This US Air Force clothing bag triggered my attention in a recent auction. The painted para wing was interesting but the name on the label sounded Dutch and the bag was from around the Vietnam period so a reason for me to do some research. This because I have an interest in Dutch people in Vietnam, see my earlier blog regarding Gerrit’s travels, a family acquintance who stayed 5 years in Vietnam during the war there.
With some luck I found an article about the man and some items he left behind in Japan in 1965! From that 2014 article comes this picture:
On the right side of the photo his US para wings can be seen. On the left there are English style wings, currently the background of these is not known. There is a photo of Van Wissem as a Dutch commando (1960) in which he wears a Dutch para wing so it might be linked to that.
The bag still has an original MATS (Military Air Transport Services) label to Frankfurt Germany hanging on it. Probably from its last official use. The label has no date but must be no later than 1965 as that was the last year MATS would function under that name. His rank is given as SP/4, specialist 4 which was the rank you would typically atain after two years of service in the army. So everything hints at a bag with 1965 as the year of use.
And with some more research I found this newspaper article from 1965
These two articles give an interesting view into the military part of the life of Mat (P.M.) van Wissem. By the end of the 1960 he completed his service in the Dutch army as a (temporary rank) sergeant of the commando’s. He had received his green beret in february 1960 after completing the hard training and qualifaction.
In 1961 he went to Canada to find good paying jobs and see the world. Later het went to the US where he in 1963 signed up for the army for a period of three years “to see the world” and he did. He trained as a para in Fort Benning and became part of the 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment with whom he travelled around Asia as they were stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
In 1965 he left a footlocker with his belongings behind in Japan with his landlord, before shipping out. That footlocker is the story behind the article in Starts and Stripes. The landlord hung unto the footlocker for decades and then found Van Wissem’s children to return the contents to like these letters and photo’s:
Some of the contens of the footlocker, like surgical sciccors and other medical items would suggest he functioned as a medic within his unit.
The Dutch article states that Van Wissem went to Vietnam for a short period (month?) in january 1965 as an adviser to Vietnamese troops in Da Lat (the location of the South Vietnamese Army Officers Academy). This was before the period the US had entered a war with communist North Vietnam and only served there as advisors. So far I have found no mention of the 503rd AIR in Vietnam before May 1965 and also his rank is unusual as advisor so this still needs more research. This story is not yet confirmed by anything other than the article itself.
After this short period in Vietnam (?) he was rotated back to Okinawa where the unit was in reserve and he would get a furlough after his 2nd year of service. During that furlough in March/April he went to the Netherlands to visit his parents and the newspaper article in “De Stem” would be published.
In the Dutch newspaper article it is mentioned he would spend the remainder of his last year in Germany and after that period he wanted to return to the Netherlands to become part of the family business. He was indeed transferred to a unit that was located in Germany. In the course of 1965 he chose to return to his home country without finishing the service period he had signed for.
This last part is for now unclear and needs more research.
Van Wissem passed away in 2003 and how this bag came to the market so long after his passing remains unclear.
(published with permission of the family)