'Tiger the Lurp Dog' sheds light on this misunderstood recon unit in the Vietnam War

Jack Murphy
May 08, 2020 - 11:28 am
Tiger The Lurp Dog

Courtesy of the author

"Tiger The Lurp Dog" has been hailed by many as one of the best novels to emerge from those who served in the Vietnam War. Despite hearing about the book for many years, it was another that I was remiss in reading. With COVID-19 keeping all of us at home, it was time to prioritize reading some of these books that so many friends over the years had recommended to me. "Tiger The Lurp Dog" did not disappoint, and now I understand why it is held in such high esteem. 

The book is written by Kenn Miller who himself served in Vietnam as a "Lurp," actually an LRRP, meaning long-range reconnaissance patrol, which were later in the war re-organized as Ranger companies. Miller stayed in the unit long enough to see it evolve and change numerous times, as one of only two soldiers who served as an LRP, an LRRP, and Ranger in 1/101 LRRP, F/58 LRP, and L/75 Ranger, respectively.

After the war, Miller spent time in Taiwan and became fluent in Mandarin. "Tiger The Lurp Dog" was published in 1983, and in 1997 his non-fiction book about the Lurps was published as part of a three-book series called "Six Silent Men," referring to the six-man composition of most Lurp teams. Their mission was to infiltrate behind enemy lines, scout for enemy positions, gather detailed information of intelligence value, and on occasion, to raise holy hell amongst the enemy.

The strength of "Tiger the Lurp Dog" is really in its portrayal of the men who gravitate to the Lurps and its representation of the unit's culture. There is Mopar, the young rebellious kid who walks point for the patrol, and may be a lifer but just doesn't know it yet. There is Marvel Kim, a first-generation Korean-American who works the radio and becomes an honor grad at Recondo school. There is also Gonzales who is a Cuban exile who hates communism above all else. Then there is Wolverine, the patrol leader and seasoned Special Forces sergeant who escaped his past and changed his name. The platoon sergeant who coordinates helicopter gunships and airstrikes for the Lurp patrols is Pappy Stagg. Pushing 50 and having fought in three and a half wars, he is the professional who knows it all but also risks getting sentimental in his old age. 

The connective tissue that holds the narrative of the story together is Tiger, a mangy mutt taken in by the Lurps as their unit mascot. Tiger is a crafty Lurp dog and one humorous chapter describes when the platoon asks a Special Forces forward operating base to take him in because their own camp was euthanizing all the dogs. It was a last-ditch effort to save their pet, but Tiger didn't like the Special Forces base much and escaped through the mined wire defenses erected around the perimeter. Tiger wove his way through punji stakes, snagging his tail on Claymore mine tripwires, and scooting through a literal minefield while the soldiers up on the perimeter wall took bets as to whether or not he will make it.

Meanwhile, Mopar, Wolverine, Gonzales and Marvel are looking for missions. When another Lurp team gets completely wiped out by the enemy, they get their wish in the worst kind of way. They're sent into the jungle to locate the bodies so that their family members can collect life insurance payments from the U.S. government. With Tiger is missing in action after escaping the Special Forces camp, the Lurp team deploys on their mission. From there, the book ratchets up the tension to the breaking point, reaching the final and heart-wrenching conclusion.

"Tiger the Lurp Dog" lived up to its reputation as one of the finest works written by a veteran of Vietnam and it is a story that will haunt the reader long after finishing the final page, just as the war did for so many who returned.

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Reach Jack Murphy: jack@connectingvets.com or @JackMurphyRGR.