"He used to act like a holy guy or something when he first got over here. He never cursed or anything like that." Walowick was putting powder on a rash he had. "Then one day we were trying to clear a road and some guys got trapped in a ditch off to one side. We were on the other side of the road, and we could see them but we couldn't get to them. It was getting dark, and we knew they couldn't last. Charlie was throwing everything at them. Then Lieutenant Carroll just went wild and stormed across the f***ing road. We went after him. We were shooting at guys maybe three or four feet from us. We finally wasted all of them and cleared the road. He hasn't been the same since, but we all found out what kind of guy he was that day." (4.37)
Somewhere in here is the secret of Carroll's change in beliefs, but it's not clear what exactly did it. Maybe the amount of people he killed. Or how he risked more men to save some. He obviously cared about the men in the ditch, but maybe the decision to run out and shoot wasn't the smartest or most strategic, and how he felt after that changed his plans for himself.
"I got a letter from Virginia Union." A brother we called Brew sat on a footlocker next to Lieutenant Carroll. His real name was Brewster, so I could see where Brew came from. "They said I can probably get into the theology school there but they can't accept me formally until six months before my admission date." (4.26)
Brew might be the most religious guy in the platoon. He plans to go to school to become a preacher after he's done his time in Vietnam. He's so excited about it he's trying to get his ducks in a row way, way in advance.
"You know"—Lieutenant Carroll had spread all the extra first aid packs on the floor in front of him— "my brother went to theology school and I almost followed him." "You can still go," a guy called Walowick said from his bunk. "It's good for a priest to be older." "I might have too many doubts, now," Lieutenant Carroll said. "If you turn to God, He'll take away your doubts," Brew said. "I don't have doubts about God," Lieutenant Carroll said. "I'm just not sure who I am anymore." (4.30-34)
Here's a snapshot of the difference in Carroll and Brew's beliefs. They both believe in God, but Carroll doubts himself. Maybe he feels like he'd be a hypocrite for leading people spiritually. Maybe he thinks there's some bad in him. Maybe he's seen too much death and suffering—and also participated in it.
"Yo, Peewee!" "What?" "We get back to the base, remind me to memorize a prayer." "I know one," Peewee said. "What is it?" "Flying into combat, 'bout to have a fit, Lord, if you listenin', Please get me out of this s***!" (5.91-96)
If Perry isn't exactly religious, Peewee definitely isn't. Perry may want to pray but Peewee keeps calm by pulling out the jokes. If religion is one form of comfort, joking is another.
"You pray a lot when you in the World?" I asked him. "Yeah, I prayed a lot," Brew said. "But, man, I didn't pray nowhere near as hard." (8.113-114)
Brew was always religious, but coming close to death definitely made him value his life more, and pray harder in response. Maybe Peewee wasn't around to tell him a joke.
"I just don't want to pray." "Figure you don't want to make your peace if you're not ready to die?" I smiled. I had to smile. He was right and he knew it. "Something like that." "I know how you feel," he said. "I'm not quite ready to die either." (17.65-68)
The priest who visits, Father Santora, is pretty sympathetic of the regular, non-priest soldiers. Instead of acting like he's holier than Perry, he relates to him by talking about his own fears and how he also doesn't want to die. Definitely more relatable than "pray or else."
"If I pray with you, will it keep me alive?" I asked. "No." "What will it do for me?" "I don't know," he said. "I think it can be comforting at times." (17.74-77)
If Father Santora had started talking to Perry about his eternal soul or damnation, do you think that strategy would have been more or less effective than his simple, honest approach?
We told him some of the things that had happened to us. Then he prayed, asking God to take care of us and our loved ones, things like that. I really appreciated it. (17.82)
It's not the general praying that Perry appreciates: it's that Father Santora really listens, and reassures the guys about themselves and also about the people they care about. You could look at it as Perry coming around to religion, or as just the right mood boost at the right time. Like mac and cheese, but comfort prayer instead of comfort food.
It was good. The chaplain said nice things. He asked God to bless all the guys that had been killed and wounded, and to protect all of us. We sang a hymn and ended the services holding hands and saying the Twenty-third Psalm. It made me feel good. (21.36)
Good. Nice. Good. Simple as these short sentences and the feelings in them are, this is one of the few times Perry expresses that kind of feeling. Prayer helps him feel calm in the frenzy of war, and "feeling good" is good enough for him.
"My mother's a Baptist," I said. "She wouldn't go to a mojo lady." "My mama's a Baptist, too, but she what you call a sore-feet Baptist. Your feets get sore enough, those mojo ladies start looking pretty good." (5.15-16)
Who doesn't need a foot rub from time to time, mojo or no mojo? Peewee's point is that your beliefs get more flexible depending on your need, and it actually applies to Perry. The more scared he gets in the book, the more he relies on religion for comfort. Too bad he didn't have a mojo lady nearby.