“My father used to call all soldiers angel warriors,” he said. “Because usually they get boys to fight wars. Most of you aren’t old enough to vote yet.”
Lieutenant Carroll, the kind and competent leader of the platoon, leads a moving prayer for Jenkins, calling him an “angel warrior.” Carroll explains that his own father, also a military man, used to call all soldiers “angel warriors” because so many soldiers are young and as innocent as angels. Richie tries to write a letter home about Jenkins’s death, but he finds the subject too difficult to broach, and decides to write about Peewee instead.
The next few days are slow, giving the members of the squad time for conversations about their lives and their hopes for the future. An Italian soldier named Monaco tells the others about his days as a star high school athlete, an African-American soldier named Brew discusses his intention to become a priest, and a Jewish boy from California named Lobel talks about his love of movies. Soon, the squad is sent on a public-relations mission, bringing food and medical supplies to a Vietnamese village. Lobel and Richie befriend a young Vietnamese girl named An Linh. Peewee buys a bottle of wine, telling the others that one of his three life goals is to drink wine from a bottle with a cork; the other two are to smoke a cigar and to make love to a foreign woman. Back at the base, Sergeant Simpson complains to Peewee and Richie that the leader of their company, Captain Stewart, wants to embroil them in more dangerous missions for a selfish reason—he can be promoted to major only if he increases the enemy body count.
Peewee receives a letter from his girlfriend, Earlene, informing him that she has married another man in his absence. After a few quiet days spent watching and rewatching a Julie Andrews movie and listening to the rumors of peace talks on the radio, the squad is sent on a mission that proves uneventful. Afterward, Lieutenant Carroll approaches Richie about his still unprocessed profile. He gives Richie a chance to remove himself from combat permanently by asking him to assess how bad his injury is. Out of a growing sense of loyalty to the members of his squad, Richie refuses to take advantage of this easy way out of danger.
Richie and Lobel are put on guard duty. Lobel, whose uncle is a film director, tries to convince Richie that movies are the only real thing in life. He confesses that whenever he goes on patrol, he imagines that he is playing the part of a soldier in a movie. He dissects the various war movie clichés for Richie. Lobel laments, for instance, that he is still a virgin, since the baby-faced virgin always dies in war movies. He suggests that Richie avoid playing the part of the good black guy who everyone thinks is a coward until the end, when he dies while saving everyone else. Richie confesses to Lobel that he wishes he had a girlfriend so he could have another person with whom to exchange letters. Lobel offers to give him the address of a movie starlet, but Richie is not interested in a pretend girlfriend.
A news crew comes to interview Richie’s squad. They ask each soldier to explain why he is fighting in Vietnam. Each soldier gives a different stock response, citing lofty and slightly abstract goals such as the desire to stem the spread of Communism. When Richie’s turn comes, he tells the reporters that he is fighting in Vietnam to prevent fighting in the streets of America. The news crew later accompanies Richie’s squad on patrol. Monaco, who always acts as point man for the squad, leads the others and kills an enemy soldier, while Richie tries to fire a gun that he forgot to load. Back at camp Richie finds the news crew photographing the dead soldier and is astonished that the enemy is no bigger than his brother, Kenny.
Lobel’s commentary on war movies highlights the contrast between the myth and reality of warfare. War movies exhibit the clichés common in American popular culture—the tragic death of the baby-faced virgin soldier and the inevitably positive portrait of the black soldier. Such movies tend to infuse senseless deaths with false meaning, giving us beautiful, romantic representations of our favorite myths about good, evil, and heroism. These romanticized myths can help society deal with wartime loss by providing a justification for soldiers’ sacrifices, but these same myths also gloss over the ugliness and horror that are everywhere in war. In this sense, these myths do not give justice to the sacrifices expected of the soldiers fighting in reality.