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

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,825 Ratings  ·  311 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 CaputoThe Quiet American by Graham Greene
Best Literature About the Vietnam War
10th out of 218 books — 386 voters
Band of Brothers by Stephen E. AmbroseBlack Hawk Down by Mark BowdenHiroshima by John HerseyOn Killing by Dave GrossmanLone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell
Best Non-fiction War Books
127th out of 935 books — 1,345 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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May 22, 2013 Amanda rated it really liked it
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
Mar 30, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
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
Oct 25, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2012
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.
Larry Bassett
Apr 22, 2011 Larry Bassett rated it liked it
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
Jul 30, 2012 Michael rated it really liked it
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
Aug 18, 2014 Ryan rated it really liked it
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
Nov 18, 2012 Melissa rated it really liked it
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
May 22, 2013 Matt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 it was amazing  ·  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
Jul 27, 2015 Tommy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 27, 2016 Ryan rated it it was amazing
Loved it. Short, powerful, honest, and conveyed with an economy of language to make his own favorite writers proud, O’Brien nails the memoir format, illuminates the experience of war, and captures multiple aspects of the quagmire that was Vietnam.

In many ways it reads like The Things They Carried, divided up into 19 pretty short chapters of 10 pages or less, each focusing on one scene, one part of his life, one idea that permeates the war experience. I’ve always thought that “war stories” are h
PennsyLady (Bev)
Jan 27, 2016 PennsyLady (Bev) rated it really liked it
Shelves: vietnam
a military memoir of Tim O'Brien's tour of duty in the Vietnam War.....a year as a foot soldier in Vietnam
Nov 12, 2009 Steves rated it really liked it
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
May 26, 2012 Lauren rated it it was ok
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
Theresa Connors
Dec 27, 2015 Theresa Connors rated it it was amazing
Honest memoir of O'Brien's tour in Vietnam. His careful word choice conveys the horror of war without preaching or using overly graphic descriptions. The Man at the Well chapter is an especially powerful 2 pages of literature. Many reviewers knocked it as not being "as good" as The Things They Carried, which is a mistake. They are two different genres and each has its distinct purpose.
Maryam Arabi
Oct 27, 2014 Maryam Arabi rated it liked it
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
Aug 22, 2013 Abbey Harlow rated it liked it
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
Mark Fallon
Mar 11, 2016 Mark Fallon rated it it was amazing
This book can be rightfully placed alongside "Red Badge of Courage" or "All Quiet on the Western Front". Of course, with a notable exception, it's a memoir, not fiction.
Jun 20, 2016 Christine rated it really liked it
Shelves: war-ptsd
What can I say - I read this book in a single day, loving how the author so easily transitioned from first person to second without breaking stride. His writing is hard to describe without seeming insincere and the story is both beautiful and horrible in the same breath. In the end, I feel more capable of understanding without ever finding true understanding of my husband's time in a combat zone. The conflict of the soul, the desire to be something without understanding how, the need to live, th ...more
May 28, 2016 Jessica rated it it was amazing
O'Brien's remembrances of the terror, heat and boredom of the Vietnam War are incredibly real to the reader. It doesn't quite rise to the brilliance of the The Things They Carried which has the benefit of fiction and multiple perspectives, but this memoir is very powerful. I especially found his description of his inner conflict in the days during the summer leading up to his deployment fascinating to witness. And his depictions of other soldiers and commanders are quite funny between terrible s ...more
Mar 29, 2016 Grant rated it liked it
A pretty good read, and compelling enough, although I don't know that it necessarily shed any new light on the experience of being a soldier in the Vietnam War -- or at least anything that I haven't already read or seen before.

O'brien chooses to focus on the everyday mundanity and desensitization that was part and parcel of his tour, which I found interesting. This works particularly well in contrast to those handful of passages where irrational, unnecessary, and dehumanizing violence occurs to
Nov 13, 2015 Vicki rated it really liked it
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
Aug 31, 2014 Alex Warner rated it it was ok
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
Jul 02, 2015 Alainee Calo rated it really liked it
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
Aug 04, 2015 Samantha Pron rated it liked it
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
Jan 29, 2014 Kyle Ohlsen rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 04, 2014 Sheany rated it really liked it
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
Jul 20, 2015 Christine Fay rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
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
Oct 27, 2012 Ashlee Draper Galyean rated it really liked it
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.
Earl Grey Tea
My habit to become a bit of a voracious reader began in 9th grade when my Language Arts and History class started the War and Conflict section. Before, Language Arts was a class I struggled with, but when my Language Arts teacher displayed five books for us to choose from to read for that quarter. I was quickly attracted to Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers and at that point I was hooked on books about Vietnam. After discussing my interest in this subject, I was recommended Tim O'Brien by one o ...more
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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.” 10 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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