Charles D. Williams enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1957. He served for twenty-seven years and retired as a chief warrant officer. He did a tour of duty in the Vietnam War in 1967.
Realm of the Golden Dragon (Pocal Press, 152 pp., paper, $17.95) is a “sea story” based on Williams’ time aboard the Basswood, a U. S. Coast Guard cutter in Vietnam in 1967. Williams and the other crewmen, he writes, “worked the rivers and bays all up and down the coast and we did have Navy SEALs on board during part of our time there. However, the joint operation with the SEALs and the combat action segments described in the book are all fictional and a product of the writer’s imagination.”
Novels about the role of the Coast Guard in Vietnam during the war are rare. In fact, this book doesn’t really qualify as a novel about that either. It reads more like a memoir of Williams’ time in the Coast Guard during this period. It is engrossing and fun to read. The characters come alive on the page and the exploits of the Coast Guard deserve recognition. If read carefully, this book does provide a good look at the role of the Coast Guard during the Vietnam War.
However, the author went astray in trying to introduce novelistic elements into this book. If he felt compelled to do that, he should have strayed further and made it a real novel. We get the usual Vietnam War memoir (and novel) name check of John Wayne, as well as how stinky nuac mam fish sauce is, and how the black market operated. We get some details about the Tet Offensive, too.
I enjoyed this book and appreciated the details of what the Coast Guard was up to aboard the Basswood. “During her travels, she would unleash sixty fun-loving frolicking, fornicating, fighting, young Coasties on forty-seven Pacific Islands and five Asian Nations,” Williams writes. “This epic voyage would take them to the hooker bars and short-time hotels of Olongapo in the Philippines, the Vietcong infested bays and rivers of Vietnam, and the vaunted Namenoue Red Light District in Naha, Okinawa.”
That quote captures the essence of the book, and is honest about the book’s intentions. If you love this sort of stuff, this is the book for you.
The author’s website is www.cd-williams.com