Lighter collection illuminates more personal side of war

Lighter collection illuminates more personal side of war


Photo by:
Peter Olszewski

Siem Reap Central Market's Tutti Frutti jewellery proprietor Toby Crowder.

LOOKING for a light? Toby Crowder, proprieter of Siem Reap Central Market's Tutti Frutti jewellery,  is the guy to see because he's packing more than a hundred lighters - most of them vintage Zippos, most of them rare and all of them issued to American and South Vietnam army personnel during the Vietnam War.

Crowder, who came to Siem Reap 18 months ago from Hong Kong, is an avid collector of North Vietnamese army memorabilia, but his side interest is collecting Zippos issued to the "other side" - US soldiers and their allies.

The lighters are engraved with the insignias of various corps, divisions and battalions. But they also bear less official engravings of macabre slogans, lurid - often obscene - images and personal information, such as: "The Can Do Cats, 600 Combat Photo, Tan Son Nhat, 1968, Ray Fischer".

 "The slogans fascinate me, and that's the thing I look for with these Zippos," Crowder said. "And the engravings, too - images of soldiers having sex on equipment, foul language, the lot. Sex does feature highly."

The slogans give a sense of the mindset of the soldiers themselves and often comment on death.

One slogan reads: "You only live twice, once when you're born and once when you look death in the face". Another reads: "When this marine dies he'll go to heaven because he has spent his time in hell". Others include: "When I die, bury me face down so the whole world can kiss my ass"; "We kill for peace"; and "To really want to live you must nearly die".

The exhortation ‘F*** You" features quite regularly, as do the finger sign and images of naked women in wine glasses, with slogans such as "Vietnam, a mixture of up and down".

US soldiers' penchant for smoking weed becomes evident with slogans such as, "The human brain functions 24 hours a day. Give it a break and get mellow".

Many of these lighters can be found in Siem Reap markets but the bad news, according to Crowder, is that they are mostly fake.

 "I find my genuine Zippos in Vietnam," Crowder said. "You can tell the ones here in the market are fake by just looking at them, looking at the insides. They're pretty poor quality. Also, the engravings are not genuine. If you rub your finger over them, you'll notice they've been done quiet recently."


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