Help support TMP

"Vietnam Ear Necklace...." Topic

29 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the Vietnam War Message Board

Action Log

02 Jun 2017 7:13 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Removed from Modern Discussion (1946 to 2006) board
  • Crossposted to Vietnam War board

Areas of Interest


Featured Hobby News Article

Featured Ruleset

Featured Workbench Article

ZorzSERBIA Paints Hasslefree's Ken & Kendra

Two of Hasslefree's Adventurers venture to Serbia...

Featured Profile Article

First Look: Battlefront's Rural Fields and Fences

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian gets his hands on some fields and fences.

Featured Movie Review

4,531 hits since 15 Jun 2015
©1994-2021 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Banned for Hating Trolls16 Jun 2015 9:46 a.m. PST

So this photo popped up this morning on a reenactment Facebook group I read:

Photo blocked by adult filter:
"picture *adult*"

The conclusion we all came to quite quickly was that this guy is an idiot, is sending the wrong message, and that any event organizer worth the title should eject someone doing this. I'm sure you all can agree with that assessment.
(then there is the whole authenticity issue with the post-war Tiger Stripes, the 1980's helmet cover etc. But that is another discussion!)

This of course prompted another line of debate as to how often, if ever did this occur. The whole "ear necklace" thing has passed into Vietnam War folklore, and I believe it popped up in a few of the movies back during the "Vietnam Movie Craze" of the '80s. But did it ever actually occur?

I'm no expert on the war by any means. Clearly US soldiers did on occasion commit various atrocities (as do soldiers in all wars) but certainly this was not standard or even common practice. But I have never seen a photo from the period portraying a US soldier wearing an ear necklace. One would think given the anti-war sentiment of much of the media of the time, such a photo would have ended up widely circulated…..probably eventually showing up on the cover of TIME or something similar.

My own suspicion (and it's nothing more than that) is that the "Ear necklace" thing is a sort of urban myth that was started at some unknown point and them popularized as "fact" by the media and spread (amongst other fairy tales) at "Winter Solder" and other anti-war movement functions.


Mick in Switzerland16 Jun 2015 10:10 a.m. PST

I first saw this in the 1992 Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lungrem film Universal Soldier. I did not realise that there was any factual basis behind it.

randy51 Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2015 10:29 a.m. PST

I remember looking at some snapshots in high school back in the 60's that a classmate brought from his brother's photo album. The brother (if memory serves me correctly) was a Marine veteran, 1966-67 tour. Anyway his photos showed some views of VC that his unit had killed and the Marines were posing with corpses in some pretty morbid ways,….resting their boots on their heads, propping up some to display their horrible gut/chest wounds, standing in a group around a pile of bodies with everyone laughing and smiling, etc., etc. But I definitely don't remember seeing anyone displaying cut off ears.

I'm not saying it didn't ever happen but in all my conversations with combat veterans I don't ever remember any of them talking about such a thing.

HistoryPhD16 Jun 2015 10:46 a.m. PST

Like Randy51, I have seen (at that time and since) photos of US troops in some rather morbid/distasteful poses with dead NVA/VC, but in all the many many thousands of Vietnam photos I've seen over the last 45 years, I've never seen a single one showing any sort of body part "trophies", being worn or otherwise.

Irish Marine Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2015 10:51 a.m. PST

Taking pictures of dead enemy is mild, in fact as a leader I'd rather young Marines take pictures then something stupid like taking a scalps to prove their bravery or what not. My Chaplin in the 90's was Chaplin Holcomb, his uncle was the Commandant of the Marine Corps at one point. Chaplin Holcomb told us stories of when "He" was a marine in Vietnam, which he was and they had scalped NVA and VC because of what the NVA and VC had done to Marines. The death card was used from what I've read and what has been told to me by old Vietnam vets, the ears I've read about but never heard of anyone saying that they had done that. But is it any different than Marines in the Pacific breaking off the gold teeth out the dead Japs on some island? One makes you smell a lot and draw flies the other can make you some money.

Schlesien16 Jun 2015 10:52 a.m. PST

Photo link:

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2015 10:57 a.m. PST

An older brother who served in the Air Force in Thailand during the war had a friend who was an Air Force dentist with a necklace of all the teeth that he'd pulled!

Col Durnford Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2015 11:51 a.m. PST

I believe one of the Native American members of "Tiger Force" Sam Ybarra was reported to have an ear necklace as well as taking a few scalps. As I understand it, this occurred after his best friend was killed.

Depending on what article you read, he was the only one or everyone up to and including Lyndon Johnson had them.

BTW – the book "Tiger Force" is much better than the news stories it spawned.

NickNorthStar16 Jun 2015 12:03 p.m. PST

I don't think it is an urban myth, because it crops up in a number of Memoirs. 'If I Die In A Combat Zone' , and 'Bloods' both mention it, amongst others.

I don't think there are any photos because in each case, it is the work of a damaged and deranged individual rather than the habit of a whole unit. It's usually linked to the experiences of finding mutilated comrades out in the bush.

I think we can all agree the elderly re-enactor trying to pass himself off as a 19 year old, …is an idiot.

Banned for Hating Trolls16 Jun 2015 12:29 p.m. PST

I don't think it is an urban myth, because it crops up in a number of Memoirs. 'If I Die In A Combat Zone' , and 'Bloods' both mention it, amongst others.

That's possible.
But just because a story pops up in numerous sources does not make it true. Again, wild stories get told and retold and they eventually pass into the folk lore. I'm reminded of the more extreme stories of German atrocities in 1914 (ie widespread murder and mutilation of women, children, clergy the "crucified Canadian" and the like) and the "Jew Soap" stories of WW2* for example. These were widely circulated at the time, but have been shown to be exaggerated, even though they did occur against a backdrop of real atrocity. (the invasion of Belgium and the Holocaust respectively)

Is that what occurred with the ear necklace stories? I'm not sure. But it makes for an interesting discussion.

I think we can all agree the elderly re-enactor trying to pass himself off as a 19 year old, …is an idiot.

I think he's an idiot for wearing a string of fake ears….anywhere, let alone at a reenactment event. I also question his judgment for being in a reenactment group with such dubious authenticity standards. But he's not an idiot just for being a reactor. (of course I'm biased given my own hobbies! ;-) )

*:And no. Before anyone accuses me of it, I'm not denying the Holocaust. Holocaust historians have debunked the soap story in the years since the war. It's a good example of how a widely circulated story can prove to have been exaggerated or even bogus. But yes, the collective policy of displacement and mass murder against various groups in Nazi occupied Europe that is generally called "The Holocaust" did occur.

Winston Smith16 Jun 2015 2:57 p.m. PST

They are probably farby ears.

It's also easy to refute the "Jew soap" on logical grounds without being a Holocaust Denier". Would the Master race want to pollute their bodies with soap made from rendered down corpses of "unclean people"? I very much doubt that. It is dumb on the face of it. Gold from teeth is an entirely different matter.

hocklermp516 Jun 2015 6:11 p.m. PST

I was picking up freight at a shipper during the Vietnam War and the guys there were talking about how the cop that was pulling out as I was pulling in had dropped by to "show them his gun". The men were all just shaking their heads over this when the young man's dad said his son (who was now a police officer) had sent an ear home when he was in Vietnam. As it happened I went to high school with the kid and he was a witless wonder. Sending home an ear and dropping by his dad's place of work to show off his badge and gun were just his speed. The look in his dad's eyes was haunting, haunts me still 45 years later.

JCD196416 Jun 2015 9:57 p.m. PST

I came across this article recently;


If their forebears acted like that in the Pacific it would be no surprise if some acted that way in Vietnam.

NickNorthStar17 Jun 2015 7:47 a.m. PST

Actually the memoirs are about the guys themselves doing it. (Gulp).

In IIDIACV it's the guys officer, Mad Mike or something, bringing an ear back from a patrol, and in Bloods the Vet is confessing to how low he'd sunk whilst being a brutalised LRRP operative, collecting ears and fingers. I have read in other memoirs accounts of GIs seeing, again LRRP guys, wearing necklaces after coming back off patrol.

When its in a number of different, unconnected, original sources, we can say it's a high probability of being true.

No insult to re-enactors of course, just this one guys choice of costume.

Going back to Germans in 1914. The crucified Canada was probably a myth, but modern evidence is showing that the allied propaganda about German atrocities wasn't an exaggeration, that the 'beastly Hun' acted as beastly and worse, than reports said.

I was taught in school that it was propaganda, lies reported to fire up the British man into joining the army. It now appears that I was the victim of late 20th C propaganda. The agenda was to teach kids how governments lie to get men to fight useless wars. My own research years later would point to the fact the British Government was restrained in reporting what the Hun was up to in Belgium in 1914.

IMHO of course. History is never 'right', though I'm sure some readers are convinced they are and I'm about to hear from them.

Banned for Hating Trolls17 Jun 2015 8:04 a.m. PST

They are probably farby ears.

Given how farby the rest of his group's uniforms are, no doubt. I'm rather surprised you know the term.

It's also easy to refute the "Jew soap" on logical grounds without being a Holocaust Denier". Would the Master race want to pollute their bodies with soap made from rendered down corpses of "unclean people"? I very much doubt that. It is dumb on the face of it.

Well, not only that but that well known hotbed of Holocaust denial The Simon Wiesenthal Center has gone on record saying that both the "soap" and "skin lampshade" stories are incorrect. I felt it prudent to include the disclaimer given the recent flap about denial and my previous experiences on other forums were some people have lost their minds when I have stated that the soap story has been refuted by non-revisionist/denial historians.

Anyway, back to ears….

Banned for Hating Trolls17 Jun 2015 8:14 a.m. PST


Again, good points. But I do wonder why no one, in such a heavily photographed conflict, managed to snap a picture of the practice.

Again, I have my doubts. But I keep a more or less open mind on it.

That still does not change the fact that it's completely unsuitable for a reenactor to portray. You simply don't do that sort of thing. I portray WW2 German on occasion. Were I to show up in an SD-Einsatzgruppen impression, or shot prisoners at an event, I would be correctly thrown out.

Finally, I've got a copy of Horne and Kramer's "German Atrocities 1914: A History of Denial" on my shelf. Their contention is that German atrocities were widespread in Belgium and France in 1914 and included such things as reprisal executions, destruction of civilian infrastructure, murder of prisoners, and the use of human shields. But that the crazier accusations such as the widespread mutilation of pregnant women, murder of clergy, cutting off the hands of women and children, etc were indeed fabrications.
But admittedly, that's just one source….

Col Durnford Supporting Member of TMP17 Jun 2015 9:22 a.m. PST

Once again "A picture is worth a 1000 words". This is especially true with Vietnam War stories. In many cases they are outright lies. Look up "The Wall Within" and "Stolen Valor".

BTW – Fully agree in the idiot comment.

49mountain17 Jun 2015 11:09 a.m. PST

That is one of the MOST disgusting things I've ever seen.

tuscaloosa17 Jun 2015 11:15 a.m. PST

Didn't Darryl in "The Walking Dead" run around with an ear necklace at one point? Probably helped fuel the meme.

Banned for Hating Trolls17 Jun 2015 12:08 p.m. PST

Once again "A picture is worth a 1000 words". This is especially true with Vietnam War stories.

It's sad that we have to verify pretty much anything controversial associated with that war. In my mind, as I state above, it is the "ear story"'s association with Winter Solder that really harms its veracity. Given the blatant agenda of that event and the questionable nature of the "testimony" given there, the ear story (whether in the end, true or not) is tainted by association.

In many cases they are outright lies. Look up "The Wall Within" and "Stolen Valor".

"Stolen Valor" is yet another book on my shelf.
It's interesting how many "accepted facts" in regards to Vietnam related subjects prove to be incorrect when closely examined. I don't recall if the author addresses the ear story. I'll have to go pull it down and look.

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian18 Jun 2015 5:57 p.m. PST

There are similar reports from the Pacific War, but again, no photos that I've ever heard of.

Banned for Hating Trolls19 Jun 2015 5:54 p.m. PST

There are similar reports from the Pacific War, but again, no photos that I've ever heard of.

But there are numerous photos and other physical evidence of Allied soldiers mutilating enemy corpses in the Pacific in other ways. Skulls as trophies seem to have been a popular thing, and there are numerous photographic examples of that. I read somewhere that a surprisingly high percentage of the skeletons of Japanese soldiers recovered post war were missing the skull. So I can buy the idea that a similar thing may have occurred in WW2. Again, it was probably not a very widespread phenomenon.

The other thing to recall is that Vietnam was a much more heavily photographed war with a much more press active. The chances of something like that getting captured by the media would have been much higher had it occurred in Vietnam. Likewise the media in WW2 did not have nearly the anti-war/military slant that existed in the Vietnam era. So war crimes by friendly troops would be much more likely to be documented by the press in Vietnam than was the case in WW2.

Anyway, interesting discussion so far….

jpattern220 Jun 2015 3:08 p.m. PST

The guy in the OP's photo is an ass. He deserves to be beaten with a bar of soap wrapped in a towel.

capt jimmi25 Jun 2015 4:50 a.m. PST

Just saw this ; i understand that there WAS a SF Sgt (? Sam Ybara? ref. VCarter as above… sounds right ) who did collect and wear a few ears. He was sent home when his higher-ups became aware of this IIRC. He had had a lot of time in-country at this stage.

In context tho' ..he was part of a Mike force of Montagnards for whom this trophy-taking was likely a 'traditional practice' (just like the Dayaks and Ibans of Borneo), and in leading these type of warriors you likely have to adopt some of their "customs" to gain/keep their trust and cooperation.
I don't know …I WASN'T THERE. so I'm not going to presume to judge the actions of Sgt Ybara. I'm sure he was doing 'his best' on the day.
(and I hope he's doing well today if he is still with us)

I would suggest further that one of the tragedies of war is that a country takes its' "best and brightest" and puts them into a hell that they can never really emerge from unscathed. If this concept (trophy taking) seems a bit much, but I'm sure it gets a whole lot uglier than this on many days.

However this reinactor guy is obviously an ass … 'soap in a sock' is only one solution.

jpattern225 Jun 2015 9:11 a.m. PST

Absolutely agreed. What someone does "in country" and what a reenactor does are two completely different things.

Coelacanth193828 Jun 2015 3:16 a.m. PST

My grandfather was a WWI veteran and one night the recent widow of one of his friends called him one night and expressed some concern over some 'war souvenirs' that she found in one of her late husband's trunks. My grandfather then called some of his other veteran friends and they went over to the widow's house to 'clean up'.
I never knew what it was they took care of, but I never saw my grandfather look so shaken in all of his life after he got home that morning.

uglyfatbloke31 Jan 2017 4:41 a.m. PST

People do dreadful things in war- it's a brutalising experience for many – but of course people make up stories at the time and afterwards for all sorts of reasons or for no discernible reason at all. Sadly. once some people have decided to believe in something no amount of evidence or rational analysis is going to change their mind.
I suppose my favourite example is the recurring tale of Knights Templar saving Robert I's backside at Bannockburn – no evidence to support it, buckets of evidence to reject it, but lots of people want it to be the case and write stuff on websites accordingly.
'Never mind the evidence, feel the myth'.

Lion in the Stars01 Feb 2017 6:02 p.m. PST

Whoa, threadomancy much?

However this reinactor guy is obviously an ass … 'soap in a sock' is only one solution.

I'd suggest a padlock in the sock, not a bar of soap, if not a buttstock to the back of the head.

But a friend did find a collection of ears in his grandfather's footlocker. After 40+ years drying, they didn't look much like ears anymore.

uglyfatbloke03 Feb 2017 8:55 a.m. PST

If you can't find a padlock a hefty pebble will do very well.

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.