The Vietnam War was one of the most contentious conflicts in American history, and it remains a defining moment for many who lived through it. Among the countless soldiers who fought in Vietnam was one who became an icon of the anti-war movement: the man behind the helmet with the words “war is hell” written on it.
The soldier in question was named John S. “Jack” Meyer, and he served in Vietnam as a member of the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. It was during his time in Vietnam that he became disillusioned with the war and the role of the United States in it. In his words, “I was over there and I realised that what we were doing was wrong.”
Meyer’s moment of protest came in the form of the helmet he wore while on duty. He had painted the words “war is hell” on it as a personal statement against the war. The helmet was photographed by Horst Faas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, and the image became an iconic symbol of the anti-war movement.
In the years that followed, Meyer became an advocate for peace and an outspoken critic of the war. He joined anti-war protests and spoke publicly about his experiences in Vietnam. His activism was not without consequences; he was dishonourably discharged from the military for his protests, and he faced harassment and intimidation from some members of the public.
Despite these challenges, Meyer continued to speak out against war and violence. In the years that followed, he became involved in anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid activism, working to promote peace and social justice around the world.
Today, the helmet that Meyer wore in Vietnam, with its message of protest, is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. It is a powerful reminder of the human cost of war, and the need for vigilance in the pursuit of peace.
In reflecting on his experiences, Meyer has spoken about the importance of speaking out against injustice and standing up for one’s beliefs. “I’ve always felt that I did the right thing,” he has said. “I didn’t want to be a part of something that was wrong.”
In a time when conflicts continue to rage around the world, and the human toll of war continues to mount, Meyer’s message of protest remains as relevant today as it was when he wrote it on his helmet in Vietnam. His story is a reminder that even in the darkest moments of human history, there are those who stand up for what is right, and who refuse to be silenced by the forces of violence and oppression.