As a young boy, I grew up playing with GI Joes, and enacting war games with my cousins during our summer holidays in Baguio. I really wanted to get some gear just like my GI Joe. My dad brought me to Baguio Market, which in the 70s was choc-a-bloc with authentic military items as well as PX or imported goods. Dad would pick up a lot of surplus GI stuff—like tents, canteens, and ponchos.
One thing that I loved that he had purchased was a field jacket. It was just too big for me, but it was one item that I always wanted to have. Finally, I’ve got one of my own. My current obsession—the M65 Field Jacket, just like Dads.
The Field Jacket, or in this case the M65, joins other standard outerwear choices with military origins: the trench, the navy pea coat, and the bomber jacket. All four have been interpreted constantly since they left their war borne origins, with the M65 said to be the most functional of all jackets.
What is it?
But what is a field jacket? It’s a light to medium garment identifiable by its four front bellows pockets. These were intended to aid soldiers in carrying equipment without the need for an obtrusive bag. Traditionally, this hip-length jacket often, but not always, had epaulettes and a belt or drawstring, which gathered the garment at the waist to both aid heat retention and also help prevent it getting caught on undergrowth. The fact that it flatters your silhouette probably wasn’t especially important to generals.
It’s lodging itself in fashion, and pop culture was a result of the Vietnam War. Sylvester Stallone sported it in First Blood (1982), and Robert de Niro brought it to attention in his classic Taxi Driver (1976). Decades later you will see on Kanye West and the Terminator. Thus, the M-65 field jacket (denoting its year of issue, 1965), made in “Olive Green 107 ” was created out of necessity rather out of peacetime calm.
The Vietnamese climate—which could pound soldiers with elements including radiating heat, relentless rain, and whipping wind—made diversity-of-wear a must. To achieve this, the M-65 features a hood that can be rolled into the collar, a removable warming liner, and Velcro-secured sleeves
Why wear one?
The M65 endures with because it is practical and iconic. This says a lot about enduring style. The field jacket was also the first expression of an ingenious new approach to outfitting soldiers that has shaped clever dressing ever since: the idea of layering up or down according to the climate. The field jacket was light enough to be worn on warmer days over thin layers, loose enough to fit over, for example, down or pile liners when the weather turned bad. Worn over a jacket in the winter, or with t-shirt, jeans and a bandana, the M65 struts you out in badass classic style.
The M65 was the go-to jacket of former ABS-CBN colleague, and one of PROBE’s original reporters, Rafael “Apa” Ongpin. In our heady news days of the late 80s Apa was often doing reportage wearing a vintage M65. His son Baston, taking after his father, has a passion for vintage military. He was gifted his own vintage M65 from a family friend.
Apa Ongpin, the business man-writer-sailor notes, “It’s style and cut is really baggy, and meant to be worn over other clothing. Or stuff like cartridge belts, ammo and pouches. It’s a drab garment designed to blend in the environment… worn right, it can be a sexy garment.” Then he points out, “It is easy to wear daily, worn with colorful stuff underneath, or dressed up with slim clothing; the jacket can be a versatile template and useful.”
Given the amount of items a man has on hand, the bellow pockets are ideal for a phone, battery pack, and tablet. In Apa’s days as news reporter, he carried tapes, his steno notebook and camera battery packs, as I recall.
Where to find one?
There are hosts of vendors online, or on Ebay. But Apa Ongpin suggests checking out The War Room Café in Greenhills and chatting with owner Albert Labrador who can help point you in the direction if you are searching for an authentic piece of history. Or if you are up for the drive, head to Dau and have a look-see, where many can still find pieces of our US Bases past.
For those looking for instant gratification on line—there are faithful reproductions as well. These include the original maker, Alpha Industries, or more upscale purveyors like Buzz Ricksons and The Real McCoys. Or if you just want to see how you fair in one, try heading to the uniform shops by Crame to see if there is a jacket you can repurpose.
So there you have it—a piece of history that could be a workhorse in your closet. No regret on this piece for me, and its versatility remains 50 years after it was first introduced. And it reminds me of having Daddy around, too. The M65 is an enduring jacket that is a must for every gent or bro.