In October, the Caine takes on a duty in the Ulithi Atoll, towing targets. One day Willie gets a message from Roland, who is on the aircraft carrier Montauk, inviting Keefer and Willie to the carrier. Queeg denies them permission to leave the ship, citing overdue inventory. The next morning, they hand in the inventory and receive permission to visit Roland, but the carriers leave before they can go. As the Montauk passes, Roland and Keefer try to get messages across by megaphone, but not much gets through. They wish each other luck.
The carriers head to the Philippines for battle. On October 26, Willie gets a communication saying the Montauk has been struck by a kamikaze plane and sustained heavy damage. Keefer does not seem worried about his brother. The Montauk eventually limps back into the harbor and sends a man over to the Caine with the news that Roland Keefer has died. When the Montauk first came under enemy fire, the captain and the exec died, and the rest of the crew began jumping ship. Only Roland had kept his head. He saved the Montauk, not stopping his work even after the suicide bomber hit. Roland was buried at sea.
That night, Willie cries for his lost friend. Later, Queeg wakes Willie to decode a personnel order. The orders turn out to be for Ducely, whose wealthy family had gotten a transfer for the incompetent officer. Queeg is furious, and does not emerge from his cabin for a full week, giving Maryk full control of the ship.
One night while at a bar on Mogmog Island, Ensign Jorgensen acquires a gallon of fresh strawberries for the Caine. That night the mess stewards serve ice cream with strawberries. Queeg makes a rare appearance and eats dish after dish of the treat. That night the spirits of the crew are elevated to an all-time high. At three in the morning, Queeg calls the officers to a meeting. There, Queeg insists that one quart of strawberries should remain, but they are all gone. Queeg orders the officers to solve the mystery by eight o'clock that morning. The officers cross-examine the mess crew, but discover nothing. Finally, Maryk gives up and has Keefer whip up one of his specialty snow job reports.
The next morning, Queeg calls Maryk to his cabin and declares the report unacceptable. Queeg explains his theory. On a previous post, cheese had been stolen from the freezer by a man who had made a copy of the mess officer's key. Queeg made the perpetrator confess, thereby earning himself a letter of commendation. Queeg thinks something similar happened with the strawberries, and asks Maryk to order every member of the crew to hand in a written report presenting at least two alibis for the hours between one and three. That day the Caine leaves Ulithi to escort the damaged carriers to Guam. The next morning, Queeg tells Keefer that he knows who the villain is. He asks Keefer to tell the crew that Queeg has identified the criminal, who should turn himself in. No one turns himself in. Queeg calls for all keys aboard the ship to be tried in the freezer lock, and if none work, the entire ship will be searched until the key is found.
That night, Keefer again speaks out against the captain, theorizing that the captain is attempting to relive his glory days when he had earned the commendation by tracking down a duplicate freezer key. Keefer then asks if Maryk had ever head of article 184, and Maryk yells for him to keep it down. Still, that night Maryk writes an extensive entry on Queeg's activities in his log, and reads up on Article 184.
The next morning, Willie is refreshed by the sight of the sea, the vastness of which helps the young officer keep the smallness of his captain in perspective. Ducely is about to leave the Caine, and Willie wheedles information from him. Ducely admits to seeing the mess officers scraping the container clean. Willie promises that he will not reveal this until twenty minutes after Ducely's departure. Willie tells Maryk what happened, and Maryk tells Queeg, who insists on proceeding with the search. They must submit to a strip search. Queeg is thrilled with his work.
Queeg had offered Jellybelly his endorsement for a stateside yeoman's school if Jellybelly could produce information leading to the strawberry thief. Jellybelly confirms Ducely's story. Queeg promises to approve his application, then retires to his cabin and does not come out. Maryk calls on Queeg to ask about the search, and Queeg insists that it should continue. Maryk oversees the search without checking up on his officers' work. Later that night, Maryk shows Keefer his log on Queeg. The two men agree to go over to the office of the fifth fleet and turn in Queeg. Keefer is reluctant, but Maryk explains that he needs Keefer for his knowledge of psychiatry and his way with words.
The inspiring story of Roland Keefer contrasts with the life of his brother, Tom Keefer of the Caine. Tom Keefer wishes to serve on a carrier like his brother does, but other than that, he shares little else in common with Roland. Roland is not book smart like Tom is, but Roland has a wealth of common sense and is attuned to the ways of the Navy. Tom is plagued by the ways of the Navy. He finds them ridiculous, suitable only for trained monkeys, and infinitely unworthy of someone of his intellect. Tom is an intellectual artist, with aspirations of becoming a great American novelist; Roland knows a lot about guns and aspires to a successful career in the Navy. Roland's death and the circumstances surrounding it shake Tom Keefer. Roland made the ultimate sacrifice for the Navy and died an honorable death for his country.
The loss of Roland hurts Willie, too. For the first time, he understands that war means death. Willie previously took comfort in statistics, figuring that his chances of dying in the beach assault were eight to one, but now statistics scare him. He realizes that of his acquaintances and friends in the war, one in eighty would die. He cries for his lost friend and his lost innocence once he stops thinking only of himself and starts considering the fates of others. This new, mature Willie is very different from the departing Ducely, who is almost an exact replica of the boy Willie was when he first arrived on the Caine. Ducely becomes everything that Willie could have been on the Caine had he made the wrong choices. If Willie had fallen back on his parents, he could likely have arranged for a transfer, just as Ducely does, but Willie chose to stick things out on the Caine. Ducely gave up trying in the communications department, but Willie never did. Ducely remained a plump and spoiled rich boy, but Willie became a tough, lean man. Standing on the deck of the Caine, Willie is disgusted by what he could have been and glad to see his former self go.
The strawberry debacle is finally severs Maryk's devotion to his captain. Finally by the end of the search for the missing key, Maryk is ready to take matters into his own hands, risking the blame that will inevitably fall on him to report Queeg to Naval authorities. His log of the captain's activities is even enough to convince Keefer to come along. Keefer is right about the captain's motives for the search. The failure to get a transfer of his own and the pain of watching Ducely and Rabbit get their transfers makes Queeg crazed, and the strawberry incident pushes him over the brink.