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February 15, 2023

The Significance and Impact of Playboy Magazine to Soldiers in the Vietnam War

Commonly known as ‘the’ magazine of the Vietnam War, Playboy was the most often read magazine by serving GI’s, with any downtime these magazines offered a welcome break for soldiers.

More so than any other magazine of the era, Playboy went out of its way to make sure the troops knew how much they appreciated their struggle in Vietnam. Owned by Hugh Hefner, an Army veteran who served during World War II, Playboy reported on the politics of the era, and provided the kind of straight talk that soldiers fighting in Vietnam were looking for. And of, course, there were the playmates. The letters section of Playboys from the 1960s are full of messages from soldiers that gave normal Americans a look at what was really going on during the Vietnam War.

In late 1965, Lt. Jack Price of the 173rd Airborne’s 503rd Infantry Regiment bought his company a lifetime subscription to Playboy. The magazine had just launched a crazy promotional offer: The first issue of the subscription would be delivered in person by a Playboy playmate. Price was deployed in Vietnam.

By the time Playmate of the Year Jo Collins arrived in Saigon, Price was lying in a hospital bed at Bien Hoa airbase recovering from a gunshot wound. Collins flew in on a Huey to hand him the first issue of his subscription. The rest of Price’s company — nicknamed “Bloody Bravo” because of the exorbitant number of casualties it had sustained — was still in the field, locked in a fierce battle with a Vietcong regiment that lasted 10 days.

Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, January, 1966: Playboy magazine playmate Jo Collins talks with a servicemember in the Army hospital at Bien Hoa. Collins, Playboy’s 1965 Playmate of the Year, said in an interview that women should send the troops letters and photos. “Some of the boys are not getting mail from home and they feel kind of sad,” she said.

Playmate Jo Collins visiting troops in Vietnam, 1966.

Playboy was the magazine of the Vietnam War. And it wasn’t just the photographs of nude women — distinguished by their all-American “girl next door” sex appeal compared to the high-fashion models featured in other magazines at the time— that made voracious readers of American G.I.s. Beyond the centerfold, the magazine tackled the controversial issues of the 1960s and early ’70s through hard-hitting feature articles, some of which were deeply critical of the war and the people running it.

Playboy was also useful as a forum for the men engaged in the fighting. The publication was unique in its number of interactive features. Soldiers wrote into sections like “Dear Playboy” for advice and with reactions to articles. But those correspondents also freely described their wartime experiences and concerns. They often described what they saw as unfair treatment by the military, discussed their difficulty in transitioning back to civilian society or thanked the magazine for helping them through their time in-country. In 1973, one soldier, R. K. Redini of Chicago, wrote to Playboy about his return home. “One of the things that made my Vietnam tour endurable was seeing Playboy every month,” he said. “It sure helped all of us forget our problems — for a little while, anyway. I thank you not only for myself but also for the thousands of other guys who find a lot of pleasure in your magazine.”

In “The Playboy Forum,” another reader-response section, many wrote in addressing specific aspects of Hefner’s lengthy editorial series “The Playboy Philosophy,” including drugs, race and homosexuality in the military. The forum format allowed those who served in Vietnam to reach out not just to other soldiers, but also to the public, providing them a safe space to voice their opinions and criticisms of their service. “Traditionally, a soldier with a gripe is advised by friends to tell it to the chaplain, take it to the inspector general or write to his congressman,” a soldier wrote. “Now, probably because of letters about military injustice in The Playboy Forum, another court of last resort has been added to the list.”

The “Playboy Club” in Chu Lai, Vietnam, in 1969.

Playboy magazine’s significance to the soldiers in Vietnam spread far beyond the foldout Playmate. Troops appropriated the magazine’s bunny mascot and the company’s logo, painting it on planes, helicopters and tanks. They incorporated the logo into patches and “playboy” into call signs and unit nicknames. Adopting the symbol of Playboy was a small rebellion to the conformity of military life and a testament to the impact of the magazine on soldiers’ lives and morale.

And the magazine returned the favor. Long after the war ended, it funded documentaries on the war, Agent Orange research and post-traumatic stress disorder studies. It is a commitment that testifies to this enduring relationship between the publication and the soldier, and reveals how the magazine is a surprising legacy of one of America’s longest wars.


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