Ed. note: We’ve been talking about revisiting classic but forgotten military books and movies here at UTR and Mike’s taking the lead. Originally, we wanted to limit our coverage to things that were available on Kindle or Netflix so readers could immediately go check out the things we recommended. Unfortunately, all of our best ideas have been things that are tough to find. We decided to go ahead and write about some of them anyway, in hopes that we can inspire some reissues. If any of our readers have favorites they want to share, let us know.
When a little book called Tiger the Lurp Dog by former U.S. Army and LRRP team leader Sergeant Kenn E. Miller hit the shelves in 1983, chances are the average American had never heard of the term LRRP, pronounced “lurp,” short for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol.
Tiger is just a mutt, a “dust dog” according to the Vietnamese, but he’s the mascot of LRRP Team Two-Four. His ‘main man’ is Mopar, a 19-year old SP4 who talks of his girlfriend Sybill Street and dreams of surviving long enough to buy beer in a supermarket. Marvel Kim is a luck-obsessed Korean who grew up in Hawaii and is the conscience of the story. Rounding out the team is Communist hating Cuban refugee Gonzales and Staff Sergeant Wolverine, former Special Forces, replacement team leader, and a man determined to outrun his past no matter how far he has to go to do it.
Though titled Tiger the Lurp Dog, the book really isn’t about Tiger at all. It’s about the soldiers that interact with Tiger and how he, much like the war itself, links all the other characters in the story to one another. Tiger’s roll in the book is more like a force of nature. Tiger is the center of their proverbial solar system–the team simply orbits around him. They’re affected by him and they interact with him, but they never really touch Tiger himself on any deeper of a level beyond the first two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Tiger, much like the war in Vietnam, like the land itself, just is. That being said, Tiger is very much his own character. Described as ”Lazy and self-indulgent, yet alert and shifty,” he demonstrates these facets of his character in two notable chapters: one where he tricks a rival dog into setting off a booby trap and the second where Tiger escapes the layered defenses of an American Special Forces A Camp.
Drawing on his own experiences in Vietnam—from the adrenaline fueled rush of insertion on a mission to crashing through the brush across a hillside LZ wondering if a machine gun will open up and cut you down in the next instant or ‘laying dog’ for days in an obviously dead recon zone while dealing with leaches and communicating only through written notes—Miller shows us what it’s like to be a LRRP. He also doesn’t forget the mundane aspects of Army life, like training for the next mission, filling sandbags, and radio watches.
Character development is minimal but this is a snapshot of young men at war doing a very tough and dangerous job. It’s not until the middle of the book when another LRRP team just disappears in their recon zone that we begin to really see how much these men care for one another, how much their mission means to them and, and just how hardened they have become by the things they have done and seen. That dichotomy, the aspect of love and hate, is revealed beautifully and brutally in a memorial service for the missing team and other dead LRRPs. The men honor their lost comrades, but they know the true character of the dead, unlike the REMF chaplain giving the service. If you have ever been to a memorial service in a warzone and have known the man being eulogized, you will understand exactly what I mean.
Like with any book, much of what you get out of this book is what you bring with you when you read it. That being said, this book deserves a better fate than being relegated to the backwater of Vietnam War fiction or labeled a ‘cult classic’ and tossed aside. There is heart and soul in this little story and an unforgettable ending that will leave you thinking and hoping long after the story is over.
Get an out-of-print copy on Amazon. There are a few cheap copies if you hurry: Tiger the LURP Dog
(If anyone reading this knows Kenn Miller, send him a link and maybe we’ll convince him to at least publish an ebook version.)