Almost all soldiers in 'Nam carried Zippos around with them. More than just lighters, they were personal items that often became something of good-luck charms to the chain-smoking servicemen in the war. Soldiers weren't technically allowed to modify the exteriors of their uniforms, so they carved messages of hope, violence, and, occassionally, of wanting people to kiss their asses, into the faces of their lighters. You can find a gallery of them here.
Looking at them now, almost four decades later, I was struck by how similar the feelings on those Zippos are to the sentiments of soldiers I've spoken with who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I decided to illustrate those recurring themes in wartime thinking and the progression of time through technology by recreating the same phrases (sub "Vietnam" for "Iraq" and "Afghanistan") on cell phones for a series called "War Phones."
My friend Connor, who served in the Laghman Province in Afghanistan, agreed with the idea behind the series, and told me that when things get too bad a soldier's final defense is his sense of humor. He asked me to make one final phone with the army's PR-friendly mantra when going into a new country: "Winning Hearts and Minds." The reality on the ground, he told me, is quite a different story.
Photography: Henry Hargreaves
Prop stylist: Nicole Heffron
Behind the scenes:
Previously on VICE: