LET ME WIN YOUR HEART AND MIND OR I’LL BURN YOUR GODDAMN HUT DOWN

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THERE IS NO GRAVITY– THE WORLD SUCKS.  via

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For our soldiers in Vietnam, something so honest and everyday as a lighter became a powerful token of pre-war life, and a way to express their frustration, fears, and loathing over the war.  These young men were sent into Charlie’s jungle to fight an invisible enemy, over a conflict that many didn’t trust or understand– and about the only items they could take with them from civilian life were a wristwatch and a lighter.  The Zippo became a symbol of their souls.

The often dark and powerful haiku-like sayings and mottos engraved on the side of the old chrome Zippo’s often reflected themes of delusion, death, drugs, or sex.  It was a way for the soldier’s to express who they were, and how they felt. Many were like tattoos not worn on the body, but carried in a pocket. The old Zippo’s live on today as American folk art, and a haunting reminder of a confusing and painful time for the men who were there, and  our country as a whole.

Zippo got behind the movement with their massive marketing team, and flooded the PX’s with their lighters to ensure they were easily in the hands of any soldier who wanted one. You could pick one up for a little over a buck and have it engraved by a local vietnam “jeweler” for about fifty cents.  The Zippo’s also became like currency– a soldier could barter their prized lighter for just about anything– a night on the town, or the company of a woman.

“Zippo’s” were ironically also the handle given to the Naval river patrol boats carrying nasty napalm flame-throwers used to light-up anything deemed suspicious or threatening along the dense riverbank. There is something mythical, primal and powerful about fire that has always captured a man’s soul– whether it’s a lighter, a campfire, or waging war.

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BEING IN THE ARMY IS LIKE USING A RUBBER– IT GIVES YOU A FEELING OF SECURITY WHILE YOU’RE GETTING FUCKED.  via

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I LOVE THE FUCKING ARMY– AND THE ARMY LOVES FUCKING ME.  via

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FIGHTING FOR PEACE IS LIKE SCREWING FOR VIRGINITY.  via

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EAT YOUR HEART OUT.  via

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WHEN I DIE, I’LL GO TO HEAVEN– BECAUSE I’VE SPENT MY TIME IN HELL.  via

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BEING IN THE ARMY IS LIKE USING A RUBBER– IT GIVES YOU A FEELING OF SECURITY WHILE YOU’RE GETTING FUCKED.
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LIVE BY CHANCE, DRUNKARD BY CHOICE, KILL BY PROFESSION.  via

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WE ARE THE UNWILLING, LED BY THE UNQUALIFIED, DOING THE UNNECESSARY, FOR THE UNGRATEFUL.  via

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MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR  via

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DEATH IS MY BUSINESS– AND BUSINESS HAS BEEN GOOD.  via

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GOIN’ HUNTIN’ FOR CHARLIE.  via

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YEA THOUGH I WALK THROUGH THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL– FOR I AM THE EVILEST SON OF A BITCH IN THE VALLEY.  via

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Zippo’s Vietnam lighter gallery

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24 thoughts on “LET ME WIN YOUR HEART AND MIND OR I’LL BURN YOUR GODDAMN HUT DOWN

  1. Beware that at least a few of those Zippos look faked. There are literally thousands of “real” Vietnam-era Zippos being hawked in markets in SE Asia (especially Vietnam) and on e(vil)-Bay. There are guides on how to spot the real versus fake. There is a huge cottage industry in Vietnam of faked dog-tags, Timex GI wrist watches and Zippo lighters. Despite that, this is a great photo-essay for those of us who lived that era!

  2. I’ve had a Zippo since my 18th birthday, original chrome bought by me, engraved brass bought for my 21st, Jack Daniels bought by me and a plain polished brass that I use today. I’m English and loved the Americana surrounding Zippo but had no idea about the Vietnam connection although it’s obvious really. Another wonderfully educational post, keep them coming please. ;-)

  3. Had a nice one with vintage engraved silver Mexican case. only thing ever lifted from the Leopard Bar, my after-hours Speakeasy…miss that and I don’t even smoke…great post. cheers, FH

  4. Served with the Brown Water Navy in the Delta in ’71-’72. There were three things that you always kept dry; your cigarettes, your reefers, and your Zippo.

  5. Excellent post. I grew up with Zippo lighters around the house. My father was a smoker with all the associated accessories and culture that swirled around tobacco. I remember little containers of flints in a kitchen drawer and being the designated lighter fluid boy when it was time for a refill. And my father’s disdain when my mother showed up one day with a new butane powered lighter. He stuck with his trusty Zippos until he stopped smoking after 40 years of patronage to tobacco.

    I had forgotten all this until reading this post. Now I feel like taking my Vespa on a trip to the Zippo museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania, just a couple hours from here.

    Thanks!

    Steve Williams

  6. Thanks for this post. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the Zippo. I got my first one at age 13. I would love to get my hands on a couple of these featured…the stories they can tell. Great job JP.

  7. I heard there is a war museum somewhere in Vietnam, either in Hanoi, or Hoh Chi Minh City, that has a large collection of Zippo lighters that came from the U.S. servicemen that were killed, captured, or just served there. I am going to google it to see where and if they are still there. Zippo lighters were highly prized souvenirs by the North Vietnam Regulars and the Viet Cong. Both for their reliability in the bush and for their mystique. It was one of the first things they took from one of our dead or captured and it was not uncommon for our men to find a few of them on the men we killed. It was dangerous for them to be caught by one of our men with one because that could be “proof ” they were enemy combatants.

  8. This blog is practically a historical treasure for someone of my generation. It’s fascinating to see the little parts of living that made life. Things like that are really what are lost in the history books. I have to wonder when decades from now, if people my age will have anything comparable to the originality and personality these lighters possess. I can’t imagine too many ipods lasting 30 years as items of historical value. Really interesting stuff as always,

    • ^ i couldn’t have said it better myself dheepan. thanks, from a 20-something, this is great stuff as always.

  9. My Dad still has his from that time. It has Snoopy laying on top of his dog house, staring at the sky. The thought bubble over his head says “Fuck it.” On the lid it has the unit, location and years. “3D BN 18TH ARTY, CHU-LAI VIET-NAM, 1967-1968″.

  10. Can’t vouch for the quality, but a composer named Phil Kline has written a cyckle of songs based on the Zippos.

  11. I love those images. My father engraved a Ronson with ‘Fuck Communism’ when he was with Special Forces in the Central Highlands in 1966. I asked him about it when I was in the army and he told me the idea was, if he was killed and looted the NVA/VC soldier would be ignorant of the engraving and proudly show it off. A last laugh of sorts from the grave. I was so impressed I engraved my PX zippo with Fuck Communism.

    My biggest complaint with Zippos was after I filled it with lighter fluid and put the thing in my fatigue pant pocket, excess fluid would burn the crap out of my thigh. Every fucking time.

  12. I’ve got a small collection of old Zippos I bought in Vietnam in 1994. No, they never leave the house! That’s what new ones are for.

  13. I am an Australian [Australia was there as well] living in Saigon [HCMC] and can attest to the ‘cottage’ industry that supplies the market with all things from the ‘American’ war…..it is a bit like the old saying ……the gift [the American war] that keeps on giving……
    oh and one other thing thee BINH SOUP SHOP in district 3 is still there and doing well. This was the base for VC planning prior to the TET offensive of ’68. Always a popular spot for the off duty American and the on-duty VC. Not difficult to predict the out come of the American war….

  14. Fyi – The photograph of the zippo with ‘WHEN I DIE, I’LL GO TO HEAVEN– BECAUSE I’VE SPENT MY TIME IN HELL.’ was taken at Wrights Hill Fortress in Wellington New Zealand and was part of a display showing memorabilia from various wars. May possibly have been owned by a New Zealand soldier. Between June 1964 and December 1972 around 3500 New Zealand military personnel served in South Vietnam

  15. I have a 70-71 Da Nang Zippo. It reads “IF I HAD A FARM IN VIETNAM AND A HOME IN HELL, I’D SELL MY FARM AND GO HOME.”

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