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The Ghost Soldiers

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Jeremiah Cua-Ang

on 12 June 2014

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Transcript of The Ghost Soldiers

Historical Background
Superstition among soldiers in Vietnam
The prospect of "luck running out"
Summary Cont.
Major Characters
Tim O'Brien
Bob Jorgenson
Minor Characters
Rat Kiley
The rest of Alpha Team - Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, Dave Jensen, and Norman Bowker
At three in the morning, Azar and O'Brien set of the first set of noisemakers and Jorgenson ducks for cover. As he was watching the medic freak out, O'Brien wanted to call it quits because he felt satisfied but Azar wanted to see it through to the end.
The next morning after the night of the prank, O'Brien admits to Jorgenson he was the one who planned the prank and Jorgenson just states that they were even now.
Chapter ends with O'Brien saying they should get back at Azar, who really saw the prank all the way, and Jorgenson thinks this to mean that they should play a prank on him while O'Brien means they should kill him.
O'Brien is sent to the battalion supply base and is assigned to "cushy duty".
O'Brien begins to think up of ways to hurt Jorgenson.
Skips ahead to three months where O'Brien's old company comes in for a stand down and they catch up.
Norman Bowker explains how Morty Phillips "pissed away his luck" and ended up dying after he went for a swim in a jungle river and contracted a fatal illness (assumed to be polio).
O'Brien realizes that he has lost the bonds with his old comrades because of he hasn't been with them on the battlefield and that even Jorgenson is considered "one of them".
Summary Cont.
Begins with the narrator (O'Brien) explaining how he had been shot twice.
Describes the first time where Rat Kiley responded quickly to his injury and how he risked his life to check on him.
The Ghost Soldiers
Scout G.
Jeremiah C.
Asad B.
Peter W.

After recuperating for 26 days, O'Brien comes back and learns that Rat Kiley had been hurt and shipped to Japan.
Meets the new medic Bobby Jorgenson and then describes the second time he got shot (in the butt, along the Song Tra Bong)
Develops a hatred of Jorgenson because he took so long to get to O'Brien that the wound became "gangrene".
Summary Cont.
The next morning, O'Brien runs into Jorgenson and Jorgenson admits that he did a terrible job tending to O'Brien.
O'Brien, after the apology, states "I hated him for making me stop hating him." (200)
O'Brien reflects on how he had come into the war as a college grad with a higher education and had now turned into a man capable of evil and wanted to take revenge on Bobby Jorgenson.
He then goes on to ask Mitchell Sanders if he'll help to take revenge ("basic psychology") but Sanders refuses, calling O'Brien "sick".
Azar ends up being happily recruited into the mission
Summary Cont.
After falling in battle for a second time, Tim is sent away from the battle. There he finds that he has become completely ostracized from his own squad, and Jorgenson has taken his place. This becomes relevant when he tries to exact revenge on the poorly trained medic, another theme in the story.
Summary Cont.

"Diaper rash, the nurses called it. An in-joke, I suppose. But it made me hate Bobby Jorgenson the way some guys hated the VC, gut hate, the kind of hate that stays with you even in your dreams." (191)
Was O'Brien's hate justified? Take into consideration that Jorgenson was a new medic.
Summary Cont.
O'Brien then goes on to explain the "ghost soldiers" and how the American soldiers would believe the main ghost was "Charlie Cong".
The evening before he takes revenge on Jorgenson with Azar, O'Brien almost decides not to lash out at Jorgenson but after seeing him being close with his old unit, O'Brien reaffirms his resolve.
O'Brien then goes to explain his knowledge of psychology and how the soldiers feel during the nighttime (memories of fallen comrades, unreal sounds, and "childhood fears")
He explains how he feels like soldier as he sets up the rope trap he's planned for scaring Jorgenson, which is to make noisemakers go off to simulate enemy gunfire and frighten Jorgenson, who was on watch duty.
Relationships Between Characters
Character Development: Tim O'Brien
Narrator/ main character
Content with Rat Kiley's ability as a medic
Angry at Jorgenson for his blunder
Plans out his revenge against Jorgenson
Feels distanced from his team, due to prolonged absence from action
Suffers from guilt
Learns his practice
Attempts to reconcile with O'Brien
Shiny boots
Becomes one of Alpha Company
Bob Jorgenson
"'We even now?" he said.
'Pretty much.'
Again, I felt that human closeness. Almost war buddies. We nearly shook hands again, but decided against it." (217)
"Something had gone wrong. I'd come to this war a quiet, thoughtful sort of person, a college grad...I'd turned mean inside. Even a little cruel at times. For all my education, all my fine liberal values, I now felt a deep coldness inside me, something dark and beyond reason. It's a hard thing to admit, even to myself, but I was capable of evil." (190)
"Listen, man, I fucked up," he said. "What else can I say? I'm sorry. When you got hit, I kept telling myself to move, move, but I couldn't do it, like I was full of drugs or something. You ever feel like that? Like you can't even move?"
"No," I said, "I never did."
"But can't you at least—"
"Excuses?" (199)

After being humiliated by Jorgenson because of his failure to treat his wound properly, O'Brian seeks revenge on Jorgenson. O'Brien figures that Jorgenson is essentially responsible for all of his homesickness and alienation.
Tim O'Brien and Bob Jorgenson
Not very direct
First talk to each other a few days after Alpha Company stand-down.
O'Brien was angry at him.
Jorgenson felt guilty.
"I hated him for making me stop hating him." (200)
Tim eventually warms up to Jorgenson
Tim O'Brien and Azar
Old friends from Alpha Company
Volunteers to help Tim trick Bob
Tim asks him because he's not smart but is reckless.

"Tonight?" he (Azar) said.
"Just don't get carried away."
"Me?" (201)
"A pigeon," Azar whispered.
"Roast pigeon on a spit. I smell it sizzling."
"Except this isn't for real."
Azar shrugged. After a second he reached out and clapped me on the shoulder, not roughly but not gently either. "What's real?" he said. "Eight months in fantasyland, it tends to blur the line. Honest to God, I sometimes can't remember what real is." (204)
"You become part of a tribe and you share the same blood - you give it together, you take it together." (192)
"I wanted to hurt Bobby the way he'd hurt me. For weeks it had been a vow - I'll get him, I'll get him-it was down inside me like a rock. Granted, I didn't hate him anymore, and I'd lost some of the ourage and passion, but the need for revenge kept eating at me." (193)
"Sanders shrugged, 'People change. Situations change. I hate to say this, man, but you're out of touch. Jorgenson - he's
us now.' 'And I'm not?Sanders looked at me for a moment. 'No,' he said, 'I guess you're not."' (197-198)
In the chapter, there is a sense of pride that the narrator feels since he is part of everything. While feeling homesick, he talks about being disappointed that he is no longer a soldier, but a civilian, and that is not something of which to be proud. He also talks about being able to feel pride (although that is not the right word) about getting shot, but, because of Jorgenson, he was not able to feel "pride" in it.
"Getting shot should be an experience from which you can draw some small pride. I don't mean the macho stuff. All I mean is that you should be able to talk about it." (191)
When Tim is shot, Jorgenson forgets to treat him for shock. This is ironic because Jorgenson was so
by the firefight he was in that he could not do his job correctly.
"No, I botched it. Period. Got all frozen up, I guess. The noise and shooting and everything-my first firefight-I just couldn't handle it." (199)
"Charlie Cong" was not a ghost in the Vietnam war.
He was either totally fictionalized in the book or something that only O'Brien's company believed in.
In the military alphabet, C is changed to "Charlie."
Sometimes, VC soldiers were referred to as "Charlies"
"Late at night, on guard, it seemed that all of Vietnam was alive and shimmering-odd shapes swaying in the paddies, boogiemen in sandals, spirits dancing in old pagodas. It was ghost country, and the main ghost was Charlie Cong. Oh, the way he came out at night." (202)
Vampires in Vietnam
In 1965, the US started the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDIS) program.
CORDIS put American troops in many Vietnamese villages.
Troops quickly discovered that the tribes were fearful of venturing into certain areas because of the presence of "ma," or phantoms. One tribe in particular—the Montagnard—spoke of reanimated corpses that haunted the jungle, drinking the blood and consuming the internal organs of people unlucky enough to cross their paths
There were a handful of American troops who claimed to have seen these "vampires."
The alleged vampires had black eyes, fangs, and were purportedly impervious to bullets.

"Luck running out" in Vietnam
In Vietnam, there were two questions:
1) Will I get out of here alive?
2) How much more time until I'm discharged?

Greenie: An inexperienced soldier, a liability to any platoon. Greenies had very little hope in their survival, so they were often sent to firefights.

Short-timer: A soldier who is within two months of discharge. Short-timers were extremely conservative in fighting.

Million-dollar wound: A non-fatal/debilitating wound that got a soldier out of combat. These were often self-inflicted.
In the book, a soldier named Morty Philips goes swimming in a disease-infested lake. His swim gives him what is likely Polio.

Vietnam had an entire culture behind luck and survival.
"It was impossible to calculate the odds. There were a million ways to die. Getting shot was one way. Booby traps and land mines and gangrene and shock and polio from a VC virus - we only had a little luck to keep us alive." (196)
Within the chapter "Ghost Soldiers," Tim becomes shot and is sent away. Despite the new safe and seemingly fun environment he is sent to, he misses the battlefield and where his friends are because those served as his "home."
Full transcript