The Things They Carried Chapter 17, In the Field
The next morning everyone looks for Kiowa. It is one of the worst moments of the war. Everyone feels almost dead from grief, fear, and exhaustion. Jimmy Cross sees a young soldier crying, looking for something in the mud. Jimmy doesn't want to think of the man as just another nameless soldier, though that is what he has been trained to do. He knows he made a mistake setting up camp on the riverbank. He feels very guilty when he thinks about what a good man Kiowa was. Azar will not stop joking about how ironic it is that Kiowa died in a "shit field," though everyone wants him to shut up. The men know they can't leave Kiowa in the field, but they don't want to dwell on his death. They want to find him and send his body home in a helicopter and try to forget him. Mitchell thinks all of this is Jimmy Cross' fault, but Norman doesn't blame anyone. Jimmy Cross thinks about how he had never wanted to fight: he had signed up for the army because everyone else he knew was doing it. And now he has made a mistake and Kiowa is dead. He thinks he will write a letter to Kiowa's father and tell him what a great man his son was, and how his death was Cross' fault.
The crying boy thinks that Kiowa's death was his fault. He was showing Kiowa a picture of his girlfriend, and briefly turned on a flashlight. Moments later, the attack began. He thinks that he is simply and purely to blame: it was the flashlight that alerted the enemy. During the attack he had searched for Kiowa. "He'd lost Kiowa and his weapon and his flashlight and his girlfriend's picture. He remembered this. He remembered wondering if he could lose himself." Chapter 17, pg. 171 Jimmy Cross approaches the boy. He can't remember his name, and he wonders where the boy's helmet and gun are. The boy searches for his girlfriend's picture desperately, ignoring Jimmy when he tries to talk to him. Jimmy sadly walks away. Across the field, Azar, Norman and Mitchell find Kiowa. The rest of the platoon has to help dig him out, because he is upside down and deep under the mud. They hate the job, but no one can bear to leave Kiowa there. Afterward, they try not to think about it. They feel horrible, but also lucky and happy that they are not dead. Azar approaches Norman. He quietly apologizes for joking about death: when he saw Kiowa's body, he felt like it was listening, and like it was his fault Kiowa was dead. Norman brushes him off, saying it is no one's, and everyone's, fault.
Jimmy Cross is reconsidering. He won't take the blame for Kiowa's death after all. It was an accident. He believes this to be true. He thinks that there has to be blame for a death in war--and the blame can be far-reaching; one can blame entire countries. But in the field death has to have an immediate cause. The young soldier approaches Jimmy, wanting to confess that it was his flashlight that killed Kiowa. But Jimmy isn't listening. He is daydreaming about being back on a golf course in New Jersey. He is wondering whether he will ever write to Kiowa's father. Maybe he'll just walk away from it.