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If you have to go to war, Peewee's the guy you want to go with. Not because of his combat skills—though they aren't too shabby, especially compared to Perry. It's because his jokes will keep you sane when you're surrounded by destruction.
It's not that Peewee can't be serious. He just mostly chooses not to be. Whether he's commenting on the food, the bugs in Vietnam, or the way Captain Stewart inflates his death count, he pretty much gets all the best lines in the book.
The line to top them all might be in Chapter 22, at the height of tension. Peewee and Perry have been separated from their platoon and are waiting in a snake hole, hoping the enemy won't find them. They're terrified they won't live through the night. Then:
Peewee moved, adjusted position.
"I got to s***," he said.
It was funny. It was funny as hell. We both started giggling. I buried my head in his soldier. We were both a glance from dying, and he had to s*** and it was just so damn funny. (22.70-71)
Nothing like a little bathroom humor. But seriously, there was probably nothing better for Perry to hear in that moment. It gives him a break from the terror, and it breaks the tension for readers, too. Readers need the occasional light moment to keep appreciating the dark stuff, and Peewee delivers.
Don't get us wrong: Peewee is more than the class clown. He's a fully developed character, and his background hints at why he is the way he is.
He's from the Chicago projects. And he grew up poor. "Back home when everybody got new sneakers, I didn't get none," he says. "Either Moms didn't have the money, or she had the money, and we had to get some other stupid thing, like food." (2.24)
He deals with tough situations by joking about them. Maybe it's something he's always done.
Peewee also has this charming habit of preemptively messing with people, like he's trying to start a fight. In the first chapter he calls a big fellow soldier "a ugly ass Cong," (1.83), and when the soldier calls him "boy" in response:
"Peewee turned and looked as if he were going to put his feet on the floor. Instead he shot both legs into the ranger's crotch. The big man doubled over, and Peewee punched him on the side of the head. Then he laid back, put his hand under his pillow, and pulled out a knife, which clicked open with a flick of the wrist." (1.92)
Dang. As quick with the knife as he is with the wit.
Turns out Peewee brings his knife with him everywhere, and when they meet their platoon, Peewee starts messing with Johnson, the most jacked man there, like it ain't no thang.
Underneath his jokes, Peewee has a strong survival instinct. And part of that is making sure everyone knows how tough he is so they won't mess with him.
Are the jokes and pushing people's buttons all an act? Because there's another side to Peewee, and it's a caring side. For example, he seems to have a soft spot for kids. He hates his ex, but calls his ex's daughter "Little Mommy" (7.114) and describes her as "real cute" (7.116). Yep, even though she isn't his child.
In the war, he plays games with Vietnamese children during pacification missions. When a mother arrives with two kids, he's determined to make a doll for the little girl. And when the girl blows up a soldier who holds her because she had been mined, Peewee doesn't speak and skips meals for a whole day.
When he and Perry get lost from the platoon, Peewee's the one who keeps thinking strategically to keep them alive. But he also grabs Perry's hand, so you know he's scared. And when they finally fly home, he shakes.
The war gets to Peewee, just like it gets to everyone else. He's just usually better at hiding it.