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Saigon/ HCM City 1995

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Long ago, and far away...


In 1995, the war between North and South in Vietnam had been over for twenty years. However, the country was still struggling. Vietnam had yet to fully experience the full economic growth that has created the country as we know it today.

About that time, a second wave of collectors had entered the market looking for war memorabilia. Some were veterans, others were collectors looking to expand beyond their well developed World War II collections.

Many wondered what had been left behind in the country. Some fantasized about stacks of unclaimed unit patches hidden under counters or in back rooms. Some even imagined these being safely buried by people loyal to the old regime. Vets recalled warehouses stacked to the ceiling at the storage depots when they left.


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Part of this was driven on by patches that had come out of Thailand and the Philippines well after the war, “made the old way”. Some had visions of the same tailors and seamstresses still making the patches they had made for the Americans, and secreting them away.

As late as early 1994, Americans were barred by the trade embargo from traveling to Vietnam. That did not stop some who merely went to places like Hong Kong, obtained a visa card from the consulate, and took a separate flight into the country. But most of the tourist trade to Vietnam at the time was coming from Japan, Australia, and Europe.

Many of these tourists wanted souvenirs of their trip to the former war zone. ("Wartime" engraved Zippo lighters were quite popular with the Japanese.) Enterprising Vietnamese found they could sell almost anything stamped “US” and make money at it. After a point, the original items became short in supply, and prices escalated. But there was time period when there was plenty to be had, especially if you knew where to look and who to talk to.


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The man you see in the photos is my friend Louis Cheng. I met Louis in his shop, The Quartermaster Company, LTD in Hong Kong in the late 1980’s. Shortly there after Louis began his buying trips to Vietnam, unhindered by the US embargo. Eventually, he made over a 100 trips.

Louis did very well in establishing local contacts in Vietnam, and them with a series of buyers in the US, Japan and of course Hong Kong. For years he had a thriving business selectively importing from Vietnam and then reshipping to customers and dealers around the world.

Since we did not have the internet in those days the way we do today, Louis would advertise his wares by sending photographs. It was just more efficient than trying to describe them in a price list. Plus this also conveyed condition, size, etc.

What I have included is a small sample of the photos that Louis provided. They now provide a time capsule view of what could be found in the surplus shops in Vietnam in 1994 and 1995.

His hand written notes are intriguing, showing what he bought and left behind, and prices that were already going well beyond reason.

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So... where to start?


Perhaps with a reality check. By 1994 fully badged US uniforms were apparently non-existent in Vietnam. The best explanation for that is most likely most of them were taken home.


But there were some remnants, such as these embroidered souvenir jackets and pre-made embroidered panels.


(White is a pretty unusual color for such jackets.)

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With that said, there was still some mint old stock, unissued uniforms to be found. These all look to be the early poplin, non-ripstop versions.


Notice that on some items there was already some high prices being demanded. Much of this was attributed to Japanese collectors who were spending well above what Americans were paying for these items at the time, especially if they were in wearable sizes.

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The one uniform that showed up that could possibly be a badged US uniform was this one.


I never could make up my mind if the ARVN Ranger Advisor scroll was authentic or not. It may have simply of been beaten up by wear. The left shoulder, of which I do not have a good photograph, shows what was probably an ARVN unit patch, with a colored bar above it designating a sub unit. Above that, it looks like another ARVN Ranger Advisor scroll, very faded and worn almost to the point of being unrecognizable.

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While badged uniforms were hard to find, there seemed to be a fair amount of Tiger Stripe that could be dug out of the woodwork.


These two are interesting... the first one looks like it is lined. The second one might be a silver pair.


Also found in even more abundance were late war ARVN Airborne cammo in absolutely mint condition. I was never quite sure if it was from the wartime, or if it had been freshly made, but there seemed to be a ready supply of it. (Unfortunately, I have given away my photos of what was there.)

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And then there were some true odds and ends.


Note this ERDL that has been highly modified.


I believe the second jacket is from the French Indochina era.

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In much more supply were more common ARVN uniforms... fatigues as well as dress uniforms.


Again, to be clear, correctly badged ARVN fatigues were less common, but they could be found. But generally they were for run of the mill units. I did not see one photo of a badged ARVN Ranger or Airborne uniform. They were more likely to be for signal, engineer or administrative units.


As far as this four pocket jacket, the shoulder patches are most likely original. However, from what I can see from the photographs, the shoulder boards are bogus. The Buyer had to be a bit skeptical when looking at such things.

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Oddly enough, now and then complete academy uniforms showed up, with all the trimmings.

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There was all kind of ARVN headgear to be found.


I liked the oddball stuff, such as the South Vietnamese Red Cross ball cap.


The visor caps sold very well, both in the US and overseas. Whether some of them had been assembled from surviving parts was hard to tell.


I also liked the basic fatigue hats. Notice the two on the bottom...one has two vent holes on the side and the other has three.

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Someplace I still have most of Louis's photos he sent me when he was selling these items.


Now I am going to have to go look for them.

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A variety of boots.


I am not sure what the double buckle brown ones are. Most of these were size 9 or smaller, most likely meant for the ARVN.

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Along with the material for the Army, we had flight clothing for the VNAF and USAF.


(Note the totally random piles of material in the background mixing both Allied and Communist items.)

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Survival vests...


I am not sure if he was able to bring the flares out. They were most likely prohibited by airline regulations.

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Field gear of all kinds.


I no longer have the photos of the NVA field gear that was also in abundance, much if marked up by the soldiers who carried it with slogans and names. There was so much of it in 1995 that nobody was jazzing it up with fake graffiti.


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Canteens and cups in mint condition. As noted, some of these dated back to 1945.


Even older was this range scope in WWII OD color marked 1942.


Lensatic compasses and field watches were also found in large numbers, but for some reason with ridiculously high prices.

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There was gear in all sizes.


These photos rather upset me. Even in 1995 older versions of the Starlight Scope were controlled items. You can see on the markings on the image intensifier that the item is marked Confidential. Quite obviously the fact that you could buy these in the surplus market in Vietnam meant that both the Chinese and the Russians had their hands on this technology.


I am not sure what the other red sight is.

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Here is something for all of the helmet collectors out there... a genuine ARVN painted camo helmet.


This is actually one of those items that was in the background of a photo, and was apparently not even considered as a purchase. That was most likely due to weight and bulkiness. You have to remember that my friend was buying in bulk, and space was at a premium.


It may be difficult to see, but behind the big spot it looks like the shield insignia for the 5th ARVN Infantry Division.


Later note: This was more likely for the 5th National Field Police.

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