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The narrator, Tim O’Brien, describes the things all the men of the company carry. They are things in the most physical sense—mosquito repellent and marijuana, pocket knives and chewing gum. The things they carry depend on several factors, including the men’s priorities and their constitutions. Because the machine gunner Henry Dobbins is exceptionally large, for example, he carries extra rations; because he is superstitious, he carries his girlfriend’s pantyhose around his neck. Nervous Ted Lavender carries marijuana and tranquilizers to calm himself down, and the religious Kiowa carries an illustrated New Testament, a gift from his father.
Some things the men carry are universal, like a compress in case of fatal injuries and a two-pound poncho that can be used as a raincoat, groundsheet, or tent. Most of the men are common, low-rank-ing soldiers and carry a standard M-16 assault rifle and several magazines of ammunition. Several men carry grenade launchers. All men carry the figurative weight of memory and the literal weight of one another. They carry Vietnam itself, in the heavy weather and the dusty soil. The things they carry are also determined by their rank or specialty. As leader, for example, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carries the maps, the compasses, and the responsibility for his men’s lives. The medic, Rat Kiley, carries morphine, malaria tablets, and supplies for serious wounds.