Black Dials Hid a Soldier in War & Gave Them Away at Home.
An esteemed veteran of the Vietnam & American war recently told me that after the war and back home he could tell who was a veteran of the war if the person was wearing a black dial watch. So much so, that he would walk up to guys wearing a black dial watch and ask,
"What unit were you in?"
Black dial watches are going to camouflage better. White dials may reflect light and as such, be more visible, whereas a black dial is going to be a more hidden. It makes sense that the watches at the PX would have black dials.
I imagine there were US Military specifications regarding what watch designs could be sold in the PX along the lines of dial designs in the cockpits of aircraft during WW2. Black dials were likely the only color allowed in the PX during Vietnam, but I am not sure of any official regulations during Vietnam.
We recently had The Watchmaker Jordan Ficklin repair the watch our Marine wore throughout the Vietnam American war and are elated to have it working accurately for him again.
The PX in Okinawa, Japan
Depending on what part of Vietnam you were heading to, many soldiers passed through Okinawa, Japan on their way to Vietnam.
Many soldiers were not issued a field watch as part of their standard issues. Those that were issued one often still purchased a watch at the PX to upgrade.
It's at the military PX in Okinawa that our Marine purchased this black dial Seiko. The "PX" is short for "Post Exchange". A PX is like a giant store that soldiers can buy anything, goods of all types from socks to luxury watches and everything in between. Like an Amazon, but 4 decades prior and you had to put your life on the line to be allowed in.
The PX would have carried anything a soldier could need or want, including watches. The only kind of watches at the time in 1968 were mechanical. Seiko released the first quartz movement in 1969.
Our Veteran friend who purchased this watch from the PX in Okinawa said that his watch, pictured, was the most expensive watch available at that PX at that time in 1968 among the other watches available there at that time.
The Olongapo Metal Bracelet
When I was given the Vietnam watch to have repaired and serviced by Jordan, I did not think to much of the metal bracelet attached to the watch. I thought it was something our friend added after the war. But as I read and discovered more about Vietnam American war watches, I came across the Olongapo bracelets.
Olongapo is a city in the Phillipines across the South China Sea from Vietnam where the US housed a large naval base until 1992 called the Subic Bay Naval Base. In the city of Olongapo, local Philippine artisans created metal watch bracelets engraving them with the insignias of the units stationed at Olongapo.
Popular With Special Forces
They became popular with many of the US servicemen but especially with the Special Forces; many Frogmen, the precursor to Navy Seals, had Olongapo metal watch bracelets on their watches.
Source: Worn & Wound
What The Olongapo Watch Bracelet Tells Us
Reading this in Worn & Wound, that these peculiar metal bracelets were popular among Special Forces, I take a pause to understand the nature of my Marine friend's service at the DMZ line as a sniper. His Olongapo watch bracelet tells us more about his role at the DMZ line than he ever told us or his family; it tells us the story of his silence all these years. He was a bad ass Marine!
Or Marine friend we learn, was a sniper at the DMZ. He said there were several "zones" of the DMZ. Zone 3, 2, and 1. Zone 3 the public could go to. Zone 2 only specifically authorized individuals could go to. Zone 1, no one could go to.
Zone 1 was where he was. He also survived and recently spoke of the TET Offensive.
Higher Quality Needed by Special Forces
Many of the US servicemen in Vietnam who needed a higher quality watch, one that can get wet in the torrential rains, go under water, get banged up and keep going, were the special forces. And among the top tier of those service members it became popular to have an Olongapo bracelet fitted for your Vietnam field watch.
The PX Carried Japanese and Swiss Watches
The PX in Okinawa, Japan must have sourced local watches made in Japan by Seiko. "Worn & Wound" states in their article on the subject, the United States PX's carried both Asian and Swiss models of watches in the PX's available to the military at usually less than retail in the United States.
- The United States Military did not offer everyone a standard field watch in Vietnam. So, many in the military on the way to Vietnam purchased watches from the PX, Post Exchange, on US Military bases.
- Even still, many who were provided a field watch traded up by purchasing a field watch at the PX. Some of the most popular Vietnam watch purchases can be found in this Worn & Wound article. One of the most popular watches we know of today, of course, is the Rolex Submariner, which was available to Vietnam servicemen in 1968 for $600 back then, now worth roughly $12K to $15K.
- Many watches purchased by US Servicemen in the Vietnam American war were purchased in Okinawa, Japan on the way in or out of Country.
- Olongapo Metal Watch Bracelets were made by artisans in the Philippine city of Olongapo where the Subic Bay Naval Base was located. These bracelets became popular with the special forces, Green Beret, Frogmen / Navy Seals.
- The Olongapo Metal Watch Bracelet tells more about our Marine Veteran friend's experience in Vietnam that our Veteran ever told us.
A Grateful Nation
We are the children of survivors. Our Grandparents fought and survived WW2, our parents fought and survived Vietnam; we are grateful for the fight and work toward global peace and prosperity.
We were not a Grateful Nation when the soldiers returned home from Vietnam. This hurt many of our veterans grinding in a lot of the emotional turmoil they got from being in battle deeper, compounding and delaying the healing process.
It is relatively recent that most of us are learning about the experiences in Vietnam as the hostile conditions the soldiers returned to along with a limited understanding of PTSD kept the stories and discussion locked inside.
The VA has been instrumental in recent decades helping Vietnam veterans identify and get the support needed to allow for an understanding of what they went through. Many are only recently finding healing from the horribly traumatic experience of war. We are grateful for our Veterans and especially for the investments in the long term health and successof our American Veterans.
Dining with a Father of a friend recently, it is through his watch that I am coming to realize who he is, what he went through, and why he is who he is today.
Worn & Wound Article, Best source: https://wornandwound.com/the-px-watches-of-vietnam-a-survey-of-non-issued-popular-military-watches-of-the-vietnam-war/
More Olongapo Watch Bracelet pics. https://omegaforums.net/threads/olongapo-bands-bracelets-an-interesting-history-continues.112414/