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While only appearing in "The Things They Carried" for a short time, O'Brien portrays Elroy Berdahl as quite possibly the most important person in his life. A chance encounter at a small series of cabins called the Tip Top Lodge near the Canadian border influenced the author in a very profound way. Lest one consider that an exaggeration, this is how O'Brien acknowledges the 81 year old bald, emaciated man who invited the scared young would-be draft dodger into his cabin:
"The man who opened the door that day is the hero of my life. How do I say this without sounding sappy? Blurt it out -- the man saved me."
O'Brien is not suggesting, of course, that this elderly gentlemen with the quiet demeanor and the deceptively well-developed intellect had saved his physical life. O'Brien is, rather, explaining how the six days he spent in Elroy's presence enabled him to reflect on his thoughts, on his options (i.e., go to war or go to Canada), on what kind of decision would enable the younger man to live with himself for the remainder of his days. By inviting O'Brien into his life without question, without judgement, and with complete unstated understanding of O'Brien's situation, Elroy Berdahl did something no else had been able to do: provide Tim O'Brien with peace of mind.
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