The war in Vietnam (sometimes misspelled Viet-Nam) remains the longest conflict in United States history. The first military advisers arrived there in the fall of 1955 during the Eisenhower administration. Four presidents later, on April 30, 1975, the last U.S. helicopter left Saigon, which was renamed Ho Chi Minh City about a year after that. By the end of the almost two-decade war, as many as two million military personnel and civilians on both sides had been killed, including almost 60,000 U.S. troops (additional losses of comparable scale were suffered in the concurrent conflicts in Cambodia and Laos). In 1995, Vietnam and the United States resumed diplomatic relations, and the two countries have been trading partners ever since. Today, Vietnam welcomes more tourists from the United States than nearby Australia.
As the first so-called television war, events in Vietnam were broadcast into American living rooms, and many people didn’t like what they saw. By the end of the 1960s, protests against the war were widespread in the United States and Europe, but too often the public’s frustration with the conflict was directed at the drafted combatants rather than the leaders who had put them in harm’s way. Thus, unlike in previous conflicts, in which soldiers treasured the artifacts of their years in the military, some troops returning home from Vietnam were ambivalent about their service, often discarding their uniforms, headgear, canteens, and even medals rather than saving them as keepsakes for successive generations.
For collectors of Vietnam-era materials, flight helmets such as those in the HGU series are highly sought, as are Air Force patches worn on flight jackets and flight suits. Camillus made survival knives for pilots, with serrated spines for sawing and heavy pommels designed to be used as hammers. Camillus also made stainless steel pocket knives for the Army, as well as electrician’s knives for members of the Signal Corps. Other items of interest include flak jackets, wristwatches made by Omega, Breitling, and Hamilton, and Zippo lighters, some bearing official markings, others hand engraved by troops like small pieces of trench art.