In Dogface Charlie: Soldiers’ Recollections of Vietnam and the Big Red One (Caligny Military History Series, 264 pp. $20, paper) Tom Mercer brings together soldiers’ recollections of the Big Red One’s days in the Vietnam War, from 1965-69.
After several officers hold forth—most notably Col. Paul Herbert with his succinct summary of the 1st Infantry Division’s history in the war—Mercer lays out the recollections of grunts, including himself.
Larry Van Kuran graphically describes the miseries of swamp warfare. Bill Sullivan recalls a bad case of jungle rot and the kindness of a colonel who came to his rescue. Mercer himself meditates on how to walk point. And, in what must be a one-of-a-kind occurrence, Bob Norris meets his father at an LZ deep in the jungle.
Patrick McLaughlin delivers a long, fiercely partisan memoir that mixes descriptions of procedures, recognizable to any former grunt, with intense recollections of combat. It’s a well-written piece that dominates the collection.
Mercer—who served as a fire-team leader a Big Red One rifle company in the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry—broadens the collection considerably by including accounts from wives, including his spouse, Joyce. She relates how her husband struggled with his memories of the war and longed to speak again with his old comrades. His efforts at last resulted in the reunion that inspired this book.
Dogface Charlie is without politics, other than to note that the war was “unpopular.” There is little historical context here, or meditations on policy. But any former infantryman will recognize himself in these well-edited recollections.
The book is a model for the ambitious ex-soldier who wants to put down in words what his friends and he went through so long ago.
– John Mort