illustration of the backside of a soldier in full military gear

The Things They Carried

by Tim O’Brien

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Chapter 6 Summary

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The sixth story of The Things They Carried is “Friends.” It follows the events of the previous story, “Enemies,” in which Dave Jensen and Lee Strunk get into a fistfight over a missing jackknife. Though the two soldiers appeared to make peace, they do not become close friends. However, they would they go on to learn to trust each other, in part because they would team up on ambushes, cover each other while on patrol, and they shared a foxhole. At night, they would take turns on guard. By late August, they would make a pact that if one of them was ever incapacitated, or given a “wheelchair wound,” that the other would “automatically find a way to end it.” The narrator admits that he was convinced that they were serious because they turned the pact into a written contract, signed it, and even found witnesses.

In October, Lee Strunk stepped on a mortar round, which destroys his right leg up to the knee. The narrator recalls how Strunk managed a half step, like a hop, before he falls over to one side. He does not cry out, but rather repeats “damn oh damn” like he has stubbed his toe. Finally, he panics, tries to get up and run, and discovers that he can no longer walk. There is nothing there to support him and he falls again to the ground. The narrator recalls seeing bone, and the blood was squirting out like it was attached to a pump. Lee Strunk then tries to touch his missing leg before he finally passes out. 

There is little that the rest of the platoon can do now. Rat Kiley puts a tourniquet on the leg and begins to run morphine and plasma into Lee Strunk. The rest of the platoon secures the landing zone, and when they finish, Dave Jensen approaches Strunk and kneels before him. The stump has stopped twitching, and for a time it is difficult to even tell whether Strunk is still alive. However, when he finally opens his eyes and looks up at Jensen, he moans and asks Jensen not to kill him. He explains that his leg is not that bad and that the doctors will be able to sew it back on. Jensen agrees that the leg is not that bad, but Strunk does not appear to believe him. However, Strunk finally gets Jensen to promise that he will not kill him. The chopper finally appears to carry Strunk away. 

The rest of the platoon eventually hears that Strunk died “somewhere over Chu Lai,” news that “seemed to relieve Dave Jensen of an enormous weight.”

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