Dead Dog Tales and Devil’s Breath by William Fick

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Fick served with the First Marine Air Wing in Da Nang and Chu Lai in Vietnam in 1967-1968.  Dead Dog Tales and the Devil’s Breath (CreateSpace, 268 pp., $14.95, paper; $4.99, Kindle) is Fick’s first novel, and is quite experimental in narrative.

How experimental? For one thing, large parts of the novel are told by Conan the Wonder Dog. The main character is Garbot Fastman. We are introduced to him by finding out about his childhood as an overprotected asthmatic who needs an inhaler and shots to keep breathing.

Even though he has a childhood that seemed designed to preclude service in the military, Fastman ends up serving as a Marine in the Vietnam War, assigned to an A-6 squadron. Lance Corporal Fastman works twelve hours on, twelve hours off, doing drudge work.

“Once, Garbot and one of his favorite crane drivers laid down, fuzed and racked 84-500 pound bombs in thirteen minutes, a record he could never match again.”  That quote gives an idea of his military job and the attitude he brought to it.

Fastman is transferred to Chu Lai in time for the 1968 Tet Offensive . I encountered in this novel something unnerving that I have seen before in Marine Corps books, that Marines often liked to fly as door gunners in Army helicopters during what time off they could find. They did it for fun.

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Lots of other usual Vietnam War novel stuff enriches this book: “We Gotta Get Out of This Place, “it’s the only war we got,” “Good Morning Vietnam,” the smell of Vietnam being “jet fuel, garbage and human waste,” John Wayne, Iwo Jima, the concept of avoiding the draft by joining the Marines, and being spat upon in airports by hippies.  Garbot also gets accused of being a baby killer.

Garbot comments about missing the 1967 “Summer of Love.”  I missed it, too.  Many of us did.

The VA is never mentioned positively. The VA policy in the late 60s—that a veteran student had to be in college for three months before any money was sent—is criticized, and for good reason. One more bad thing our fathers, veterans of WWII, did not have to deal with.

The question actually gets asked: “Hey, what are they going to do, send me to Vietnam?” After Garbot is home, the novel becomes an adventure tale of sorts involving drug smuggling, diamond smuggling, and other escapades.

This statement that sums up this interesting book: “Just as the Depression and World War II had defined his father, so Garbot slowly came to understand that, like it or not, he was defined and dominated by Viet Nam. He thought about it every day.”

Like Garbot, I think about Vietnam every day, too. I hope that war has not defined and dominated my life. If you think it has, please don’t tell me.

—David Willson

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