Dead Center: A Marine Sniper's Two-Year Odyssey in the Vietnam War

Dead Center: A Marine Sniper's Two-Year Odyssey in the Vietnam War

by Ed Kugler

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Raw, straightforward, and powerful, Ed Kugler's account of his two years as a Marine scout-sniper in Vietnam vividly captures his experiences there--the good, the bad, and the ugly. After enlisting in the Marines at seventeen, then being wounded in Santo Domingo during the Dominican crisis, Kugler arrived in Vietnam in early 1966.

As a new sniper with the 4th Marines, Kugler picked up bush skills while attached to 3d Force Recon Company, and then joined the grunts. To take advantage of that experience, he formed the Rogues, a five-sniper team that hunted in the Co Bi-Than Tan Valley for VC and NVA. His descriptions of long, tense waits, sudden deadly action, and NVA countersniper ambushes are fascinating.

In DEAD CENTER, Kugler demonstrates the importance to a sniper of patience, marksmanship, bush skills, and guts--while underscoring exactly what a country demands of its youth when it sends them to war.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307829917
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/17/2012
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 30,138
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

A former Marine scout-sniper, Ed Kugler served two tours in Vietnam as a sniper and sergeant with the 4th Marines in I Corps. He is the recipient of two Purple Hearts and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. He is the author of the inspirational self-help booklet A Dozen Things I Learned About Life as a Marine Sniper in Vietnam. Following his four-year hitch in the Marine Corps, Ed distinguished himself in the corporate world. He spent ten years in his family's trucking business before working sixteen years in management with PepsiCo's Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola divisions. He was then Vice President, Worldwide Logistics, for Compaq Computer Corporation and vice president of Telxon Corporation. Today Ed is a business and change management consultant. He lives with his wife of thirty years and their family in Spring, Texas.

Read an Excerpt

Snipers Up … Hell Yes!
It might be January, but it’s hotter than hell. The sun’s streaming through the trees, creating shadows that streak across the sergeant’s face. He’s working himself into a thick lather as he describes what Nam’s like. It’s for the education of trainees like me in the audience. “At night, it’s blacker than the inside of an ape’s ass at midnight!” he bellows. He’s dark with a Nam tan; his looks betray his irrational nature. He works to impress the fifty or so of us, the fresh meat, seated on makeshift wooden benches. It’s jungle training, it’s Camp Pendleton, and it’s weird.
My mind drifts away from his antics to my arrival in California just two days earlier. I’m back sitting in a little park just outside the bus station in Oceanside. I’m fresh in from the frigid January winds of Cleveland. And I love the warm, short-sleeve weather of Southern California. I sit, listening to someone’s radio playing “Monday Monday.” Me, the Mamas and the Papas, and all this wonderful weather, how can it be? I’m sitting in Oceanside, waiting for my bus to Pendleton, and I think, Man, this’ll be a good place to come when all the Marine and Nam stuff is over. This is nice, it’s damned nice!
Well that was a couple days ago, and this is now. I’m listening to a sergeant rant and rave about our fate, how half of us are coming home flat-ass on a stretcher or dead, dumb, and cold in a body bag. He’s screaming at anyone who falls asleep. He blasts one Marine with, “You asshole, you’re gonna get people killed.” I don’t know if it was the heat, the Mamas and the Papas, or “California Dreamin’,” but none of what he was saying registered with me. I just wanted to get through the shit and get it on. We were in “jungle training,” California style. I guess it was all the Corps had on short notice; the Nam buildup caught everyone off guard. We were in jungle training, but there wasn’t a jungle within a thousand miles of Camp Pendleton.
Our training would last four weeks. Then, we’d each be individual replacements for Marine units already calling Vietnam home. For the grunt trainee, peacetime life in the Corps sucked. It was major boring. And jungle training for Nam was no exception. We’d split our days getting Nam ready, physically and mentally. Then we’d learn the skills necessary to stay alive and kill gooks when we got there.
Getting in shape was a major ball buster. We’d be out back of the camp some damn place, humping the barren hills in full battle gear all day long. Between the heat of the California sun and the weight we were humping, our thighs were always burning. The climb up those bastardly hills was a major ass kicker. “You assholes get in shape,” the sergeant would scream, “or you’ll get your ass left behind in Nam!”
The very thought of being left behind in Nam kept most of us going. Who the hell wanted to be left behind in Nam or anywhere for that matter? What the hell is Nam anyway? I didn’t know, but hell, I wanted to go anyway. I wanted to serve my country. That’s what the Corps was all about. That’s why I joined. We all felt that way.
Training with all the guys I didn’t know was boot camp all over. It didn’t have the restrictions, but it was a foreign affair for me. I only knew a couple of the guys out of the hundreds going through training. I was never one to just join in with groups I didn’t know; I usually had only one or two close friends at a time. Jungle school was no exception. I occasionally saw a couple of guys who were in Santo Domingo with me, but it was rare. It was all like starting over. I felt the Corps could do better with units that were formed and trained intact. But it wasn’t to be.
Before long I struck up with a kid just out of boot camp. He was from Houston. I knew him only as Thompson, his last name and the universal military tag.
Thompson was a really nice kid. Like me, he’d joined the Corps at seventeen, but he went to boot camp in San Diego, then got his orders for Nam. He wasn’t as excited about the prospect as I was. He was seventeen years old, and I was eighteen, and I had Santo Domingo under my belt, and that made me an old salt to him. Thompson even looked young. Too damn young to be married! I couldn’t believe that when he told me. Told me he married a Mexican girl he went with in high school. Did it as soon as he found out he was going to Nam. What the hell was he thinking?
I didn’t need to agree with him to like him; we hit it off from day one and stayed together all through training, beside each other every step of the way. Up and down, up and down as we humped endlessly through the hills around Pendleton. Marching every morning to get in shape. Each afternoon, we tried to keep each other awake in the face of our instructors’ endless droning. We’d get their drift early on, but that didn’t stop them; they made the “gooks,” as they called them, out to be purely invincible. They told us story after story about how the Viet Cong could sneak up to a sentry in the middle of the night, slit his throat, then be gone before his buddies even knew he was dead.
Even with all of us knee-deep in boredom, some stories began a wave of emotion that would wash over the half-attentive audience, drawing responses from the disbelief of “Give me a fucking break,” to the fear of “Oh my God, how will I survive?” Thompson worried a lot. He just wanted to go to Nam, do his duty, and get back in one piece. He talked endlessly of the life he wanted to build with his little lady. He didn’t want some gook sneaking up and ending his dreams. I had no dreams like his but I still didn’t believe some little bastard could sneak up and slit my throat without my knowing about it either. They were human weren’t they?
I’d have to wait ’til Nam to know for sure. Training continued to be a drag, but the mock-up of the booby-trapped village got my attention. It was the next to last stop in training at jungle school, and the instructors were enthusiastic Nam vets. After my first walk, I was paranoid for sure. And if I was paranoid, then Thompson was a basket case. He hadn’t looked forward to Vietnam before, and after all the stories of gore from the booby traps, he was down for the count.
They said the booby-trap village was a replica of what we’d find in Vietnam. It had grass huts and trails and everything else needed to simulate what we would run into as Nam grunts. I wanted to go to Nam, but I didn’t want that cannon fodder bullshit that I’d seen in Santo Domingo. Grunts are beautiful, but they’re usually the first dead. The booby traps focused my attention better than all the lectures we’d endured. I could look at a punji pit with its razor-sharp stakes and see firsthand what a bummer that’d be. The idea of the stakes alone was bad enough without having to worry about some gook rubbing his shit on them to infect my wounds.
We’d been training hard and we needed a break; we’d had daily early morning runs, hikes that lasted all day, and hour after hour of afternoon lectures. By the time we had finished the hands-on booby-trap training, two weeks had passed, during which we’d spend lots of evenings in the pool, taking swimming tests, so we were ready for a break. Lighten up, guys, we’ll be ready for Nam … a break, okay, just a break?
Finally word came that the next weekend was ours: a seventy-two-hour pass! I’d run into an old buddy from Dom Rep and the 6th Marines. He suggested we go to Tijuana, Mexico. The old salts called it TJ. All I knew was that it was south of California somewhere. Thompson didn’t want to make the trip, but I convinced him to come along and have some fun. “What could it hurt?” I said. My Dom Rep friend, Hanscomb, brought along a buddy of his, and the four of us were off to TJ.
First thing Saturday morning, we boarded a bus from the base to Oceanside. There, we changed buses for the two-hour ride south to Tijuana. It was a gorgeous day. The more I saw of California, the more I loved what I saw. The ride was great, the time raced by, and we soon passed through San Diego and on to the border. We got off the bus on the U.S. side, right at the border.
Hanscomb said he knew the way; he’d been there on his last tour at Pendleton. He was elated, said he couldn’t wait to see our faces when we saw Tijuana. His buddy played along with him; either he’d been there before or didn’t want to let us first timers know that he hadn’t.

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Dead Center: A Marine Sniper's Two-Year Odyssey in the Vietnam War 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read countless books on Vietnam and wars in general. I served almost 15 years in the military myself and I find this book to a total let down. He stated that this would be the best nam book I would ever read, not even close. If you want to read a good book about snipers, real snipers that went out by themselves or with a spotter then read 'Marine Sniper, 93 Comfirmed Kills'. That book is a page turner about a man with some serious shooting and concelment skill.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book following a young man by the name of Ed Kugler. He joined the Marines in the mid 1960s to get out of his boring little town. His parents didn¿t support him about going into the military. After training he was involved in the Dominican crisis and eventually Vietnam. He volunteered to go to Vietnam and when he got to Vietnam he volunteered to become a Marine scout sniper. The entire time he was in Vietnam every letter he got from his parents had something in it saying that he made a mistake going to Vietnam. He trained in Vietnam for a while to become a scout sniper. When he was finished him and his partner joined a recon team. Read the book and experience the adventures, and tragedies that Kug experiences in Vietnam. There were a lot of good things and just a few bad things in the book Dead center Just a few of the good things were he described his situations very well, and he explained his feelings about tragedies and very good things that happened to him. He also described the men in his unit so good d that you could picture them and hear how they talked. Of the few problems in this book the only one that bothered me was one page he¿d be talking about one day the next page he¿d be talking about a day three days later. He only did this a few times, and I understand he has to do it because he cant talk about every day eh was in Vietnam it would be too big of a book. Dead center is not part and a series and has no sequels, and is a book that reminds me of the movie We Were Soldiers. A lot of kind of people would like this book, because there are sad, funny, and historical parts in this book. The people that would enjoy this most though would be someone who just likes a great adventure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By Tom David The reader needs to understand that this is a narrative written by a young man who lived thru hell. It is not a exquisite piece of English literature. It is instead, compelling, confusing, raw, but at all times you can sense the authors feelings and emotions. If you want to read the strategy, tatics, and politics of the VietNam war look elsewhere. However, if you want to understand the brutality and horror of war this is a great book. Sure it isn't written with the consistency and erudition that would mark this a an academic achievement. It is a searing look at one young mans experiences and the ultimate futility of the VietNam war. If you want to have a mental picture of the difference between Nam and " the World " as seen thru a Marines eyes read this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The reader very quickly becomes sucked into a strange world, defying understanding. Certainly a frightening and terrible time for these young men, the book fails to really capture what must have been real terror at times. The author has a propensity for describing his level of fear by how tight his bowels become and this gets really tedious after the third time. A sense of adventure came through and their clear sense of pride in doing a job well drove these single minded men to great lengths for their country. The book is quite enjoyable as an introduction to the dark world of the military sniper.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ed Kugler's book Dead Center taught you the truth about the Vietnam War and the style he writes in is very intense and makes the book hard to put down. It tells the story of a marine sniper in his 2-year odyssey in the Vietnam War. Kugler's writing makes the reader feel as though he is in the jungle with him as he tells his sometimes-gruesome story. In the book some of the writing is very graphic and visual and some readers might be offended by some of the language he uses but in reading his book that is the way that it actual happened and how other marines and him responded to each other in battle. Kugler lets you know how it really is in war and all that can happen to people on both sides of a war in a foreign country. Every page of Kugler's book Dead Center is so descriptive and intense that you can visualize what is happened as you turn each page. As a high school freshman this is the best book I have ever read. Once again I recommend reading this book.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Anonymous 10 months ago
I find it very hard to like Mr Kugler, and also find it hard to have any sense of anything other than a great sense of waste after reading it. He describes all that is bad in my eyes about the business of war. He is undoubtedly a skillful marksman, but his rather casual attitude to blowing away gooks is worrying. The 'kill or be killed' mindset is hard to justify at 200 to 1200 meters, and I attributed his dedication to a true desire to rid this world of commies. He obviously subscribed to the notion that the commies were evil, and later writings do not seem to have altered this rather outdated and misplaced viewpoint, at least in my opinion. I cannot obviously know exactly what was going on in his mind then. nor in fact now, because his writing style is particularly raw, sometimes childish, and undeveloped. He is not good at describing his emotions or beliefs, and I can only go on the often impenetrable stew that he spews onto the pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read.
budd0 More than 1 year ago
Well written lot of insight into the Vietnam War.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a Marine sniper myself I could relate to Ed Kugler's account. My experience in combat is no where near as hairy as his. However, he captures the mentality and energy of Marines well. In Iraq we operated in four man teams similar to the Rogues. We also had to educate the brass on how they could employ our team.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book tells the way a sniper can get a jod done with his rifle and the Rogues.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author's use of nick-names, i.e. 'Jaw Bone', de-personalized the story. I think that even using fictitious names would have made the story more enjoyable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ed Kugler does a great job at describing what it was like to be a sniper in vietnam. It is very interesting to see vietnam from a real soldiers perspective. He describes the art of sniping and the book is also filled with thrilling action and suspense. As ugler says 'the best damn nam book you'll ever read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book after reading 93 Confirmed Kills. Thought to much of the book centered around the weather, drinking, using profanity, and worrying family by re-enlisting. More tactical information and less 'fluff' would be better. Mr. Kugler is a true hero and deserves respect for serving his country. Most Marines I've met speak proudly of their service in the Marine Corp. I think the book does a disservice to the Marines.