The Things

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity.  Among the necessities or near-necessities were the 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.

©2013 Phil D. Nesmith

©2013 Phil D. Nesmith

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 hotel-sized bars of soaphe’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 stell 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 ans a can of Dr. Scholl’s foot powder as a precaution against trench foot.

©2013 Phil D. Nesmith

©2013 Phil D. Nesmith

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 carry him across the paddy, then lift him into the chopper that took him away.

Tim O’Brien / The Things They Carried

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~ by Phil Nesmith on November 24, 2013.

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