When the ARVN troops and the American troops finally reach the pick-up location, the American soldiers realize the ARVN are trying to push them back so that they can get to the helicopters first. Lieutenant Gearhart has his men put up their hands so the helicopter pilots an identify the Americans. The gunners in the helicopters actually shoot at the ARVN troops to make them scatter. Perry makes it onto a helicopter traveling to the new camp, and he is more tired than he can ever remember being. He realizes that one needs three to four days of rest to recover from the exhaustion and toll of being in even a brief battle.
Back at camp, Monaco hallucinates and shoots his gun in the barracks; he is reliving one of his previous encounters with the VC. Walowick confides in Perry and says that the same thing has also happened to him. Jamal makes a note that it would have been Brewster’s birthday had he lived, so the squad celebrates with cake and fruit juice. The down time at camp continues, and Lieutenant Gearhart gives Walowick and Perry letters to mail to his wife if they ever make it back to the United States. Peewee forces them to open the letters. Perry feels sad that he does not have anyone to love him in the way that Gearhart and his wife love each other. Finally, they receive their next assignment. Captain Stewart informs them that they will be patrolling a region to the east that the First Cavalry has just finished securing.
The army continues to suffer from personnel shortages, and Lieutenant Gearhart now commands two other squads in addition to Perry's (all of which are undermanned). Perry discovers that Brunner is trying to earn a promotion to Sergeant First Class, which is why he decides to remain in the field despite a bad case of hemorrhoids. Meanwhile, rumors are swirling around the camp about American victories against the North Vietnamese. On a Sunday, Perry, Walowick and Peewee attend a nondenominational service at the camp. Perry finds it comforting. Soon after that, Brunner gives them their next mission: they are to explore a stream and make sure that no Viet Cong have been able to infiltrate the secure area.
The geography of this new patrol area is worrisome. There is a ridge that serves as a perfect sniper spot, and lots of underbrush in which the VC can easily hide. Although Brunner gives the orders, it is clear once more that Johnson is the de facto leader of the squad. The area appears to be clear on their walk out to the ridge, but when they hike back, they encounter enemy fire. The Viet Cong have been hiding in the stream and breathing through reeds. Lobel kills his first enemy soldier up close and gets very excited. After they cross the stream, Perry and Peewee go on ahead as lookouts and suddenly find bullets landing around them. They race to the top of the ridge but cannot figure out from where the shots are originating. They hear the gunfire of their own squad, and then everything falls silent.
Hours later, Perry and Peewee are stuck on the ridge in the darkness and have no idea what has happened to the rest of their squad. After hearing Vietnamese voices, they look down to see a full battalion of enemy soldiers. They send out some light fire and then move further down the ridge for better cover. Peewee finds an empty Vietnamese spider hole and they spent the night huddled inside it, hiding. Perry fears for his life and decides that if the VC capture him, he will use a grenade on himself. He is all too aware of the Viet Cong's horrific torture practices.
When morning comes, Perry and Peewee see the VC battalion preparing to move out. One enemy soldier heads towards them, and Peewee realizes that they are sitting in that soldier's spider hole. The VC tries to get in, but Perry shoots him. Perry and Peewee then strangle the young soldier until he dies. They push him out of the hole and start moving towards the pick-up zone. Peewee is hurt and has trouble walking so Perry helps him along. They walk side by side.
When Perry and Peewee arrive at the pick-up zone, they see Monaco sitting against a tree. Perry realizes that the Viet Cong are watching him and waiting for a helicopter to arrive, after which they will ambush the soldiers coming to rescue Monaco. Perry and Peewee wait for the helicopter as well, and when it comes into sight they open fire on the Viet Cong hiding in the bushes. The gunners from the helicopter fire at the enemy as well, allowing Monaco, Peewee and Perry to board the chopper. As it flies away, Perry takes a hit in the leg.
While Peewee and Perry recover in the hospital, Monaco recounts the story of how the squad escaped from the stream and left him behind. Perry worries that his injured leg will be amputated, but when he emerges from surgery it is still intact. Two days after his own surgery, Peewee finds Perry in the hospital. They spend time with Monaco before he heads back into the field, drinking beer together. At one point, Peewee tears his stitches after vomiting, and Perry realizes that his friend's injuries are worse than he previously thought. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Gearhart shares the news that Captain Stewart has been promoted to Major.
Two weeks pass before Perry is ready to have his cast off. Afterwards, the doctor informs him that he will be going home. The medical profile arrived while Perry was in the field but it did not get processed in time to take him out of combat earlier. Perry reads the news about the war in Stars and Stripes, but it does not match up with what he has experienced on the ground.
While they wait for their orders to be sent home, Peewee rests to prevent re-injuring himself and Perry plays chess. He also pays a clerk to look up the status of Judy Duncan, and finds out that she has been killed in a field hospital bombing. At last, Perry and Peewee are ready to board a flight home. They watch the silver caskets being loaded into the belly of the plane, and observe fresh soldiers landing in Vietnam for the first time. On the plane from Osaka to California, Peewee falls asleep and Perry is finally able to relax, even though his mind keeps returning to the fighting.
Myers fully breaks down the myth of the war hero in the final pages of the novel. After surviving his first injury and receiving a Purple Heart, Perry does not feel like a strong and courageous soldier when he returns to the field. Instead he feels weak and more exhausted than ever. Furthermore, when he reads Gearhart’s letter to his wife, Perry finds himself yearning for a close personal relationship. He has nobody waiting for him at who loves him in the way a wife or a partner might. However, Perry is experiencing a different kind of love in the tight bonds that unite his squad. These men, who have glimpsed the fine line between life and death, unite to keep the memories of their fallen angels alive. For example, the squad celebrates Brewster’s birthday as a way of honoring him.
Myers also dismantles the myth of warfare and infallibility of the United States army. Gearhart commands two squads because of a lack of personnel, even though he is not properly trained for that position. The military is a highly ordered institution that relies heavily on chains of command and regimented structure, but Gearhart’s incompetency reveals the serious cracks within this system. The soldiers in the squad turn to Johnson as their leader instead of Gearhart or Stewart, showing that the soldiers' instinct is more accurate than the army's ranking system.
In the climax of the novel, Perry and Peewee are separated from their squad while on patrol. An entire battalion of Viet Cong soldiers comes in between them and the other American soldiers, and it is obvious that the Americans have lost control of the war and it is every man for himself. Perry and Peewee are completely exposed and barely manage to escape alive. It is significant that they are forced to hide in a Viet Cong spider hole while they are trying to survive - this represents the superiority of the Viet Cong guerrilla tactics to the more advanced and showy American military endeavors.
When Perry and Peewee are about to leave Vietnam, they witness the full cycle of warfare right there on the tarmac. Perry and Peewee are amongst the soldiers being sent home, some injured and beaten down, luckier than those going home in caskets. Meanwhile, fresh soldiers disembark from the plane and march past them into positions of duty. Perry and his peers straighten their posture and try to appear patriotic and proud, a last-ditch attempt to be the strong heroes society believes them to be. The juxtaposition of the new soldiers with the discharged ones is a visual representation of Perry's emotional journey throughout the novel. He will never be a bright-eyed, optimistic GI again - he will forever be a killer, marred by his war wounds. However, he has experienced love for the first time in the unbreakable bonds he has formed with his fellow soldiers.
On the plane, Perry and Peewee are still far from the mature, seasoned veterans they had once hoped to become. They hold hands and cling to each other, nervous about reentering the World. Rather than being happy to exit the war and return to a better reality, they are frightened and scared. The mood on the plane is somber. While they are fortunate to be returning alive, they are bringing with them the atrocities they saw while in Vietnam and the worry that nobody will be able to relate to them now. The memories of this war will haunt them forever and only their fellow veterans will be able to understand.