Why my interest by Ben Connor

Why my interest in the War in Vietnam?

As a fresh faced 11 year old I attended the 40th anniversary of D-day in southsea, I came away with a WWII jeep cap, my first of many purchases, the seed was sewn. My friend Stephen also attended with me, he later bought a genuine period M1 helmet and CVC helmet from silvermans for the princely sum of £15, this was 1984 remember, that was big bucks back then but also Vietnam period gear was unwanted and unloved.

Sometime later I persuaded Stephen to swap my Ideal TCR (total control racing) car set with him for the two helmets.

I then read chickenhawk by Robert Mason. Then I read it again. Then I read it again. The war in South East Asia became something that I needed to know more about. I bought a massively washed out medium regular 3rd pattern shirt from WS surplus in oxford and a pair of rather warn ERDL trousers for £12, both I remember stuffed in the bargain bin (oh how times change).

Roll forward to 1997, walking down a side street in Norwich I came across a gun shop, in the window a real M16 SP1 sat in all it’s glory, 30 mins later I had bought a deactivated M16 on the never never!

1999 whilst reading Gunmart, I came across an advert placed by Stuart Beeney for a little group called AIPS, letters were written and I arranged to meet the group at Beltring.

My first foray into Re-enacting began at War and Peace in 1999. The year that AIPS had sourced a genuine Vietnam UH1D. I remember rocking up with nothing but what I was wearing without any thought of where I would sleep, what I would eat, damn, the best thing I ever did. I can picture it as if yesterday. I also attended multiple battle weekends which helped me understand more about the kit and how to use it.

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I quickly realised how little equipment I had, or even how little I knew.  Over the next few years my collection grew and grew. I wasn't satisfied with one of each item, before I knew it I had 3 or 4 of everything!, as my collection grew, so did my knowledge,  I read more books, understood more, attended more shows.

In 2006 life and personal issues got in the way of my hobbies, my interest waned, so I sold most of my collection. Luckily I had the sense to keep my mint Jungle Fatigues, boots, a cot and some other odd bits, maybe I knew I would be back one day. I also kept all my books.

It was the selling of my gear that I first became acquainted with a new to the hobby collector, one Glen Carey. I’m sure I sold a single item on eBay to him and before he knew it I had sold him a car load of goodies.

At the end of 2012 I found myself travelling through Vietnam. Starting in Hanoi I travelled down through the country by train stopping in Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang and Saigon. It was my girlfriend who said lets go to Vietnam, I hadn’t planned for it to be the catalyst to begin collecting again. It also helps that the ‘American War’ is actually a major part of the tourism trade. Everywhere you go there is a museum made up of burnt out stripped vehicles.

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The interest came back, so I start looking for gear again, I think I saw a post on Facebook about a flak jacket, and would you believe it, the seller is Glen Carey!  Before I know it he has convinced me to attending Military Odyssey and that is why I'm here now.

One advantage of having had collected Vietnam equipment previously is that this time round I only buy what I need for my impressions, not everything green with a DSA date. First time round I was a 9th infantry grunt, so only wore Jungles, webbing, a lightweight. Now, it is mainly about the Advisors and the ARVN. ARVN because I met ex ARVN soldiers whilst in Saigon, many now pedicab drivers, all genuinely nice guys. 

9th Infantry

The underlying thing for me is that it is no longer about the equipment, the guns, the vehicles, it is about those people who some 40 odd years ago found themselves in South East Asia during the War in Vietnam. Today the internet has dramatically changed how we find information, how we communicate with people. Here I am sitting in the United Kingdom with the ability to speak with Veterans about their experiences.

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Buon Brieng, 1965