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Index to the text

The Things They Carried Glossary
Compiled by Prof. G. William Koon

Page 2

  • Virginia Woolf (1882-1941): major British novelist, essayist, and critic. One of the leaders in the literary movement of modernism.
  • P-38 can openers: small, collapsible GI field can opener.
  • Military Payment Certificates: used in place of S. currency. Covered all the usual denominations of U.S. currency and coins.
  • C-rations: combat rations. Individual meals issued to troops where no hot food or kitchen facilities were available.
  • R&R: rest and relaxation. A GI’s vacation from the war. S. soldiers in Vietnam were eligible for one 7-day R&R.
  • SOP: Standard Operating Procedure. Set of instructions, produced by a grouping or unit, which explained exactly how various duties and tasks should be carried out.

Page 3

  • RTO: Radio Telephone Operator. Soldier in the field who carried and/or maintained radio equipment. One of the prime targets of snipers or gunners.
  • legs or grunts: terms for enlisted men. Somewhat demoralizing in that they see people in terms of parts or actions. On page 6, another term, KIA (Killed In Action), is similar as it suggests not really a person but an event

Page 4

  • Bonnie and Clyde: 1967 film about the notorious bank robbers, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

Page 5

  • PRC-25 radio: standard field radio, man transported. Had 920 FM channels and weighed 23 pounds.
  • M-60: standard infantry machine gun used during the 1960’s and early 70’s.
  • PFCs: Private First Class. A soldier ranking above a private and below a corporal or Specialist Fourth Class in the U.S. Army
  • Spec 4s: Specialist Fourth Class. An Army rank immediately above Private First Class. Most enlisted men who had completed their individual training and had been on duty for a few months were Spec-4s. Probably the most common rank in the Vietnam-era Army.

Page 6

  • LSA oil: lubricant extensively used in the M-16 rifle to keep the bolt from jamming.

Page 7      

  • M-14s: standard S. infantry rifle from 1959-66, when it began to be replaced by the M-16.
  • CAR 15s: commando rifle with a shorter barrel than the M-16 and a short, expendable metal stock.
  • Swedish Ks: Swedish-made submachine gun used by U.S. Special Forces and Navy SEALS in Vietnam.
  • AK-47s: Soviet-designed 7.62mm assault weapon.
  • Chi-Coms: Chinese Communists. Common reference to military equipment made in China.
  • RPGs: Soviet designed hand-held anti tank rocket.
  • Simonov carbines: Soviet-designed rifle with an approximately 22-24 inch barrel.
  • Uzis: Israeli-designed 9mm submachine gun.
  • 66mm LAWs: man-carried Light Antitank Weapons, shoulder-fired, single shot and short ranged.
  • C-4 plastic explosives: Composition 4 explosives. Soft, gritty plastic explosive used by the military.
  • Claymore antipersonnel mine: American-designed device that fires a quantity of ball-bearings in a specific direction. Can be initiated electronically or by means of a trip-wire.
  • M-18 colored smoke grenades: generated red, green, yellow or purple smoke. Used for signaling and to provide cover or screening for troops.
  • CS or tear gas grenades: type of tear agent. Normally used by riot police for crowd control.

Page 9

  • bug juice: military-used insect repellent.
  • AOs: Area of Operation. Area where a unit is assigned to reduce the chance of friendly fire.
  • Toe poppers: small pressure-detonated mine with the power to blow off a hand or part of a foot, used for booby traps.
  • Bouncing betties: cone-shaped mine buried in ground. When triggered it bounced 3 feet in the air, then exploded, causing extensive shrapnel damage to the lower body.
  • Starlight scope: type of image intensifier.

Page 10

  • Chu Lai: major S. base constructed on the coast of South Vietnam in Quang Tin Province.

Page 13

  • Paladin: western hero, a gunslinger, of the T.V. show “Have Gun, Will Travel.” The several references to cowboy heroes, all of them wholesome and heroic, contrast with the realistic portrayal of the combat solders of the book.

Page 14

  • USO: United Services Organization. Private, nonprofit organization formed to support members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Provided social clubs and facilities for overseas military personnel.
  • Sterno: fuel used for a small portable gas stove.
  • Joss sticks: incense.
  • grease pencils: black and green grease used to camouflage the hands and face during military operations.
  • The Stars and Stripes: a patriotic military newspaper.
  • Psy Ops leaflets: designed to lower the enemies’ morale (psychological operations).
  • Mermite cans: large vacuum sealed, insulated food containers used for transporting hot food to the field.
  • PRC-77 scrambler radio: field radio with a scrambler/descrambler attached. Used to make radio calls over a secure net.
  • code of conduct: the rules of war. Ironic since the rules don’t seem to apply here.

Page 16

  • entrenching tool: military shovel.

Page 20

  • greased, offed, lit up, zapped: impersonal terms for being killed.

Page 22

  • Sin Loi!: Vietnamese for “sorry about that.”

Page 31

  • GI: Government Issue, another impersonal term for the men.

Page 33

  • Poppa-san: GI slang for an old Vietnamese man or head of a family.
  • Batangan Peninsula: peninsula centered southeast of Chu Lai along the coast of Quang Ngai Province, I Corps.
  • dink: Vietnamese nickname for S. soldiers. Adopted by GIs to refer to all Vietnamese, friend or foe.

Page 35

  • AWOL: Absent Without Leave. Away from a military unit without permission.
  • Danang: port city in Quang Ngai Province, I Corps, on the mouth of the Ca De Song River.

Page 37

  • My Khe: beach located about 15 km from the town of Quang Ngai.

Page 39

  • The Lone Ranger: another cowboy hero who is always honorable, always victorious.

Page 40

  • Macalester College: private undergraduate liberal arts college located in Paul, Minnesota. Tim O’Brien graduated from here in 1968 before his tour of duty in Vietnam.
  • USS Maddox: S. Navy destroyer attacked by North Vietnamese gunboats on August 2, 1964. After another attack two days later, the U.S. retaliated with the bombing of the North Vietnamese port city of Vinh, the first bombing of that country by the U.S.
  • Gulf of Tonkin: off the coast of North Vietnam. The Maddox was patrolling here in international waters when attacked.
  • Ho Chi Minh: ruled North Vietnam from 1954 until his death in 1969. His goal was to unite all of Indo-China under the Communist Party.
  • Geneva Accords: Vietnamese peace agreement that ended the first Indo-China War between France and the Viet Minh in July 1954.
  • SEATO: Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. Conceived by the S. and formed in 1954 to fight the spread of communism among its member nations.

Page 41

  • Gene McCarthy: Democratic presidential candidate in the 1968 election, defeated by Richard Nixon.
  • Phi Beta Kappa: American honor society for college students.

Page 42

  • LBJ: Lyndon Baines Johnson. President, 1963-69.
  • Westmoreland: General William C. Westmoreland, commander of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, June 1964-July 1968. Later, became President of the Citadel.

Page 43

  • graduate school deferments: potential draftees could receive an exemption from fighting in Vietnam if they were in college or graduate school.

Page 44

  • CO status: conscientious objector.

Page 45

  • Bao Dai: last emperor of Vietnam (1925-46 and 1949-55). Ruled Vietnam before its division into North and South Vietnam. Exiled to Paris.

Page 58

  • Jane Fonda: actress who in 1972 made a pro-North Vietnamese propaganda trip to Hanoi.
  • Barbarella: Fonda was remembered by many GIs for her nude scenes in this film.

Page 62

  • LZ Gator: Landing Zone. The particular landing zones were all named for animals.

Page 72

  • LP: Listening Post. Acted as early warning to the rest of the unit for enemy advance or attack.

Page 73

  • Radio Hanoi: North Vietnamese radio programs that targeted S. troops in South Vietnam.

Page 74

  • Haiphong Boys Choir: Haiphong was North Vietnam’s major port city. “Haiphong Boys Choir” was a phrase, probably invented by Sanders, to describe the chanting voices the soldiers in the field started to hear after weeks of fighting.

Page 75

  • Cobras: American-designed AH-1 attack helicopter.
  • F-4s: American-designed multirole fighter aircraft, suitable for use from aircraft carriers, aka the Phantom.
  • Willie Peter: white phosphorus. Long burning material used in bombs, rockets, etc.
  • HE: high explosive.
  • Brigadoon: 1954 musical/fantasy starring Gene Kelly, set in the Scottish highlands. In the movie the city was enchanted. Every one hundred years it would emerge from the fog for one day. At the end of the day it would fade back into the fog and remain hidden for another one hundred years.

Page 90

  • Culottes: women’s baggy calf-length pants.

Page 91

  • NCO: Non Commissioned Officer, typically a sergeant.
  • E-6: staff sergeant. Normally led a platoon or platoon-sized unit of 22-40 men.
  • Darvon: commonly prescribed pain medication in the Army.
  • RFs, PFs, ARVN: South Vietnamese territorial forces, defensive in nature, usually lacking training and poorly equipped.
  • ruff-and-puffs: another name for RF/PFs.

Page 92

  • Greenies/Green Berets: Green Berets are a group of specially trained army personnel. They were some of the first forces in to Vietnam and conducted many secret and dangerous missions. They were known as Green Berets or Greenies because of the unique head gear.

Page 93

  • EM club: club for enlisted men.

Page 94

  • C-130: American designed transport aircraft, aka the Hercules.

Page 115

  • MP: military policeman.
  • CID: Criminal Investigations Division. Military organization that investigated crimes. During the Vietnam War, it focused much energy on controlling drugs and smuggling. Generally disliked by all GIs worldwide.

Page 121

  • Friar Tuck: a genial priest in the Robin Hood stories.

Page 124

  • The Man I Killed: a play on the Thomas Hardy poem, “The Man He Killed,” an ironic statement about killing people we might befriend in circumstances other than those of war.

Page 125

  • Trung sisters: two Vietnamese sisters who led the first national uprising against the Chinese, who had conquered them, in the year 40 A.D. The Trungs gathered an army of 80,000 people to help drive the Chinese from their lands.
  • Tran Hung Dao ( 1213-1300): In 1284, Kublai Khan lead a 500,000-man Chinese army into Vietnam. Guerrillas organized by Tran Hung Dao virtually destroyed the invasion force.
  • Le Loi: Vietnamese general and emperor who won back independence for Vietnam from China in 1428, founded the Later Le Dynasty, and became the most honored Vietnamese hero of the medieval period.
  • Tot Dong: location of Le Loi’s final victory against the Chinese.

Page 141

  • Silver Star: S.’s third highest award for valor, awarded by the president for bravery in combat.

Page 177

  • Karl Marx (1818-1883): German founder of communism who wrote The Communist Manifesto.

Page 182

  • Hanoi: capital, from 1976, of Vietnam ; capital, 1954–76, of North Vietnam ; and former capital of French Indochina.
  • Saigon: capital of South Vietnam from 1954-1976, when it was renamed Ho Chi Minh City and is now the capital of Vietnam.
  • Cu Chi: home of the S. 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam.

Page 189

  • Tri Binh: village in the Chu Lai area.
  • Gene Autry: still another cowboy hero, a righteous winner.

Page 192

  • Harmon Killebrew: American baseball hero who played for the Minnesota Twins in the 1960’s.

Page 202

  • Charlie Cong: nickname for Viet Cong soldiers.

Page 207

  • Audie Murphy: WWII hero who later became a movie star.
  • Cisco Kid: another valiant cowboy hero.

Page 209

  • Mary Hopkin: British singer, popular in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Page 217

  • Hitchcock/The Birds: a 1963 Hitchcock thriller starring Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren. Vicious birds attack an isolated California

Page 220

  • NoDoz: an inexpensive stay-awake medicine.

Page 232

  • The Man Who Never Was: a 1956 British film starring Clifton Webb; a WWII spy story.

Page 240

  • Mama-san: GI name for an aged or mature Vietnamese woman.
Books in the Library

Journalists at risk : reporting America’s wars
Call #: 070.4 SUL Sullivan, George, 1927-
Published 2006

Civil unrest in the 1960s riots and their aftermath
[ Follett eBook ] Call #: 303.6 MAR Mara, Wil.
Published 2010

Freedom of expression
[ Book ] Call #: 323.44 LER Alicia Cafferty Lerner and Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner, book editors.
Published 2009
Interest Level: Young Adult

Medal of Honor : portraits of valor beyond the call of duty
[ Book ] Call #: 355.1 COL Collier, Peter, 1939-
Published 2003

20th-century arms and armor
[ Book ] Call #: 623.4 BUL Bull, Stephen.
Published 1996

From both sides now : the poetry of the Vietnam War and its aftermath
[ Book ] Call #: 811 FRO edited by Phillip Mahony.
Published 1998

Tim O’Brien : a critical companion
[ Book ] Call #: 813 SMI Smith, Patrick A., 1967-
Series: Critical companions to popular contemporary writers
Published 2005

Redeployment
[ Book ] Call #: 813.6 KLA Klay, Phil.
Published 2014

Catfish and mandala : a two-wheeled voyage through the landscape and memory of Vietnam
[ Book ] Call #: 915.9 PHA Pham, Andrew X., 1967-
Published 1999

Every man a tiger : the Gulf War Air Campaign
[ Book ] Call #: 956.704 CLA Clancy, Tom, 1947-
Published 2008

Vietnam
[ Book ] Call #: 959.7 PHI Phillips, Douglas A.
Published 2006

Vietnam War almanac
[ Follett eBook ] Call #: 959.7 WIL Willbanks, James H., 1947-
Series: Almanacs of American wars
Published 2009

Vietnam : the real war
[ Book ] Call #: 959.704 AP Associated Press.
Published 2013

Dear America : letters home from Vietnam
[ Book ] Call #: 959.704 DEA edited by Bernard Edelman for The New York Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission.
Published 2002

Vietnam : a history of a war
[ Book ] Call #: 959.704 FRE Freedman, Russell.
Published 2016

U.S. involvement in Vietnam
[ Book ] Call #: 959.704 GIT Gitlin, Marty.
Series: Essential events
Published 2010

Lyndon Johnson’s war : America’s cold war crusade in Vietnam, 1945-1968
[ Book ] Call #: 959.704 HUN Hunt, Michael H.
Series: Critical issue
Published 1996

Primary source accounts of the Vietnam War
[ Book ] Call #: 959.704 OCO O’Connell, Kim A.
Series: America’s wars through primary sources
Published 2006

Most dangerous : Daniel Ellsberg and the secret history of the Vietnam War
[ Book ] Call #: 959.704 SHE Sheinkin, Steve.
Published 2015
Interest Level: Young Adult
1 of 1 available

Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson
[ Book ] Call #: 973.92 LIN Lindop, Edmund.
Series: Presidents who dared
Published 1996

Killing Kennedy : the end of Camelot
[ Book ] Call #: 973.922 ORE O’Reilly, Bill.
Published 2012

The 1960s decade in photos : love, freedom, and flower power
[ Book ] Call #: 973.923 COR Corrigan, Jim.
Series: Amazing decades in photos
Published 2010

The 1970s decade in photos : protest and change
[ Book ] Call #: 973.924 COR Corrigan, Jim.
Series: Amazing decades in photos
Published 2010

The things they carried
[ Sound ] Call #: AUD F OBR O’Brien, Tim.
Published 1990

Databases and Search Tips

From Destiny
Short stories for students. [electronic resource] : presenting analysis, context, and criticism on commonly studied short stories.Tim Akers and Jerry Moore, project editors. Volume 5 (Series: Gale virtual reference library) Author Biography; Plot Summary; Characters; Themes; Style; Historical Context; Critical Overview; Criticism; Sources.

From Wrl.org (use wjcc+student id as barcode)
Biography in Context: Biographies, articles, journals, websites.

Exapnded Academic ASAP: Critical essays, book reviews, interviews and articles.

Literary Reference Center: Articles, interviews, reviews.

About the Author

Tim O’Brien Biogrphy from famouswriters.org

Writing Vietnam: Speech given at Brown University 1999.  Of particular interest is his account of events in Chapter On the Rainy River.

Video: C-SPAN Tim O’Brien reads from and discusses The Things They Carried.

Google Books
Related Books
Versions of the Text

Full text pdf The Things They Carried