narrator and protagonist. Richie is a seventeen-year-old high school
graduate from Harlem. Though he is smart and ambitious, his alcoholic
single mother cannot afford to send him to college, so he joins
the army to escape an uncertain future. Richie is sent to Vietnam,
and during his months there, he suffers numerous harrowing combat
experiences and tries to grapple with the meaning of war, heroism,
and good and evil.
in-depth analysis of Richie Perry.
younger brother. Kenny depends on his older brother, who acts as
a father figure to him and enlists in Vietnam in part to help support
him. Yet Richie seems to need Kenny just as much as Kenny needs
him. Kenny’s dependence on Richie and his admiration and love for
him act as Richie’s only solid link to the civilian world during
the war and provide him with his only sense of purpose.
mother, a depressive alcoholic who has barely functioned since her
husband left her years earlier. Though Richie and his mother have
never gotten along well, they realize how much they need each other
while Richie is in Vietnam. They try to repair their damaged relationship
through their letters.
Harold “Peewee” Gates
- Richie’s closest friend in Vietnam. Peewee copes
with the fear and uncertainty of the war with comical bravado, though
he occasionally allows his true emotions to peek through the bluster.
member of Richie’s squad. Jewish and possibly homosexual, Lobel
is the target of prejudice nearly as frequently as the black soldiers,
to whom he pledges his support in racial skirmishes. Lobel is a
devoted fan of the movies, and he distances himself from the horror
of battle by imagining that he is merely playing a role in a war
in-depth analysis of Lobel.
soldier of Italian descent on Richie’s squad. Monaco seems slightly
braver than the rest, always taking the dangerous position of point
- The commander of Richie’s company. Captain Stewart
wants to be promoted to major, but his company needs to accrue a
higher enemy body count for him to earn the promotion. He sends
Richie’s company on numerous dangerous missions, risking the lives
of the soldiers under his command for the sake of his own ambition.
- The leader of Richie’s squad. When Richie first
arrives in Vietnam, Sergeant Simpson is near the end of his tour
of duty. He warns Richie and the other new soldiers not to get him
killed because of their inexperience. Later, under great pressure
from Stewart, Simpson extends his tour by thirty days, but he survives and
returns home, just as he wished.
- The leader of Richie’s platoon. A smart and sympathetic
leader, Lieutenant Carroll is well-liked by the men under his command,
and his death during combat leaves them all grief-stricken.
- The inexperienced leader of Richie’s platoon after
Lieutenant Carroll’s death.
devoutly religious solider in Richie’s squad.
Brew plans to join the ministry upon his return to civilian life.
- An ambitious soldier on Richie’s squad. A bully,
Corporal Brunner constantly kisses up to soldiers of higher rank,
while abusing those below him.
- An officer who replaces Simpson as the leader of
Richie’s squad. Sergeant Dongan is a racist and always places black
soldiers in the most dangerous positions during patrols.
army nurse Richie meets during the trip to Vietnam. Though Richie
sees Judy only once more before learning of her death, she serves
as the closest thing to a love interest in the novel, and she is
a source of confusion and tame fantasy for Richie.
girlfriend. Not long after Peewee arrives in Vietnam, Earlene writes
him a letter, informing him that she married another man in his
absence. She symbolizes how war disrupts domestic affairs.
medic in Richie’s company.
member of Richie’s squad who arrives in Vietnam at the same time
extraordinarily strong black soldier on Richie’s squad who proves
himself to be a born leader.
- A boy from Richie’s neighborhood in Harlem who is
killed in Vietnam.
soldier briefly on Richie’s squad.
slightly racist soldier on Richie’s squad who appears to overcome
his prejudices as the bond among the squad members deepens.