Notes and Quotes – Tim O’Brien

– Notes and Quotes –


Tim O’Brien (1946-present)

The Things They Carried (1990), If I Die in a Combat Zone (1973)


If I Die in a Combat Zone (1973)

“‘Snipers yesterday, snipers today. What’s the difference?’” (1)

“‘Not me, sir. I been shot at too much today, no more luck left in me,’ Chip said.” (5)

“. . . some men think the war is proper and others don’t and most don’t care. Is that the stuff for a morality lesson, even for a theme?” (23)

Starlight scope (28)

Ezra Pound: pro patria, non dulce, non est décor (36)

“Tempers flare, ebb into despair.” (38)

“His tiny head goes rigid. His hands fidget.” (38)

“‘If I die in a combat zone . . .” (41)

“ag-ile, mo-bile, hos-tile” (43)

“Socrates, it has been told, was a brave soldier.” (44)

“Smiling and saying no sir, my real problem is one of conscience and philosophy and intellect and emotion and fear and physical hurt and a desire to live chastened by a desire to be good, and also, underneath, a desire to prove myself a hero, I explained, in the broadest terms, what troubled me.” (53)

“‘Hell, do you think he sat in his monastery and thought it all out? He believed.’
‘Is that supposed to be an analogy?’ I asked. ‘Is Vietnam another Christian crusade?’” (56)

“Maybe the hippies are right, maybe no war is really fought for God.” (56)

“That’s the problem, you gotta knock the military to get a book published.” (59)

“I walked into a sorority house and rang a button.” (63)

“I hid behind a metal shed they kept the beer in.” (71)

“‘you never hear the shot that gets you’” (76)

“He carried a shotgun . . .” (77)

The ear (79)

“He asked if there were questions, but the squad leaders were all experienced, and no one said anything.” (82)

“I remembered a dream . . .” “I was in prison.” (84)

Paros (90)

“I hoped the man was not named Li.” (94)

“Take care. For it is not a fantasy . . .” (101)

Pinkville (112)

“A hand grenade . . .” (114)

“Scraps of our friends were dropped in plastic body bags.” (116)

“‘It’s an absurd combination of certainty and uncertainty . . .” (121)

Step Lightly: Bouncing Betty (ol’ step and a half), M-14 antipersonnel mine (toe-popper), booby-trapped grenade, directional-fragmentation mine, corrosive-action-car-killer

“Some guys are just numb to death.” (131)

“If [Hemingway] was obsessed with the notion of courage, that was a fault.” (134)

“‘Shit, man, the trick of being in the Nam is gettin’ out of the Nam.’” (135)

Death was taboo. Fear was taboo. (136)

“So, when the time in my life came to replace fictional heroes with real ones, the candidates were sparse, and it was to be the captain or no one.” (138)

“Troy was besieged for the sake of a pretty woman.” (139)
“Vietnam was under siege in pursuit of a pretty, tantalizing, promiscuous, particularly American brand of government and style. And most of Alpha Company would have preferred a likable whore to self-determination.” (140)

“Grace under pressure is not courage.
Or the other cliché: a coward dies a thousand deaths but a brave man only once.” (141)

Lagoon: “Certain blood for uncertain reasons. No lagoon monster ever terrorized like this.” (161)

“The best route to a rear job, the only reliable way, is to bury your nose gently up an officer’s ass.” (165)

“Horace’s old do-or-die aphorism–‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’– was just an epithet for the insane.” (168)

“The Chieu Hoi said: ‘You are here for only one year. I’ve been in war for many billion years. Many billion years to go.’” (180)

“‘Guts,’ he would mutter. ‘This army really needs guts. GI Joe’s turned into a pansy. O’Brien, you show me a soldier with guts, and you can have this job.’” (183-4)
“‘You got guts, O’Brien, shit, I knew it anyhow.’” (194)
“‘All it takes is guts–right, O’Brien?’” (195)

“It’s impossible to go home barefoot.” (199)




The Things They Carried (1990)

Notes – “The Things They Carried”:

The things they carried were not merely things, but also persons, places and ideas. The missions, the memories, the superstitions, communal carrying, weight, pressure, gravity, all these things are the things people carry, and all these things are amplified by the circumstance of war.


Quotes – “The Things They Carried”:

“To carry something was to hump it . . .”  . . . . “In its intransitive form, to hump meant to walk, or to march, but it implied burdens far beyond the intransitive.” (3)

“They carried all they could bear, and then some, including silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carry.” (7)

 “What they carried varied by mission.” (8)

“The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition.” (12)

“Some things they carried in common. Taking turns . . .” (12)

“They carried their own lives. The pressures were enormous.” (15)

“. . . it was the great American war chest . . .” “. . . they carried like freight trains; they carried it on their backs and shoulders . . .” (15)

“For the most part they carried themselves with poise, a kind of dignity.” (18)

“They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die.” (20)

“By and large they carried these things inside, maintaining the masks of composure.”  (20)



Notes – “Love” and “Spin”:

The narrator, Tim O’Brien, chooses to include the reader in the crafting of the stories by explaining that he is also a/the writer. By writing about writing, what writing is like, how to write, the narrator/author informs the reader of aspects of his life that otherwise may not be mentioned in a work of fiction. The work, the labor of writing, takes on an autobiographical tone which invites the reader to trust the narrator/author to deliver the truth, even if there is some embellishment.


Quote – “Love”:

Lt. Cross to O’Brien: “‘You writer types,’ he said, ‘you’ve got long memories.’” (27)


 Quotes – “Spin”:

“. . . as I write about these things, the remembering is turned into a kind of rehappening.”  (31)

“That’s the real obsession. All those stories.” (33)

“That’s what stories are for.” (36)



Notes – “On the Rainy River”:

Decisions, decisions: To run, or to remain. On the path of no beginning and no end, O’Brien proceeds in the direction of his calling . . . whichever way it may be. With the reality of the pig slaughterhouse behind him, and the refuge of Canada just across a river, the choice to dodge the draft is no longer a choice. The slaughterhouse of Vietnam lay before him. Elroy took O’Brien to the brink of life without war, but it was exile that O’Brien feared most. Explanations become insufficient in the quest for self-sufficiency, and yet the question looms, “What would you do?”


Quotes – On the Rainy River:

“. . . you don’t make war without knowing why.” (38)

“ . . . I was too good for this war. Too smart, too compassionate, too everything.” (39)

“There should be a law, I thought. If you support a war, if you think it’s worth the price, that’s fine, but you have to put your own life on the line. You have to head for the front and hook up with an infantry unit and help spill the blood. And you have to bring along your wife, or your kids, or your lover.” (40)

“I feared the war, yes, but I also feared exile.” (42)

“. . . the man understood that words were insufficient.” (49)

“What it came down to, stupidly, was a sense of shame. I did not want people to think badly of me.” (49)

“Twenty yards. I could’ve done it. I could’ve jumped and started swimming for my life.” (54)

“You’re twenty-one years old, you’re scared, and there’s a hard squeezing pressure in your chest. What would you do?” (54)

“And what was so sad, I realized, was that Canada had become a pitiful fantasy. Silly and hopeless. It was no longer a possibility. Right then, with the shore so close, I understood that I would not do what I should do.” (55)

“I would go to the war – I would kill and maybe die – because I was embarrassed not to.” (57)

“‘Ain’t biting,’ he said.

Then after a time the old man pulled in his line and turned the boat back toward Minnesota.” (57)



Notes – “How to Tell a True War Story”:

Beautifully, the writer explains his perception of the craft. How can any civilian ever begin to imagine what war is actually like, and especially what a true war story could possibly mean without ever having gone through the experience first-hand? The war story reflects the time and events . . . but a true war story reflects the ugliness of the time and events . . . The moral becomes clear. Nobody listens. Nobody listens to the environment, to each other, or to the narrator of the story, but everybody expects they “get it,” or should “get it” without any real expenditure of effort.


Quotes – How to Tell a True War Story:

“As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.” (65-6)

“In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way. The angles of vision are skewed.” (67-8)

“In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.” (68)

“You can tell a true war story by the way it never seems to end.” (72)

“‘Just came to me,’ he whispered. ‘The moral, I mean. Nobody listens.’” . . . . “The vapors, man. Trees and rocks – you got to listen to your enemy.’” (73)

“‘Hear that quiet, man?’ he said. ‘That quiet – just listen. There’s your moral.’” (74)

“Mitchell Sanders took out his yo-yo. ‘Well, that’s Nam,’ he said. ‘Garden of Evil. Over here, man, every sin’s real fresh and original.’” (76)

“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.” (76)

“But what wakes me up twenty years later is Dave Jensen singing ‘Lemon Tree’ as we threw down the parts.” (79)

“Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet / But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.”

Peter, Paul and MaryLemon Tree (YouTube)

“It wasn’t a war story. It was a love story.” (81)

“And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It’s about . . .” (81)



Notes – “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”:

The allure of identity, of self-actualization, becomes a drug like no other. Rat tells the story of Mary Anne Bell, the sweetheart and non-combatant set loose in the jungles of Vietnam. The environment changes the person, and Mary Anne is no exception. Wanting, needing, craving, Mary Anne perhaps turns more feral than wild, but, however she identified herself before the Vietnam experience, that person was just a dim shadow of what she becomes. Friendly and good-natured traits are replaced with ferocity and predatory instincts. As Rat tells the story, his audience reminds him of his responsibilities as the storyteller if anyone is to listen at all.


Quotes – “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”:

 “Rat had a reputation for exaggeration and overstatement, a compulsion to rev up the facts,” . . . . “facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around, and when you listened to one of his stories, you’d find yourself performing rapid calculations in your head, subtracting superlatives, figuring the square root of an absolute and then multiplying by maybe.” (85)

“‘A real tiger,’ said Eddie Diamond. ‘D-cup guts, trainer-bra brains.’” (92)

“There were dark smudges under his eyes, the frayed edges of somebody who hadn’t slept in a while.” (95)

“What you have to do, Sanders said, is trust your own story. Get the hell out of the way and let it tell itself.” (101)

“‘All that crap about how if we had a pussy for president there wouldn’t be no more wars. Pure garbage. You got to get rid of that sexist attitude.’” (102)

“You need to get a consistent sound, like slow or fast, funny or sad. All these digressions, they just screw up your story’s sound. Stick to what happened.

‘Tone?’ he’d say. ‘I didn’t know it was all that complicated. The girl joined the zoo. One more animal – end of story.’

‘Yeah, fine. But tell it right.’” (102)

“At the girl’s throat was a necklace of human tongues.” (105)

“‘Man, you must be deaf. She’s already gone.’” (107)

“‘This elaborate story, you can’t say, Hey, by the way, I don’t know the ending. I mean, you got certain obligations.’” (107)

“‘There it is, you got to taste it, and that’s the thing with Mary Anne. She was there. She was up to her eyeballs in it. After the war, man, I promise, you won’t find nobody like her.’”  (108)

“‘What happened to her, Rat said, was what happened to all of them. You come over clean and you get dirty and then afterward it’s never the same.” (109)

“‘She wanted more, she wanted to penetrate deeper into the mystery of herself, and after a time the wanting became needing, which turned then to craving.’” (109)

“She was dangerous. She was ready for the kill.” (110)



Notes – “The Man I Killed” and “Ambush”:

O’Brien makes his first enemy kill known, the experience is scarring, leaves him scarred, perhaps even intentionally he looks upon the corpse he’s made, and he means to burn the memory into his mind, so that he may never forget, and always carry the happening with him like finding comfort in discomfort. As the saying goes, kill or be killed, but the spirit of the dead, the killed, remain in the mind. The memory becomes the ghost, the haunting, and too much reflecting on what happened may serve as the soldier’s invitation to join those he’s helped to the other side.


Quotes – “The Man I Killed”:

Azar: “‘Rice Crispies, you know? On the dead test, this particular individual gets A-plus.’” (120)

“Later, Kiowa said, ‘I’m serious. Nothing anybody could do. Come on, Tim, stop staring.’”(120)

“‘A good kill – weapon, ammunition, everything.’” (123)

“Clean fingernails, clean hair – he had been a soldier for only a single day.” . . .

“He knew he would die quickly. He knew he would see a flash of light. He knew he would fall dead and wake up in the stories of his village and people.” (123-4)


Quote – “Ambush”:

“Later, I remember, Kiowa tried to tell me that the man would’ve died anyway. He told me that it was a good kill, that I was a soldier and this was a war, that I should shape up and stop staring and ask myself what the dead man would’ve done if things were reversed.” (127)



Notes – “Speaking of Courage” and “Notes”:

As the author points out later in the writing, the lake Bowker circles in his Chevy is  juxtaposed with the field in Vietnam where the platoon was deeply engulfed in human waste and mortar fire. The author illustrates the displacement that may be felt by veterans after returning from war and service as compounding the displacement of being overseas and at war.

One of the greatest quotes from the entire writing comes in the form of a voice over a drive-in diner intercom: “‘Well, hey,’ the intercom said, ‘I’m sure as fuck not going anywhere. Screwed to a post, for God sake. Go ahead, try me.’” (46)

The words are meant as encouragement for Bowker to speak, to relay, to confess his mind. “Screwed to a post,” like being crucified, the occupation, the job, the detail, the post being the crucifix, the crucifixion, “for God sake,” blasphemy, yet duty performed in the name of God, for the sake of God and mankind, crucified, in the name of the father, to serve the father, and mankind, one supersized value-meal at a time. Thank you, drive thru.


Quotes – “Speaking of Courage”:

“Norman Bowker shrugged. ‘No problem,’ he murmured.

Clockwise, as if in orbit, he took the Chevy on another seven-mile turn around the lake.” (133)

“What he should do, he thought, is stop at Sally’s house and impress her with this new time-telling trick of his.” (134)

“. . . he’d almost won the Silver Star for valor.” (134)

“. . . many brave men did not win medals for their bravery, and that others won medals for doing nothing.” (135)

“. . . Norman Bowker might then have listed the seven medals he did win: the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart, though it wasn’t much of a wound and did not leave a scar and did not hurt and never had. He would’ve explained to his father that none of these decorations was for uncommon valor. They were for common valor.” . . . . “The ribbons looked good on the uniform in his closet . . .” (135)

“He looked out across the lake and imagined the feel of his tongue against the truth.” (136)

“Put on a suit and tie and stand up in front of the Kiwanis club and tell the fuckers about all the wonderful shit he knew.” (137-8)

“Number ten, they said. Evil ground. Not a good spot for good GIs.” (138)

“. . . we were camped in a goddamn shit field.” (139)

“And a pity about his father, who had his own war and who now preferred silence.” (141)

“Some of the men began shooting up flares. Red and green and silver flares, all colors, and the rain came down in Technicolor.

“The field was boiling. The shells made deep slushy craters, opening up all those years of waste, centuries worth, and the smell came bubbling out of the earth.” (142)

“Pinned to her shirt was a badge that said EAT MAMA BURGERS.” (145)

“‘Punch the button and place your order. All I do is carry the dumb trays.’” (145)

“‘Roger-dodger. Repeat: one Mama, one fries, one small beer. Fire for effect. Stand by.’” (145)

“‘Well, hey,’ the intercom said, ‘I’m sure as fuck not going anywhere. Screwed to a post, for God sake. Go ahead, try me.’” (146)

“Norman Bowker remembered how he had taken hold of Kiowa’s boot and pulled hard, but how the smell was simply too much, and how he’d backed off and in that way had lost the Silver Star.” (147)


Quotes – “Notes”:

 “In the spring of 1975, near the time of Saigon’s final collapse, I received a long, disjointed letter in which Bowker described the problem of finding a meaningful use for his life after the war.” (149)

“‘The thing is,’ he wrote, ‘there’s no place to go. Not just in this lousy little town. In general. My life, I mean. It’s almost like I got killed over in Nam . . .” (150)

“One thing I hate – really hate – is all those whiner-vets. Guys sniveling about how they didn’t get any parades.” (150)

“What you should do, Tim, is write a story about a guy who feels like he got zapped over in that shithole.” (151)

“In this original version, which I still conceived as part of the novel, I had been forced to omit the shit field and the rain and the death of Kiowa, replacing this material with events that better fit the book’s narrative. As a consequence I’d lost the natural counterpoint between the lake and the field. A metaphoric unity was broken.” (153)

Going After Cacciato was a war story; ‘Speaking of Courage’ was a postwar story. Two different time periods, two different sets of issues.” (153)

“In the interests of truth, however, I want to make it clear that Norman Bowker was in no way responsible for what happened to Kiowa. Norman did not experience a failure of nerve that night. He did not freeze up or lose the Silver Star for valor. That part of the story is my own.” (154)



Notes – “In the Field”, “Good Form”, and “Field Trip”: 

“In the Field” sheds new light on the phrase “in the shit.” The shining beam of a soldier’s flashlight pointed at a picture of the soldier’s girlfriend is enough of a beacon to draw a rain of mortar fire on the shitfield of ancient human excrement.

In “Good Form”, the narrator again establishes the tone of author, and expresses the need to make the reader really feel what he’s been through. He explains the act of writing as a way to relive experiences and reevaluate perceptions.

In “Field Trip”, the narrator is illustrated as desirous of closure twenty years after the incident in the shitfield. He returns to Vietnam, now a writer and a father, with his daughter who cannot understand what the narrator’s motives are for making the trip. As the narrator explains the moral, that nobody listens, throughout the writing, and you had to be there to understand.


Quotes – “In the Field”:

“[Lt. Cross] preferred to view his men not as units but as human beings. And Kiowa had been a splendid human being, the very best, intelligent and gentle and quiet-spoken. Very brave, too. And decent.” (157)

“After a second he hauled up a scummy green rucksack.” . . . . “The pack was heavy with mud and water, dead-looking. Inside were a pair of moccasins and an illustrated New Testament.” (159)

“. . . Kiowa had been combined with the waste and the war.” (162)

“Like murder, the boy thought. The flashlight made it happen. Dumb and dangerous. And as a result his friend Kiowa was dead.” (163)

“‘Billie’s picture. I had it all wrapped up, I had it in plastic, so it’ll be okay if I can … Last night we were looking at it, me and Kiowa.’” (165)

“‘Well,’ Henry Dobbins said, ‘it could be worse,’ and Dave Jensen said, ‘How, man? Tell me how.’” (167)

“They felt bad for Kiowa. But they also felt a kind of giddiness, a secret joy, because they were alive, and because even the rain was preferable to being sucked under a shit field, and because it was all a matter of luck and happenstance.” (168)

“‘Nobody’s fault,’ he said. ‘Everybody’s.’” (168)

“The boy wanted to confess.” . . . . “The flashlight had done it. Like a target shining in the dark.” (169)

“When a man died, there had to be blame.” (169)

“In the field, though, the causes were immediate.” (170)


Quotes – “Good Form”:

“Right here, now, as I invent myself, I’m thinking of all I want to tell you about why this book is written as it is.” (171)

“I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.” (171)

“. . . twenty years later, I’m left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief.” (172)

“What stories can do, I guess, is make things present.

I can look at things I never looked at. I can attach faces to grief . . .” (172)


Quotes – “Field Trip”:

“‘I think this place stinks. It smells like … God, I don’t even know what. It smells rotten’” (174)

“‘Sometimes you’re pretty weird, aren’t you?’ . . . . ‘Some dumb thing happens a long time ago and you can’t ever forget it.’ . . . . ‘That’s weird.’” (175)

“She watched me unwrap the cloth bundle. Inside were Kiowa’s old moccasins.” (177)

“Leaning forward, I reached in with the moccasins and wedged them into the soft bottom, letting them slide away. Tiny bubbles broke along the surface.” (178)

“. . . I wondered if the old man might walk over to exchange a few war stories, but instead he picked up a shovel and raised it over his head and held it there for a time, grimly, like a flag . . .” (179)



Notes – “The Ghost Soldiers”, “Night Life”, and “The Lives of the Dead”:

“The Ghost Soldiers” is a tale of revenge that becomes softened by rationale. The narrator contracts a case of “diaper rash” from enemy fire, and he nearly dies from shock as the inexperienced medic, Bobby Jorgenson, becomes too stunned to move in the crossfire. The narrator survives, holds a grudge, teems for revenge, but dares not go too far, or risk suffering his own scruples. The narrator and the medic come to an understanding, and water again passes under the bridge.

The story “Night Life” explains why Rat Kiley wasn’t the company medic when the narrator was shot for the second time. After one too many nights working the graveyard shift, Rat cracks up and takes himself out of the war.

In “The Lives of the Dead”, the narrator makes final reflections of those he once knew. He was no stranger to loss and grief before the war as he makes known that his childhood love died of cancer before the age of ten. Death becomes a parallel for lost literature . . . books nobody reads . . . stories nobody listens to . . . the moral.


Quotes – “The Ghost Soldiers”:

“I was shot twice. The first time, out by Tri Binh . . .” (180)

“It was almost dark when the fighting ended and the chopper came to take me and two dead guys away.” (181)

“. . . I got shot the second time, in the butt, along the Song Tra Bong . . .” . . . . “. . . [Bobby Jorgenson] bungled the patch job, and a couple of weeks later my ass started to rot away.” (181)

Small pride of getting shot, “Diaper rash, the nurses called it.”(182)

“. . . Bobby Jorgenson had almost killed me. Shock, I’d think – how could he forget to treat for shock?” (183)

“They were still my buddies, at least on one level, but once you leave the boonies, the whole comrade business gets turned around. You become a civilian. You forfeit membership in the family, the blood fraternity, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t pretend to be part of it.” (185)

Cynically: “‘Where’s my good buddy Bobby [Jorgenson]?’” (186)

“‘Well, hey,’ Bowker said, ‘I’m just saying what Jorgenson says. Maybe fuckin’ polio. Or that weird elephant disease. Elephantiass-hole or whatever.’” (187)

Bullet wound jokes: “There was one about rear guard duty. There was another one about hemorrhoids and how I had trouble putting the past behind me.” (188)

“‘Sanders shrugged. ‘People change. Situations change. I hate to say this, man, but you’re out of touch. Jorgenson – he’s with us now.’” (188)

“I didn’t fit anymore. They were soldiers, I wasn’t.” (188)

“. . . for some reason what stuck to my memory was the smooth unblemished leather of his fine new boots. Factory black, no scuffs or dust or red clay. The boots were one of those vivid details you can’t forget. Like a pebble or a blade of grass, you just stare and think, Dear Christ, there’s the last thing on earth I’ll ever see.” (189)

“I hated [Jorgenson] for making me stop hating him.” (190)

“I’d turned mean inside.” (190)

Shock, I thought, and I tried to tell [Jorgenson] that, but my tongue wouldn’t make the

connection” (191)

“We called the enemy ghosts.” . . . . “To get spooked, in the lingo, meant not only to get scared but to get killed.” (192)

“. . . at night you turned into a believer: no skeptics in foxholes.” (193)

“‘What’s real?’ [Azar] said. ‘Eight months in fantasyland, it tends to blur the line. Honest to God, I sometimes can’t remember what real is.’” (193)

“. . . the darkness squeezes you inside yourself, you get cut off from the outside world, the imagination takes over. That’s basic psychology.” (195)

“Ghosts rising from the dead.” (195)

“Waiting was the trick.” (196)

Barbarella: Azar: “Sweet Janie boosts a man’s morale.” . . . . “It was an old joke. Everything was old. The movie, the heat, the booze, the war.” (196)

Barbarella (1968) Trailer (YouTube)

“. . . all those heroes, and you can’t help falling back on them as models of proper comportment.” (197)

“Like a puppeteer. Yank on the ropes, watch the silly wooden soldier jump and twitch.” (198)

“I was Nam – the horror, the war.” (199)

“Shut up and listen.” (199)

 “We sat in the dim light of my hootch, boots off, listening to Mary Hopkin on my tape deck.” (199)

Mary HopkinThose Were the Days (YouTube)

“That’s another thing Nam does to you. It turns you sentimental . . .” (199)

“I told [Azar] the score was even.” (201)

Azar: “‘Out here, at night, I almost feel like a kid again. The Vietnam experience. I mean, wow, I love this shit.’” (202)

Azar: “‘Brings back memories, I bet – those happy soldiering days. Except now you’re a has-been.’” (202)

“I told him I was sorry; he told me the same thing. Afterward, in an awkward moment, I said, ‘Let’s kill Azar.’” (207)


Quotes –”Night Life”:

“Apparently [Rat Kiley] lost his cool.” (208)

“. . . the phrase everyone used: the night life. A language trick. It made things seem tolerable. How’s the Nam treating you? . . . . Hey, one big party, just living the night life.” (208)

“You’d shake your head and blink, except you couldn’t even tell you were blinking, the blackness didn’t change.” (209)

“Rat developed some peculiar habits.” (210)

“One of these nights I’ll be lying dead out there in the dark and nobody’ll find me except the bugs – I can see it – I can see the goddamn bugs chewing tunnels through me – I can see the mongooses munching on my bones.” (212)

“He said he’d done his best. He’d tried to be a decent medic. Win some and lose some, he said, but he’d tried hard.” . . . . “and how crazy it was that people who were so incredibly alive could get so incredibly dead.” . . . . “‘This whole war,’ he said. ‘You know what it is? Just one big banquet. Meat, man. You and me. Everybody. Meat for the bugs.’ The next morning he shot himself. He took off his boots and socks, laid out his medical kit, doped himself up, and put a round through his foot.”(212)


Quotes –”The Lives of the Dead”:

“They’re all dead. But in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world.” (213)

“. . . that awesome act of greeting the dead.” (2214)

Sanders: “‘Vitamin C,’ he said gently. ‘A guy’s health, that’s the most important thing.’” (215)

“There was a formality to it, like a funeral without the sadness.” (215)

“[Kiowa] offered me a Christmas cookie from a batch his father had sent him. It was February now, but the cookies tasted fine.” (215)

“The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it,” (218)

“‘How’s the war today?’ somebody would ask, and Ted Lavender would give a little smile to the sky and say, ‘Mellow – a nice smooth war today.’” (218)

“We put his personal effects in a plastic bag and tied the bag to his arm.” (218)

“The movie that night was The Man Who Never Was.” (220)

“We were in love. Nine years old, yes, but it was real love . . .” (221)

Linda’s cap: “So I stood off to the side, just a spectator, wishing I could do things I couldn’t do.” (221)

“[Nick Veenhof] took hold of the white tassel, stood up, and gently lifted off her cap.” (222)

“. . . I can still see the glossy whiteness of her scalp. She wasn’t bald. Not quite. Not completely. There were some tufts of hair, little patches of grayish brown fuzz.” (222)

“She died, of course. Nine years old and she died. It was a brain tumor.” (223-4)

“But in a story I can steal her soul. I can revive, at least briefly, that which is absolute and unchanging.” (224)

“‘Well, God,’ I said, ‘you’re dead.’” (225)

 “I learned that words make a difference. It’s easier to cope with a kicked bucket than a corpse; if it isn’t human, it doesn’t matter much if it’s dead.” (226)

“‘Death sucks,’ [Sanders] said.” (230)

“‘Do I look dead?’” . . . . “‘Well, right now,’ she said, ‘I’m not dead. But when I am, it’s like … I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading.’” (231)