These war myths also make it difficult for the soldier to share his burden of fear and suffering with his family, which leaves him feeling isolated and alienated from civilian life. Richie finds himself unable to write a satisfactory letter to his mother and Kenny because he does not know how to communicate his thoughts and feelings. His family’s beliefs about war are in line with the popular, idealized myths. Richie is afraid that they will not understand what he is feeling and that they will think less of him for abandoning the abstract ideals that make sense to them. In his loneliness and intense need to communicate, Richie seizes on the idea of having a girlfriend, thinking that a girlfriend would be able to understand what he has been through and would connect him to the rest of humanity by allowing him to share his fears. Richie also needs to feel that there are people who care about him and understand him, people who will help him return to a normal life after he leaves Vietnam.
Richie, however, no longer believes in the war myths propagated by movies and books. When he turns down the opportunity to be removed from combat, he is not acting out of any false illusions of wartime heroism and abstract ideals, but out of a genuine sense of fairness and friendship. Richie knows that dying while trying to be a hero would be senseless, not brave or noble. Yet he has become close friends with the men on his squad and feels obligated to them. If he were to back out of combat duty, his squad would be short another man and be in more danger during combat and patrol missions. Richie’s combat experiences have replaced his original reasons for fighting the war, such as heroism and patriotism, with the less lofty—but perhaps more substantive—ideals of loyalty and friendship.
Richie’s first exposure to the death of an enemy soldier further shatters his romanticized myths of war. Richie is shocked to see that the soldier is no bigger than Kenny—the enemies are boys, just like the American soldiers. Richie realizes that each side dehumanizes the enemy to justify or rationalize the mass killings involved in war. When he sees the dead Vietcong soldier in front of him, he humanizes the enemy in his mind and wonders what his life was like. When the news crew interviews Richie’s squad, the soldiers give varying reasons for being in Vietnam, but all of them are borrowed from the popular war rhetoric that permeates the American media. After seeing the enemy as human beings, Richie begins to search for his own reasons for being in Vietnam. He wants to find his own meaning in his war experiences. Walowick reminds Richie that the only real goal in the heat of combat is to survive. Communism, patriotism, and democratic ideals are meaningless when a soldier is faced with an enemy rifle.