They carried a lot. An M-16, ammo, body armor, water, rain poncho, packets of Kool-Aid, toilet paper, a machete, a lighter, but they also carried things that weighed nothing, but meant a lot. The respect of family and friends, their patriotism, their rage, their dignity, their life. Thank you for your service.
As for the book, most of the Brothers were frustrated with narrator grunt Tim O’Brien. Was there really a skinny Viet Cong with a star shaped hole for an eye? If so, why all the angst over that hole? Why was Lieutenant Jimmy Cross wracked with guilt over Ted Lavender’s potluck death, but able to carry on after his selection of a base camp mistake that doomed Kiowa. Was there really a boy who turned on a flashlight in the sh1t field that night triggering the bombardment? Was that boy Tom O’Brien? Was burning Than Khe a reaction to Kiowa’s death or under orders? Bobby Jorgenson was on guard duty with an automatic weapon, who would mess with him under those circumstances? What’s true and what’s malarkey in a book that attempts to pass off “The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” as a true story?
Obviously, you had to be there to truly appreciate the intricacies of these war stories, with the notable exception of “On the Rainy River.” Though no active Iluminado were old enough to be drafted for Nam, the core question of whether you would have reported for duty or fled to Canada was with American males up until the Reagan Administration. We received Selective Service notices and had to go to the Post Office to register or face the potential consequences…and there were many rumors back then of the consequences. Having that notice in hand prompted the big-boy conversation of what would you do if called up. 99% of us answered in public that we would go, but had we sat down and wrote about our true feelings, it might look a lot like tracts of “On the Rainy River.” And yes there ought to be a law, and a big plaque in the chambers of all the world’s governing bodies that states if you want to start a war, it’s your precious fluids (i.e., your blood, your sons, daughters, nephews, grandsons, etc…) that will be the first to go to into the meat grinder. No Air National Guard, no college deferment, no exemption, no conscientious status…your family members are 1A, available for unrestricted military service, and sent straight to the front lines. That would be a more robust peace keeper than a nuclear deterrent.
This book has moments like that, but also carries stuff it doesn’t need, like the baby water buffalo, the dancing girl, and Curt Lemon’s dentist appointment. One Brother simultaneously read Karl Marlantes’ book Matterhorn and enjoyed it much more. Those Marines got on with it and had some serious war stories, whereas O’Brien’s Vietnam was a bit of a cluster.