Constant companion: The Zippo was adopted by the U.S. military in World War II, but became a must-have item in Vietnam

Vintage Vietnam Zippo Lighter Collection – sold at auction for more than 32K

While Zippos had been a valuable companion to U.S. servicemen since World War II, it became popular in the notorious and long-running Vietnam conflict to have the lighters engraved with personal messages – sometimes for loved ones they left behind, and sometimes for the individual who might find their body.

They were engraved in villages and cities where troops were stationed or on ‘rest-and-recreation’. Servicemen could chose a popular phrase or have their own individual message marked on their lighter.

A popular message was the derivative of The Bible’s Psalm 23, with one lighter reading: ‘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 b**** in the jungle.’

Some show the fear of death and regret of leaving loved ones behind to fight on foreign soil, others hint at the hatred for both the enemy and the government that put them in harm’s way… others still show a remarkable sense of humour.

A unique collection of 282 Zippo lighters from the Vietnam War era were recently put up as a single lot at Cowan’s Auctions in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The lot was the culmination of years of painstaking research by American artist Bradford Edwards, who picked up many of the distinctive lighters on site in the former war zone during the Nineties.

Zippo Lighter Collection Vietnam War

Another regular sentiment was: ‘We the unwilling led by the unqualified to kill the unfortunate die for the ungrateful.’

Over the years the lighters have become valuable collectibles, with individual examples selling on eBay for £200 or more. Edwards’s collection had a starting price of between $30,000 to $50,000 and was passed in at auction.

Edwards, who used many of the lighters to illustrate the 2010 book Vietnam Zippos: American Soldiers’ Engravings and Stories 1965-1973 (with Sherry Buchanan, University of Chicago Press), said the objects were a fascinating insight into the minds an experiences of American servicemen.

Perhaps they are not as informative as war letters or diaries but they nonetheless are a permanent record of a particular place and time.

The majority of the servicemen in Vietnam had been drafted into service. Many would have harboured feelings of betrayal and hopelessness, and a deep longing for the lives and loves they had been forced to leave behind.

Zippo Lighter Collection Vietnam War

One lighter, chosen for the cover of Vietnam Zippos and adorned with a peace symbol, poignantly asks: ‘Why me?’ 

Another, showing the defiance of a combat veteran and the seeming inevitability of his fate, reads: ’35 kills if you are recovering my body f*** you.

Read more:  The Daily Mail

Zippo Lighter Collection Vietnam War


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