Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and his platoon of seventeen are fighting in the Vietnam War. They all come from from different places, but share one common goal. This goal is to fight with honor and dignity, and never show weakness or vulnerability. Men carried things to war, that represent their personalities. For example: Ted Lavender is scared all of the time so he carries tranquilizers. Men carried things according to their rank and of their field specialty. What they also carried was according to their mission,like if they were fighting in the mountains, they would carry mosquito repellent.
The goal of the platoon was to watch out for each other, but while Lieutenant Cross was daydreaming , one of his men Ted Lavender was shot. Cross, would forever carry the guilt of that day. Men carried diseases, lice, and even the Vietnam soil on their shoes. But the most important thing all of the men carried was their dignity. No matter how they felt inside, destruction would not be dying. It would be revealing their pain and emotions. After the death of Ted Lavender Cross decided that he would become tougher and didnt care if he wasnt loved. His job now was to lead the people to victory.
Jimmy Cross reunites with one of his men in Massachusetts many years after the war. They reminisce about all of their men and talk about Ted Lavender, who Cross still takes the responsibility of his death for. Cross tells this man how he ran into Martha in 1979 and how they talked for eight hours. He told Martha that he still loved her, but she could not return the same feeling. For the rest of the visit, Cross didnt talk about Martha. The friend decides that this experience of the war would make a good story and Cross agrees, as long as Martha is not mentioned. The war was not always violent and there were men who did humorous things.
There was one time when Mitchell Sanders had lice. He used his thumbnail and an envelope to put the lice in. He then sent the envelope to his draft board in Ohio. Playing checkers was also popular among the men and they liked it because the game was orderly and strategic. There were red and black checkers and there were no obstacles such as mountains to overcome. One could always see the enemy in front of them and there was always a clear cut winner or loser. The chapter jumps back to the man who Jimmy Cross visited in Massachusetts when the war was over. He is forty-three years old now, a writer, and a Vietnam veteran.
He is the author of this novel and telling stories about the Vietnam war. He talks about his memories of the bad things during the war, but of the good as well. One of his good memories was of a man named old poppa-san who acted as a guide through the mine fields and how Rat Kiley made up a silly rhyme,Step out of line, hit a mine;follow the dink, you’re in the pink. OBrien shares his war stories and believes it is important. He believes that stories are memories that have no beginning and no end and that memories are lost in time. Experiences can be erased from your memory, but stories live on.
OBrien, the author of this novel, tells a story that he has told no one before. This is his story about his reaction when he first found out he was drafted into the Vietnam War. He was drafter June of 1968, a month after his graduation from Macalester College. His first reaction was his extreme desire not to go, not only because of fear, but because he didnt agree with the war. He had no idea what the war was about and didnt understand why he had to risk his life for a war he didnt support. That summer OBrien grew very confused. He was just a normal kid, who had no idea about how to use a gun or camp out in the dirt.
In the summer of 1968, he worked at a meat packing plant in Minnesota. Staring at a dead pig that he was cutting up for a customer, OBrien fled and took his fathers car in hope that he would be safe in Canada. He drove for hours trying to flee the country. When he finally reached the border he didnt know what to do. He just turned west toward the rainy river which separates Minnesota from Canada. In the morning after driving all night he was looking for a place to stay. He found an old fishing resort called Tip Top Lodge and an eighty year old man Elroy Berdahl offered him a food and board.
OBrien spent six days at that lodge and the whole time Elroy didnt ask him any questions about what a young man of twenty-one was doing at the border between Minnesota and Canada. OBrien knew that Elroy knew exactly what he was doing. Elroy just kept to himself and never pried into OBriens business. When it was about time for OBrien to pay and leave, Elroy decided not to charge him the full rate for the room and food. He gave OBrien an extra hundred dollars for all of the hours he worked during his stay. On the last day OBrien and Elroy spent together the two went fishing.
OBrien just sat there thinking about what he was going to do next and if Canada was the right decision. Tears were falling down his eyes and he pondered back and forth between war and freedom. OBrien decided to face his fears and go to war. And that is just what he did. There is a fight between Lee Strunk and Dave Jensen. This fight was over a missing jackknife. Jensen was bigger then Strunk and kept punching him in the face until his nose broke. Strunk was sent in the chopper and when he came back he had a metal splint and gauze on his nose. Jensen became scared now that Strunk would be upset and retaliate.
After all, this was war and men carried guns around. Jensen not only was frightened by Strunk, but now he became paranoid. He took many precautions such as keeping track of Strunk and digging his fox holes as fall away from Strunk as possible. One day he couldnt take it anymore and Jensen took a gun and broke his own nose. He went up to Strunk and told him that they were even now. Then Strunk started laughing and saying that he was the one who told the missing jackknife. Jensen and Strunk didnt like each other at first, but in time began to trust each other more. They covered many patrols together and depended on each other for safety.
One day Strunk stepped on a rigged motor round. This cut off his leg below the knee. The two made jokes about how they could sew the leg back on and that he would be able to walk again. Strunk died in Chu Lai . Although Jensen was upset, he was also a bit relieved too. Bob Kiley, also known as Rats friend gets killed and he writes a personal a letter to the mans sister explaining what happened and what a great friend this guy was. He sends the letter to the sister, but she never writes back. The author then talks about the characteristics of a good war story. He says one of the things about stories is that they have no moral.
The chapter then goes back to how Bob Kileys friend died. His name was Curt Lemon and the two of them were playing a game with a hand grenade. It exploded in his face. The author tells various other wars stories such as one where six men hear enemy voices in the mountains to a story about a the murder of a buffalo. The author concludes the chapter with his feelings about war stories. He feels that people have misconceptions of the war. All they want to hear about are the terrible battles and deaths. Basically, people always believe the lies and never the reality. War is not about battles and casualties.
There was something honorable and fulfilling about war. You began to appreciate life more and things that you have always taken for granted. The author found it hard to mourn for Curt Lemon. He didnt know him very well, but from what he has seen he was this caulky guy, who always took dangerous risks, and bragged. However, the author remembers one story about him and Lemon. Once, when the two of them left the war for two weeks, they went to visit a dentist. Lemon was terrified of the dentist and when he went to get checked and saw all of the dentist tools, he passed out.
He was ridiculed and so embarrassed that he went back to the dentist complaining of a toothache, and had the dentist pull out his tooth. Lemon was proud that he showed everyone he was strong. Rat is the one now who tells a story about a man he knew when he worked at a medical detachment near the village of Tra Bong. His friend was named Mark Fossie and he decided to invite his girlfriend named Mary Anne from back home to visit him in the war. She flew in and the two were a cute couple. They spent a lot of time together and planned their marriage and how many children they wanted to have.
Then things between the two of them began to change. As she began to get more involved with the war, he noticed first her way of dress. In stead of pulling her hair back and wearing her tight sweaters, she wore grungy clothes and didnt smell as sweet as he remembered. She began going out late at night and not coming home until late. Then it got to the point where she would not come home at all. It turned out that she was hanging around a group called the Greenies. They lived outside the gates of the hospital and took huge risks during the war. One night when she didnt come home at all, Mary and Mark had a confrontation.
She told him that he knows nothing about what the war is really about and is sheltered from the truth. When she is out risking her life, she feels like she is making a contribution to the war. There was nothing he could do to stop her now, so he just let her go. Then Rat could not finish the rest of the story. He was sent to the Alpha company. He did hear stories from other people, but he never witnessed what happened himself. What he does know is that he loved that girl. Rumor has it that Mary walked off into the mountains and never returned. Some say that late at night her shadow could be spotted.
All anyone knows is that she was dangerous. Henry Dobbins was a good man and a brave soldier. Even twenty years later the one thing the platoon remembers about him is the way he wore his girlfriends pantyhose around his neck before fighting. He believed that the pantyhose were a good luck charm. He enjoyed smelling them because it reminded him of his girlfriend from back home. Once and awhile he would even sleep with the pantyhose pressed against his face. Some people teased Dobbin, but mostly people because to understand and even believe that the stockings were good luck.
The stockings protected him when he stepped on a bomb and it did not even go off. In the end of October, his girlfriend dumped him, but he still continued to wear the pantyhose. He said the magic never goes away. The men in the platoon took over an abandoned pagoda. This is sort of like a church. The only people who lived there were two monks. These monks lived in a shack and all say they tended to their gardens. The men spent the night turning the church into a fortress with the help of the monks. The monks take care of the men bringing them food and buckets of water to bathe.
All the monks were nice to the men, but they favored Henry Dobbins the most. They would do so much for him such as cleaning his machine gun. One day Dobbins and Kiowa had a discussion. Dobbins says that someday he would like to be a monk and dress like one of them. He says he is not smart, and hates church, but he likes the idea of a job where you can be nice to people. Kiowa then expresses how he carries a bible around not because he wants to be a monk, but because that is the way that he was raised by his parents. Kiowa then talks about how wrong it is to set up a fortress in this place.
Whatever you want to call it, it is still a church. Tim has just killed a man. As he looks back he sees the blood dripping down the mans neck and a butterfly resting on his chin. Tim looks at the man and describes some of his features and what type of life he lived. He had the eyebrows of a woman and had wrists of a child. He must have been a soldier in the village of My Khe and a man who fought with honor . The man he killed must have been afraid to go to war and the only reason he went was because he was embarrassed not to. He probably prayed that the war would be over and the Americans would leave him alone.
One day the man he killed hoped to get married to the girlfriend in the picture Kiowa found and go back to college and study mathematics. Tim can only stand there and feels ashamed about what he has done. Kiowa keeps on trying to reassure him that this is what war is. People die all of the time and be grateful that they are still alive. Tim can only stand and stare at the man he killed. The man he killed had a life and a future. And in that instant of his dreams were taken away. Often when Tim was at home after the war had ended his daughter would ask him questions, one being if he ever killed a man.
Tim would try to protect her and tell her that he never has, but in fact he did. The platoon was hiding behind a trail and the troop was divided in half. It was a foggy day and as night came not one enemy came down the trail. Tim was ready for them because he had three hand grenades ready to be thrown, with pins out and everything. When a enemy was spotted Tim took the grenade and without thinking threw it and the man died. Tim sometimes sits at his home alone at night and while reading a newspaper and he thinks back on that day.
He visualizes a young man walking down the trail and walking back into the fog without even thinking that he is going to die. A girl of fourteen lost everything including her family and house. Though you would think that the girl would be upset about all of this, the fact is that she wasnt. Her whole village was up in flames and smoke, but the girl was always on her toes. She just loved to dance and held her hands up to her ears. When the platoon was about to leave Azar mocked the girls dancing. Henry Dobbins picked up Azar and threatened to throw him in the well if he didnt dance right.
The war has ended and Norman Bowker is on his way home. He is driving in his fathers old Chevy and trying to remember the different places from his past. All he can do is drive around and cant bring himself to even go home or just put the car into park. He passes by old stores and sees his old girlfriend Sally Kramer, but cant get out of the car to even say hello. Norman has earned seven honor medals at war. He thinks of the conversation that he would have with his father. He would tell him how he almost got the Silver Star award if only he hadnt let go of Kiowa when they were in a waste field.
He would have told his father that he was brave and his father would have told him that he was proud of him anyway. Norman imagined the same conversation with Sally as well. Norman could just not bring himself to return home for some reason. He went to order fries and a hamburger and sat to watch the Fourth of July day fireworks. Norman believes that the town has not changed since he left and no one seems to care about his war stories. He drives around in circles passing by the same people over and over again. He has returned to his home, but it feels like he has just home.
Norman Bowker suggested the book Speaking of Courage should be written by Tim OBrien. It was a story about a man who came out of war and was lost in the world. This was a man who felt like he failed life and his friends in war. This was going to be a story about Norman Bowkers life after the war. Norman requestioned that his name wouldnt be used, but he felt that this was an important story to tell all of those people who have just come back from war and are feeling lost. Three years after this book was published Norman Bowker hanged himself. Tim OBrien decided to rewrite the story.
This time he would use Normans name. He would tell the world the truth and that is Kiowas death was not Normans fault. Norman was not a coward and didnt get nervous that night. Tim would tell his side of the story in his book. All the eighteen soldiers of the platoon know that Kiowa is dead and are looking for his body in the field. Many blame Jimmy Cross for Kiowas death. They say that they should have never camped out in the field during the monsoon season. Even outsiders warned the lieutenant that this field would be dangerous. The Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is off on his own thinking and looking for Kiowas body.
He is trying to write a letter to Kiowas father about what happened and that his son was a brave soldier. While Jimmy Cross is off looking for Kiowa, he sees one of the boys in his platoon out in the field. Jimmy felt bad because he could not remember the persons name, but he approached the boy. The boy told Jimmy that he was the one to blame for Kiowas death. The boy and Kiowa were good friends and that night they were out in the muck talking and sharing stories. The boy was showing a picture of his girlfriend to Kiowa, but it was dark, so he took out a flashlight.
All of a sudden explosives went off and along with the violent rain and mud, it pulled Kiowa down. The boy tried to save Kiowa, but it was too late. During this time other men in the platoon are looking for Kiowa. They find his dead body and through much struggle they pull him from the field. They all grieve for Kiowa, but cant help being relieved. They are relieved because they are all alive. Jimmy still doesnt know that Kiowa has been found and is laying down daydreaming about playing golf when he gets home. Tim OBrien says most of the stories that he has written here are not true.
The only true part is that he was a soldier and he experienced the horrors of war. He takes his stories and can look back and remember faces. You never know if OBrien is telling the truth. His daughter asks him once again if he ever killed someone. He either tells her yes or no. Tim OBrien and his daughter Kathleen have returned back to Vietnam twenty years after the war. It is her birthday and he wanted to show her where he had fought and the places he remembered. They are riding in a jeep with a tour guide who is telling them history about these locations. They pass by the old field where Kiowa died.
OBrien takes off his clothes and takes out Kiowas old rucksake with all of his belongings, including the moccasins. OBrien goes swimming in the eight inch murky water. His daughter can not understand her fathers madness or why all these places mean so much to him. He doesnt even try to explain, because unless you have experienced war one can never understand. Tim OBrien has been shot two times in his life. Once he was shot in the shoulder and treated by Rat Kiley. Rat Kiley was the medic of the troop, but when O’Brien returned from the hospital he learned that Kiley had been wounded and was shipped off to Japan.
The new medic was Bobby Jorgenson. OBrien was shot again during battle and Jorgenson treated him. Unfortunately, OBrien not only suffered from a wound, but of shock. OBrien almost died and Jorgenson never even came back to check on him. OBrien was sent to 91st Evac hospital and was then was sent to Headquarters company S4. This was the battalion supply section. In this place O’Brien could be treated and was also sheltered from war. For the first time in his life he felt reasonably safe. A few months later the Alpha company came down including Bobby Jorgenson.
All the men got together and were talking about what has happened. O’Brien felt like an outsider and that made him even madder at Jorgenson. He wanted to get back at him somehow for what he had done. During that time Jorgenson tried to talk to OBrien and apologize, but he wouldnt hear of it. The only way he would get over his hostility towards Jorgenson was revenge. OBrien asked Mitchell Sanders if he would help devise a plan to get back at Jorgenson. Sanders was upset that OBrien could think of something so cruel and said that Jorgenson was a nice guy. Sanders told him that Jorgenson has changed since he last saw him.
OBrien was still mad so asked Azar to help. They devised a plan to scare Jorgenson. The plan was to pretend they were enemies and come late at night to attack him. Unfortunatly, Jorgenson knew that it was OBrien out late at night. Azar grew mad at OBrien and kicked him in the head. Jorgenson treated OBrien’s wounds and they formed a truce, though they were far from being friends. OBrien never knew the whole story about Rat Kiley because he was gone before he came back. The story is that the platoon had to change their strategies. Instead of sleeping at night and rising at dawn, they switched it around.
At night they would travel in the pitch dark and look for enemies. Rat Kiley began to change psychologically during this time. He complained of bugs eating his skin and would always itch himself and pick off his scabs until they bled. Then he would itch the open wound. He complained about the war and how he was letting begin a medic and seeing all of the dead bodies get it him. One night he shot himself on purpose and was sent off to Japan. That was the last people saw of Rat Kiley. When OBrien first entered the war this was this one battle that he remembers.
The platoon burnt down this village and there were no survivors. The only person left in the town was a dead man with one of his arms cut off. The whole platoon was shaking the dead mans other hand. This was not as much to be funny and to give the man a funeral. Tim refused to shake the mans hand. Tim also remembers stories about Ted Lavender. He remembers how when he died the crew tried to uplift everyone by telling stories of Lavenders tranquilizers and talking about how mellow he always felt after he took one. One of Tims memories was of his nine-year old love Linda who died to brain cancer.
He never actually told her that he loved her, but he had this feeling that she knew. Now OBrien can only dream about Linda and what he would say to her if she was alive. Tim OBrien concludes his story with this quote I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmys life with a story. This sums up the whole story. Thirty years later after the war he realizes that he is trying to keep his youth a memory and keep telling the story of his life. This book is the thing that he carried. It is a memory that lives on forever.