A book helped me understand

One of my favorite parts of my journalism job was when veterans told me their stories.

They told me how they jumped onto a beach in France, and they told me about sleepless nights in the Vietnam delta.

Sometimes, though, there were stories they weren’t ready to tell.

Sometimes, those memories were parts of their past they preferred to keep there so we let them lie buried.

There were words they couldn’t say, and scenes they didn’t want to replay.

I always accepted their hesitation without question, but earlier this year a book helped me understand it.

You should know I read Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried because of its title.

I knew it was the inspiration for the title of Chris Jones’ story for Esquire called, “The Things That Carried Him.”

The magazine story is about one soldier’s final journey home from war, and it’s one of the best features I’ve read.

It seemed natural I should read the book with which it is connected.

I opened my new copy of The Things They Carried on a Tuesday afternoon, and I scoffed at the five words printed in bold on the front cover flap.

“THIS IS AN AMERICAN CLASSIC.”

I finished the book in a day and a half, and it lived up to the front-flap praise.

The Things They Carried is a collection of fiction stories woven together to form a larger story based upon the author’s tour in Vietnam.

I’d learned from another Vietnam veteran I talked with why some people don’t talk about war, but The Things They Carried cleared up any other questions I may have had about their reasons.

It is full of stories about life at war and life after it.

It has stories about why some people talk about their service and why some people don’t.

It has stories about how they cope with what they’ve seen and done.

There are stories about what they’ve gone through, and what goes with them for the rest of their lives.

I won’t give it away, but I’ll say it struck a chord with me.

One of my grandfathers was on a submarine in World War II. I never heard him talk about it.

One of my grandfathers was in Korea. He didn’t talk about his time there much, either, until I asked him about six months before he died.

It was history to me, and I like history so I wanted to learn about it.

It was something different to him.

He sat across the table from me and told me stories of close calls in combat, and how he dealt with the death all around him.

I promised him I wouldn’t print his story in the newspaper, and I won’t put it in this post.

I’m not sure how he lived with all of the things he told me about that day, and the things he couldn’t say.

I’m not sure how he was able to compartmentalize them and become the jovial person who was my Pawpaw.

After we talked, I understood why many people who have gone through similar things can’t talk about it.

One of my grandfathers didn’t want to talk about it, and one of them hardly ever did.

Now, thanks to a book, I understand why.

Those memories were parts of their pasts they preferred to keep there so they let them lie buried.

There were words they couldn’t say, and scenes they didn’t want to replay.

Those were the things they carried.

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2 Comments

  1. Casey, this one hits home. I am a Vietnam vet and it’s difficult to believe it’s been 50 years this May. I am not only a veteran but I have read around 200 books written by Vietnam veterans from all branches of the military. The Things We Carried is right on. Vietnam was America’s most unpopular war. The politicians gave the war away and we vets were blamed I too, did not talk much for years but finally had enough. My wife says I talk too much. Maybe so. But on the positive side many people now who see my Nam hat are thanking me for my service. Many years late but better late than never. Thanks for your input.

    1. Count me in with people who thank you for your service. Thank you for all you do. What a confusing time that must have been. I think the only time you can talk too much about it is when it’s too much for you. You can tell me your story sometime, if you’d like. I’d like to hear it. I’m glad to know what you thought of the book.

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