The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition.
Lieutenant Cross carried his good-luck pebble. Dave Jensen carried a rabbit's foot.
Norman Bowker, otherwise a very gentle person, carried a thumb that had been presented
to him as a gift by Mitchell Sanders. The thumb was dark brown, rubbery to the touch,
and weighed 4 ounces at most. It had been cut from a VC corpse, a boy of fifteen or
sixteen. They'd found him at the botton of an irrigation ditch, badly burned, flies in his
mouth and eyes. The boy wore black shorts and sandals. At the time of his death he had
been carrying a pouch of rice, a rifle, and three magazines of ammunition.
You want my opinion, Mitchell Sanders said, there's a definite moral here.
He put his hand on the dead boy's wrist. He was quiet for a time, as if counting a
pulse, then he patted the stomach, almost affectionately, and used Kiowa's hunting
hatchet to remove the thumb.
Henry Dobbins asked what the moral was.
You know. Moral.
Sanders wrapped the thumb in toilet paper and handed it across to Norman
Bowker. There was no blood. Smiling, he kicked the boy's head, watched the flies scatter,
and said, It's like with that old TV show -- Paladin. Have gun, will travel.
Henry Dobbins thought about it.
Yeah, well, he finally said. I don't see no moral.
There it is, man.
(excerpt from "The Things They Carried," Tim O'Brien.)
Reprinted by kind permission of the author, 10-8-03.