After experience with body armor in the Korean war, research continued to make flak jackets lighter and better. During the Vietnam War, many soldiers, Marines and Airmen received vests that would stop shrapnel, but not a bullet. In the Vietnam climate they were hot and uncomfortable, and felt heavy and bulky. Nonetheless, they were widely adopted and the Soldier in his flak vest became a symbol of the war.
Flak Jacketed members of the 4th BN., 23rd Regt., 25th Inf Div, help buddies aboard a dust-off helicopter for evacuation from a firefight with the Viet Cong during Operation Wahiawa, north of Cu Chi, 20 May 1966.
Click photo for larger image.
The M-1952 Body Armor was developed during the Korean War by the U.S. Army and continued in use through the Vietnam War years. This was the flak vest most frequently issued to Army personnel during the Vietnam War. It's development and description are covered on the page about Body Armor in the Korean War.
The M-1955 USMC Armored Vest
The USMC M-1951 was upgraded and became the USMC M-1955, used by the Marine Corps in Vietnam. Like the Army vests used in Vietnam, the M-1951 "Marine Vest" was developed during the Korean War and is described in the section called "M-1951 USMC Armored Vest" on the page about Body Armor in the Korean War.
The M-1955 vest was very similar to the M-1951 but had a rope ridge fitted to the right shoulder so as to retain a slung rifle while on the march. The vest itself was made from nylon and had 23 separate 5 1/4in square, by 1/8in thick Doron inserts. These inserts overlapped (internally) in pockets below the shoulder area, these overlapping pockets were formed by 13 layers of nylon as ballistic filler. This vest (like the Army M69) had a ¾ length collar constructed from 6 piles of ballistic nylon. In the medium size the vest weighed 10lb3oz and each one cost $47.00.
The M-1955 was also issued with the Korean war vintage lower torso armor M-1953, commonly referred to as the "flak diaper". These were detested by the troops who thought they were too restrictive for the little additional protection they offered. In helicopters, if someone was worried about shots from below, he would sit on his flak jacket.
In the late 1960s, two large front pockets were added to many M-1955 vests.
M-1969 Fragmentation Protective Body Armor
Airman 1st Class William Pitsenbarger, standing in front of an HH-43 Husky helicopter in Vietnam. Airman Pitsenbarger died during a bloody firefight while trying to rescue wounded soldiers. He has been awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic service.
The M-1952 flak vest was replaced by the M-1969 which differed mainly in the addition of a 3/4 length, six ply collar with three sections of protective filling. There were 12 sections of ballistic nylon in the front and upper back, two in the lower back, and an additional two down the length of the spine. The shoulder straps of the M-1952 were gone from the design, but there were stitched interior panels. The new nomenclature was Fragmentation Protective Body Armor, M-1969. The collar was disliked because it would interfere with the M-1 steel helmet, if worn. The medium size M-1969 vest weighed 8.5lbs and cost the government $35.00 ea. to procure.
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