In The Things They Carried , the characters themselves probably could not tell you why they carried many of the things they did. The things they carried can be divided into three basic groups, the things that everyone had to carry in order to survive, the things that individuals chose to carry, and the mental burdens that many carried without choice.
The necessities that the men were forced to carry were, for example, P- 38 can openers, pocket knives, matches, C-rations, water, a nylon covered flak jacket, an M-16 assault rifle, and for Henry Dobbins, an M-60, which weighed 33- 38 pounds including ammunition. All of these items were carried for two simple reasons, to survive, and to kill which was of course their job.
Next, the things that each individual chose to carry, for many of the men , these items were things that they personally believed that they could not live without, but to others would be unnecessary for survival. For First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross it was pictures of Martha, and also letters from her whom he loved unrequitedly. Another example and proof of irrelevance to survival was Ted Lavenders six or seven ounces of dope and nine extra M-79 Grenades which he was carrying when he was shot in the head. Extras such as these really did nothing more than give the men a false sense of security, which was probably necessary to cope with their surroundings.
Last but certainly not least they carried with them love, guilt, memories, and fear of death. Lieutenant cross, for example carried love, guilt, and even though he tried never to show it, fear. Tim O'Brien shows us this in the passage shortly after the death of Ted Lavender, "He pictured Martha's smooth young face, thinking he loved her more than anything, more than his men, and now Ted Lavender was dead because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her "(8). For these mentally weighted burdens there was no choice to carry or not...