"The Dentist" is about Curt Lemon, one of the least attractive characters in the book. The author describes him as a braggart, remarking that
He kept replaying his own exploits, tacking on little flourishes that never happened.
This story is of a kind that Lemon would not tell about himself, since it concerns his fear and makes him look both cowardly and foolish. Strangely, it also presents a more sympathetic picture than Rat Kiley's hero worship of Lemon, since it also presents him as human and vulnerable.
"Stockings" and "Church" both concern Henry Dobbins, and the latter story also includes Kiowa. Both characters are sympathetically portrayed. Henry Dobbins is described as a personification of America:
In many ways he was like America itself, big and strong, full of good intentions, a roll of fat jiggling at his belly, slow of foot but always plodding along, always there when you needed him, a believer in the virtues of simplicity and directness and hard labor.
The Buddhist monks in Vietnam particularly like Dobbins, calling him "soldier Jesus." Talking to Kiowa, he reveals that he once had an ambition to be a minister, though his religious beliefs, unlike Kiowa's, are not strong. These vignettes present Dobbins as a good, kindly, simple-minded man, while Kiowa is a more complex character who nonetheless, like the monks, sees and appreciates Dobbins's goodness.
Through these character sketches, O'Brien depicts an army of diverse individuals whose minds are not on their jobs most of the time. None of them are professional soldiers, and they do not hate the enemy. Indeed, they do not think about the Vietnamese most of the time. Whether they would be drinking and bragging about girls or quietly reading the Bible if they had stayed at home, these are the things they continue to do in Vietnam. The things they carry represent a sliver of individuality that show who they really are beneath the uniform, and the characterization in these stories adds substance to their differences.