and what they carried

Norman Bowker

The member of the platoon who is described as “gentle,” Bowker carries a diary with him. The other unusual thing that he carries is a thumb from the body of a dead Viet Cong boy.

Jimmy Cross

Lieutenant Cross is the main character of the story and the one whose inner thoughts the narrator most often presents to the reader. He is more educated than the rest of his men but seems reluctant to assume the burdens of leadership. He carries photographs, letters, and a pebble given to him by Martha, a college girl he knows back in New Jersey and with whom he believes himself to be in love.

Henry Dobbins

The biggest man in the platoon, Dobbins carries the heaviest physical load, the M-60 machine gun. Because of his size, however, he is exempt from taking his turn crawling in the enemy’s tunnels. He carries canned peaches and other extra rations on patrol.

Dave Jensen

David Jensen “practiced field hygiene” and therefore carried dental floss, “night-sight vitamins high in carotene,” and foot powder. He also brings soap stolen from a hotel in Australia where he had been for rest and relaxation, and a rabbit’s foot.

Rat Kiley

The medic for the platoon, Kiley carries all the necessary supplies for practicing emergency field medicine as well as some unconventional ones such as comic books, M & M candy, and brandy.


An Indian from Oklahoma, Kiowa is a devout Baptist and travels with the New Testament his father gave him. He also carries “his grandmother’s distrust of the white man,” a pair of moccasins, and a feathered hatchet

Ted Lavender

Because he is scared Lavender always carries tranquilizers and “six or seven ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity.” He is shot and killed while the platoon waits for Lee Strunk to emerge from the tunnels.


Martha is a junior at St. Sebastian’s College in New Jersey. Before Lieutenant Cross was shipped to Vietnam she formed at least a superficial relationship with him, but her letters are more friendly than romantic.

Mitchell Sanders

The radio operator for the platoon, Sanders has the responsibility of calling for the chopper to pick up Lavender’s body. He gave Bowker the amputated thumb from the corpse of the dead Viet Cong boy.

Lee Strunk

Introduced late in the story, Strunk draws the unlucky number seventeen and has to inspect the tunnels at Than Khe. Among the personal items that he chooses to carry are a slingshot and tanning lotion.