Lee Strunk—The Things They Carried: From Enemy to Friend

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Who is Lee Strunk in The Things They Carried? What are the defining moments for his character?

Lee Strunk is a soldier in Alpha Company, a unit of the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War, in The Things They Carried. Strunk makes a pact with Dave Jensen to mercy-kill each other if either gets seriously injured in combat.

We’ll cover the most important scenes involving Lee Strunk in The Things They Carried.

Lee Strunk in The Things They Carried

There are jobs that every man dreads. One of the most fearsome tasks is to search out enemy tunnels. The men reveal their cold fatalism when the unlucky soldier is selected to perform this dangerous and possibly deadly service—you win some, you lose some. In The Things They Carried, Lee Strunk draws the short straw and is forced to descend into the subterranean world of rats, spiders, and possible hidden VC. When Lee Strunk emerges back out of the tunnel, Rat Kiley, the company’s medic, remarks that Strunk looks like he is “right out of the grave, fuckin’ zombie.”

Brothers-in-Arms

Back in Vietnam—or rather, ahead in Vietnam—Lee Strunk and Dave Jensen get into a fight over a jackknife that one supposedly stole from the other. Jensen, being stronger, overpowers Strunk and breaks the latter’s nose.

This leads to a tense situation between the two men, as Jensen grows increasingly paranoid that Lee Strunk is plotting his revenge. He scrupulously avoids Strunk at all turns. The anxiety causes Jensen to snap—one day, he starts firing his rifle indiscriminately into the air, yelling Strunk’s name.

Later that evening, Jensen takes a pistol and uses the barrel to break his own nose, to preempt Lee Strunk’s feared retaliation. This act of penance brings about a reconciliation between the two men. They begin sharing foxholes and going on patrol and guard duty together. 

They also make a solemn pact. If either of them should become seriously maimed in the course of combat, the other man agrees to mercy-kill him. They put this agreement in writing and even have some of their fellow Alpha Company men stand as witnesses. 

This grim covenant is shortly put to the test in The Things They Carried when Lee Strunk loses his right leg after stepping on a mortar round. When Jensen comes to see his friend’s wound, however, Strunk pleads with him not to kill him. Jensen assures Strunk that he will not kill him, and the company has Strunk airlifted into the chopper to be taken to a field hospital. The men later learn that Lee Strunk dies from his wounds while he’s en route. Jensen is relieved to be spared from performing his harsh duty.

Lee Strunk—The Things They Carried: From Enemy to Friend

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Things They Carried summary:

  • What the Vietnam War was like for soldiers on the ground
  • How Vietnam soldiers dealth with the psychological stress of death around them
  • How fictional stories can be truer than the truth
Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn

Amanda Penn is a writer and reading specialist. She’s published dozens of articles and book reviews spanning a wide range of topics, including health, relationships, psychology, science, and much more. Amanda was a Fulbright Scholar and has taught in schools in the US and South Africa. Amanda received her Master's Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.

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