A Final Valiant Act by John B. Lang

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In A Final Valiant Act: The Story of Doug Dickey, Medal of Honor (Casemate, 296 pp. $23.92, hardcover; $17.99 Kindle) retired Marine Lt. Col. John B. Lang presents spellbinding accounts of the ferocity of fighting during Operations Deckhouse VI and Beacon Hill in early 1967 in Vietnam. His stories form the centerpiece of this biography of PFC Douglas Eugene Dickey, a Medal of Honor recipient who sacrificed his life by smothering the blast of a hand grenade with his body to save his fellow Marines.

In this deeply researched book Lang re-creates Dickey’s upbringing in Ohio, his military training and service in Asia, and the aftereffects of his sacrifice. Lang also includes Marine Corps history back to China and during World War II and the Korean War. The book’s 24 pages of photographs relate mostly to Dickey.

During the Vietnam War, fifty-eight Marines received the Medal of Honor, forty-four of them posthumously. Those medals went to young men who, like Doug Dickey, died saving their buddies, Lang says.

Lang graduated from U.S. Naval Academy with a BA in history and an MA in international relations, and served in the first Persian Gulf War and in Somalia, and Iraq during twenty-two years with the Marines. He considers Vietnam War veterans his leaders, mentors, and friends. 

The portrayal of Doug Dickey, the oldest of four sons, reveals more than the details of his daily life as Lang provides touches of cerebral insight from letters Dickey frequently wrote to his mother and other relatives during his Marine Corps service. Lang’s many interviews with men who trained and fought alongside Dickey further show the depth of his subject’s character.

After graduating from high school and expecting to be drafted, Doug Dickey and four friends enlisted in the Marine Corps for two years under the Buddy Plan. The physical demands of basic training challenged Dickey to his limits, but he persevered. He breezed through the follow-on Infantry Training Regiment course.

Men of the Dickey’s platoon in the Third Marine Division’s First Battalion, Fourth Regiment comprise the core of manpower cited in the book. With them, Dickey engaged in the Combined Action Program, search-and-destroy missions, and amphibious operations of Marine Special Landing Forces against Viet Cong units around Duc Pho and the North Vietnamese Army along the DMZ. Both sides suffered high casualty counts in every encounter.

To better explain the amphibious operations, Lang includes a series of maps that show the company’s actions virtually day by day. This technique clarifies the Battalion Landing Team maneuver of striking the flank of the North Vietnamese Army invading across the DMZ, the operation in which Dickey died.   

The last third of A Final Valiant Act examines the post-war lives of Second Platoon Marines by recounting their unwelcoming homecomings, their fortitude during prolonged and painful hospitalizations, post-traumatic stress issues, and suicides. The book also examines the emotional toll within Gold Star families.

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Members of Dickey’s platoon at the 2014 opening of his Medal of Honor exhibit at the Garst House, a local history museum  in Greenville, Ohio

In 1997 in honor of Dickey, Second Platoon members held their initial reunion, which became an annual affair. Lang first attended in 2006, and he retells stories of bitter combat and heartwarming friendships collected from attendees. The platoon made Lang an honorary member in 2009.    

A Final Valiant Act leaves the reader with a definitive image of Doug Dickey: A selfless young man who loved his family, respected other people, and felt great responsibility toward his country.

—Henry Zeybel