It could be argued that the Vietnam War was one of the most controversial events in all of American history–with all of its political and personal upsets.
This war was fought between the communist Viet Cong in North Vietnam and the democratic South Vietnamese, whom the US was striving to guard from increased communist threat. Despite countless Americans protesting this war, more than 3 million people, including over 58,000 of our countrymen died in conflict.
There were many reasons people thought it was absurd to interfere with a civil war that was not our own, including the use of the draft and disastrous wartime tactics employed by the United States military, like Agent Orange and napalm.
So, when we stumbled across American artist Bradford Edwards’ custom engraved Zippo lighters that were carried around by those in battle, we were intrigued by the things these relics revealed about the mixed emotions these anonymous men had about the war. Lighters weren’t only used as a utilitarian tool by soldiers, airmen, and sailors during their deployment to burn down a Viet Cong hut, light up a flame thrower, or to provide light, they were significantly personal items.
It was one of the few things that every soldier could count on even in an unfamiliar and hostile place. Zippos were used so often during search and destroy missions that they came to be nicknamed “Zippo Missions” or “Zippo Raids.”
“They are powerful documents. These documents are etched in metal. It’s not sterile, it’s not flighty, it’s not pen and paper. It’s etched in metal. The only thing closer to eternity is stone,” Edwards told The New York Times.
Starting in the early 1990s, Edwards began collecting, studying and celebrating the lighters he picked up on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Apparently, he’s handled over 100,000 of them over the years, as he looked for deeper meanings in the quips carved into the shiny metal.
A sampling from a few lighters in Edwards’ vast collection include: “When the power of love is as strong as the love of power, then there will be peace”; “Kill them all, let God sort them out.”; “Give no quarter. You can surf later.”; and “Why Me?”
Check out some of the custom engraved Zippo lighters from the Vietnam War in the slideshow above.