I saw Brunner pocket a small statue from one of the huts. I told him about it and he gave me the finger. "Maybe you'll be a better dude when you come back in your next life," I said. "Who knows, cockroaches might be in by then." He took a step toward me, and Johnson—I hadn't seen him nearby—stepped next to me. Brunner looked at Johnson, then turned on his heel and walked away. "He ain't spit," Johnson said. (9.44)
Johnson's like the silent protector. He's such a big guy that he just has to stand next to Perry to send a message. But he doesn't have to do it. He sees protecting the other black men in his platoon as part of his job—but something deeper than a job, too.
At the camp Sergeant Simpson asked me to write a letter to Lieutenant Carroll's family. I said I couldn't do it, and he asked me why. "I just can't," I said. "If he was laying out in the boonies, and he was calling to you needing your help, what would you do?" "He's not laying out in the boonies," I said. "Yeah, man, he is," Simpson said. "He just in too deep to get out." (11.4-8)
Carroll is dead, so there's not much actual calling out for help happening here. But Simpson is making sure what he would want is getting carried out, including a letter of condolence to his wife, and a well written one at that. That means getting the best writer in the platoon to do the job, even though there's the extra step of Perry feeling too upset to do it. Writing the letter will mean admitting that Carroll is gone, and it takes knowing he's helping out Carroll to help Perry over that hurdle.
I had to get my mind off of Lieutenant Carroll. The guys in the squad hung out together after we got back to the camp. The conversation was quiet, almost reverent. (11.22)
The guys in the platoon don't always know how to mourn their lost comrades, but they do their best. Even little things like keeping their conversation solemn helps them show their respect.
I started crying, and Peewee got up and came to my bunk. He put his arms around me and held me until we both fell asleep. (14.184)
We could make a joke about Perry and Peewee's bromance here, but what with Perry all weepy it doesn't seem like quite the right moment. So the fact is: when Perry's at his worst, Peewee gets it and is there for him. What better comfort is there than a good snuggle?
We went over to where Monaco was squatting with a bottle of soda. Monaco looked up, then he stood and threw both arms around me and hugged me. It really touched me. I thought I was going to cry. "I'm sorry you're back," he said. "But I'm real glad to see you, man. Real glad." (17.24-25)
Last time Monaco saw Perry, Perry was wounded. Monaco's too happy that Perry is okay to act tough. Cute, right?
"What did you say?" "I didn't say nothing," Johnson said. "I don't talk that s***. A man in Nam fighting by my side is a man fighting by my side. I don't care what he doing in bed." (18.30-31)
Johnson's absolutely the guy you want on your side. To him, loyalty is simple. Whatever his views about gay people, he puts his fellow soldiers first, and he won't talk badly about the people fighting by his side.
Peewee put his hand on my wrist. "What is it?" I whispered. "Nothing," he whispered back. He kept his hand on my wrist. I moved my hand and took his. We held hands in the darkness. (22.21-24)
Peewee and Perry are going through the most terrifying night of their lives. They're stranded from the rest of their platoon, outnumbered and hiding from the enemy. The silver lining: they're in it together. And when you're in a hole in the ground, having your best bud with you can make all the difference.
I tried to get the possibilities straight in my mind. Maybe the squad had called in reinforcements. No way they overran the squad. No way. You didn't overrun Johnson. Johnson was the man. Johnson would kick some ass. Him and his sixty would sing. (22.25)
Perry's admiration for Johnson is so high that he can't imagine him being killed. If the war has taught Perry anything, it's that no soldier's indestructible, no matter how good. Still, he just can't imagine a fighter like Johnson biting the dust.
I was telling him about the wonders of Harlem when I noticed he was shaking. I asked if his stomach was bothering him, and he said no, that he just couldn't believe he was out of the Nam. The stewardess came over and offered us Cokes. I think she was embarrassed that we were holding hands. (23.104)
When Peewee and Perry fly out of Vietnam together, they keep getting hit with the unreal feeling that they're actually leaving. The fact that they're holding hands, just like they did on the night they spent in a hole thinking they were going to die, shows that going back to the World is almost as terrifying as wartime, in its own way. But at least they can help each other through it.
He was crying again. "I been sitting here trying to think of something to say about… you know… you and Peewee saving my life and all…." "No big deal, man," I said. "We all got lucky." "No, I was dead, Perry. I was actually sitting there with that Cong gun right on my ass and I was dead. You know, when it went down, when you and Peewee opened up on the gun, it was like I was brought back to life." (23.18-20)
Friendship is too weak a word for the relationship soldiers in Perry's platoon have. Perry and Peewee saved Monaco's life. That's more than a friendship. Especially when you bring life-saving into the picture.