The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Things I Would Carry

Vietnam War Memorial by flickr user eleephotography

As part of their Big Read program, the Quincy Public Library in Quincy, Illinois, hosted an essay contest for area teens in 10th through 12th grade. The contest was inspired by the the community's Big Read book, The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, which describes in gut-wrenching detail what it was like to be a soldier during the Vietnam War. Students were challenged to write a 500 word essay on the prompt: "If you were going to war, what would you carry?" Below is the winning essay from Karley Long.


Drop everything you’re doing. Pause your life for a second and come fight in the war. It doesn’t matter if you support the cause or not, because you have to fight regardless. Risk your life. It’s your duty to your country. Wouldn’t the first thing you would carry be a chip on your shoulder?

Mine would be. Leave my life as I know it to do something that I have no passion towards? It would be an understatement to say that would frustrate me. Regardless, I would pack my bags. Regardless, I would go to war and give my country my all. Regardless, I would fight to come back home. I would fight to come back home alive.

When you’re fighting in a war, you take things day by day. You take chances. You take things with you. My only hope would be that for the duration of the war; I could carry a few material possessions to remind me of the person I am. Maybe instead, they would remind me of the person that I want to be.

When my grandfather died, he owned enough ties to give one to each of his seven children, 19 grandchildren, and 12 great grandchildren. I would wear the tie that I received from him around my neck to remind me of his compassion and determination that I like to flatter myself by thinking I inherited from him. I would also carry a gold nugget given to me by my grandmother to remind me of her selflessness. This nugget was created by melting her gold rings, charms, and necklaces she had acquired throughout her life. The gold was split between my two sisters and me, also reminding me I am forever and always connected to them. Lastly I would carry a ring I received upon being confirmed in the Catholic Church. It is inscribed with Philippians 4:6 which reads: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” This ring would be a constant reminder of my faith and moral values.

While these items could not save my life in the war, they would still be very important for me to carry. They would keep me walking down the path I wanted to be on with my life. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how well you fought in the war. It only matters if you can live with yourself if and when you return home.

Karley Long is a junior at Quincy Notre Dame High School. She writes, “I am on the Pom pon squad. Last year our squad brought home a championship title in Pom A. I am also a dancer at Heinze Dance Academy. My parents are Dan and Kim Long. I have two sisters, one of whom is my twin. I enjoy writing and plan to continue to improve my writing skill through future Quincy Public Library writing contests.”



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