Chapter 1 Summary

The first story of The Things They Carried is eponymously titled “The Things They Carried.” Set in Vietnam, First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and his platoon carry many things while humping across the tropical brush. Besides the machine guns, rations, ammunition, and mines, Cross lugs letters from Martha, a junior studying poetry at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. While reading her letters that discuss poetry and Virginia Woolf, Cross wonders whether she is a virgin. He thinks of the last time he saw her, her gray eyes and the way that he kissed her before he left, and he thinks of the things that he wished he had done when he last saw her. Specifically, he fantasizes about taking her to her room, tying her up, and touching her hand with his knee. In her letters, Martha never mentions the war, except to tell Cross to be careful. She sends him a pebble for good luck, which Cross keeps in his mouth.

Cross’s platoon carries many things. Some of the things the men carry are standard, such as steel helmets, which weigh five pounds. Other things are carried only by one or two members of the platoon. For example, Mitchell Sanders carries a PRC-25 radio, which weighs twenty-five pounds with its battery. Henry Dobbins, a large man, carries the M-60, a machine gun that weighs 23 pounds. Not everything that the men carry is standard issue. For example, Dave Jensen carries extra socks and foot powder to combat trench foot, Norman Bowker carries a diary, and Rat Kiley carries comic books. Kiowa, meanwhile, carries an illustrated copy of the New Testament. Ted Lavender carried tranquilizers and dope before he was shot and killed outside of Than Khe. Before Lavender died, there were 17 men in the platoon.

Lavender was scared, and when he died, he fell like “dead weight.” Kiowa saw it happen, and he cannot stop explaining to everyone around him that Ted Lavender “dropped like so much concrete. Boom-down.” The men now wrap...

(The entire section is 529 words.)