The Souvenirs of War.

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We’ve all heard the famous stories of soldiers who ran through Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at the close of World War Two, taking home his silverware, or Nazi banners, or even his personal photo albums. Yet, this pilfering was not unique to that one battalion, as there’s evidence of American soldiers across all ranks taking home their own personal keepsakes from the war. Most of the time these were standard battlefield ephemera – guns, badges, helmets, etc. but in Japan this desire to bring something back home actually led to the creation of a specific garment, the souvenir jacket, which soldiers would purchase from little stalls before making their way back to America.

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They were cut from silk or satin, with bold colors and contrasting sleeves, and were often reversible. The most notable characteristic though was their motifs – dragons, birds, even maps of the campaign, the jackets were always stitched with something that was recognizably “Eastern.” They became ingrained in the epilogue of war as troops during the Korean, Vietnam, and other wars continued to have them made on their way back home. The Vietnam War era jackets are particularly noteworthy as they epitomize the misery of that effort, with their somber slogans like, “When I die I’m going to heaven because I’ve spent my time in hell.”

These jackets, like many things associated with war, remain quite controversial, and we wouldn’t really recommend wearing one as a civilian today. Nonetheless, there’s something about the bright colors and artful emblems which speaks to the optimism that these soldiers must have felt knowing that they’d soon be back on American soil, away from the countries listed on the back of their souvenir jackets.

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Comments on “The Souvenirs of War.

    The Fashion For Menon May 23, 2015 @ 9:59 AM:

    It reminds me with Ryan Gosling jacket in Drive movie.. Thats dragon I recall

    JONATHAN NELSONon May 26, 2015 @ 12:17 PM:

    I have on of these jackets. Not in the best condition but these jackets are beautiful. Found it a about a year in a thrift store.

    dougon May 26, 2015 @ 9:28 PM:

    When I was a kid in the late ’50s, early ’60s, you used to see a lot of guys wearing these at school-their big brothers in the Army would send them back to them. Here’s a photo from my Flickr page taken in 1956 Japan-a young kid wearing a souvenir jacket:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/58451159@N00/14624359355/in/album-72157645209315738/

    Jesseon May 28, 2015 @ 4:10 PM:

    The jackets pictured evolved into what are known as “cruise” jackets today, predominantly worn by Sailors, with insignias/emblems denoting where an individual did their “cruise”. One shouldn’t be wearing one, unless they actually served, and the statement about them being “controversial ” is totally ridiculous. It’s a jacket, and there’s nothing controversial about it. Absolutely asinine remark.

    JDon May 30, 2015 @ 12:30 AM:

    I had one from Korea that I wore as a little kid. Found it at my grandparents house as it had belonged to my uncle. I’ve never heard that one shouldn’t be worn unless you actually served. Seems a little absurd.

    Michael W.on June 2, 2015 @ 1:08 AM:

    My father brought my brother and I each one of these back from a tour over in Okinawa in the ’70s. Brings back interesting memories of California and Moffett Field for me. He also brought back hand painted personalized mugs that were slightly insulting (mine had a little cartoon character that looked like me and said “Nobody understands me.” – my brothers was much worse). I still have mine and keep it to remind me not to be a dick to my kids.

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