Critical Reading Reflection #2
Due: Thursday, March 26 @ 12:55 p.m. by Google Doc
“One time ago a crazy dream came to me
I dreamt I was walkin' into World War Three
I went to the doctor the very next day
To see what kinda words he could say
He said it was a bad dream
I wouldn't worry 'bout it none, though
Them old dreams are only in your head”
WILL THERE BE A WWIII? Would the U.S. be involved? If so, what U.S. institutions would be
involved and why? What will be the issues being fought over? Will anyone care? Will you try to
stop it or promote it due to what you see as it being just or unjust? What’s at stake in this war?
These are questions to help you consider this assignment; you may answer one or more but
please write an essay that explains and defends your answer.
Your reflection must include references to at least two of the assigned course readings PLUS
bring in at least two additional sources as you form an argument. More written sources may be
appropriate depending on your own reflections and interest. Your paper will be graded on
originality, concept, essay structure, links to reading, research, the expert’s view, writing quality,
argument, evidence, grammar and spelling.
Please remember: Your reactions and reflections are a vital part of this assignment; use of “I” is
completely acceptable. But, you must connect those reflections to the readings and outside
research as you build an argument and provide evidence. All sources used should be
Page length: 4 to 5 pages in a Google Doc
o Submit to me by 12:55 p.m. on the due date by Google Doc at
o Please put World War III in the subject line
o Make sure to grant me editing privileges
A Works Cited page should be included. This does NOT count toward the page length.
o APA or MLA are both acceptable.
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
The Things They Carried
On the Rainy River
How to Tell a True War Story
Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong
The Man I Killed
Speaking of Courage
In the Field
The Ghost Soldiers
The Lives of the Dead
About the Author
Copyright © 1990 by Tim O’Brien
All rights reserved.
For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to
Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue
South, New York, New York 10003.
First published in 1990 by Houghton Mifflin
First Mariner Books edition 2009
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.
Of these stories, five first appeared in Esquire: “The Things They Carried,” “How
to Tell a True War Story,” “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” "The Ghost
Soldiers,” and ”The Lives of the Dead.” “Speaking of Courage” was first published
in The Massachusetts Review, then later, in a revised version, in Granta. “In the
Field” was first published in Gentleman’s Quarterly. “Style,” “Spin,” and “The
Man I Killed” were first published, in different form, in The Quarterly. “The
Things They Carried” appeared in The Best American Short Stories 1987.
“Speaking of Courage” and “The Ghost Soldiers” appeared in Prize Stories: The
O. Henry Awards (1978 and 1982). “On the Rainy River” first appeared in
Playboy. The author wishes to thank the editors of those publications and to express
gratitude for support received from the National Endowment for the Arts.
This book is lovingly dedicated to the men of
Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross,
Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders,
Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa.
My thanks to Erik Hansen, Rust Hills,
Camille Hykes, Seymour Lawrence, Andy McKillop,
Ivan Nabokov, Les Ramirez, and, above all,
to Ann O’Brien.
This book is essentially different from any other that has been published
concerning the “late war” or any of its incidents. Those who have had any
such experience as the author will see its truthfulness at once, and to all other
readers it is commended as a statement of actual things by one who
experienced them to the fullest.
—John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary
The Things They Carried
First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior
at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but
Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his
rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day’s march, he would dig his foxhole, wash
his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers,
and spend the last hour of light pretending. He would imagine romantic camping
trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the
envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there. More than anything, he wanted
Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were mostly chatty, elusive on
the matter of love. She was a virgin, he was almost sure. She was an English major
at Mount Sebastian, and she wrote beautifully about her professors and roommates
and midterm exams, about her respect for Chaucer and her great affection for
Virginia Woolf. She often quoted lines of poetry; she never mentioned the war,
except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself. The letters weighed 4 ounces. They
were signed Love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a
way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant. At dusk, he
would carefully return the letters to his rucksack. Slowly, a bit distracted, he would
get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter, then at full dark he would
return to his hole and watch the night and wonder if Martha was a virgin.
The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the
necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs,
wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt
tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment
Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items
weighed between 12 and 18 pounds, depending upon a man’s habits or rate of
metabolism. Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra rations; he was
especially fond of canned peaches in heavy syrup over pound cake. Dave Jensen,
who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotelsized bars of soap he’d stolen on R&R in Sydney, Australia. Ted Lavender, who
was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of
Than Khe in mid-April. By necessity, and because it was SOP, they all carried steel
helmets that weighed 5 pounds including the liner and camouflage cover. They
carried the standard fatigue jackets and trousers. Very few carried underwear. On
their feet they carried jungle boots—2.1 pounds—and Dave Jensen carried three
pairs of socks and a can of Dr. Scholl’s foot powder as a precaution against trench
foot. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried 6 or 7 ounces of premium dope,
which for him was a necessity. Mitchell Sanders, the RTO, carried condoms.
Norman Bowker carried a diary. Rat Kiley carried comic books. Kiowa, a devout
Baptist, carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his
father, who taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As a hedge against
bad times, however, Kiowa also carried his grandmother’s distrust of the white
man, his grandfather’s old hunting hatchet. Necessity dictated. Because the land
was mined and booby-trapped, it was SOP for each man to carry a steel-centered,
nylon-covered flak jacket, which weighed 6.7 pounds, but which on hot days
seemed much heavier. Because you could die so quickly, each man carried at least
one large compress bandage, usually in the helmet band for easy access. Because
the nights were cold, and because the monsoons were wet, each carried a green
plastic poncho that could be used as a raincoat or groundsheet or makeshift tent.
With its quilted liner, the poncho weighed almost 2 pounds, but it was worth every
ounce. In April, for instance, when Ted Lavender was shot, they used his poncho to
wrap him up, then to carry him across the paddy, then to lift him into the chopper
that took him away.
They were called legs or grunts.
To carry something was to hump it, as when Lieutenant Jimmy Cross humped his
love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps. In its intransitive form, to
hump meant to walk, or to march, but it implied burdens far beyond the intransitive.
Almost everyone humped photographs. In his wallet, Lieutenant Cross carried
two photographs of Martha. The first was a Kodacolor snapshot signed Love,
though he knew better. She stood against a brick wall. Her eyes were gray and
neutral, her lips slightly open as she stared straight-on at the camera. At night,
sometimes, Lieutenant Cross wondered who had taken the picture, because he knew
she had boyfriends, because he loved her so much, and because he could see the
shadow of the picture-taker spreading out against the brick wall. The second
photograph had been clipped from the 1968 Mount Sebastian yearbook. It was an
action shot—women’s volleyball—and Martha was bent horizontal to the floor,
reaching, the palms of her hands in sharp focus, the tongue taut, the expression frank
and competitive. There was no visible sweat. She wore white gym shorts. Her legs,
he thought, were almost certainly the legs of a virgin, dry and without hair, the left
knee cocked and carrying her entire weight, which was just over 117 pounds.
Lieutenant Cross remembered touching that left knee. A dark theater, he
remembered, and the movie was Bonnie and Clyde, and Martha wore a tweed
skirt, and during the final scene, when he touched her knee, she turned and looked at
him in a sad, sober way that made him pull his hand back, but he would always
remember the feel of the tweed skirt and the knee beneath it and the sound of the
gunfire that killed Bonnie and Clyde, how embarrassing it was, how slow and
oppressive. He remembered kissing her good night at the dorm door. Right then, he
thought, he should’ve done something brave. He should’ve carried her up the stairs
to her room and tied her to the bed and touched that left knee all night long. He
should’ve risked it. Whenever he looked at the photographs, he thought of new
things he should’ve done.
What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty.
As a first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps,
code books, binoculars, and a .45-caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds fully
loaded. He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men.
As an RTO, Mitchell Sanders carried the PRC-25 radio, a killer, 26 pounds with
As a medic, Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma
and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the things a medic
must carry, including M&M’s for especially bad wounds, for a total weight of
nearly 18 pounds.
As a big man, therefore a machine gunner, Henry Dobbins carried the M-60,
which weighed 23 pounds unloaded, but which was almost always loaded. In
addition, Dobbins carried between 10 and 15 pounds of ammunition draped in belts
across his chest and shoulders.
As PFCs or Spec 4 s, most of them were common grunts and carried the standard
M-16 gas-operated assault rifle. The weapon weighed 7.5 pounds unloaded, 8.2
pounds with its full 20-round magazine. Depending on numerous factors, such as
topography and psychology, the riflemen carried anywhere from 12 to 20
magazines, usually in cloth bandoliers, adding on another 8.4 pounds at minimum,
14 pounds at maximum. When it was available, they also carried M-16 maintenance
gear—rods and steel brushes and swabs and tubes of LSA oil—all of which
weighed about a pound. Among the grunts, some carried the M-79 grenade
launcher, 5.9 pounds unloaded, a reasonably light weapon except for the
ammunition, which was heavy. A single round weighed 10 ounces. The typical load
was 25 rounds. But Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried 34 rounds when he was
shot and killed outside Than Khe, and he went down under an exceptional burden,
more than 20 pounds of ammunition, plus the flak jacket and helmet and rations and
water and toilet paper and tranquilizers and all the rest, plus the unweighed fear.
He was dead weight. There was no twitching or flopping. Kiowa, who saw it
happen, said it was like watching a rock fall, or a big sandbag or something—just
boom, then down—not like the movies where the dead guy rolls around and does
fancy spins and goes ass over teakettle—not like that, Kiowa said, the poor bastard
just flat-fuck fell. Boom. Down. Nothing else. It was a bright morning in mid-April.
Lieutenant Cross felt the pain. He blamed himself. They stripped off Lavender’s
canteens and ammo, all the heavy things, and Rat Kiley said the obvious, the guy’s
dead, and Mitchell Sanders used his radio to report one U.S. KIA and to request a
chopper. Then they wrapped Lavender in his poncho. They carried him out to a dry
paddy, established security, and sat smoking the dead man’s dope until the chopper
came. Lieutenant Cross kept to himself. He pictured Martha’s smooth young face,
thinking he loved her more than anything, more than his men, and now Ted Lavender
was dead because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her.
When the dustoff arrived, they carried Lavender aboard. Afterward they burned
Than Khe. They marched until dusk, then dug their holes, and that night Kiowa kept
explaining how you had to be there, how fast it was, how the poor guy just dropped
like so much concrete. Boom-down, he said. Like cement.
In addition to the three standard weapons—the M-60, M-16, and M-79—they
carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of
killing or staying alive. They carried catch-as-catch-can. At various times, in
various situations, they carried M-14s and CAR-15s and Swedish Ks and grease
guns and captured AK-47s and Chi-Coms and RPGs and Simonov carbines and
black market Uzis and .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handguns and 66 mm LAWs and
shotguns and silencers and blackjacks and bayonets and C-4 plastic explosives. Lee
Strunk carried a slingshot; a weapon of last resort, he called it. Mitchell Sanders
carried brass knuckles. Kiowa carried his grandfather’s feathered hatchet. Every
third or fourth man carried a Claymore antipersonnel mine—3.5 pounds with its
firing device. They all carried fragmentation grenades—14 ounces each. They all
carried at least one M-18 colored smoke grenade—24 ounces. Some carried CS or
tear gas grenades. Some carried white phosphorus grenades. They carried all they
could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the
things they carried.
In the first week of April, before Lavender died, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross
received a good-luck charm from Martha. It was a simple pebble, an ounce at most.
Smooth to the touch, it was a milky white color with flecks of orange and violet,
oval-shaped, like a miniature egg. In the accompanying letter, Martha wrote that she
had found the pebble on the Jersey shoreline, precisely where the land touched
water at high tide, where things came together but also separated. It was this
separate-but-together quality, she wrote, that had inspired her to pick up the pebble
and to carry it in her breast pocket for several days, where it seemed weightless,
and then to send it through the mail, by air, as a token of her truest feelings for him.
Lieutenant Cross found this romantic. But he wondered what her truest feelings
were, exactly, and what she meant by separate-but-together. He wondered how the
tides and waves had come into play on that afternoon along the Jersey shoreline
when Martha saw the pebble and bent down to rescue it from geology. He imagined
bare feet. Martha was a poet, with the poet’s sensibilities, and her feet would be
brown and bare, the toenails unpainted, the eyes chilly and somber like the ocean in
March, and though it was painful, he wondered who had been with her that
afternoon. He imagined a pair of shadows moving along the strip of sand where
things came together but also separated. It was phantom jealousy, he knew, but he
couldn’t help himself. He loved her so much. On the march, through the hot days of
early April, he carried the pebble in his mouth, turning it with his tongue, tasting
sea salt and moisture. His mind wandered. He had difficulty keeping his attention
on the war. On occasion he would yell at his men to spread out the column, to keep
their eyes open, but then he would slip away into daydreams, just pretending,
walking barefoot along the Jersey shore, with Martha, carrying nothing. He would
feel himself rising. Sun and waves and gentle winds, all love and lightness.
What they carried varied by mission.
When a mission took them to the mountains, they carried mosquito netting,
machetes, canvas tarps, and extra bug juice.
If a mission seemed especially hazardous, or if it involved a place they knew to
be bad, they carried everything they could. In certain heavily mined AOs, where the
land was dense with Toe Poppers and Bouncing Betties, they took turns humping a
28-pound mine detector. With its headphones and big sensing plate, the equipment
was a stress on the lower back and shoulders, awkward to handle, often useless
because of the shrapnel in the earth, but they carried it anyway, partly for safety,
partly for the illusion of safety.
On ambush, or other night missions, they carried peculiar little odds and ends.
Kiowa always took along his New Testament and a pair of moccasins for silence.
Dave Jensen carried night-sight vitamins high in carotene. Lee Strunk carried his
slingshot; ammo, he claimed, would never be a problem. Rat Kiley carried brandy
and M&M’s candy. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried the starlight scope,
which weighed 6.3 pounds with its aluminum carrying case. Henry Dobbins carried
his girlfriend’s pantyhose wrapped around his neck as a comforter. They all carried
ghosts. When dark came, they would move out single file across the meadows and
paddies to their ambush coordinates, where they would quietly set up the
Claymores and lie down and spend the night waiting.
Other missions were more complicated and required special equipment. In midApril, it was their mission to search out and destroy the elaborate tunnel complexes
in the Than Khe area south of Chu Lai. To blow the tunnels, they carried one-pound
blocks of pentrite high explosives, four blocks to a man, 68 pounds in all. They
carried wiring, detonators, and battery-powered clackers. Dave Jensen carried
earplugs. Most often, before blowing the tunnels, they were ordered by higher
command to search them, which was considered bad news, but by and large they
just shrugged and carried out orders. Because he was a big man, Henry Dobbins
was excused from tunnel duty. The others would draw numbers. Before Lavender
died there were 17 men in the platoon, and whoever drew the number 17 would
strip off his gear and crawl in headfirst with a flashlight and Lieutenant Cross’s
.45-caliber pistol. The rest of them would fan out as security. They would sit down
or kneel, not facing the hole, listening to the ground beneath them, imagining
cobwebs and ghosts, whatever was down there—the tunnel walls squeezing in—
how the flashlight seemed impossibly heavy in the hand and how it was tunnel
vision in the very strictest sense, compression in all ways, even time, and how you
had to wig ...
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