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Page 35
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Tiger Papa Three

By John Bromer (reviewer)

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Tiger Papa Three: Memoir of a Combined Action Marine in Vietnam
by Edward F. Palm
(McFarland, 2020)

Tiger Papa Three, by Edward F. Palm, is the story of the author's experiences as a corporal in a Marine Corps Combined Action Program unit in Vietnam. He served a thirteen month tour throughout 1967 and returned to the States in January 1968, about three weeks before the Tet offensive. Written when he was 73, the book includes a lot more about his life besides his time in Vietnam; his parents, his life leading up to enlistment, girlfriends, education, his career after his original enlistment was up, and more.

The Combined Action Program was apparently designed not on a search and destroy basis, but as an effort to send Marines into the countryside to train South Vietnamese Popular Forces and patrol with them. "Winning hearts and minds" was what some enlightened superior officers hoped it could accomplish. Unsurprisingly, neither the villagers in the area nor the PF soldiers wanted to have much to do with the Americans. After some frustrating attempts at joint patrols the Marines ended up patrolling on the "beaucoup VC" side of the river while the PF troops did whatever they did in the safer area. The author's unit, Tiger Papa Three, did see some action, including instances of friendly fire from Puff the Magic Dragon, a converted AC47 with a Gatling gun firing 6,000 rounds per minute, and a hair-raising VC ambush. But in general their mission and time there seems, to a reader, and I suspect to many of them, poorly defined and ambiguous. The book, especially in the epilogue, shows a deep skepticism about our country's reasons and goals for being in Vietnam in the first place, and the feeling that the enlisted man's main goal is to stay alive and help his fellow soldiers do the same. VVAW and Veteran readers, I've seen, share that.

The author had a long career in the military, teaching military affairs at UC Berkeley and English at the Naval Academy, and retired in 1993. The book is full of literary allusions, including to other Vietnam War books, and has way too many repetitions of the phrase "as I related earlier." A good editor would help. But it's an interesting story of a side of the Marine Corps I never imagined.

John Bromer is a Vietnam-era veteran and lifetime member of VVAW, who lives in Western North Carolina.

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