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

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  6,514 Ratings  ·  334 Reviews
Alternate cover for this ISBN can be found here


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 mi
Paperback, 209 pages
Published September 1st 1999 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 1973)
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Jan 15, 2011 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
Jun 18, 2012 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
Jan 20, 2012 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 21, 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
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
May 30, 2013 Jimmy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war-vietnam
Some veterans I know don't like O'Brien's books because they say they are not true. O'Brien's supporters say he should know. Maybe, but they are often novels. The dialogue seemed pretty true to the soldiers I knew in Vietnam. In all, a great book about being a foot soldier.

He made interesting use of expressions like FNG (Fucking New Guy) and REMF (Rear Echelon Mother Fucker).

He expressed the incredible fear of getting lost in the jungle, so you had to follow the guy in front of you with all yo
Aug 17, 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 07, 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 21, 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
PennsyLady (Bev)
Jan 13, 2015 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
Jun 22, 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
Charlie Watts
Feb 16, 2017 Charlie Watts rated it it was amazing
Precise, devastating, vivid. The skill of the writing matches the significance of the topic.
May 20, 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
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
Abbey Harlow
Jul 20, 2011 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
Apr 19, 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
Jun 21, 2014 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
Christine Fay
Mar 08, 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
Dec 29, 2009 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.
Nov 02, 2010 Zaki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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 22, 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.
Absolutely HATED this book. The writing was long and dull. The story (actually it is a memoir) is just another anti Vietnam rant. I will NOT be reading any of his other works and DO NOT recommend that anyone read his stuff. It is awful!
Jan 06, 2013 Luke rated it really liked it
Nothing new to add to old review. Was rereading for a class.
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.
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.
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.
Jan 11, 2011 Sam rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Harry Casey-Woodward
A poetic and rather philosophical account of a grunt's tour of duty in the Vietnam war. I like how it's more like a collection of short stories than a straight forward narrative, focusing on various characters the author encountered. In fact, each of these stories could hold up on their own as little narratives of war. The whole novel offers an insight into why the war was lost by the Americans, since most of the soldiers in the book were so dispirited that their only objective was to stay alive ...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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