A Force Recon Marine in Vietnam
McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2018, 250 pages
Book Review published on: March 15, 2019
Richard Fleming’s memoir, Chasing Charlie: A Force Recon Marine in Vietnam, tells of his personal experiences as he evolved from a wide eyed lower enlisted “newbie” to a battle hardened veteran with twenty-seven reconnaissance patrols during his thirteen-month Vietnam tour of duty from 1968 to 1969. As Fleming explains in the book’s preface, not a day goes by he does not think of the war and, like many other Vietnam veterans, he struggles with trying to understand the war while trying to come to peace with himself for his actions during the war. While in Vietnam, Fleming began writing about his experiences in a green notebook he found in the mess hall. Utilizing the notebook and his own memory, Fleming wrote his memoir.
The vast majority of Fleming’s reconnaissance patrols originated from Da Nang or An Hoa with the primary focus of gathering intelligence on the North Vietnamese Army in South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. It took a special breed of Marine to be willing to conduct those type patrols and an even more special Marine to be able to survive the combat tour. Fleming has a great ability to describe what happened during the patrols along with what he was thinking and feeling. The reader feels like they are with the eight man team while on the patrol with Fleming and can imagine the sweet wet smell of the jungle and a cool breeze coming off a river. The reader also can feel the terror of being in a fire fight with a much larger enemy unit, running through the jungle hoping for escape, and the horror of watching friends being wounded or die. By the time Fleming left Vietnam he had completed twenty-seven patrols, the most of any other Force Reconnaissance Marine in his company.
As with anyone who survived their tour in Vietnam, Fleming came home to America. The final two chapters of the book describe his journey home and realization things had changed. Like many combat veterans, Fleming only wanted to reintegrate into American society but struggled against his own demons and against the perception many Americans had of Vietnam veterans. In the epilogue, Fleming is very honest about his struggles with shell shock or posttraumatic stress disorder. Even after fifty years, he still dreams of experiences and the people he knew in Vietnam.
The only complaint about the book is the poor editing. There are many errors in the writing that include typographical errors, missing or repeated words, and misspelled words. Looking past the editing errors, Chasing Charlie is enjoyable and with the short chapters makes for an easy read.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. David E. McCulley, U.S. Army, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas