An Unholy Mess by Richard J. Dobbyn III

Duty as a military policeman provides a view of Army life that few people see. Working that duty in a war zone distorts its perspective in many ways. In An Unholy Mess (235 pp. $14, paper, $7.99, Kindle), Richard J. Dobbyn III recounts his two-year career as an MP officer, centered around his 1966-67 tour of duty in the Vietnam War.

Dobbyn first worked from Long Binh and then in downtown Saigon. He quickly learned to rely on guidance from his senior NCOs. His stories reflect a spirit of seeking fairness in any endeavor. His outspoken manner got him into trouble.

At times, his values quivered when he cut corners and overlooked misbehavior to help others as well as himself, but his better instincts always prevailed. From his position of MP authority, he helped the confused and downtrodden. He made friends with unhappy draftees, homeless children, and disillusioned Vietnamese colleagues. He admits to drinking too much too often.

You can’t help but like the guy and root for him. Dobbyn’s security duties exposed him to his fair share of danger, including escorting truck convoys. “Rule number one,” with that job, he writes, “when getting fired upon, keep moving as fast as you can. That was also rule number two, three, et cetera.” He also worked alongside Explosive Ordnance Disposal troops,lived next to an ammo dump that was blown up by the Viet Cong, and supervised cleaning up dead bodies after attacks and bombings in Saigon.

Offbeat all the way, he took his R&R to Penang, Malaysia—making new friends and doing some leisurely all-night drinking.

Dick Dobbyn

Dobbyn’s military life makes up the second half of An Unholy Mess. In the first half, he details what it was like growing up in Boston as the son of a World War II veteran.

At six foot four, Dick Dobbyn was a big-time jock in high school. He spins rite-of-passage tales from his boyhood and college years. That includes jobs as a drummer in a rock and roll band, a cab driver, a disc jockey for a jazz radio show, a lifeguard on Cape Cod, a basketball coach for pre-teens, and a human lab rat at Harvard Medical School. With full transparency he shows how these experiences influenced his life-long thinking and behavior.

He earned a commission from the Boston College ROTC program and volunteered for the Military Police based on his mother’s insistence to “Stay the hell out of the infantry and anything to do with tanks or big guns.”

Dobbyn capped his Army career as commander of an aggression force during summer National Guard training. Being recalled for Guard duty well after his discharge from active duty angered him. On the borderline of insubordination for two weeks, he masterfully outmaneuvered and embarrassed his superiors before again marching out of the Army and back into a happy civilian life with his wife and two sons, never to return.

Dobbyn’s website is anunholymess.net

–Henry Zeybel