If you read much fiction about Vietnam, or even watch movies about it, chances are you’ll frequently bump into a character who has become a stereotype of the subgenre. This stereotype was rarely, if ever, seen in film or fiction before Vietnam.
The character is eccentric on his good days; psychotic the rest of the time. He is almost oblivious to regulations, protocol, rank and military traditions. He wouldn’t last a day in a professional military force…if he wasn’t such an effective killing machine in the bush.
He is almost a super-soldier when in the field. He’s got the hearing and smell of a dog, the vision of an eagle and the lives of a cat. His instincts are far beyond Sgt. Rock’s “combat antenna.” He’s fearless in battle, probably because there’s nobody as scary as him on the battlefield. He’s rarely seen in garrison, but when he is, he’s a peacetime/rear echelon sergeant-major’s nightmare.
In short, he’s not so much a soldier as a warrior. And he’s probably as insane as the Vietnam War itself. At least he seems so to your average civilian.
Turns out this stereotype had an archetype…or prototype, if you will.
This recurring character is strikingly similar to (or perhaps a caricature of) the real-life special operators on the SOG teams and various reconnaissance projects in Vietnam. And the most legendary (and archetypal) of those operators was Jerry “Mad Dog” Shriver.
Paul Longgrear, who served with Shriver and wore his Montagnard bracelet for years after Vietnam, says, “To have met Shriver did not necessarily mean you KNEW Shriver.”
Often the cold mo-fos in combat are milquetoast or even couch potato-looking individuals. But Mad Dog’s eyes tended to give people an accurate impression of his personality. Longgrear went on to say, “I figured he had an Oriental mom. His dad was retired AF. His eyes were squinty and hollow, almost cold blooded.”
This was not the “Thousand-Yard Stare” you may have heard about. Mad Dog wasn’t spaced-out or oblivious to anything going on around him. By all accounts he remained sharp and focused right to the end. But more on that a little later.
Earlier in 2012 I read Above and Beyond, a novel of Vietnam written by Special Forces Vietnam veteran Jim Morris. I encountered another of these whacked-out warrior characters while reading it, this one named “Shoogie.” In a subsequent interview with the author, I asked who Shoogie was based on. That’s how I was introduced to the legend of Mad Dog.
It’s a legend worth passing on. I’ll start with a dialog, of sorts, between me and Jim Morris.
First let me put this guy in context:
In the Spring of ’68 I was IO (PAO) of the 5th SFGA in Nha Trang, RVN. A couple of guys came into my offices to visit one of my NCOs. I had never met soldiers quite like them. Added to their basic uniform was the oddest collection of gear and barbaric ornamentation I had yet encountered.
They were lean and rangy. Their berets clung to their heads at an angle that screamed “Fuck You!” Multiple Montagnard bracelets clinked up and down their arms as they moved about.
One had a beaded Sedang necklace tight around his neck. Their watches were mounted on black leather cuffs with a black cover snapped over the face of the watch to prevent its glow from giving away their position. One wore a locally purchased Bowie knife hammered out of a truck spring that was the size of a small machete.
Turned out they were from SF recon Project Omega at Ban Me Thuot. They were hard dudes and projected a very clear don’t-give-a-shit attitude. All my subsequent contacts with recon were somewhat peripheral.
By Hank Brown, Jim Morris and John L. Plaster, with Paul Longgrear
Read the rest at Virtual Pulp Press.