Killer Kane and Rice Paddy Recon by Andrew R. Finlayson

Andrew R. Finlayson served twenty-five years in the U. S. Marine Corps. He did so, he says, because he “wanted the people I knew and loved in my small town to respect and love me.” His small town was Merchantville, New Jersey.

In his memoir, Killer Kane: A Marine Long-Range Recon Team Leader in Vietnam 1967-1968 (Mcfarland, 288 pp., $35), Finlayson says that he relied heavily on official unit histories “because they provided a solid, factual basis for the events described.” He also drew on his weekly letters to his parents during his entire military career for that book and for the sequel, Rice Paddy Recon: A Marine Officer’s Second Tour in Vietnam, 1968-1970 (McFarland, 320 pp., $35)

Finlayson graduated from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1966, so his timing was good for service in the Vietnam War. His graduation “marked the end of four frustrating and largely unhappy years of academic and athletic struggle.” We get little additional information about those four years. This reader would have appreciated more. He went from the Naval Academy to Quantico, and did not fall short there. Far from it.

Finlayson calls his participation in the Vietnam War “the one great lyric passage of my life; everything else I did in my life paled in significance. “ He spent thirty-two months in Vietnam, fighting in three distinctly different combat roles in two geographical areas.

In Killer Kane, Finlayson covers the pre-Tet ’68 period, focusing on the area “approximately 25 miles west and south of Da Nang.” He goes on to tell us that the book contains “the feelings and observations of one young man as he fought his own personal war in the company of a small band of exceptional comrades.”

Finlayson’s men were the most productive team in the 1st Force Recon Battalion “with more sightings, more enemy killed, and more weapons captured.” He actually was reprimanded for the number of firefights and ambushes he took part in. “Your job has always been to conduct reconnaissance and surveillance operations or to conduct Stingray operations, not ambush patrols,” Finlayson was told. He disagreed.

If you are seeking to read about Marine recon from a lieutenant’s point of view, this is the book for you. Killer Kane was the name of Finlayson’s team, and it was taken seriously. Finlayson is more than once accused of being a cold-blooded killer.

There is less of the usual clichéd stuff in this book by far, but we do get mentions of John Wayne, Iwo Jima, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” REMFs, care packages from his mother, and baseball. Finlayson has a lot of good things to say about the Vietnamese people and military, which I found refreshing.

Reading Killer Kane made me think of what my relatives must have gone through during World War II when Norway was occupied by the Germans. The Marines expended lots of energy in Vietnam in Peace Corps-like activities such as building wells and schools. It gave the VC something to focus their hatred on, I guess.

I recommend you read Finlayson’s books in the order of publication. His second one, Rice Paddy Recon, is well written also, but does not start off with the author at the heart of the action. We don’t get that until about one third of the way through.

Both books are almost over-researched. There is no off-the-cuff stuff here. Everything is carefully considered and backed up in all directions. Andrew Finlayson was the same way as a leader of men.

The publisher, McFarland, has done the serious reader of Marine Corps Officers memoirs a service. These books rank right up there at the top of that genre’s heap.

—David Willson