Perry is amongst the platoon members who travel to the ambush location, which is a cemetery just outside the hamlet they visited on their pacification mission. Monaco is the point person and watches the path ahead of their hidden location. While they are waiting, Perry thinks about what is happening at home in Harlem at that very moment - parties are getting started and Kenny is fighting with their mother about bedtime. He wonders what his mother thinks about the allotment checks from the military. Perry then starts to question why he joined the army in the first place. Later, he thinks about how being a virgin felt like a big deal back home, but in Vietnam it does not seem to matter as much.
Somehow the Viet Cong make it past Monaco, and the American soldiers hear Vietnamese voices even though Monaco has not sounded an alarm. The startled Americans begin shooting at the Viet Cong, who return fire. As soon as the soldiers realize that Lieutenant Carroll has been hit, they start shooting with an unbridled vengeance to avenge their fallen leader. The platoon evacuates when the American choppers arrive and spray the town with bullets, killing everyone - civilians and Viet Cong alike. The helicopter carrying Lieutenant Carroll goes straight to the medical clinic at Chu Lai, but nothing can be done. Monaco leads the squad in a prayer for their “fallen angel.”
Everyone in the platoon is distraught over Lieutenant Carroll’s death. For Perry, losing Carroll feels much more painful than Jenkins's death because Perry spent a lot of time with the Lieutenant and they had become close. Sergeant Simpson gives Lieutenant Carroll’s personal items to Perry and asks him to write a letter to Carroll's wife to notify her of his death. Perry looks through Carroll's things and learns from his letters to his wife that they are expecting a baby and had hoped to open a bookstore after the war. After writing the letter, Perry struggles to clear his mind.
More time passes with nothing to do. The soldiers play volleyball and read to avoid boredom. Lobel confesses to Perry that he feels responsible for Lieutenant Carroll’s death. Close to tears, Lobel calls himself a coward because he didn't fire as many rounds as he should have. Lobel, Perry, and Peewee finally discuss the details of that fateful day and realize that not a single member of their squad actually saw any of the VC, even after they started shooting. Later, Captain Stewart calls Perry to headquarters to praise him for the letter to Carroll's wife. While he is there, Perry overhears a marine colonel questioning a Viet Cong soldier. The VC reveals that there is trouble within the Second Division, after which Captain Stewart sends the enemy soldier to intelligence for further questioning. Before Perry leaves headquarters, an orderly tells him that North Vietnamese soldiers are coming through Laos and Cambodia and torturing the VC.
There are changes in Perry's platoon. Each member of the squad is promoted one rank, and Lieutenant Gearhart replaces Lieutenant Carroll. He was supposed to be with a different regiment, but due to a shortage of personnel he has been assigned to Alpha Company. Perry tries to grapple with Lieutenant Carroll's death by talking to Peewee, but Peewee does not want to discuss it. The day after Lieutenant Gearhart’s arrival, the squad is assigned to escort an American civilian pacification team into a village. One of the civilians has brought his wife and child with him to 'Nam, which Perry sees as irresponsible. Gearhart suggests that the civilians are actually spies for the CIA, which would mean that the wife and child are only a cover. During the escort mission, they witness an American jet succumb to Cong artillery after which a man parachutes out of the burning aircraft.
At the next mail call, Peewee receives a letter from Perry's mother, Mabel. She is writing to ask Peewee to tell Perry that she loves him if anything bad happens. Perry is surprised that his mother has chosen to write to Peewee to say she loves her son but can't seem to express the same sentiment in her letters to Perry. The group watches some TV and realizes that Christmas is approaching. On the news, they see themselves in the footage the visiting crew had shot earlier. Perry notes that he looks older than he expected and fixates on Lieutenant Carroll’s protective and serious gaze.
The squad spends more time in the hooch and Walowick studies a brochure for Knox College. Brunner gives him a hard time about the school not being very reputable, but Walowick insists that it is a good school and points out that the first African-American senator went there. Brewster admits that he nearly ran away to Canada when he got drafted but didn't have the guts to dodge his orders. Perry marvels at Brewster's admission that it would have taken more nerve to go to Canada than to enter a war and kill people.
That evening, a rocket attack hits the base camp. Perry wakes up screaming. He can hear the explosions but cannot tell where the rockets are landing. Sergeant Simpson yells for the men to look out for sappers (Vietnamese suicide squads). Eventually, Peewee throws up a flare. There are no casualties. However, after the attack has subsided, Captain Stewart remarks that they need to be more aggressive in weeding out the Viet Cong in the area. Simpson worries that Captain Stewart’s professional ambition will result in unnecessary American deaths. Perry asks Johnson about his motivation to join the army and whether or not he agrees with the protestors in America. Johnson replies that he does not think about who the good guys are and urges Perry to do the same.
During Christmastime, the morale in the barracks is quite low. Peewee and Perry discuss whether or not they should try to have sex with Vietnamese women before they return home, but Perry is worried about catching a disease. Walowick contracts a painful rash and has to go to the 312th to get it treated. Rumors about a potential truce have started to swirl around the ranks once more. While Perry does not fully trust this news, he does listen to Jamal who says that all of the South Vietnamese soldiers will go home for the holidays. Perry writes to his mother to say that he may be home by January or February. Later, after he hears about the growing war protests and race riots in Harlem, Perry writes to his mother to tell Kenny to be careful.
After Christmas, it becomes clear that the war is not over. The Marines in the north have been facing off against a lot of North Vietnamese soldiers in addition to the Viet Cong. There are rumors of a brief truce during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, although when the Tet begins there are constant violations of the cease-fire. Reports start coming in about the rising death toll of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers (NVA), but the American death toll is rising as well. The platoon receives six new soldiers, sating a dire lack of personnel.
The platoon is assigned to interdiction patrol, for the purpose of stopping nighttime traffic between two hamlets. Jamal tells the soldiers that Captain Stewart has volunteered their squad to replace another unit that was been hit, solidifying everyone's suspicions that Stewart is prioritizing a higher body count over the lives of his own men. During the interdiction patrol, VC attack the squad, who find themselves completely outnumbered. Although they retreat successfully into the woods, Lieutenant Gearhart accidentally sets off a flare and exposes their position. By the time the squad manages to evacuate in a helicopter, one soldier is dead and another wounded. Perry also finds out that he set a claymore in the wrong direction, which could have resulted in the deaths of his own men.
In these chapters, the fighting intensifies despite of the rumors of a truce or even a cease-fire for the Vietnamese New Year (Tet). Although Perry does not mention it by name, this new surge of violence is likely the result of the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive refers to the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army's surprise attack against the Americans in January and February of 1968. It lessened the confidence of the United States and, despite many attempts to retaliate against the enemy, hastened the American departure from Vietnam.
However, Perry is unaware of these long-term strategies. All he and his squad-mates know is what they experience on the ground, supplemented by the minimal, biased information that appears in Stars and Stripes (the military newspaper). Lieutenant Gearhart lacks the proper training to replace Carroll but is assigned to lead the squad because there is a shortage of soldiers, but Perry and his squad-mates are unaware of the reason for the personnel shortage. Perry mentions the anti-war protests and racial tension back in the United States, but he does not yet know the extent of the anti-war sentiment at home. This ignorance protects the soldiers, allowing them to hold onto the belief that they will be welcomed home as war heroes. Especially towards the end of the Vietnam War, the American government (with the help of certain big media outlets) was desperately trying to continue selling the myth of the war to the citizens at home and the soldiers abroad.
Despite not being well-informed about the chaos unfolding on American soil, Perry becomes increasingly skeptical about the rationale for the American presence in Vietnam. His conversation with Johnson about the philosophical reasoning behind the conflict only serves to further convince Perry that war is senseless and irrational. Although Johnson tries not to overthink these larger questions and tries to focus on staying alive, Perry is acutely aware of what is going on around him. He becomes reflective, pointing out the futility of coming to the hamlet on a pacification mission one day and destroying it the next. As a result, Perry evolves and matures over the course of the novel while some of the other men in his squad prefer to remain stagnant in denial.
Lieutenant Carroll's death has a major effect on Perry. He was compassionate and thoughtful, and even though he was 23 years old, the 6 year age difference allowed Perry to view Carroll as a protector and even a guardian. It is difficult for Perry to accept Carroll's death, so in the letter to the fallen lieutenant's wife, Perry writes about the myth of war rather than the reality. By narrating the glorified and sanitized version of Lieutenant Carroll’s death, Perry is able to find meaning in this tragic loss.
When Peewee receives a letter from Perry's mother, Perry wonders why his Mama could not write directly to her own son to tell him she loves him. This leads Perry to examine his relationship with his mother more carefully and realize that he wishes they were closer. Lieutenant Carroll's death shows Perry how quickly life can be over and thus forces him to take stock of what is important to him. He learns that forging solid bonds with other human beings is what will leave a lasting impact, even if his life is cut tragically short.