The military called it a “M1 Helmet”, we called it a steel pot – it was heavy and the cause for many a stiff neck during the first few weeks of wear. However, it also served as a useful tool in the bush; it held water when shaving or taking a sponge bath, doubled as a stewing pot when preparing “hobo stew” a mixture of different C-rations and spices over several heat tabs or C-4 for a group meal, a deep vessel to hide a strobe light when used with aircraft to mark your position during the night, and a lethal weapon against rats and other crawly creatures which invaded our personal space.
The helmet ensemble is a two-piece design – one size fits all – where a fiberglass inner liner with straps fit snugly into the steel pot; the straps are adjustable to ensure a snug fit. Most soldiers in basic training wore only the inner liner with masking tape across the back with the last name of the soldier written on it. Nobody dared to write anything else on them.
A cloth camouflage cover – brown on one side and green on the other covered the steel pot – extra material as shown above was folded under and trapped when the liner was inserted. Finally, an elastic band kept the cover snug against the helmet and helped to keep the cloth from sliding out from between the two layers.
Graffiti on helmets was not too common until the Vietnam War where soldiers found a way to express themselves. The most common writings were a girlfriends name, a city and state back home, and a calendar of some kind to show when they were going home. As the war progressed, slogans and other graffiti were proudly displayed by the wearer.
The headband allowed soldiers to carry items on their helmet – the most common being mosquito repellent and LSA lubricant for the ammo and weapons. Touting a playing card or two in the band was sometime used to identify certain people in a unit, a personal good luck charm, or a thought to be psychological weapon against the enemy – the Ace of Spades was the most common card; “the death card” and “shark teeth” painted on the front of helicopters were thought to scare the superstitious enemy soldiers.
Note: NVA soldiers also wrote graffiti on their pith helmets. The most common saying was: “born in the north…died in the south.”
To view this slideshow, click on the first photo to enlarge it and then use the arrow keys to navigate through the presentation. I’m certain many depicted here are modern day recreations, but still mimic those used during the war. If you have a photo with helmet graffiti that you’d like to donate to this presentation, please get in touch with me via personal email. I hope you enjoy the show.
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