Fallen Angels Summary
You ready for some darkness of the grisly, war-is-horror variety? We hope so, because this book is full of that kind of thing. Our main character, Richard Perry, describes war as "Hours of boredom, seconds of terror," (11.24) and that might as well describe the book. The guys in Perry's platoon kill a lot of time on their base, or "hooch," playing checkers and messing with each other, but when they leave the base for a mission, that's when it gets real.
The whole thing starts on an airplane from Anchorage, Alaska to Japan. Perry, the main character, sits with a woman named Judy who's going to Vietnam to be a war nurse. Nearby, a guy named Gates keeps making jokes about how the Vietcong—the enemy—had better be ready for him.
Perry's not too worried, because he has a leg injury from playing basketball. He expects to be put behind a desk somewhere.
From Japan, they fly to Vietnam, and the nurses are separated from the soldiers. Gates, who goes by Peewee, bonds with Perry about both being from cities, and also about how neither of them wants to cut himself to swear a blood oath with other black men. They do agree to watch each other's backs, but they exchange spit, not blood.
Know who's not watching Perry's back? The actual army. At least, not when it comes to his injury. His medical profile isn't on file at all.
They're both assigned to the Alpha Company with another guy named Jenkins, and are taken to Chu Lai. No one's happy to see them when they get there. The guys in their new platoon call them "cherries"—as in, new to the war—and worry that they'll get everyone else killed.
On that encouraging note, everyone goes on patrol. The "cherries" are put in the middle of the platoon's formation (the most protected spot) but Jenkins steps on a mine and dies. Guess that's why they called him a cherry. Their lieutenant, Carroll, says a prayer over Jenkins that refers to him as an "angel warrior" because he was so young.
They spend the next stretch of time getting to know the guys in their platoon. Perry does night watch with Lobel, a movie-obsessed guy. A guy named Brew wants to go to seminary school, Brunner keeps making borderline racist comments, and Sergeant Simpson can't stop talking about how he doesn't have many days left before going back home. Perry also gets sick for a couple days.
While he's sick, he misses a mission, so he's the one loaned to another company when he recovers. He loads a machine gun under the orders of a jumpy lieutenant named Doyle, who orders shots and white phosphorous gas to be dropped on a group.
Uh oh: the group turns out to be Americans. Perry winds up seeing a bunch of his countrymen dying because of the mess-up. Newly scarred, he returns to his platoon.
After a peaceful mission handing out gifts and food in a small hamlet, Perry's platoon is ordered back to the hamlet. The Vietcong had been killing Americans near there, and possibly punishing the villagers for accepting their aid.
It's night, and they can't see much. Carroll is hit and they open fire on the village in their attempt to get the Vietcong.
The men fly with Carroll to a hospital in Chu Lai, but he dies. A guy in their platoon, Monaco, delivers the "angel warriors" prayer and they return to base. It's very somber.
Simpson asks Perry to write a letter to Carroll's wife. His letter is so well-written that the captain, Captain Stewart, offers him a job corresponding for him. Perry can't type, though, so he can't take the offer. So much for that job prospect.
Stewart, by the way, is known around the hooch for volunteering his platoon for dangerous missions just so he can up his count of Vietcong soldiers killed. If the body count is high enough, he might get promoted to major. Crafty, if a little (a lot) dangerous for his men. As if Perry doesn't have enough to worry about.
A new lieutenant, Gearhart, is assigned to the platoon along with two new soldiers. On their first mission, Gearhart accidentally sends up a flare giving away their location, and the Vietcong fires on the platoon. One of the new men dies.
In case you're counting, enough people have died already that the book would be a major by now.
As you can imagine, Gearhart feels horrible. He writes a letter to the dead man's family, but it's so full of guilt that Perry is asked to rewrite it. Perry tells Gearhart that even if he feels guilty, that's for him to deal with, not the dead soldier's family. Simpson is put in charge of the platoon over Gearhart.
The platoon goes into a village that had been attacked by the Vietcong. They soon find that the Vietcong had killed one person from every home—children included. In one hut, a Vietcong soldier comes out of hiding and tries to fire on Perry, but his gun doesn't work. Perry freaks out and empties his gun on him. It's the first man he's killed up close, where he can see the body afterward.
After that, they decide to evacuate the village and set fire to it, to avoid possibly encountering more hiding Vietcong. Perry leaves pretty scarred from his near-death experience.
The platoon is transferred to a new, more northern base called Tam Ky, where the conditions are worse—both with the fighting and the hooch they're staying in. On their first patrol, Gearhart saves his squad from attacking an enemy group that turns out to outnumber them, but the second time, they're less lucky. Both Perry and Brew get hit. Brew dies on the plane, and Perry gets taken to the hospital.
Perry's leg injury is, luckily, not so bad. Well—kind of luckily. He's lucky that his leg isn't getting amputated, but then again, if his injury was worse, he'd get to go home.
He also sees Judy in the hospital. Remember his nurse friend from the plane? Well she's sadder than before. She gives him a kiss before he returns to his platoon.
Back at the hooch, things are even worse. Simpson's gone, and their new sergeant, Dongan, doesn't seem to like black people. He has reassigned black soldiers to the more vulnerable positions in their formation, and everyone's at each other's throats.
And in case morale wasn't low enough, a woman wanders toward their base with her two children. Hang on—wait for it. She hands one of her kids to a soldier—because who could say no to a cute, innocent toddler?—and both the kid and soldier blow up. Putting mines on a kid has got to be a new low.
So now that everyone's traumatized, the platoon goes into what turns out to be a major battle. The goal is to take over a hill where there's been North Vietnamese Army activity. The platoon's captain argues with a colonel of the ARVN (South Vietnamese army) over who should go first.
Perry's platoon loses, so they end up going first, but they don't see the enemy at all. Then the ARVN wants to go first, so they switch. Sounds like they need a better method, like Ro-Sham-Bo.
As the ARVN lead the way, fire opens on them while they're in the rice paddies (an open area where they can't take cover). Perry's platoon is able to retreat and shoot from a covered area, but to get picked up by chopper, they have to take over a nearby hamlet village.
In the village, Dongan is shot, and Perry has to kill more than one North Vietnamese soldier. More soldiers are coming, so both Perry's platoon and the ARVN pile up their dead in one hut, then set it on fire so the bodies won't be defiled.
The squad returns to base. Are they finally getting time to relax and come to terms with their losses? Not so much. Before long, they're sent out again. Brunner's in charge this time, and he sends Peewee and Perry away from the group to make sure a ridge is clear. As they head up a hill, they hear the Vietcong fire on their platoon.
They run away from the gunfire and hide in a hole all night, hoping they won't be found. In the morning, a young soldier tries to get in the hole, and they have to kill him so he won't draw attention to them. When you "have to" kill someone, you know things are rough. You know, in case that wasn't clear already.
They leave the hole and find Monaco frozen in place, waiting for a chopper, with Vietcong soldiers pointing a gun at him from the bushes. They fire on the bushes when the chopper arrives. All three men make it to the chopper, but with injuries.
Perry comes to in a hospital. Once again, his leg is wounded, but not bad enough for amputation. Darn?
At the hospital, Perry, Monaco, and Peewee reunite. Monaco has to return to the squad, but Peewee and Perry get to go home—Peewee because of his leg, and Perry because his medical profile has arrived. About time.
Right before boarding the plane home, Perry finds out that Judy was killed when her field hospital was hit. He and Peewee hold hands on the plane. They don't know what's awaiting them, back in the World.
- The novel starts with some banter between the main character and a dude named Gates, who jokes about how someone should have told the Vietcong that he was coming. What a jokester.
- We also meet Judy, a medical specialist from Texas who has a friendly chat with the main character.
- Time for the deets. The main character, Richard Perry, is flying to Vietnam. He thinks of it as "a paperwork mess up." (1.20) His knee is too bad for combat duty, so they're sending him to Vietnam to put him behind a desk while his file gets processed.
- They have an overnight layover in Osaka, Japan, and there's some drama over whether the airport will accept their army meal tickets. (Which is kinda funny as "drama," considering all the war that's about to happen.) Then they take off again and land in Tan Son Nhut.
- The nurses (including Judy) are separated from the men and sent to Chu Lai. Richard and the other soldiers have to stand in the sun for hours before Richard is finally assigned to the Twenty-Second Replacement Company. He bunks next to Gates, the cocky jokester from the plane.
- There are Vietnamese people doing odd jobs, like cleaning, around the barracks. Gates and Richard argue about whether they're "Congs." Richard thinks they aren't because you wouldn't hire an enemy to clean where you sleep.
- Gates, who has the oh-so-intimidating nickname of Peewee, yells at the cleaning lady until she walks away.
- Peewee gets into a fight with a bigger guy who calls him "boy." Peewee kicks him in the crotch, takes out a knife from under his pillow, and threatens him with it. That makes the guy back down.
- Whoa. Maybe Peewee ain't so peewee after all.
- Peewee asks Richard why he's in the army if he finished high school, and we readers get a little backstory. Richard had good enough grades to go to City College, but he was too poor. Like, only had one set of clothes to get him through high school poor. He joined the army to make some money so that his little brother Kenny would have clothes and stay in school.
- Richard's surprised to see a lot of other black men in the army. There's one man who wants them to swear a blood oath that they'll stick together. The guy cuts himself to get the oath party started. But Peewee's not sharing his blood, and calls the other guy crazy.
- Richard and Peewee play a lot of checkers and don't see combat. Eventually a new guy named Jenkins arrives. Peewee pretends to have been in Vietnam for nine months and tells Jenkins things just to scare him.
- The men get an orientation lecture and are told to stay away from Vietnamese women, the black market, and drugs.
- Richard, Peewee, Jenkins, and another guy are assigned to the 196th and sent to Chu Lai. While waiting for transport, Richard and Peewee decide to mingle their spit instead of doing a blood oath, as a pact to stick together. That's cute, we guess, and slightly less gross.
- They arrive to an angry lieutenant who gets even angrier when Richard doesn't listen the first time his name is called. (Rookie mistake.) On the bright side, they hop into the truck and Jenkins does a perfect imitation of the lieutenant, making everyone laugh.
- At headquarters, the men are assigned to Alpha Company and told to load a pump onto a trunk. Between them, they can't live the heavy pump, so the other guy, named Johnson, is sent over and lifts it like it's a can of beans. That's gotta be good for the ego.
- Richard realizes he's being treated like all the other soldiers—like, no desk job in sight. He asks if his medical profile arrived, but the captain tells him to take it up with his company commander. Translation: I couldn't care less.
- The guys get to know each other a little more. Jenkins has a colonel father who wants him to be in the infantry and then go to Officer Candidate School. Johnson's from Georgia, which Peewee, a Chicago guy, gives him a hard time about.
- When they reach Alpha Company, a captain promises Richard he'll look up his medical records. He tells them to stay with the squad for a few days, and that the war's almost over, so they'll probably ship out to Hawaii soon. You can practically taste the piña colada.
- They pick out bunks and Richard thinks about how in high school, he was just an observer most of the time. On the basketball court, he had been good, but sometimes he felt pressure to give in and just lose.
- A sergeant named Simpson meets the new guys and calls them cherries. He says he'd rather fight the enemy than deal with them. Encouraging. Then the men are sent to patrol and loaded into a chopper.
- In the chopper, Richard thinks about how he had the choice to either go into intelligence or play ball for the infantry. He chose basketball, then messed up his knee during a game.
- This chapter isn't exactly a ray of sunshine, is it?
- When the chopper lets the men down, they walk for awhile but don't see anyone. Finally, they're taken back to camp. They have to follow a path because there are mine fields and flares.
- They hear a whooshing noise. Perry gets down on the ground with the other men, then runs back to camp. Someone was wounded, but he can't see who it is.
- It's Jenkins. He has a shard of metal through his chest. Perry watches him take his last breath.
- If you were expecting something more cheerful, we hope that you've learned your lesson.
- Turns out Jenkins was killed by stepping on a mine. The guys at the base zip him into a body bag like it's no big thing. That must have been fun to get used to.
- Their platoon leader, Lieutenant Carroll, comes in and says a prayer for Jenkins. He refers to the other soldiers as "angel warriors" (4.19) because they're boys—not even old enough to vote yet. Yep, the irony of being too young to vote but old enough to get blown up by a landmine isn't lost on anyone.
- Later, a guy named Brew tells Carroll about the theology school he's applying to, and Carroll says he almost went to seminary. When the men tell him he could still go, Carroll says he has doubts now.
- When he leaves, the guys tell Perry that Carroll used to be more holy, but then lost it while clearing the road for his men who were being fired at while in a ditch. Carroll killed all the men who shot at them.
- That's how Perry finds out that he and his buddies were brought in to replace the men who were killed that day.
- Peewee accidentally shares a chat with a Vietcong being held in their camp. The man tried to get Peewee's pistol, and the captain punches him out and has him shipped to the Intelligence unit.
- A guy named Lobel makes a joke that they could end the war by shipping the Vietnamese to America and letting them act in war movies.
- Har har.
- The squad is sent to a local village to do public relations work. They have to give out supplies with the goal of recruiting communists who want to change to their side.
- They don't really do any recruiting, but they do meet a woman and her daughter, who they give food and supplies to. Peewee buys some wine, which seems to be on his wartime bucket list. He drinks it even though it's gross.
- Sergeant Simpson tells Peewee and Perry that Captain Stewart is eligible for major, which means he'll be trying to "pick up his body count." (4.140) Which doesn't sound like it'll lead to anything good.
- The squad doesn't do much for the next few days. They keep hearing rumors about how the war might end and they might go to Hawaii. That sounds nice.
- Biding time. Ho hum. They watch a Julie Andrews movie multiple times. A guy named Brunner has a fight with a cook about roast beef. Captain Stewart takes tells the cook that men who risk their lives deserve respect. That's how down time goes when you're in the army.
- Back to action! They're sent into combat. A company called Charlie Company is stuck. Our heroes' job is to clear the area so the company can get out.
- They get in a chopper to go to the area. Perry wants to say a prayer but doesn't remember any.
- They jump out of the chopper, one by one, and fan out. They hear fire in the distance, but it doesn't come near them. They reach the landing zone and fly back out. Not too bad.
- Lieutenant Carroll gives Perry the choice to get transferred to another platoon because of his knee or to wait for his medical profile to come in. Perry says he'll wait. Then he realizes that was a dumb thing to say and is mad at himself afterward.
- On the bright side, if he had taken his get-out-of-jail-free card, he wouldn't have had fuel for the rest of the book.
- Perry gets assigned on overnight guard duty with a guy named Lobel. Perry's really jumpy, but Lobel's chill.
- He says that he stays calm by pretending he's in a movie. "The part where the star of the movie is sitting in a foxhole explaining how he feels about life and stuff like that. You never get killed in movies when you're doing that." (6.24) Yup, his uncle's a director.
- Other things we (and Perry) learn about Lobel: he's worried that he's almost twenty and still a virgin, and there's a story about how he enlisted that he doesn't want to tell. That's some Hollywood caliber "how he feels about life and stuff like that."
- A TV crew comes in and interviews the men on why they're in Vietnam. Most say some variation of: to stand for something or protect their country.
- Then the TV crew films them going on patrol. Monaco, who is at the front of the group, says he sees a Vietcong and shoots. Perry tries to join in the fire, but his gun doesn't go off.
- They kill one man and drag out his body. The news crew takes a lot of pictures of the body.
- Simpson says he wasn't Vietcong—that he was an official North Vietnamese soldier. Oops.
- The chapter ends with Monaco wanting them to beat another squad at a volleyball game. He thinks the other squad will lose because their best player was just killed.
- And the lighthearted fun just gets better from here.
- The medic, whose name is Jamal, tells Perry that they killed three Vietcongs. When Perry says they only killed one, Jamal said the report, which Captain Stewart wrote, says three. He even brings over the clipboard to show it to him. Suspicious.
- Perry thinks about the first person he saw who got killed, in a gang shooting near Harlem.
- That night Perry's stomach hurts so bad that he thinks he's been poisoned. Jamal is unimpressed and tells him he just has diarrhea.
- Turns out he's right. Perry spends the next couple days in the bathroom. Poison almost sounds better.
- Two men, Johnson and Walowick, get into the most intense fistfight Perry has ever seen, all because Johnson called Walowick a farm boy and Walowick called Johnson "a cootie." (7.86) The way Johnson sees it, "That's like calling me a nigger." (7.98)
- At the end of the chapter, Lieutenant Carroll loans Perry to the Charlie Company for patrol, because he missed the last one. Just when the diarrhea was coming in handy.
- Perry is sent to Lieutenant Doyle, who is kind of a nervous guy. He tells Perry that their goal is to establish a presence, not get into a firefight. He sends Perry to a gunner named Scotty so that Perry can feed his machine gun.
- They go up in a chopper and after they land, Perry and Scotty find the place where they're supposed to be and surround themselves with sandbags, real cozy-like.
- Perry and Scotty chat a little bit. They talk about how neither of them know what they'll do after the war. Scotty jokes that he's only good for shooting a machine gun.
- The shooting starts. A call comes down the line that the enemy is detected at four hundred fifty meters in front of them. Perry and Scotty shoot in that direction.
- Doyle calls for them to cease fire and then calls in Willy Peter, meaning white phosphorous—a chemical weapon. Scotty says that Doyle's cautious and often calls for Willy Peter just in case. Or maybe he just likes the name.
- They start firing again until Scotty yells for them to cease fire. Choppers fly over to their targets and Scotty and Perry realize they'd just shot at their own men, the First Platoon.
- They walk to the field and find the wounded. Many of the men have burns, and at least fifteen are brought away in body bags. On that fun note, Perry is sent back to his squad.
- Perry tells his squadmates that they hit their own guys. Monaco gets really angry. Yeah, it's not the greatest news.
- A lighter moment: Perry wants to send Kenny something nice for his birthday, so Lieutenant Carroll gives him a jacket he bought in Saigon.
- That night, Perry can't stop thinking about the wounded and dying men he saw. He asks Brew if he knows any prayers, and Brew says he can borrow his bible whenever. Comforting.
- Brunner and Monaco get into a fight, and Monaco throws a grenade at Brunner. Everyone in the bunk screams and dives, but nothing goes off. Sigh of relief.
- Turns out the grenade had no powder in it. Still, Brunner yells at Monaco that he's a kid, not a soldier. Throwing empty grenades is definitely kids' stuff.
- The platoon is sent into a Vietnamese village for a pacification mission, where they have to go into each hut with gifts. Sounds nice, but it's also a trick to look like good guys so they can check if any Vietcongs are hiding in the houses.
- Brunner takes a statue from one of the huts. (So much for giving gifts.) Perry yells at him for this, and Brunner steps up to him threateningly, but then Johnson comes out of nowhere and takes Perry's side. Johnson's huge, so Brunner backs down. Thanks, Johnson.
- They find a hut that sells salves, and Peewee wants to buy some. He goes back with Perry to the house and they pantomime to communicate what each salve is supposed to do. Peewee buys foot powder and hair-growing powder. Apparently the army's all about fighting, toughness, and…foot cream.
- Back at base, the mail arrives. Lobel is angry about a letter from his father asking how he could kill innocent people. He's especially mad because he joined the army in the first place to convince his dad that he wasn't gay.
- Perry gets a letter from Kenny asking for ten dollars to join a kids' basketball league. He sends Kenny a twenty. Good brother.
- Women from the Red Cross visit. One woman asks Perry what he wants to do when he gets out and he feels embarrassed that he doesn't know. He remembers how he once told his guidance counselor he wanted to be a philosopher and she laughed. (Ouch.)
- The platoon gets word that another patrol went into the village they just left and two men were shot on their way in. Sergeant Simpson thinks they were shot because the Vietcong punishes them for taking anything from Americans. (At least it's not because Brunner took the statue from them.)
- Then they're ordered to go back into the village. Uh oh.
- The squad goes to a cemetery by the village where the Vietcong were rumored to come in. They set up and lie in wait. Time to get cozy.
- It gets dark. Perry can't see his fellow soldiers, much less the Vietcong. Campfire anyone?
- Then they hear a few men talking in Vietnamese. They shoot in that direction. Brunner sends up a flare and they see the dead bodies of the people they shot.
- Peewee finds a tunnel in the ground. Simpson throws a grenade in the tunnel and calls for the people inside to move out. Things are getting tense up in here.
- They hear a pop, and Lieutenant Carroll falls. Uh oh. They fire madly into the village.
- A chopper comes to pick them up, shooting down at the villagers running for their lives.
- If this were a movie, you'd be on the edge of your seat right now. In case you weren't already.
- They all travel to Chu Lai to stay with Carroll. Shortly after getting there, they're told he didn't make it.
- Monaco says the "angel warriors" prayer. If you need to reach for the tissues, we understand.
- Sergeant Simpson asks Perry to write a letter to Lieutenant Carroll's family. Not a fun job.
- As he's trying to drum up a letter, Perry goes through Carroll's personal things, and finds letters he wrote to his pregnant wife about their plans to start a bookstore together, and his idea for the baby's name. Sheesh, as if it weren't already sad enough.
- Perry writes the letter, and gives it to the Sergeant to take to headquarters.
- Lobel talks to Perry. He feels like Carroll's death was his fault, because he didn't really shoot at the Vietcongs. Then a bunch of the men admit to each other that they never saw a Vietcong—they just shot in the direction of human figures. That doesn't sound too good.
- Time for better news. Turns out Perry's letter was so good that Captain Stewart wants to see him, and offers him a job doing correspondence. Unfortunately, Perry doesn't know how to type. Guess they didn't have Mavis Beacon back then.
- While Perry's there, he watches the officers questioning a Vietcong soldier and hears about how the Vietcong torture their prisoners. Grisly. So maybe the war isn't about to end, after all.
- The men get a new platoon leader to replace Carroll: Lieutenant Gearhart.
- The squad escorts a "civilian pacification team" (11.108) to a hamlet. One of the men from the team has his wife and child with him. Gearhart thinks the man is CIA and his wife and kid are just a cover.
- At the hamlet, they set up a screen so the villagers can watch Disney movies while a plane gets hit and goes down in the distance. Yeah, Disney is probably the cheerier option.
- Peewee gets a letter from Perry's mother. Weird, right? Perry thinks so too. He opens it while Peewee is out. His mother asks Peewee to tell Perry that she loves him. Perry writes a letter to her saying he loves her. Cute, huh? Even with the weird middle-man thing.
- A few days later, while watching TV, the soldiers see footage of themselves, and in the footage, Carroll is with them. If you're hearing a tiny violin play in your head, you're not the only one.
- A soldier named Walowick gets his mail, which includes a college course catalog and a newspaper. The newspaper leads to conversation about people burning their draft cards or fleeing to Canada to get out of serving in the army.
- Some people, like Brunner, hate the guys who do that, while others admit they don't know which way is right. Brew said he almost went to Canada when he was drafted, but didn't have the nerve.
- And that just there was a heavy moral debate. You're welcome.
- That night, a bomb hits their hooch. They're all shaken, but obviously relieved to be alive . Captain Stewart starts going on again about how they should be more aggressive.
- Perry talks with Johnson about the war protesters back home. Johnson thinks Perry is trying to figure out who are the good guys. Neither of them can figure out, and Johnson doesn't see the point in trying.
- So much for the thrill of debate.
- Rumor has it that peace will come by the holidays. Wouldn't that be a nice Christmas present? But as they get closer, there are reports of more casualties. Here in Vietnam, the war doesn't seem to be slowing down.
- Everyone has a bummer of a Christmas. Sure, they get a slightly bigger meal than usual and candy canes, but where are the stockings and gingerbread houses?
- Plus, they're supposed to see a new movie called Guess Who's Coming to Dinner but get a Julie Andrews movie they've already seen instead. It's basically the army equivalent of getting coal in your stocking.
- The squad is sent on a mission to stop traffic from running between two hamlets, which sounds boring but not too bad, but at the last minute, Captain Stewart volunteers them to replace a team that's been wiped out instead. Um, that's encouraging.
- Two more men are assigned to their squad and they're off. Simpson tells Perry and Monaco to keep their eyes on Gearhart, since he's the new man in charge, and Simpson has twenty-two days left before going home.
- Their plan is to ambush the Vietcong, but Gearhart and Simpson argue over where to take cover and wait. But Gearhart's the superior officer, so he wins.
- Perry's job is to set up the claymores, which can be aimed to hit a target sixty meters ahead. But he forgets to set it up (what a goof) and when reminded, he only has a minute to do it.
- Then they have to wait around some more, but all of a sudden someone accidentally sends up a flare, giving away their location. This is when all your eye-roll practice comes in handy.
- A Vietcong soldier turns the claymores around and the men hit the dirt before they go off. Perry and the other men fire before they're told to move out.
- They follow Simpson, crawling to the pickup zone, and then call for a chopper to take them away. They try to wait quietly so that they don't give away their position.
- A Vietcong soldier squats near them to go to the bathroom, and Gearhart shoots him. Not the most dignified way to go.
- They get a radio signal from the chopper and send up a flare so the chopper can find them.
- On their way into the chopper, Walowick's gun goes off and hits the medic and one of the new men, who gets mortally wounded. The medic works on him, despite his own injury, but the man dies.
- Turns out Gearhart accidentally set off the first flare. But Perry isn't completely blameless either; he'd set up the claymores the wrong way. Plus there was Walowick's gun going off and killin gone of theirs.
- Let's just say that wasn't the most successful mission.
- Monaco gets a letter from his girlfriend, asking if he wants to marry her when he gets back. Monaco puts it to a vote, and the squad votes in favor of him getting married.
- Kids, don't try this way of deciding whether to get married at home.
- Perry gets called in by Captain Stewart again. Stewart asks him what happened with Gearhart and Perry tells him the story. Stewart wants to list a high body count, but Perry had no way to see how many people were killed.
- Stewart also gives him Gearhart's letter to the family of Turner, the guy who died, for him to rewrite it. Gearhart had written that Turner's death was all his fault, but Perry rewrites it to say that Turner died defending everyone else.
- Back to the warzone. They get orders to protect a hamlet that is being harassed by the Vietcong. When they get there, the Vietcong have already attacked, and villagers' bodies are everywhere.
- The squad pretty much freaks out. Walowick shoots at an overturned drum until Simpson grabs him and forces him to calm down. Eventually Simpson gets his men to bandage the wounded and put out fires.
- Perry and the others walk into each hut to evacuate the unharmed people. Perry goes to find a girl he saw the last time he visited the village, and is relieved that she and her grandmother are okay.
- When Perry walks into the next hut, a Vietcong shows up and tries to shoot Perry, but his gun doesn't go off.
- That's lucky and all, but Perry is still freaking. He shoots the Vietcong for longer than necessary, and then when he sees the body, he vomits his guts out. Trauma can do that.
- Simpson gets Peewee to calm him down.
- Simpson orders them to evacuate and burns the rest of the village down, rather than going into each hut and risking being ambushed by Vietcong. When two Vietcong soldiers emerge from the fire, one of the women from the village stabs him before the soldiers shoot him. You go, girl.
- The choppers take them back to base. When they arrive, Peewee's legs won't work. They check them and they're fine, medically speaking. Peewee says he just needs a cigarette, and after smoking one, he can walk.
- It's not a real cure for leg failure. Everyone's just messed up in their own little way.
- That night, Perry tells Peewee that he'd be dead if the enemy's gun had worked. He cries and Peewee sleeps next to him.
- Their next assignment is to act as advisers to ARVN (South Vietnamese army) troops in a place called Tam Ky. Not good—Tam Ky is near where a lot of the fighting is.
- Oh, and Jamal, the medic, is ordered to go with them.
- That night, Perry dreams of the man who almost killed him. With dreams like that, going to school in your underwear sounds like a good day.
- Perry tries to write a letter to Kenny about killing the Vietcong soldier. He wants Kenny to know, and to think he's a good soldier, but he doesn't know how to word it. "Hey kid brother, I killed a guy" just isn't as easy to write as you'd think.
- Their new hooch outside of Tam Ky is pretty janky. No generator, and the whole thing would go down if they were hit. Not promising.
- Their first assignment while there? An ambush. At night, the squad and the ARVN hide out in tall grass and wait. Not scary at all.
- A group of Vietcongs arrive the distance. Perry is ready to shoot, but the order isn't given. Which ends up being a good thing, because more and more start coming through—way more than the ambush squad. If Gearhart had given the order to fire, they would've all been killed.
- That means the new lieutenant is starting to actually prove himself. Way to go, Gearhart.
- They head back to base.
- Simpson extends his stay thirty more days, and soon he gets into a fight with Captain Stewart about Stewart volunteering his men everywhere. Stewart says if he didn't want to fight, he shouldn't have extended.
- They stay in the hooch for a week, and then are assigned to another ambush.
- This time they aren't so lucky. While they're checking snake holes, the Vietcong opens fire on them.
- Perry and the others shoot back, but when it's time to retreat, Perry can't move. His leg is hit, then his wrist.
- Brew doesn't do too well either. He's hit too, and he's the last guy Perry sees before he's dragged away. Oh, the drama.
- In the chopper, Perry's being worked on next to Brew. They hold hands, but Brew can't breathe. Perry hears the zip of Brew's body bag. You can imagine that tiny violin playing again.
- When Perry wakes up again, he's in a hospital. His wounds actually aren't too bad—shrapnel in his side and left leg, splinters in his groin, and a concussion. All healable. Yay! Oh wait—that means he'll probably have to go back to combat. Not yay.
- Perry shuffles around the hospital for a few days. He reads books to a blinded man from Vegas named Joe Derby. People keep talking about him, saying that guys from the boonies are kind of messed up. Rude.
- Perry sees Judy Duncan, the woman he met at the beginning. He's embarrassed, because he feels slow. Judy gets it, though, and she even kisses him. Aw.
- Perry gets a Purple Heart and sends it to his brother Kenny. Double aw.
- Then, Perry gets orders to rejoin the unit. Not aw. The idea of going back makes him so scared and upset that he throws up. But eventually, he gets on the plane. What else can he do?
- Perry is dropped off and finds Peewee and the other guys. They tell him Sergeant Simpson went home and a man named Dongan took his place. They think Dongan is racist because of where he's having the black soldiers stand in their formations.
- Johnson refuses to accept that Brew has died. He insists on talking to Perry about Brew being sent home. It's not pretty, and it's called denial.
- A chaplain, which is a Catholic priest, visits the squad. He isn't that comforting—he doesn't promise eternal life or a righteous path or anything. He admits he's scared and asks if they want to pray with him.
- They do. So it's at least sort of comforting.
- Dongan's race problem is discussed a lot in the squad. He gets into a fight with Johnson, and Peewee and Perry tell Johnson they're with him. Lobel tells them they have a Jew on their side, too.
- Dongan takes Perry, Lobel, and Peewee on guard duty. Dongan expertly kills a Vietcong soldier by throwing a rock like a grenade: when it doesn't go off, the man's head pops up to look for it. Easy target.
- A woman with two kids is caught along the edge of the rice paddies near base. The soldiers try to question her, then decide she seems innocent and let her go.
- Some of the soldiers make jokes about the woman, but Peewee tries to make one of her kids a doll out of grass, which is kind of sweet.
- The woman hands one of her kids to a GI. Is it bonding time?
- No. The kid was mined, and explodes in the GI's arms. So much for grass dolls and budding friendships.
- The men shoot the woman and her other child. They feel like they don't have a choice. That's the real horror of this war—even a nice moment can go downhill really fast.
- On base, a soldier is hit in the butt by a sniper. Funnily enough, everyone congratulates him. Not because he got it in the butt, which is kind of funny too, but because now he'll get out of combat for a while.
- The sniper tries to hit him again as he gets onto the medical plane—sheesh, trying to get a guy while he's down—but the other soldiers kill the sniper.
- Captain Stewart and a colonel of the ARVN argue over whose group should go first in a takeover of a hill overlooking the village Phuoc Ha Two. Stewart doesn't volunteer his men to go first, so you know it's dangerous.
- Stewart loses the fight and Perry's squad tries to take the hill. Sounds scary, but they make it to their destination without being shot at once. Sweet. Even when they try to shoot to draw attention to themselves, they get nothing. Super sweet.
- They make it back. Now the ARVN colonel wants his troops to go first, so they can get the credit in the report. They lead and Perry's squad follows.
- The ARVN? Not so lucky. By the time they reach the rice paddies that are halfway there, they're ambushed with mortar shells and gunfire.
- Perry's squad manages to take cover, but Stewart tells them they have to take the nearby village, which is the closest place for choppers to land. Ugh.
- They fight their way toward the village, fighting the Vietcong. It's one of those fiery, shooting-everywhere, screams-aplenty movie battle scenes again.
- Inside the village, Perry and some other soldiers chase down two Vietcong soldiers who are dragging an American soldier, whose finger they'd cut off. Ouch.
- One Vietcong soldier is shot first, and the other puts his hands up. Perry sees that he's young and scared, just like him. That's the crazy thing about war: you can see similarities even in your enemy.
- Perry kills him anyway. It is war, after all.
- They secure a perimeter around the village. Another day, another victory. Such as it is.
- Peewee and Perry head to the medical tent to see Dongan, who they hear has been hit. He's completely missing one of his legs, and isn't doing too well.
- Peewee and Perry watch as he kicks the bucket. (It's a metaphor, so it doesn't matter that he was missing a leg.)
- The soldiers hear that another North Vietnamese battalion is coming. Uh oh.
- They rush to ditch the area before the battalion arrives, but before they leave, they have to deal with the bodies of their dead comrades. Think turning out the light when you leave the house, but more depressing.
- It's not just ritual, either: they're worried the North Vietnamese will find their dead and disfigure them. Not cute.
- They work together to carry their dead into a hut, make a pile of their bodies, and then burn the hut. Cremation is loads better than disfiguration.
- Lights are out. Time to go.
- Ahead of them, the ARVN is being fired at. Stewart tells the men to stay down and look for the sniper, and Johnson tells them to keep heading toward the chopper. Decisions, decisions. They listen to Johnson.
- Perry starts having a little bit of a breakdown here. He's going back and forth between feeling like he's watching himself from outside his body, and then going back into his body. Trippy.
- Jamal isn't doing too well either. He's having himself a sobfest. Gearhart has to jerk him around and yell in his face to get him moving.
- On the move, but things don't get easier. The squad comes across a platoon of North Vietnamese in a clearing and start to fire on them.
- At this point, we readers lose Perry a bit. His sentences get shorter and disjointed, and on top of the confusing grammar shift, his vision gets messed up. Talk about bad timing.
- Thought it couldn't get worse? Think again. A jet flies overhead and drops napalm on the fighters. They try to get away by crawling into the clearing.
- It's not the most satisfying end to a chapter.
- When the chopper finally arrives, the ARVN troops surround the Americans because they want to get lifted out first.
- Can't have that. The Americans hold up their hands to show who they are and the chopper shoots toward the ARVN. The Americans get on board and get out.
- Someone really needs to go over the whole "taking turns" concept with these guys.
- They're supposed to sleep when they get back, but it's not easy. Would you be able to catch some Z's after a day like that?
- As if it wasn't hard enough, Monaco starts shooting at nothing, claiming he sees some Vietcong invaders. The others calm him down.
- Walowick later tells Perry that the same thing happened to him once—seeing something that wasn't there. Could it be a side effect of the trauma of war?
- Gearhart writes three letters to his wife. He gives one to Perry and one to Walowick to mail in case he dies. It's a little morbid, but then, this war isn't fooling around.
- Peewee (the little sneak) gets Walowick to open the letter. There isn't much that's private in there, just details about the paperboy and sliding doors in their house. Maybe it's an inside joke? On the more personal side, Gearhart tells his wife to tell the kids he loves them. Aw.
- Perry wishes he had someone waiting for him, and so decides to write to Kenny. He tries to tell him that the war is about killing and not getting killed, but in a way that doesn't idealize it. It's tough.
- The guys joke about the body count Stewart claimed: 433 Vietcong killed.
- Speak of the devil, Captain Stewart comes in with a new assignment. Party pooper.
- The assignment: to patrol the region east of the firebase at the end of the valley.
- No one likes this idea. What's worse, no one trusts Stewart.
- Gossip time: Brunner is given the option to transfer to somewhere else in Vietnam, but he doesn't take it. Rumor has it he wants to get promoted.
- Perry goes to church with two other guys, and it feels good and comforting. He plays some volleyball. It's almost as if he's starting to enjoy life again…
- …but it's the Vietnam War, so that doesn't last. His squad gets orders to check out a river that's supposed to have Vietcong activity. Just to make things tougher, Stewart wants them to try to take some prisoners.
- Minor shakeup: Gearhart's leading a different group, so Brunner's the squad leader.
- When they arrive at the river, things feel pretty dangerous. Brunner orders Walowick and Lobel to walk up to a ridge with the rest of the guys covering them, which can only mean they'll fire back if the first guys get killed. No one's there, though, and they make it back down. Whew.
- Monaco spots the first Vietcong standing in the water. Johnson shoots him, and then they realize there are a bunch of guys between reeds in the water. It's like hide-and-seek, but a tad riskier.
- They back up and shoot and throw grenades at the water.
- One of the Vietcong soldiers dashes out of the water, and Lobel shoots him. He realizes it's the first guy he's shot up close. Um, congrats?
- The squad heads toward a landing zone, and Peewee and Perry are ordered to check a ridge.
- To get there, they have to cross a stream, but neither of them can swim. So that's stressful. Where are those little floaty wings when you need them?
- They reach the ridge and hear shooting below them, where the rest of their guys are. They hit the ground to avoid being seen (or shot).
- What happened to the rest of the men? Oh, the suspense.
- Perry and Peewee are afraid to go down toward where they heard shooting, so they wait on the ridge as night falls.
- Soon, they hear voices speaking in Vietnamese. They shoot in their direction, which they should know by now is kind of a dumb idea if you don't know how many of the enemy there are.
- Turns out it's a ton. Perry and Peewee run in the opposite direction.
- They find a Vietcong spider hole to hide in. Not the smartest thing to do, since the Vietcong know where it is, but it's not like they have safer options.
- Peewee and Perry wait in the hole overnight. As far as slumber parties go, it's horribly low on pizza and high on worrying about death.
- Toward the morning, a guy keeps poking a gun into their hole. Doesn't he know that's not polite?
- Eventually they shoot him, pull him in, and Peewee strangles him. Not exactly polite either, but hey, trying to survive here.
- They struggle out of the hole. They see a farmer and aim at him, but the farmer ducks underwater, so they move on.
- They approach the landing zone and see Monaco sitting on the ground with his gun feet away from him. Tsk tsk, Monaco.
- They realize that Vietcong soldiers are hiding in the bushes with a gun pointed at him. Ah, that explains it. The Vietcongs are waiting for the chopper to arrive so they can fire at the guys inside.
- Peewee and Perry wait too, hoping to help out Monaco. As the chopper pulls in, they fire at the Vietcongs in the bushes.
- Peewee, Perry, and Monaco make it onto the chopper. Sigh of relief. But Perry gets hit in the leg as the chopper pulls away.
- Now they're in the hospital. Yay, sort of (hey, at least it's not a mission).
- Monaco explains that the rest of the squad ran away from the gunfire, but Monaco was hit and came to just as the choppers were leaving. Talk about bad timing. He stayed near the pickup zone until the Vietcong found him.
- Peewee's in surgery and Perry is waiting to go in for his own operation. He's worried about amputation.
- Turns out he only has a fracture. Yay, for real this time.
- Chatting with Monaco again. He doesn't know how to thank Perry for saving his life. Which is basically a thank you in itself.
- Health updates: Peewee will be sent home after surgery, and Perry doesn't know if he'll be sent home yet.
- Peewee's advice: pretend to be crazy so he won't have to go back. Hey, it could work.
- Then the doctor tells Perry he shouldn't have been in combat in the first place because he had a medical profile. Hey, better two hospitalizations and countless battles later than never.
- When Perry and Peewee are about to be sent home, they grab a drink with Monaco, who has to return to the squad. Sucks for Monaco.
- Perry pays a man to look up Judy Duncan for him. The man finds out that Judy was transferred to a field hospital that got hit, and Judy died there.
- Perry and Peewee board a plane back home. It's weirdly normal.
- You'd think Perry would never want to think about war again, but he's getting his daydream on. He imagines that he's back with his squad on a mission and that all the men who died—Carroll, Dongan, Jenkins, Turner, Lewis, and Brew—are there behind Johnson, watching over them.