Cammie Up! by Steven A. Johnson

Steven A. Johnson served in Vietnam from April 1967 to May 1967 with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. Some of the high spots he hit in his tour of duty include Phu Bai, Khe Sanh, and Quang Tri.

Johnson served more than seventeen years in the Marine Corps, and even made it to Desert Storm, during which he was deployed to northern Norway. He has chosen to write his book, Cammie Up! Memoir of a Recon Marine in Vietnam, 1967:1968 (McFarland, 288 pp., $29.95, paper), an account of his time as a Marine in Vietnam in what he refers to as civilized dialogue.

Filthy language is in short supply. Because I was raised by a World War II Marine Corps veteran who fought at Iwo Jima, this choice surprised me, but who am I to question it? The narrative still manages to be believable, interesting, and sometimes humorous. It also communicates to the reader every possible detail of what it was like to be a recon Marine in Vietnam. Bugs, snakes, leeches, scorpions, rock apes, wapiti, lizards, rats, and ticks all make their appearances and lend much flavor to the narrative. The plants Johnson encounters are only a bit less dangerous.

Cammie Up! Is one of the few Vietnam War books I’ve read written by a grunt that places the blame for “How We Lost the War” (Appendix C,) squarely on President Johnson and Robert S. McNamara, and which also gives details of McNamara’s “shameful brainchild”, Project 100,000, also known as “McNamara’s Morons.” Johnson also casts blame at Walter Cronkite and Jane Fonda. I was disappointed that no blame was attached to General Westmoreland. John Wayne and REMF’s get lots of mentions, but not much blame.

This interesting, well-written, and well-edited memoir is the last word in thoroughness about what a Marine Corps Recon Marine did in Vietnam, and how he was trained to do that job. Also included are useful maps, an excellent index (which somehow omits Jane Fonda), a short glossary, and lots of interesting photos.

The text is enriched by the inclusion of many letters home written by Johnson, which give a lot of contemporary flavor. I was also gratified that the author included a lively, short section on his encounters in-country with Agent Orange, and what the fallout of that poison resulted in for many of us. I highly recommend this memoir to any reader who wishes to learn everything about Marine recon.

—David Willson