Helmet Graffiti

Troops in Vietnam found a way to express themselves

When I arrived in Vietnam in March of 1970, one of the first things ‘Uncle Sam’ issued to me was a steel pot; the military called it the M-1 helmet. It felt like it weighed half a ton when you first put it on your newly shaved (basic training) head. A short time later, I traded it for a much lighter and more fashionable boonie hat.

Prior to the Vietnam War, what was most commonly seen on helmets were rank insignia and unit designations.

In this June 18, 1965 file photo, an unidentified U.S. Army soldier wears a hand lettered “War Is Hell” slogan on his helmet, in Vietnam. “Larry Wayne Chaffin, is the American soldier of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in the Iconic Vietnam War photo taken on June 18, 1965, by the late Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer Horst Faas. The war ended on April 30, 1975, with the fall of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, to communist troops from the north. (AP Photo/Horst Faas)

Short Timers Calendar with Zippo

John Wayne signed helmets during his visit to the 7th Marines at Chu Lai in June of 1966 (SSG Fleetwood/Marine Corps/National Archives).

During Operation Ashburn, south of Da Nang in Decmber 1967, a member of the 5th Marine Regiment scans the jungle for signs of enemy activity (Sgt. Dickman/Marine Corps/National Archives).

From Armchair General Forum

A member of the 3rd Marines decorated both his helmet and his flack jacket (GYSGT Gus Apsitis/Marine Corps/National Archives).

A squadron leader’s camouflaged helmet helps him blend in with his surroundings during a mission in 1966 (U.S. Army/National Archives).



A soldier of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, relaxes June 24, 1970, before pulling out of Fire Support Base Speer, six miles inside the Cambodian border. (Photographer unknown)


The helmet says it all (Photographer unknown)


Filed under Vietnam War

11 responses to “Helmet Graffiti

  1. I wish we would have had the option to wear the boonie cap. We only wore it when we went on night ambushes. Great post.

  2. usastruck

    Thanks Pat! I wore my steel pot on only a handful of missions and that was enough…

  3. jesuspdlr

    Great Post, Rob. 😉

  4. jesuspdlr

    Rob, did you write something on your helmet?

    • usastruck

      Jesus, I wore my steel pot on just a hand full of missions when I first got to Charlie Troop, so I don’t believe I wrote anything. I had a boonie hat for most of my tour…

  5. Gerry Couch ( was Gerry Ackley)

    Used my helmet for a pillow one night and unfortunately put it on a ant hill. The ants went up to my helmet and when I flipped up and put it on the red ants just poured down on my head. NO Fun, those little sucker bite. I had to dose my head with diesel and it still felt like they were on me for days.

    Graffiti, we always had how many days left and of course we started with the usual FNG on our helmet. I mainly used boonie hat as well except when we where landing in new areas to open new LZ’s or when we went into Cambodia in 1970.

  6. I know I`ve asked about this before but has anyone any ideas of who the gentleman was in the `war is hell` photo? I`ve been searching for months to try and find out about him. No one seems to know, there has to be someone! Thanks again for the amazing stories!

    • mike elswick

      i too have tried to find out war is hell on helmet if you do please let me know

    • dkwmson

      A little post necromancy here, but in case anyone passes through as I did, the young man in the ‘war is hell’ pic was Larry Wayne Chaffin from St. Louis, Missouri. He passed away in 1985 at the age of 39 from complications associated with diabetes, likely caused by exposure to chemical defoliants.

      AP photojournalist Horst Faas took the photo in June, 1965, while the 173rd Airborne Brigade Battalion performed defense duty at Phouc Vinh airstrip in South Vietnam.

  7. Josh Strohbusch

    My father was a 2-9 in 68. Pops thank you. Love you, dad!

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