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I can’t thank you enough for my freedoms!

Thanks to all the Veterans on this Day. I hope I can honor your service everyday, and thank you for my freedoms!

If you haven’t ever read this. Please click the link to “The Things they Carried” by Tim O’Brien.

http://pages.uoregon.edu/eherman/teaching/texts/OBrien_TheThingsTheyCarried.pdf

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 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 10 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 15 and 20 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 hotel-sized 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 six or seven 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 two pounds, but 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 transitive.

 

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