How many soldiers going to war believed in the magic of good luck charms and superstitions? Seemed like everybody carried something in Vietnam as a talisman – an object representing protection and survival. We were young and needed something to grasp onto – something to give us hope – something to help keep our fears at bay – something to give us strength – something to help us get back home after our tour of duty.
The most common that I remember seemed to be religious items such as medallions like St. Christopher or a cross hanging from chains around soldiers’ necks, then bibles, rosary beads and scapulars.
I saw many soldiers carrying pictures of their girlfriends and/or wives – infantry soldiers usually kept them inside of helmets or within metal ammo cans stored under rucksacks; slices of home and keepsakes of a personal nature – one guy wore a piece of green yarn around his wrist, a gift from his two-year-old daughter when leaving home; I also saw rabbit feet in various colors, special coins, engraved lighters and small American flags.
A few of the soldiers I knew wore special survival knives and other military keepsakes or mementos that were handed down through the family for generations. The knife this one particular guy carried saw service in World War II, Korea, and two tours in Vietnam – he was the fourth family member to wear it during a war.
Then, others carried mementos representing the current “sign of the times”, meant to make a statement rather than good luck charms – peace symbols and jewelry fashioned from braided boot laces, the latter, necklaces, wrist bands and pendants represented “Black Power” and were worn by many African American Soldiers to support the movement.
Personally, I made my own charm prior to going out to the bush for the first time – I located a 50 cal. tracer round and separated the bullet from its brass casing. Next, I dug out all the red incendiary powder from the copper round, looped some trip wire inside and filled the cavity with mud. Once dried, the round hung from a chain around my neck and was never taken off until the day I left Vietnam (customs wouldn’t allow me to bring it home with me and I had to leave it in the contraband box).
What about superstitions? Many soldiers carried the “Ace of Spades” playing cards with them while on patrol, leaving them on dead enemy bodies and scattering them around the battlefield. Americans thought that these would scare or spook enemy soldiers – years later, we all discovered that the symbol didn’t impact them at all. So, at least I can say that the “card” served as a motivator and a morale booster for American Troops.
How about those feelings or 6th sense? Did you ever feel like something bad was going to happen before it does? This ever happen to you? What did you do about it?
Many troops smoked cigarettes and most everyone carried lighters – C-Rations meals contained matches, but they barely last an hour during the monsoon season. Another superstition was about lighting three cigarettes from the same flame or match. Usually, if more than two cigarettes require lighting, then after the second one, a new match is struck or the light extinguished and a new flame summoned. Seemed like that one carried a lot of weight and most troops were reluctant to buck the trend.
One guy I knew stored a six pack of beer with his personal gear in the rear storage Connex upon arrival in country. He considered this as his lucky charm – something to savor after surviving twelve months in country. Unfortunately, during transit to another unit, somebody got into his sea-bag and pilfered his “special talisman”…then, on his first mission, his luck also ran out when he tripped a booby trap. Superstition?
The mountain people, referred to as Montagnards, hated enemy soldiers and were great fighters, but were also a superstitious lot. Many of them treasured simple items such as stones, pieces of wood and metal, revering them as a talisman – items hung from their neck, ears, and waist – making a lot of noise when humping through the jungle. I read a story once that early in the war, a Green Beret Adviser ordered all those going on the mission to leave their noisy items behind. They were reluctant to do so, but complied with the order. Later, this patrol walked into an enemy ambush and lost most of their troops in the fierce battle…you can guess how this was perceived back in the village.
What about you, dear readers – are you superstitious? Did you or do you carry a good luck charm? Tell us about your talisman?
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