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If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  5,369 ratings  ·  279 reviews

Before writing his award-winning Going After Cacciato, Tim O'Brien gave us this intensely personal account of his year as a foot soldier in Vietnam. The author takes us with him to experience combat from behind an infantryman's rifle, to walk the minefields of My Lai, to crawl into the ghostly t
Paperback, 209 pages
Published September 1st 1999 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 1973)
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The Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienMatterhorn by Karl MarlantesDispatches by Michael HerrA Rumor Of War by Philip CaputoWe Were Soldiers Once... and Young by Harold G. Moore
Best Literature About the Vietnam War
11th out of 209 books — 369 voters
Band of Brothers by Stephen E. AmbroseBlack Hawk Down by Mark BowdenLone Survivor by Marcus LuttrellUnbroken by Laura HillenbrandFlags of Our Fathers by James D. Bradley
Best Non-fiction War Books
119th out of 878 books — 1,190 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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May 22, 2013 Amanda rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: blog
For me, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried is the most powerful book that I have every read and it's the standard against which I judge all things O'Brien. In The Things They Carried, O'Brien utilizes a nonlinear and fragmented narrative structure, magical realism, and the power of storytelling to capture the visceral truth that telling the real story can't quite capture. For O'Brien, we must sometimes turn to fiction to capture what is "emotionally true" and, in doing so, be less concerned w ...more
war bond

These fought, in any case,
and some believing, pro domo, in any case ..

Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later ...

some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some "pro patria, non dulce non et decor" ..

walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;

usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in pub
Larry Bassett
Tim O’Brien’s war story could have been me. A 1968 college graduate, Tim accepts being drafted in spite of his opposition to the war. He goes to basic training then infantry training, decides to desert to Sweden when it is clear that he is headed for Vietnam, changes his mind mid-desertion and goes off to war. As they say, the rest is historical fiction.

Can the foot soldier teach anything about war, merely for having been there? I think not. He can tell war stories.

This war story is If I Die i
Tim O'Brien is always haunting. Though I didn't love this quite as much as "The Things They Carried" (the ultimate Vietnam book IMO), or my all time love "In the Lake of the Woods" (words can't express the adoration I have for that chaotic beautiful mess), If I Die in a Combat Zone is disturbing and painful and written with the clarity and disdain the subject matter deserved.
Tim O'Brien is a great liar who always convinces me that he is deeply and sincerely -- perhaps even profoundly -- honest. If I Die in a Combat Zone is a memoir, but I went into it with both eyes open.

After all, one of the best parts of The Things They Carried is not actually reading the book (though it is a very good book). Instead, it's when you learn that Tim O'Brien does not have a daughter, let alone one named Kathleen.

He's pulling out the same tricks here. He writes with sincerity, self ana
Compared to The Things They Carried, which is a compilation of war stories from Vietnam, and one of my favorite books, If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home is a much more personal account. It is O'Brien's memoir of his own experience in the war, and his own views on its morality. Thus, this work contains some drudgery that would not normally be seen in an action-packed war novel. But that is why I love it. The accuracy and honesty of the memoir, and O'Brien's dependable writing ...more
Outstanding attempt to portray the experience of an infantry soldier draftee in the Vietnam War. Although it is a memoir, it is so carefully crafted in its sequencing of vignettes and selection of archetypical examples, it comes across as a fictional narrative. Nevertheless, it is compelling, simultaneously tragic and beautiful. It feels honest about the numbness and ambivalence of most soldiers fighting an unwinnable war, one in which the enemy was rarely seen and blended in so well with the ci ...more
Tim O'Brien's true reflection of Nam and being drafted despite objecting to war as a concept and especially Vietnam, is a good honest account of his feeling and fears.

Chapters of the book vary dramatically in their style, some being written in the field and some later from memory, some are reflecting on the meaning of courage and the concept of war. A lot is on his heavily planned desertion, prior to being shipped to Nam. Another gives a breakdown on all the types of booby trap and mine they enc
Dec 14, 2007 Mark rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those looking to find a little more despair in the world
War, what is it good for?

Requested this from my local library on Veterans Day, and just plowed through it on my daily Metro grind this week. I'm not much of a memoir-reader generally, but I thought that it would be appropriate reading in honor of Veterans Day (well, sort of). In some ways it was your typical Vietnam-dysfunctional story that we have all heard before. I think the thing that was most interesting though was the personalization of the dysfunctional war story, and the thinking of a r
All of O'Brien's Vietnam War novels are hands down the best fiction written on the Vietnam War. He is the Hemingway of Vietnam War fiction, and I'm not saying that lightly or flippantly.

This was the first of O'Brien's three great Vietnam novels and the other two are actually better than this one. His writing is so good because he conveys all of the emotions and messiness associated with war without glorifying or vilifying anyone in particular.

The point of his works seems to be catharsis or rec
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be drafted into the war at a young age? Tim O’Brien experiences first hand the stresses and decisions that needed to be made when he first learned he was drafted for the Vietnam War in the summer of 1968. In the memoir If I Died in a Combat Zone: Box Me up and Ship Me Home, Tim O’Brien talked with his friends as he explains, “I was persuaded then, and I remain persuaded now, that the war was wrong. And since it was wrong and since people were dying ...more
I really love "The Things They Carried", so I was so excited to start this one! I was really very disappointed :( It was very repetitive with hardly any "action", just long bouts of sitting or walking or talking about courage/morals/heros. A new concept would be introduced without any explanation, so I couldn't understand why "x" was the effect of "y" happening. Military terms, abbreviations, and names for weapons/trucks were used with no definition. For the most part, that was easier to work ar ...more
Maryam Arabi
It was a quick read. I really like war novels and read this one for class, and it really is an experience. He wrote most of it while he was in Vietnam, in fucking fox holes, too! (Be ready to read a lot of f bombs) It's great. I just wouldn't call it remarkable. It doesn't wrench your heart like every page of All Quiet on The Western Front does.
Abbey Harlow
I really wanted to love this, because I love Tim O'Brien generally. But, I came away from this feeling like I had just listened to a bunch of random war stories about Vietnam and going to Vietnam, which I know was the point of the book. I guess it made it feel a bit cliched - at this point, we've heard all this before, but it was probably more shocking or new at the time it was written. I also think he took the whole idea of storytelling much further with "The Things They Carried." Those were al ...more
O'Brien discussed his theories of courage, endurance, wisdom, and their correlation to the war, Plato’s philosophy and his heroes. He uses the phrase "proper courage" , justifying the act of courage. Courage is doing what is wise, what is morally right. In his conversation with Doc, the medic, it seemed like heroism, used interchangeably with courage, is something innate, an internal reaction to any degree of pressure. The theme of courage is transcended solely towards manhood in American societ ...more
Alex Warner
Another Tim O’brien book. I’d say that I liked it as much as The Things They Carried but I’d be lying. I get that this is one of those personal recollection books but I just didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t really find it interesting, nothing really surprised me, I just couldn’t really get into the book. Not to say that it’s a bad book, this is just my opinion. I just found it extremely boring and could have just read a history book or watched a special on the History Channel or something. I suppose th ...more
Alainee Calo
I thought The Things They Carried was a more powerful book, but If I Die in a Combat Zone was a close second. Both books addressed themes such as courage and the difference between right and wrong in times of war. I learned a lot about the Vietnam War from reading this book. For example, I had never heard of the My Lai Massacre until reading today, which led me to do more research about it on my own. I often had to look up what certain slang or abbreviations meant or what certain weapons looked ...more
Samantha Pron
In high school, I read Tim O'Brien's book "The Things They Carried" in a writing class. I fell in love with the book and have frequently read it since then. Sometimes I walk over to my book case, pick it up, flip to a random page and read a paragraph or two, completely enthralled with his words. This was not the case with "If I Die in a Combat Zone." As much as I still love his writing and the way that he plays with words, this book disappointed me. Perhaps if I had begun with this book first, i ...more
Kyle Ohlsen
If I Die In A Combat Zone

If I Die In A Combat Zone was written by Tim O’Brien in 1969. The book was published by Clarendon Press. If I Die In A Combat Zone is about Tim O’Brien when he was in Vietnam in 1968. This book explains what soldiers went through in Vietnam and what it was like to look down the gun barrel at another human in combat.

If I Die In A Combat Zone is about Tim’s life from the time of his draft notice to when he returns home. He talks about the friends he makes during his traini
This book was assigned to me for one of the classes I'm taking this semester. We're learning about the 'Representations of the Experience of War', and so far it has to be one of my favorite classes ever (I've got an amazing instructor, and really need to be a better student in this class). Mrs. Hanson assigned us some great works that represents war experiences, and I must say I just never thought I'd learn so many new things.

But let's get right to the book, shall we?
I've never been one who en
Christine Fay
This is a true to life memoir about his experiences in My Lai and My Khe in Vietnam. Tim writes about his doubts about going to war, about what constitutes courage and wise endurance, and a smattering of war stories involving his fellow soldiers. I did not find it as enjoyable as Things They Carried, perhaps because the fiction genre allowed him some poetic license.
Ashlee Draper Galyean
I was shocked when I read this in high school but overall I'm grateful for a teacher who actually took the time to do a unit on Vietnam since the history teachers never got to it. Also one of two books that I never forgot since high school. I'm now teaching another Tim O'Brien book to my students because of this book and my own high school experience.
Jun 24, 2014 Ryan rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: war
Pretty tame compared to his other works, reads more like a diary of his tour of duty and the days leading up to his being drafted. I suppose it is an accurate reflection of the way the Vietnam war was, with days of doing nothing, almost like a tropical vacation if not for the ever present potential for death and dismemberment. Scenes of gore and sudden violence in the form of mines and booby traps are depicted in a matter-of-fact dispassionate tone of voice perhaps alluding to the desensitizatio ...more
Brilliant. Gave me the vocabulary to communicate better in Call of Duty. I tried reading Ernest Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls for the same purpose but his style didn't stick with me. I'm a warmonger and my dream is for the world to be engaged in perpetual conflict. Love war because War is Peace.
I've read a few other Tim O'Brien books, and this one did not disappoint. This felt even more intimate than his other books, in the glimpse it gave into the mindset of the 20-something year old young man, drafted, terrified, torn up about what is right, and as he is shipped out to Vietnam. His philosophical wonderings on bravery, courage, shame, loyalty, and the validity and morality of war and fighting in a battle you don't believe in are well executed.

Some points of thought I found interestin
I decided to read this book right after listening to The Things They Carried in hopes of seeing what parts of reality O'Brien borrowed when writing his fictional Vietnam tour. I saw flashes of inspiration here and there, but was also treated to a very solid memoir about Tim O'Brien's time in Vietnam.

Having a chance to actually read O'Brien this time, instead of listening, I was able to further sink into his short, snappy sentences full of meandering thoughts or frank commentary. The man's writin
What I really appreciated about this work is the uniquity of it among war narratives. It's in conscious dialogue with its predecessors, through Hemingway, all the way back to the Greeks, and at the same time wholly original, rather than emulatory, and although there is no way of knowing, one gets the feeling he is writing what he experienced, rather than what he thinks his audience understands him to have experienced. The emotional flattening here, the way one feels terror, the potentiality of r ...more
Aaron Martz
This book answered a lot of questions I've always had about the Vietnam War. Like if a platoon of soldiers unwilling to fight ever called in false coordinates and made up false skirmishes out of laziness or fear, and conversely if they ever went in guns blazing and killed everything in sight in order not to have to make the decision of who was VC and who wasn't. This book makes a case for the exoneration of cowardice in both instances and presents the entire battleground, and especially My Lai, ...more
O'Brien recounts his time as a soldier sent to Vietnam. The writing was so good that it read like a novel and I found his descriptions of life on the frontline interesting.
If I Die in a Combat Zone is good, but this memoir proves the point O'Brien makes in The Things They Carried: story truth is more true than happening truth.
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Tim O'Brien matriculated at Macalester College. Graduation in 1968 found him with a BA in political science and a draft notice.

O'Brien was against the war but reported for service and was sent to Vietnam with what has been called the "unlucky" Americal division due to its involvement in the My Lai massacre in 1968, an event which figures prominently in In the Lake of the Woods. He was assigned to
More about Tim O'Brien...

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“With a hangover and with fear, it is difficult to put a helmet on your head.” 9 likes
“CEASE FIRE,' Captain Johansen shouted. 'Cease fire, what's wrong with you guys? Stop wasting the goddamn ammo. CEASE FIRE!'
Cease fire,' the lieutenants hollered.
Cease fire,' the platoon sergeants hollered.
Cease the goddamn fire,' shouted the squad leaders.
That,' I told Barney, 'is the chain of command.”
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