Summary of “In the Field”
At daybreak, a platoon of eighteen soldiers begins going through the muck field systematically searching for Kiowa's body. The men are wet and miserable and sad. Lt. Cross knows he made a mistake putting the men in this field. He begins composing a letter to Kiowa's father in his head.
Azar, Norman Bowker, and Mitchell Sanders walk together in waist-deep muck. Mitchell finds Kiowa's pack with his Bible in it. Cross keeps noticing a boy whose shoulders are shaking from crying. The boy also feels guilt for Kiowa's death. Kiowa was his buddy, and he turned on his flashlight to show Kiowa a picture of his girlfriend. The flashlight had showed the enemy where they were, and the attack began. One round hit Kiowa. Kiowa went under, and the boy grabbed the boot trying to pull him out. Norman Bowker found Kiowa's body, but it took five men to pull him out of the mud. All of the men express personal guilt over Kiowa's death. Meanwhile, Cross lets himself float in the water as the helicopter comes to take the body. He begins daydreaming of playing golf at home.
Commentary on “In the Field”
Norman Bowker's guilt over Kiowa's death is a shared experience. Here, the men's stories overlap: “The filth seemed to erase identities, transforming the men into identical copies of a single soldier” (p. 156). In the case of Kiowa's death, the men's stories begin to blur, and it is not clear whose experience is whose. In this story, Norman Bowker keeps saying, “Nobody's fault. Everybody's” (p. 168). This story zeroes in on the guilt of Lt. Cross for putting the men in this situation, and on the guilt of the young unnamed “boy” who might be a portrait of O'Brien. The boy thinks he caused the death by turning on his flashlight to show a photo to Kiowa. In this story, it is the boy (O'Brien?) who cannot pull Kiowa out of the mud. This makes O'Brien's point that nobody is really sure what happened. They have stories, but the experience of war is surreal, and they all share guilt about it. Cross is the one responsible for the men, and he is the one who zones out into a daydream as the other men find the body and call in the helicopter.