Paul Berlin, the protagonist of the story, is a soldier in the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War. Throughout the story, he is identified as ‘‘Private First Class Paul Berlin,’’ which emphasizes the way a soldier ceases to be an individual and becomes a member of the platoon.
Paul Berlin’s father
Paul Berlin’s father is never identified by his own name, but he is a primary character in Paul Berlin’s imagination when he thinks about how he will report the war once he returns home.
Paul Berlin’s mother
Like Paul Berlin’s father, Paul Berlin’s mother is never identified by her own name but only by her relationship to Paul Berlin. She is not as central a character to his imagination as his father is, but living long enough to tell her about his experience is one of Paul Berlin’s goals for the war.
See The Soldier
The soldier is not named until late in the story because Private First Class Paul Berlin does not yet know his name. Eventually the soldier introduces himself as Buff, short for Buffalo. His given name is Toby, but no one calls him that. He tells Paul Berlin that the war is not always as bad as this first day, and then smothers him to help him stop giggling.
Doc Peret is the unit medic who tends to Billy Boy Watkins after he steps on the land mine. He explains to the soldiers that Billy Boy died of fright.
Billy Boy Watkins
Billy Boy Watkins is the member of the unit who steps on a land mine and then dies of a heart attack brought on by fright. His death, followed as it is by the gruesome spectacle of the body falling from the evacuation helicopter and the subsequent search in the rice paddy for the body, terrifies Paul Berlin.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 29, Tim O’Brien Published by Gale Group, 2001.