If I Die in a Combat Zone is an intense personal account of Tim O’Brien’s tour of duty in Vietnam. He absolutely hated the fact of going to war. He starts off as a cocky college student, and through the course of the book, he changes. O’Brien uses very vivid descriptions of the terrain, weather and of the conflicts in which his Company is involved. O’Brien is drafted to go to Vietnam in the summer of 1968. When he is drafted, he is confused and contemplates many ways in which to avoid going to the war. He does not feel that he is a fighter.
O’Brien goes through basic training at Ft. Lewis, Washington. While at Ft. Lewis, he meets a friend named Erik. Erik is also opposed to the war and is confused about going to Vietnam. He and O’Brien have many philosophical discussions about the war while they are training. Once basic training is over, the two are separated. Erik, who enlisted for an extra year goes off to transportation school, while O’Brien goes to infantry school. After Advanced Individual Training finally, O’Brien goes to Vietnam. He is stationed at LZ Gator, the headquarters for the Fifth Battalion.
After several ambushes and battles, O’Brien tries to define bravery, courage, and he tried to find the meaning of hero. O’Brien feels that men without courage are men without justice or wisdom. He also feels that without wisdom, men are truly not courageous. Men must know what they do is courageous; they must know it is right. Nothing else, he feels, is wisdom. O’Brien feels that it is more likely that men act cowardly and, at other times act with courage, each in a different measure with varying consistency. The men who do well on average, with one moment of glory, those men are brave.
Throughout the book, O’Brien searches for heroes. He finally finds his hero in Vietnam, Captain Johansen. On his trip back to the States after his tour has ended, he sums up his feelings on the entire ordeal. On the plane he was thinking “what kind of war is it that begins and ends this way, with a pretty girl, cushioned seats, and magazines? ” I guess what he means by this is that America is a safe place that everything comes easy without any strain, unlike Vietnam where he had to be on his toes at every minute.