Photos of Helmet Graffiti in the Vietnam War

One of the most infamous photographs taken during the Vietnam War is of a soldier starting intensely into the camera. Right above his direct stare, is a very simple, yet poignant statement: “War is Hell.”

The photograph of this soldier and his helmet graffiti was taken by photojournalist Horst Faas on June 18, 1965, during the Vietnam War with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Battalion. It has become one of the most iconic and unforgettable images to come out of the Vietnam War.

The infamous photo of the “War is Hell” helmet graffiti by photojournalist Horst Faas, 1965. Worn by soldier, Larry Wayne Chaffin.

The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War ended up spanning over 20 years. It was a conflict between north and south Vietnam who had opposing ideologies about communism.

This became a proxy war for the United States, who supported the anti-communist South. Countries like the Soviet Union and China, supported the communist north.

The Rise of Helmet Graffiti

More photographs have been discovered over the decades that reveal that helmet graffiti was a common occurrence during the Vietnam War. Many of the examples express disgust, anger, and fear about being trapped in a violent and bloody war.

Yet, many examples also include instances of humor and sarcasm. It’s possible that some soldiers used helmet graffiti as a way to lighten the often dark and dangerous mood.

However, the United States military is known for its strictness, it’s adherence to conformity, and the need to obey authority. So how were these soldiers able to get away with writing messages of outrage onto their military gear?

Many soldiers figured that they were already in the worst place that they could possibly be. Violence, death, illness, discomfort. If they wrote on their helmets, what punishment would be worse than what they were already going through?

Helmet graffiti became a simple, yet probably cathartic, act of defiance, identification, release of anger, and a small act of rebellion. Let’s take a look at some examples that have been archived over the decades.

A Look at Helmet Graffiti

A soldier with a cigarette in his mouth, and the running tally of all of the months spent in the war.
Two phrases appear on this solider’s gear: “Caution: Vietnam may be hazardous to your health!” and “Just you and me, right, Lord?”
“Make War, Not Love” – a sarcastic play on words to the popular counterculture saying at the time: “Make Love, Not War”
Angry statements against politics and politicians were also commonly seen at this time.
A soldier ironically wearing a sign on his helmet about the war efforts back home.
Many soldiers spent months and even years serving in the war. The desperation of wanting to return home probably felt unattainable.
A soldier with a massive artillery hole in his helmet, with some graffiti cheekily pointing to it with the presumed date of the hit.
Another example of the disgust of the political and corporate systems who profited off of the war and of all of the lives lost.
Another example of a soldier tallying up the months away from home.
This soldier could have been marking a day of a particularly horrible battle.
Some soldiers took inspiration or comfort in their faith.
An ominous message written on this soldier’s helmet
Many soldiers did not hold back about their anger of being put into this war.
And some used humor to deflect dangerous situations.
A young soldier with beads and a peace sign on his helmet
“Old enough to kill, but not for voting”
A soldier’s recreation of the ACME Roadrunnere

“War is Hell. But Think I’m Scared. DAMN! RIGHT!”
A helmet used as a sign post.
“IN GOD WE TRUST”. While holding a gun and hiding in the shrubbery.
A soldier lounging with “PEACE” written in large letters on the back of his helmet.
“I lend dignity to Charlie’s death”
Some helmets expressed harsh words toward the enemy.
Exclamations that differ greatly from this soldier’s reality.
“Make music, not war”
Some photos of helmets found and preserved with writing on them.

“Hell Sucks” and “Born to Kill Die”

References: “Why Why Troops in Vietnam Could Write on Their Helmets.”

Rare Historical Photos. “The Story Behind the Iconic Photo of a Soldier Wearing a Hand-Lettered “War is Hell” Slogan on His Helmet during the Vietnam War in 1965.”

WarHistoryOnline. “In the Jungle: Helmet Art of the Vietnam War”

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