Souvenir's Lighters

The soldier who was looking for an engraved lighter to send home as a gift or simply to bring home a souvenir at the end of his tour of duty could buy it on the Saigon side walk or Tan Son Nhut airport. Zippos were often the only things that accompanied the young men and their memories back home from the war they would never forget.

The Post Exchanges (P.X.) offered about fifty zippos for sale each day and the demand was ten times this quantity. So soldiers bought zippos that were originally allotted to them on the black market.

New in box bring home as souvenir note it is shallow engraved.

At the box office of the coveted items, the zippo lighter was the first. Traded to a prostitute for her services, and immediately sold on the black market to realize her wages. Zippos were of a medium of exchange and could be used as a wager (bet) in a poker game. The winner offering them later for sale.

A fighter who spent much time in the field, far away from base camps and the land of big P.X. did not have access to these luxuries that the REMF(Rear Echelon Mother Fucker) had . The garrison soldier, who could go to a large base exchange every day. This fighter had to buy on the black market, at the black market prices, those items that were sold to the locals... by those who had access to the P.X.

The retail price in USA was 2$75 in 1968 and only 1$75 in the P.X. On the Saigon black market the price was between 15 et 25 $. Sometimes soldiers, in waiting line in front of a craftsman store expecting a zippo, brought copies from Japan or Korea zénith, Penguin or Vulcan.

The famous "La femme ŕ l'oiseau" engraved on a Zénith lighter. ( if you flip the lighter there is a curious picture) The memory of japan is a gift from my friend James, the PX was effective in Japan. These engravings, done with a pantograph are the earliest form of those done in Vietnam.

The zippo lighter was the most purchased and sold three times more than a Japanese copy. The Vietnamese quickly understood the interest in building perfect copies. The average soldier did not know the fabrication codes on the bottom of the lighters and was only looking for the italicized zippo mark. If the logo was correct, the lighter was genuine.
The first copies appeared since 1966, a press machine copied the zippo logo onto brass that was chrome plated lighter from china. Sometimes GI's had gotten a genuine and sometimes a forgery. All the lighters engraved in Vietnam and carried by soldiers can find their ways into a collection..

Another method to obtain a zippo in Vietnam was to send a special order to the factory. The soldiers in the garrison had access to these special orders engraved for a special unit or branch design. Collectors particulary want those lighters since they probably imagine they are not counterfeit. It is an error; Japanese and Korean were able to reproduce acid etched art work supplied by zippo factory.

Saigon engraved zippos brought home at the end of year spent in Vietnam(1966)

Marines usually fought more often and have no time to go to P.X and to have their zippo engraved. During the "vietnamization" ( 8 June 1969) , the troops were concentrated in the Philippines in Subic Bay base just before they left for home. The soldiers had then the possibility to engrave their Zippos in the souvenir shops. The engravings are different from those done in Vietnam. They do not penetrate the stainless steel level to the brass. There is no mention of Vietnam on the lid but those lighters are part of the history and can find their way into a honest collection.

ARVN soldiers have their personalized zippos. They could buy them to the PX if they were lucky. Many GI gave to them a zippo as a gift. (Than Tang in Vietnamese)

ARVN Airborne special force Zippo QLVNCH for Quan Luc Viet Nam Cong Hoa Army of Republic of Viet Nam

I have a Zippo offered a long ago during the Vietnam conflict to an ARVN soldier Nguyen Long Ho of Vinh Long. This lighter was given to him by an American G.I. from Oklahoma. On the front it is engraved with advertising from a Residential Property Agency. This particular lighter is engraved on the back with the name, Military Unit and city of the owner. Nguyen ---- ----, Long Ho. This lighter is scratched and has genuine patina. The individual history of Mr. Nguyen is quite remarkable unto itself.. During the collapse of the South Vietnam as the Communist North Vietnamese moved on many of the cities of South Vietnam Mr. Nguyen was an ARVN soldier with the 15th regiment of the 9th Infantry Division near Rach Gia. He was captured along with his company and sent to a re-education camp into the Hmong region. During the war against the Red Khmers of Cambodia, he is conscripted to fight against the Khmers with primitive weapons. The Cambodians were a well armed enemy. The political Commissars were suspicious about "contrary revolutionaries" and used them as "Ground Powder" or "Cannon Fodder. Mr. Nguyen severely wounded by a grenade during one murderous attack, found his treatment limited to being given Aspirin. He quickly understood that the only way to save his life was to escape his incarceration at the hands of his Communist captors. Shortly after that epiphany he soon his way to escape by boat out into the South China Sea. Soon after many days spent waiting for miracle, a French boat rescued him and his unfortunate companions. Mr Nguyen has since made his residence in the suburb of Paris, earning his lively hood as central heating worker. He offered this special Zippo along with his story as part of his oral history. Today, he is dreams of happy retirement at peace and quiet in his reunited Homeland of Vietnam. This lighter, he has found was the only thing that chained him to his past. It was time for it to tell it's own story. Such an item would have been so compromising to his personal safety in the "Re-education Camps" that it would literally liable him to a "Little Death" at the hands of his captors in the camp.

Mr. Nguyen has told me that many others would throw away anything that could associate them with the South Vietnamese government troops or American forces.
The fear instilled in them to possess anything such as a Zippo lighter was so great that these items were often discarded or hidden before being captured and interred by the forces of North Vietnam (NVA) or the Peoples Liberation Forces..(PLF)…

Thanks to the bravery of Mr. Nguyen, not only do we actually have this remarkable Zippo, a memento of the war years, we also have his oral history.

I might add, that it was not unusual for American G.I.s to carry adverting Zippo lighters. Often U.S. companies would send "Care" packages to American Soldiers, many of these packages contained food items and small tools that could be used in the field.. Many of these gifts parcels contained company Advertised items such as Zippo lighters or pocket knives. One G.I. had his parents company send a Care Package to him and it indeed contained a Zippo from the company. His father worked for: The Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company. This is why advertised Zippos often turn up with much in country engraving and American G.I. laments or poetry from the war years.

Mr. Nguyen Zippo (Thanks James for the translation and additional information)