In Tim O'Brien's short story entitled, "The Things They Carried," it is the things they carry with them and the things they do that help distract them from being overwhelmed by the threat and reality of death.
Some of the things the men carried were required for each soldier. But there were other things too. There were love letters (or almost-love letters). Bibles were carried and photographs.
One man carried his girlfriend's pantyhose around his neck for comfort. Another carried tranquilizers. Among the group there was a rabbit's foot, chess sets, Vietnamese dictionaries, basketballs.
Lt. Jimmy Cross carries a "good luck" pebble Martha sent him. He carried it in his mouth as he marched, tasting the water on the beach from where it had come, and his mind was on her more than what he was doing as they passed through the jungle.
They men talked, told jokes and made random conversation. When they lost one of their men, some had to talk about it, while others refused to. Different people cope in different ways. Some would daydream about a place or person. It was hard being there and wishing to be somewhere else. They did the best they could...and starting marching again.