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I also knew when I got back, she would expect me to be the same person, but it could never happen.
During the evacuation, a scuffle breaks out between the Americans and their Vietnamese allies. The Vietnamese want to be evacuated first, so they threateningly surround the American troops. The American choppers, however, notice what is taking place and open fire on the Vietnamese, enabling the Americans to evacuate. Later, back at camp, Monaco suffers terrifying, vivid flashbacks. The squad celebrates what would have been Brew’s nineteenth birthday.
Gearhart writes three copies of a letter to his wife and gives Richie and Walowick each a copy, in case something happens to Gearhart before he can mail his own copy. The letter is an average letter home, but Gearhart asks his wife to tell their children that he loves them. Richie thinks about how deeply he wishes that he had a wife and kids waiting for him at home—someone to connect him with life outside of war, someone who could make him look forward to returning to civilian life.
Richie finally writes a letter to Kenny about the realities of war, dispelling the war-movie myths of heroism and the idea that a stark division always exists between the good side and the bad side. He tells his brother that war is simply about killing the enemy before the enemy kills you. Right and wrong, Richie explains, are concepts that can only be contemplated in safety, far from the heat of battle. After writing the letter, he wonders how he will feel about his role in the war once he is back home and being hailed as a hero by his fellow countrymen.
Gearhart approaches the squad members and asks whether they would like to be broken up so that all the squads in the platoon are roughly equal in size. Staying together, he warns, would ensure that they are sent on missions more frequently than the other, more depleted squads. Despite the added danger, the squad refuses to split up. Richie and his friends now realize that the war is not going to end anytime soon and that the rumors of a coming truce have stopped circulating. Richie is unsure how much longer he can last, as his time in the hospital has severely softened him.
The squad is sent to patrol a nearby river where Vietcong activity is suspected. Though Brunner is the highest-ranking soldier among them, it quickly becomes clear that Johnson, with his quiet good sense, is the squad’s true leader. The river seems quiet at first, with no enemies in sight. The squad then spots enemy soldiers hiding in the water among the reeds. Afraid that there are many more Vietcong present than initially suspected, the soldiers turn around to retreat. Richie and Peewee are sent across the river to secure a ridge on the way to the evacuation site. As they cross, they hear a firefight break out behind them.
Richie and Peewee become separated from their squad during the confusion and spend the night hiding in a small hole. Peeking out, they realize that an entire battalion of North Vietnamese has been patrolling the river. When an enemy soldier checks the hole in the morning, Richie and Peewee kill him and carefully make their way to the original chopper landing site, hoping that choppers will be sent there to look for them. At the landing zone, they find Monaco sitting alone, looking terrified. They quickly realize that there are enemy soldiers hiding in the bushes surrounding Monaco. The enemy soldiers are hoping to use Monaco as bait to draw in the choppers, and then kill Monaco along with all the Americans who land. When the chopper arrives, however, Peewee and Richie open fire on the enemy soldiers, alerting the choppers to the enemy presence and saving the lives of Monaco and many others. The choppers open fire on the Vietnamese, enabling all the Americans to board safely. Both Richie and Peewee are wounded during the scuffle.
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