Allan A. Lobeck’s Marshall’s Marauders (Lulu, 396 pp., $33.92; $2.99, Kindle) has one unique feature: Of the hundreds of Vietnam War novels I have read, this is the only one that has no page numbers. I found that very frustrating, especially as this is a very large book.
Lobeck, a Vietnam War veteran, says that his book is based on his experiences leading an infantry platoon. He acknowledges that PTSD has affected his life, and that that VA doctors who heard his story in counseling sessions suggested he document his Vietnam War experiences “to help me let go of the pain I continue to suffer.”
I started reading this novel with intense curiosity how such a project would play out. The main character, Marshall Rooker, arrives in Vietnam, is sent to the 25th Mechanized Division Headquarters at Chi Chi and is assigned to the 4th Battalion, known as the Mohawk Battalion. The men spend their time in the Iron Triangle, “one of the hottest areas in all of South Vietnam.”
Marshall Rooker, a second lieutenant when he arrives in Vietnam, tells us he enlisted so he wouldn’t be drafted into the infantry. He often talks about the beauty of the jungle and how he is destroying it. Much of the novel takes place in 1969. Rooker, who does not like TV reporters, says his unit is the “best fighting machine in the 25th Division.”
Rooker treats the ARVNs well and has good things to say about working with them. The book does not reflect the often-seen casual racism of American troops toward the Vietnamese. Rooker is happy to be in the “best mechanized platoon in all of South Vietnam.” His unit is nicknamed “Superman” by the enemy.
After recounting 63 straight days of combat, and after Rooker suffers a head wound, the novel seems to enter an alternate reality. In this part of the novel, our hero goes into Cambodia with a special team and rescues four downed flyers. His group is called Marshall’s Marauders. He loses half his stomach and suffers two serious concussions.
Rooker is flown to the United States in Gen. Westmoreland’s private jet to get surgery. He goes to Walter Reed and meets President Johnson, who awards him not one, but two Medals of Honor. Johnson also officiates in a White House Rose Garden wedding in which Rooker marries his girlfriend Susie.
Then Rooker is promoted to the rank of general, at the age of 23, a secret promotion. He is categorized with American war heroes such as John Paul Jones, George Armstrong Custer, Alvin York, and Audie Murphy.
For the frosting on this alternate-reality cake, our hero fulminates about Jane Fonda “going up to North Vietnam,” which he “had read about in the military newspaper.” Rooker goes on and on in this vein, but during the time period of this novel the only thing Jane Fonda was getting press for in military newspapers was her much-praised role in the film Barbarella, which made her the most popular pinup in Vietnam.
So this rant is as anachronistic as having LBJ marry Rooker in 1969, after Johnson had left the White House. Rooker did take some hard knocks on the head, so I forgive the character these lapses, even as I take the author to task for them.
This is a Vietnam War infantry novel like none other. For those who are okay with no page numbers and want something very different, try this novel.
The author’s website is www.allanlobeck.com