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(Click here for a related story from the Richnond (Va.) Times-Dispatch)

The American military is full of rich traditions and colorful history.

Sometimes a bit too colorful, apparently. Or at least too revealing.

A group of veterans of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment had hoped to officially hand over a lifetime subscription to Playboy that members started receiving in Vietnam to the recently reactivated unit, now stationed in Vicenza, Italy.

But the Army is essentially saying: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

“We appreciate the veterans’ efforts, but society and the Army have changed,” said Lt. Col. Tom Collins, a spokesman for the Southern European Task Force (Airborne). “It would be inappropriate for the Army to sanction this event.”

Jack Price, who as a lieutenant in Vietnam convinced the magazine to send its 1965 Playmate of the Year to hand-deliver the first issue to the troops in Vietnam, expressed no anger or disappointment when he learned of the decision.

“It just makes me realize that I’m really from another era,” he said in a telephone interview from the states. “I guess it was a different time and a different place.”

A Playboy spokesman had a different take.

“We certainly disagree,” said Bill Farley, senior director of communications for Playboy Enterprises. “At the very least, we hope they would reconsider.”

Price said a group of the battalion’s veterans is planning a visit this year to Vicenza and planned to symbolically hand over the magazine then.

Price has been receiving the magazine for decades since the battalion disbanded after the war.

“I’ve got a lot of nephews,” he said, when asked if he had been keeping the issues all that time.

Price and other members of the battalion had come up with the $150 Playboy was asking for a lifetime subscription at the time, and decided to have it go to the battalion as a group.

“We didn’t want it to go to me, because were we losing lieutenants a lot in Vietnam and that wouldn’t be a long lifetime,” he said.

Price, in fact, was medically discharged in 1970, after getting wounded in the conflict six years after he graduated from West Point.

Collins said the command values the contributions of Army veterans and SETAF routinely hosts those who formerly served in the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade. But he said today’s Army is different than the one than served in Vietnam.

“The Army has worked hard to build a culture of dignity and respect,” he said. “A significant portion of our force is now female. And many people believe that this type of magazine exploits women.”

Playboy is on sale at the military base in Vicenza, and the command isn’t making any efforts to encourage or discourage people from buying it there.

Farley said surveys have indicated that about 15 percent to 20 percent of the magazine’s readership is made up of women — though many of those read it because their male partners get it, he said.

“We don’t believe that when you join the military, you give up your civil rights,” he said. “We also don’t believe that Playboy is offensive to women.”

But Farley said the handover was not the magazine’s idea and that it probably wouldn’t push the issue. He said generating controversy during a time when U.S. troops are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq is not a top priority. And it might be seen by some as self-serving.

The 2nd Battalion doesn’t have any women in it because women are still prohibited by law from serving as front-line combat troops. But Collins said that’s not the point. There are women who serve in the brigade, and many others are assigned to the 22nd Area Support Group at the base.

He said the battalion is just one small part of an Army in which females make up about 15 percent of the force.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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