History of the Zippo in Vietnam
In 1965, a reporter followed the US Marines on a search and destroy mission. When the Marines reached the village, they ordered the civilians there to evacuate their grass huts whose thatched roofs they set ablaze with Zippo lighters.
The news report on the event soon aired on American TV and was among the first to paint a harrowing portrait of the War in Vietnam.
LBJ responded to the segment furiously, accusing the reporter of having “shat on the American flag.” For the first time since World War II, American boys in uniform had been portrayed as oppressors instead of liberators. Our perception of the war and the Zippo lighter would never be the same.
But Zippos were far more than an instrument of death and destruction.
For the American soldiers who wielded them, they were a vital form of social protest as well.
Engravings made by US soldiers on their lighters during the height of the conflict, between 1965 and 1973, became a personal expression.
The humble Zippo became a talisman, companion and a canvas for both personal and political expression, engraved with etchings of peace signs and marijuana leaves and slogans steeped in all the rock lyrics, sound bites, combat slang, and antiwar mottos of the time.
Part pop art and part military artifact, they collectively capture the large moods of the sixties and the darkest days of Vietnam …all through the world of the tiny Zippo.
The 1st Cav's Fight for LZ X-Ray
History of the Engravings
The phrase "it don't mean nothin’" was not just a lyric to Johnny Cash’s “Drive On.”
The origin of the phrase can be traced back to November 1965 when 450 soldiers of the 1st Air Cavalry Division were dropped into a small clearing in the Ia Drang Valley. They were immediately surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers.
Three days later, a sister battalion also engaged in a vicious fire-fight only 2-1/2 miles away. Landing Zones LZ X-Ray and LZ Albany constituted one of the most savage and significant battles of the Vietnam War.
A reporter asked a surviving soldier about the American loss of life, to which he responded, “it don’t mean nothing.” Many started using the phrase as an incantation when a comrade was killed, something to say to keep them from going crazy.
The story of the battle later became the book and movie, “We Were Soldiers – Once and Young.” with Mel Gibson.
In May of 1969, the 101st Airborne engaged in pitched battles just a mile east of Laos, overlooking the shell pocked A-Shau Valley.
This battle for heavily fortified Hill 937, known locally as Ap Bia Mountain or later as “Hamburger Hill,” also inspired the phrase “It don’t mean nothin’.” Soon, those words started appearing on Zippo Lighters.
The refrain later became known to the general public in the powerful 1987 movie “Hamburger Hill”.
Ever since the war, that phrase has become synonymous with the sacrifices of young men in the Vietnam War and the strength with which so many living veterans have dealt with the post traumatic stress and haunting memories.
The corruption of the 23rd Psalm… “Yea though I walk...” was engraved on more Zippos than any other. Most of the other sayings were too offensive to be shown to a girlfriend, wife or family member, especially with the various obscene cartoons.
The significance of this Zippo to a Vietnam Veteran transcends the purpose of lighting a cigarette. It will also become a source of pride and a favorite conversation piece, if he chooses to share those memories.
Comment from a recent buyer
"Thank you sir, I recieved the museum piece Vietnam Zippo lighter today. It brought both tears to my eyes and a flood of memories.
I served in Viet Nam 1968-69, my first stop was Khe Sanh with the 27th Marines. Transferred out to 3rd.bn, 5th marines, Hue city was next. When the siege was over, I remember I bought a black market Pepsi cola and a Zippo lighter. The lighter I bought was the exact one you have on sale. The only difference was on the top of my lighter it read USMC 3/5. When i saw your ad I just flipped out. I can't thank you enough for this museum piece.
Along with all of the horrible memories there are some good ones. Best of luck and let the people know....America did not lose that war, Washington quit. I am proud of the way a half a million high school age guy's put up with it all and did it with excellence. I'll treasure it for the rest of my days. Take care and keep up the good work. Thank you again"
Cpl. Kenneth B, U.S.M.C., semper fi.
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