Aviation Art: The Lighter Side

In wartime, a customized Zippo was part of an airman’s identity

(Cowan's Auctions)

Sidewalk Kiosks

(Cowan's Auctions)

“Over 3 million individuals spent time in Vietnam over the course of the war," writes Sherry Buchanan, "and most of them had at least one Zippo. They were all imported through the base PX [Post Exchange store for U.S. goods] and were available for $1.80. Zippos were personalized at sidewalk kiosks by special machines that could do metal engraving. They had a wide selection of designs and templates—the customer could choose one or have their own made, just like a tattoo parlor. A number of them were acid-etched at the Zippo factory in the U.S. with official military emblems and crests. Others were crudely hand etched with hand tools, drills and metal-stamping rods by the GIs themselves.”

This lighter, featuring a basic parachutist's badge, was etched in Vietnam, or by the owner. The emblem of an open parachute over a pair of stylized wings indicates that the owner passed proficiency tests while assigned or attached to an airborne unit, and that he had made at least one combat parachute jump.

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