In his short story “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien lists what each soldier in an American platoon carried through the Vietnam War. Notice in the following excerpt how O’Brien references the troop collectively (rather than as individuals), and how much this list of objects tells us about the realities of their day-to-day survival:
The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 15 and 20 pounds, depending upon a man's habits or rate of metabolism.
In this section, O’Brien, transitions into what individual soldiers carry:
Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra rations; he was especially fond of canned peaches in heavy syrup over pound cake. Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotel-sized bars of soap he'd stolen on R&R in Sydney, Australia. Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April. By necessity, and because it was SOP, they all carried steel helmets that weighed 5 pounds including the liner and camouflage cover. They carried the standard fatigue jackets and trousers. Very few carried underwear. On their feet they carried jungle boots—2.1 pounds—and Dave Jensen carried three pairs of socks and a can of Dr. Scholl's foot powder as a precaution against trench foot.
O’Brien also includes items that go beyond war-time necessity and make each soldier more human to us: a packet of love letters, a grandfather’s hunting hatchet, a good-luck pebble. And in addition to considering the physical weight of what soldiers carry through war, he touches on the emotional or figurative burden:
They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried… They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery. They carried lice and ringworm and leeches and paddy algae and various rots and molds. They carried the land itself—Vietnam, the place, the soil —a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces. They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.
This week, dear writers, borrow O’Brien’s title (“The Things They Carried”) and write your own piece—your own list—of items carried by a particular group: fans at a sports match, a faction from history, your own clique of friends, crowds at an inauguration…. Be sure to draw on both the physical and figurative “weight” carried by the individuals who compose the group you choose.
For inspiration, check out member Grace Ow's take on the prompt.