Spare Parts Summary

Buzz Williams

Spare Parts

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Spare Parts Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Spare Parts by Buzz Williams.

Spare Parts is a firsthand account of a man’s journey from joining the Marine Reserves to finding himself in live combat. Buzz Williams is saddened by his brother’s untimely death by car accident. One of the ways he thinks to honor his brother, who was in the armed forces, is to follow in his footsteps. To this end, Williams enlists in the Marine reserves in 1990, thinking he will only have to dedicate one weekend a month and two weeks a year, and still get his college tuition paid for. Unbeknownst to Williams, even reservists can be called up for war at practically any time. After only four weeks of combat training, he is indeed called up and sent to the Persian Gulf to fight in Kuwait.

The narrative follows Williams’s initial innocence with combat to his complicated firsthand experiences. For Williams, his experience in war is a battle not just on the battlefield. As a reservist, Williams has to deal with condescension from full-time Marines. The animosity towards Williams and his fellow reservists, who are simply thought of as “spare parts” by the combat-hardened full-time Marines is something Williams has to endure while knowing that, for the most part, he really is ill-prepared in many ways to face combat. With only four short weeks of combat training under his belt in the United States, he is faced with the reality that he might be a hindrance and danger to both himself and his fellow Marines on account of his limited preparation.

The narrative shows Williams’s attempt at forming a group of comrades and their further attempts at gaining respect from their fellow troops. Spare Parts examines the prejudice of a military system that needs his help, yet does not respect the help he offers as a “part-time” Marine. As such, Williams faces extreme emotional and psychological warfare within his own “comfort zone” of fellow soldiers, in addition to the greater event of the Gulf War taking place around him.

The memoir’s telling of Williams’s personal and public war is a fast-paced account imbued with action, shock and suspense. Williams goes from a student wanting to honor his late brother and pay his school tuition to a Marine on the killing fields of Kuwait within thirty-eight days. Though Williams indeed signs up for the Marine reserves and knows the possibility of being called for combat, the fact that a reservist with little training is called up so suddenly, at least to Williams’s eye, is a traumatic experience in itself. In this way, Williams must face the certain effects of psychological strain even before he lands in the Persian Gulf, making his journey and experience all the more difficult and precarious.

The memoir also shows the negative view that Williams must face and fight, even though he willingly volunteered his time, and possibly his life, for his country. The narrative stands out particularly in this sense, as most war narratives focus on the fighting between two opposing sides. Spare Parts highlights the infighting between Marines based on prejudices, some of them perhaps grounded by experience. The full-time Marines know that Williams and the other reservists are not as trained as they can be. Instead of helping, however, they sow discord, thus alienating Williams and his group even further. Once again, Williams must face the emotional toll that feeling unwanted amongst the people you are supposed to be bonding with brings.

Ultimately, Spare Parts shows how one military member overcomes adversity on a variety of levels, both foreign and familiar, to not only make a change in the lives of himself and his friends, but to aid his country when it needs him the most, to honor his deceased brother and, above all, to show how important the human will for survival is, especially when faced with trying circumstances.