Last night I finished The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien which was recommended by one of my favorite blogging buddies, Yeah Another Blogger. Yeah has another name as most of us do, one we were born with and which is on our driver’s licenses (which reminds me that mine is up for renewal – crap!) To find out more about Yeah, check out his blog.
I first heard of the Vietnam War when Rosalee A. (who lived across the road from me) announced that her brother – a graduate of West Point! – was leaving the US to fight the communists who were rapidly taking over the world. Rosalee, who intended to one day become Mrs. George Harrison, knew very little about the communists except that they were against God. She knew even less about Vietnam. Leelee, as we all called her, would never travel the world and lives to this day in Fernley Nevada. We were then, I think, thirteen.
For years Vietnam was a far off place until my friends’ older brothers began to disappear. It’s hard to explain that era to anyone who wasn’t alive back then. To our fathers, if your country asked you to serve, you served. No matter the reason or place. Young men went as ordered and came back profoundly changed. Other young men began to doubt the motive behind the war and their fathers wished them dead. The Things They Carried isn’t an anti-Vietnam war piece as much as a first hand account of what war does to soldiers.
The focal point is First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross who carries, along with his artillery and survival pack, letters from Martha.
“Lt. Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps.”
Others in his platoon carry what gives them comfort: extra socks, hygiene products, tranquilizers, condoms, a diary, but Cross carries the hope that Martha, although she writes him steadily and always sign off with “love,” might someday really love him (and, of course, that she’s still a virgin).
The platoon navigates through a shared nightmare by focusing on what needs to be carried for the next mission. “they would never be at a loss for things to carry.” Until the convergence of an unexpected stroke of luck followed a quick and sudden death … “[Lavender] just flat out fuck fell” … convinces Cross that he is clinging to a dream that will never be and he burns the letters from Martha. He becomes another leader whose “… principles were in their feet. Their calculations biological.”
It is a great, albeit depressing piece but there’s no need to search high and low for information about the author. He’s alive and, aside from Vietnam, has led an accomplished and apparently, content life. Although one has to wonder if he ever gave “Martha” a second chance.
Tonight I think I’ll try for something light and amusing. Eudora Welty, don’t you let me down now girl!