Jon Milo has a recurring dream whose meaning he cannot fathom. In Al Hague’s novel, A Marine’s Daughter: Semper Fi (Gatekeeper Press, 314 pp., $24.95, hardcover; $15.95, paper; $8.99, Kindle), Milo is tormented with the fragmented memory of a bloody Vietnam War fight outside the wire at a remote camp.
Milo recalls only portions of what happened that night. He remembers leading a couple of squads of Marines toward a village rumored to be threatened by Charlie. He splits up his team, only to see the first squad pinned down in the middle of a rice paddy by a savage ambush. Milo sends out the rest of the men in a flanking maneuver, then decides to take the pressure off by charging into the enemy fire with his M-60 on his hip.
When he wakes up later, injured and on board a hospital ship, Milo has no idea what happened. Did his men survive? Was the mission a disaster? And, ultimately, did he let his men down?
Flash forward to a gray-haired Milo whose health has begun to fail. He has yet to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, for fear he’ll recognize the names of the men he led out on that mission.
Hague’s most effective story-telling device is toggling between scenes of war with a young Milo and present day, when Milo’s now-adult daughter is working secretly to arrange a reunion of her father’s old team. Some of the men have been searching for him for decades. And they have a surprise in store.
Hague weaves in a personal story as well. Milo is afraid he’s dying. Daughter Sara is afraid she is failing to live. Both are struggling to find meaning in their lives. In Milo’s case, it is a bit of aging, and perhaps Agent Orange shares part of the blame.
He was offended by the antiwar protests that erupted stateside. He wonders if he will ever be able to forgive his country for the way he and his men have been treated. But Milo will take a chance on a new life, as will Sara.
When his old comrades show up, Milo learns that he broke the back of the VC assault with that M-60 charge. The men have put together statements and documentation to petition for recognition for Milo, who will be awarded a Silver Star for saving the squad.
Hague served in Vietnam in 1965-66 as a Marine NCO. His prose can be clunky, but he’s created characters we care about.
The author’s website is amarinesdaughter.com
Michael Ludden is the author of the detective novels, Tate Drawdy and Alfredo’s Luck, and a newly released collection of newspaper remembrances, Tales from the Morgue.