The Dirtiness of War - An In depth look of "The Things They Carried."

Essay by tankdogtfUniversity, Bachelor'sA, November 2005

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In "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong", O'Brien uses the story of Mary Anne Bell to illustrate the transformation of young, innocent, naive boys who go off to war and often return as calloused men. Her story, as told by Rat Kiley of Alpha Company, symbolizes the experiences that befall young soldiers who leave a comfortable life at home and begin a journey into the unknown. They arrive in Vietnam innocent and "clean" and are seduced by the "dirty" terror of war and are ultimately transformed, in varying degrees, into someone else. Rat is prone to exaggeration, but he insists this story is absolutely true.

In this story, Rat was assigned to a small medical detachment when he first arrived in Vietnam, overlooking a river called the Song Tra Bong. The unit had eight other medics (no officers) and they provided basic emergency and trauma care to casualties brought in by helicopter.

Also, within the compound were six Green Berets who stayed to themselves but nevertheless play a crucial role in the story. Because the compound was isolated and never attacked, the soldiers spend their time playing cards and volleyball, drinking beer, and talking about cars, baseball, and girls. One young medic, Mark Fossie, had the idea of bringing his girlfriend, Mary Anne, to the compound from his hometown of Cleveland Heights. After complicated logistics and much expense, Mary Anne arrived six weeks later on the re-supply chopper, "tired and somewhat lost" (pg 94), as most new recruits appear. She was "clean" and innocent, "this seventeen-year old doll in her goddam culottes, perky and fresh-faced, like a cheerleader visiting the opposing teams' locker room. Her pretty blue eyes seemed to glow." (pg. 96) In the beginning, Mary Anne stayed close to Mark, wanting to take in everything around...