"My plans, maybe just my dreams really, had been to go to college, and to write like James Baldwin. All the other guys in the neighborhood thought I was going to college. I wasn’t, and the army was the place I was going to get away from all the questions."
Richie Perry's motivation to enter the army is less about fighting for a cause and more of a way for him to escape making a decision about his future. Most of the people he has grown up with expect him to go to college, which his family is not able to afford. He thinks that joining the army will be a way to delay making these difficult decisions about his future, as it is a structured environment where someone else will always be telling Perry what to do and where to be. This quotation comes early on in the novel foreshadows the fact that Perry's Vietnam experience will ultimately provide more questions than answers.
"My father used to call all soldiers angel warriors... Because usually they get boys to fight wars. Most of you aren’t old enough to vote yet."
Lieutenant Carroll says this line after Jenkins's death. It introduces the theme of lost innocence by putting the soldiers' youth and inexperience into context. Society does not deem them ready to participate in democracy but asks them to put their lives on the line for a vaguely outlined cause. Politicians (grown, educated men) have determined the necessity of the mission while these boys are risking their lives to fulfill it. The image of an angel is pure, innocent, and untouched - like the nervous, fidgety Jenkins himself. By calling the fallen soldiers "angels," Carroll acknowledges the tragedy of war, this one in particular. Jenkins is the first soldier whose death Perry witnesses, and Lieutenant Carroll guides him through the grief. This moment also foreshadows Carroll's own tragic death later in the novel.
"I really wasn't pissed, because I knew the real question wasn't about my knee. I thought the knee would be okay. The real question was what I was doing, what any of us were doing, in Nam."
On his way to Vietnam, Perry is concerned that his knee injury will fail him on the battlefield. In this quote, Myers uses Perry's injury as a symbol for his maturation. Initially, Perry is concerned about his personal weakness. However, when he has the opportunity to use his knee injury as a reason to avoid combat, he refuses. Now, Perry is able to see the world beyond himself. He realizes that the most dangerous weakness that he - and all of his fellow soldiers - are facing is the fragile morality of the American mission in Vietnam. Therefore, they need to remain united, flaws and all, and do their best to stay alive.
"I didn’t like having to convince anybody that I was the good guy. That was where we were supposed to start from. We, the Americans, were the good guys. Otherwise it didn’t make the kind of sense I wanted it to make."
This is part of Perry's inner monologue during his squad's first pacification mission to a Vietnamese hamlet. This quote is emblematic of the continual tension between Perry's idealized perception of being a soldier and the often inconsistent reality. He comes into the war assuming that the Americans are the “good guys,” which fits in with the popular and romantic myth of war. Perry thought that joining the army would give him a place within that heroic narrative and therefore, give his life purpose. However, the pacification mission forces Perry to address the moral ambiguity surrounding the US involvement in Vietnam and that his participation in the war might mean that he is not a savior, but a villain.
"We spent another day lying around. It seemed to be what the war was about. Hours of boredom, seconds of terror."
In Fallen Angels, Myers describes war as an endless cycle. The “hours of boredom,” which are ostensibly part of the higher command's grander strategy, seem completely useless to Perry and only serve to provoke his deeper doubts about what he is doing in Vietnam in the first place. This statement is emblematic of the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the American mission in Vietnam. As Perry shifts his focus from supporting his country to simply trying to survive, he gradually realizes that the “seconds of terror” are just as empty as the stretches of downtime.
"The killers had arrived."
This quotation is significant because it marks a major transition in Perry's self-perception. Previously, Perry could only think of other soldiers as killers, and the army as a whole as a killing machine. Although he kills his first VC early on in his tour, it is not until this moment that Perry actually identifies himself as a killer. The hamlet that Alpha Company had previously gone to "pacify" has now become a hotbed of VC aggression. The people Alpha Company were meant pacify have now become victims in the crossfire. In this way, the terrors of war have pushed Perry towards the brutal discovery that he has become just like all the other soldiers.
"Having people care about you was probably the only thing that made any of it right. Having them not care made your whole life wrong."
Although Perry feels a strong personal connection to the members of his squad, especially Peewee, he starts wishing for similarly intense romantic relationship in ‘the World.’ Perry's relationship with his mother is so strained that she cannot even directly tell her son that she loves him - asking Peewee to relay the message instead. Perry starts to feel this emotional void after spending months surrounded by soldiers who do have significant relationships - Lieutenant Carroll and his wife, Monaco and his fiancée, and Walowick and his family. One of the most important lessons Perry learns from his time at war is that his relationships with others fulfill him and give his life significance.
"There was this feeling that everything I was going to say was either too loud or too strange for a world in which people did normal things."
This quotation comes after the scene in which Perry encounters Judy Duncan in the hospital and feels out of place when he is speaking to her. On the airplane to Vietnam, Perry and Judy could speak casually and with ease. The change in Perry's social skills demonstrates the impact of the war on his sense of belonging in "the World." Perry has spent the past several in the boonies or in active combat, during which he has only been thinking about death and survival. During his second meeting with Judy, Perry is in recovery after facing his own mortality on the battlefield and as a result, engaging in so-called normal conversation has become difficult. Perry's nerves in this scene are representative of the fact that many soldiers find it difficult to reconcile their wartime experiences with their lives in "the World."
"The noise was terrible. Every time a mortar went off, I jumped. I couldn’t help myself. The noise went into you. It touched part of you that were small and frightened and wanting your mommy."
Sound is a major component of Myers's descriptions of war in Fallen Angels. Aural sensation is a constant theme throughout the novel, as Perry describes the ways in which the chopping helicopters and surging enemy fire rattle him to the core. Perry's mind is the only place where he can exercise control, but the war presents an increasingly intense and frequent interruption to his protective state of introspection. Part of Perry's character development is his struggle between being a participant or an observer. He cannot ignore the sounds of war; they force him to become a participant.
"It wasn’t real. None of it was real. The only things that was real was me and Peewee, sitting in this spider’s grave, waiting for death."
Even after four months in Vietnam, Perry is unable to reconcile the horrific reality of war with his life in ‘the World.” It is too painful for him to think about how he and Peewee have ended up in the spider hole and to accept the tragedy and violence unfolding around them. Throughout the novel, the soldiers separate the Vietnam from ‘the World’ in order to distance themselves from the horrors of war. Additionally, Perry refers to the spider hole as a ‘spider’s grave.’ At this moment, Perry believes he will die, and believes that his last memory and resting place will be inside this hole with Peewee.
Fallen Angels Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fallen Angels is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.