- - Sunday, October 29, 2017


By Craig Grossi

William Morrow, $25, 288 pages

Fred is a Marine corps dog, which makes him an unusual animal because he has survived not only Afghanistan but the Marines.

Not all men are qualified to be Marines and dogs are even more unusual. Fred is a stray with short legs and big ears who is adopted by Sgt. Craig Grossi (a nine-year Marine corps veteran) when he wanders into the platoon’s compound where the toilet is a chicken coop.

Craig is a dedicated Marine and he becomes equally dedicated to Fred, who understands what it takes to be a canine member of the corps. He knows when never to bark and how to do night patrols when his paws are placed as silently as the boots of his buddies. He eats with them, sleeps with them and sometimes clearly mourns with them.

Mr. Grossi has written an often heart-wrenching book in which the dog becomes part of a gruesome way of life when Taliban attacks are a daily occurrence. He makes clear the loyalty that the Marines have for each other, which is as fierce as their battle against those waiting to destroy them,

Now a decorated veteran who works for the Defense Intelligence Agency and veterans’ organizations, the author acknowledges the price to be paid for the kind of life he has led.

“Some people are haunted by what they’d experienced and what they saw in Afghanistan. I’m no exception,” he writes,”Some things you can’t forget, but some things you don’t want to forget either, like the memory of your friends who didn’t come back,”

Mr. Grossi is a quintessential Marine. When he is on leave, he takes with him on a trip a man who has lost his leg and goes hiking and swimming with a prosthetic device. He is of course another Marine. And he also takes Fred. He is not about to leave Fred behind anywhere. There is a fascinating anecdote in which the author relates how he smuggled the little dog out of Camp Leatherneck in a duffel bag with not a bark out of him. And he did it with the help of a bunch of Marines equally attached to Fred, including some remarkably high ranking officers.

Mr. Grossi’s skill as a writer lies in his ability to communicate with readers who don’t know what he is talking about, what day to day warfare is like. It is dirty and uncomfortable as well as dangerous, and he makes clear the devotion with which comrades in arms take care of each other. This is especially poignant in his accounts of the death of two close friends and the unending grief that he suffers for years afterward.

Being a Marine or a dog in Afghanistan doesn’t equip your normal living and Mr. Grossi makes clear the pain of struggling with his leaving that strange tortured life that revolved among those who might not survive the day if they stepped on a carefully placed explosive.

Fred is a living comfort in such circumstances and his reward is to stay with his master who notes that his name came from a corpsman’s observation that the dog “looks like as Fred!” It stuck as Fred. And when Fred eventually reaches the author’s home in the United States, he wanders the house which he has never seen before.

When a search is made for the dog, since his owner isn’t back from war yet, Fred is found upstairs asleep on his master’s bed. Fred is home at last.

• Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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