Vietnam veterans will surely recall those quirky-colored Military Payment Certificates (MPCs) used to buy Seiko watches, Pentax cameras, stereo gear, beer and tobacco in U.S. facilities throughout South Vietnam.
Meant to help control inflation and deter black market operations and currency manipulation, the MPCs took the place of U.S. dollars as the authorized medium of troop payment and exchange “in country” beginning in September 1965.
Although new to Vietnam in 1965, MPCs were introduced in 1946 and used by all U.S. personnel, military and civilian alike, throughout post-war Europe (Germany, Great Britain, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Trieste, France, and Switzerland), North Africa, and the Pacific (Japan, Korea, and the Ryukyus).
Designed by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Vietnam-era certificates were issued in denominations ranging from as little as five cents up to twenty dollars. Fractional dollar denominations—five cent, ten cent, twenty-five cent, and fifty cent certificates—were the approximate size of Monopoly money, while whole dollar denominations—ones, fives, tens and twenties—were printed in various larger sizes. Depending on their series issue dates, the MPCs featured images ranging from submarines to astronauts and peasant girls to majestic mountains scenes.
The use of MPCs made illegal currency transactions more difficult but did not eliminate them entirely. In 1968, various records and statistics indicated that a substantial amount in certificates issued originally in 1965 were in the hands of unauthorized personnel, prompting a decision for the first in a series of unannounced “conversion days”—“C days,” as they became known among the troops.
The first MPC “C Day” in Vietnam was kept secret until actually conducted on October 28, 1968, when all personnel authorized to possess certificates were restricted to their locations and required to exchange their MPCs for a new series controlled and provided by specially appointed finance agents stationed at all U.S installations and base camps. Thus, the series of MPCs in circulation became worthless to anyone possessing them after “C day.” According to Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) records, certificates totaling $276,931,802.50 were converted, leaving $6,228,597.50 unaccounted for and presumed to be in the hands of unauthorized personnel. A second “C day” was conducted on August 11, 1969 to further thwart black marketers and profiteers.
After the official end of U.S. participation in the Vietnam War in April 1975, MPCs remained in use only in South Korea, and only until later that year when American dollars were reintroduced.