patches
Badges and patches abounded during the Vietnam war. Official patches to sew onto uniforms depending on division and command, as well as qualification badges and awards, and unofficial morale boosting or fun patches. There is also a wide array of Vietnamese insignia.
One eminently collectible area of Vietnam War memorabilia is Vietnam Zippo cigarette lighters. American Soldiers took blank Zippos over with them, and, often as an artistic and emotional outlet, had them engraved in Vietnam, with names, battle sites, feelings, illustrations etc. 200,000 Zippos are said to have been used by American soldiers in Vietnam, providing functions as a lighter, a mirror, a signal, and there are even stories of Zippos in breast pockets stopping bullets. However, this is an area suffused with replicas and fakes, along with genuine blank Zippos left in Vietnam that have been since engraved for tourists following the end of the war.
Other personal items include air force rings, marine corps rings, water canteens, food carriers, dog tags, POW bracelets, sunglasses, photographs, postcards,
Other collectible items
- Firearms – the Soviet AK 47 assault rifle was widely used by the communist forces, and often captured and used by the Americans, who otherwise used the M14 and M16 Browning rifles.
- Inert ordinance and weapons: shells, grenades, munitions.
- Communication equipment: advances in the field of electronics meant better communication on the battlefield, with radios, headsets and interphone devices.
- Recruitment posters and propaganda
- Peace Movement posters and propaganda
- Survival kits and navigation tools
Guide for collectors
Items connected with the Vietnam War are not antiques. However, in the future they will be. It is worth taking advantage of the wide availability of these items now because they will be much sought after years down the line. Many Vietnam veterans discarded memorabilia relating to the conflict on their return home, wanting to forget. Therefore there is a considerable availability of Vietnam War memorabilia in military surplus stores and the like, and not necessarily too expensive. It is well worth purchasing these items now, before they become antique, more rare, and more valuable.
- 1968 typed letter signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower giving his views on the Vietnam War conflict and protestors, sold for $9,375 at Sotheby’s in April 2008.
- 1973 press release signed by President Richard Nixon announcing the end of the Vietnam War, sold for $13,200 at Sotheby’s in December 2001.
- Three Larry Burrows photographs of the Vietnam War taken during the 1960s, sold for $21,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company in June 2007.
- Rare Vietnam War Helicopter Gunner’s D. F. M group of four medals awarded to Corporal W. W. O’Rouke, Royal Australian Air Force. Sold for $16,375 Australian Dollars (US $27,228) at Christie’s in March 1999.
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