In essence, each soldier "carried ghosts" (O'Brien 1107), while painstakingly walking through the elephant grass of Vietnam, to sitting in the chair watching television at home. As both stories eloquently illustrate, each young man will never be the same. Each carries emotional baggage.
In "The Things They Carried" the reader becomes aware of the emotional strain and weight a soldier endures during the war. Rather than taking place after the war like "The Red Convertible," the strongest part of the plot is within the boundaries of war. Being in combat so young completely changes the soldiers. The man in command, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, is only 22 years old. "As first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps, codebooks, binoculars, and a .45 caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds fully loaded.
He carried a strobe light and the responsibility of his men" (1104). Cross also has to keep reminding himself of where he is and what his job is. "Lieutenant Cross reminded himself that his obligation was not to be loved but to lead" (1115). The descriptions of what each man carries points out just how young, inexperienced and unprepared these boys really are. "Mitchell Sanders carried condoms. Norman Bowker carried a diary. Rat Riley carried comic books…Kiowa also carried his grandmother's distrust of the white man and his grandfather's old hunting hatchet"