Although the work is supposedly about the Vietnam war, the final story focuses not on the war but on an episode from O’Brien’s childhood.
Discuss how this story relates to the stories of the war. What is O’Brien’s purpose in ending his collection of stories this way?
The last story within The Things They Carried is actually an integral part of the work because O'Brien illustrates in the story about Linda and his younger self a point he has been making all along.
Throughout the novel, O'Brien weaves stories into the narrative about the living and the dead, but he especially focuses on stories about soldiers who have been killed and how they are remembered by the other troops. For example, even in such a generally depressing section as "How To Tell A True War Story," which includes the brutal, horrific death of a baby buffalo at the hands of Rat Kiley, the section is really a reminiscence written about Curt Lemon. The soldiers tell stories about the dead in part to keep them alive and present in their lives--it's as if the story itself brings them back to life because the memory focuses on what the dead were like when alive. This is a way of lessening the finality of death by remembering how these soldiers lived.
Even though the last story may seem like an unconnected digression, we are meant to see that O'Brien is doing the same thing with his memory of Linda that he showed soldiers doing with memories of their dead friends. Linda is, in essence, just like another fallen soldier who can be brought back to life, if only temporarily by remembering the details of her life, in this case her love of the red hat.