Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels Summary and Analysis of Chapters 14-16

Chapter 14:

Back at base camp, Monaco receives a letter from his girlfriend asking him to marry her. He takes a vote amongst the rest of the squad members, all of whom support the union. Monaco happily informs everyone that he will invite them to the wedding. Captain Stewart once again asks Perry to write the letter of condolence for Turner, the soldier who was killed during the interdiction patrol. Lieutenant Gearhart has already written a letter in which he blames himself for Turner's death, but Captain Stewart knows that Perry will be able to write one that will be easier for Turner's family.

After hearing reports that the Viet Cong are harassing the same village Alpha Company visited on their first pacification mission, the soldiers undertake a mission to secure the village until the threat is gone. Although the intelligence report indicates that the village will not be hit until the next day, the American helicopters encounter artillery fire upon arrival and the soldiers discover that the village has already been razed. The Viet Cong fighters have come and gone, and Alpha Company finds only dead or wounded villagers cowering in bullet-ridden or flaming huts.

Most of the Alpha Company soldiers are in a panic while surveying the destruction. Walowick nearly throws a grenade into a group of civilians. Sergeant Simpson, the de facto leader of the platoon, tries to calm everyone down and reminds them not to kill civilians. The soldiers witness the aftermath of the Viet Cong's brutal methods and worry that VC soldiers will jump out of hiding at any moment. Perry realizes that this fear is founded when he enters a hut and hears the click of a gun behind him. Fortunately, the Viet Cong soldier’s gun malfunctions and he cannot kill Perry, giving Perry the opportunity to shoot the VC in the face. In another hut, Perry and Peewee find a wounded Viet Cong soldier hiding under a rug. They shy away but Captain Stewart kills him.

Back at the compound, the soldiers are jumpy from the mission and find it difficult to unwind. Perry feels particularly shaken after his brush with death and his first point blank kill. He breaks down and Peewee comforts him throughout the night. Soon after, they receive orders to move base camps, heading north to a station near Tam Ky. Alpha Company will be advising a South Vietnamese (ARVN) company. As Alpha Company prepares to depart, Peewee’s face has become puffy and red. He is eventually forced to admit that he is having a bad reaction to the Vietnamese woman's hair salve, which he was using in an attempt to grow a mustache.

Perry tries to write to Kenny about killing the Viet Cong soldier, but he cannot put his feelings into words. Meanwhile, the new base is much more remote than their old compound. The isolation makes it feel more dangerous, and there is not even a major generator to provide light at night. The soldiers on this base have been trying to interrupt the Viet Cong supply routes. On their first patrol, Alpha Patrol goes out with AVRN soldiers. The group successfully sets up an ambush and waits late into the night. However, when VC voices emerge from the killing zone, Lieutenant Gearhart holds the command to fire.

Perry passes the time by thinking about the Viet Cong soldier he killed and wonders about that man's motivations for fighting. More Vietnamese voices sound out through the darkness, and it becomes clear that the Americans and South Vietnamese are severely outnumbered. The squad sits as quietly as possible to avoid detection by the enemy. Perry recites the Lord’s Prayer in his mind. Jamal is shaking so severely that it is obvious he is not mentally prepared for combat. When the squad returns to the base camp, Sergeant Simpson decides to extend his tour by thirty days.

Even while Alpha Company is in the compound, it is clear that the VC activity around them has increased. There are frequent air strikes and occasionally a mortar shell lands near their base. The Americans start to notice that whenever the ARVN troops go out on patrol they do not go far past the boundaries of the camp and then quickly return, claiming to have encountred VC fire. This means that the area is not as secure as it could be. Meanwhile, Sergeant Simpson argues with Captain Stewart over his continually volunteering Alpha Company for dangerous assignments just to increase his body count. Finally, Alpha Company heads out on another patrol to secure the area. They encounter enemy fire; Perry is hit in the leg and wrist and Brewster is fatally wounded. When Perry realizes that he is hurt, he prays not to God that he will not die.

Perry lies next to Brewster in the evacuation helicopter. The team of medics work on both of them simultaneously, and Perry reaches for Brewster’s hand. Even though everything is a blur, Perry feels his comrade's hand go limp. Later, he immediately recognizes the sound of the zipper closing up Brewster’s body bag. The next thing Perry knows, he is in a hospital. He learns that his injuries are not dangerous, and while this is good news, it also means that Perry will be returning to his squad after he heals.

The hospital is clean and orderly, and seems far removed from the chaotic jungle fighting Perry has just left. Judy Duncan is stationed at the hospital and kisses Perry after their reunion. Perry writes a letter to his mother in which he makes light of his injury, not wanting to admit that he was frightened of death. While in the hospital, Perry receives a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat; he mails his prize to Kenny. After his wounds have healed, Perry receives his orders to return to the field. On the plane plane to Tam Ky, Perry encounters several fresh Marines who are all eager to get into combat. Perry reflects that although he has only been in Vietnam for four months, he has seen more than enough action.


In this section of the novel, it becomes abundantly clear that the war is not over. The VC has been stalling peace talks and all the while claiming territory across Cambodia and Laos. It also seems as though the American mythology of heroism on the battlefield has become increasingly muddled, especially in Perry's mind. Earlier in the novel, he feels unsure about the need to go on the public relations mission to the hamlet, but now, he witnesses the complete breakdown of that part of the American agenda. The village that had once been the site of playfulness and peaceful interaction becomes a death zone. Perry is almost killed and kills a man point blank to save his life. He witnesses the terrible atrocities that the VC have inflicted on their own countrymen and the situation starts to feel increasingly hopeless.

When Perry shoots the VC in the face, it is his closest encounter with death. Previously, he has never been able to see his victims or even know if his bullets have hit a target at all. However, killing the VC in that hut is a defining moment for Perry. He never viewed himself as a killer but now he cannot escape the reality of what he has done. He struggles to write about the incident in a letter to Kenny because he does not yet know what to make of it himself. "Saying that you were trying to stop Communism or stuff like that was different than shooting somebody," he concludes (189). He knows that it is his job to kill the enemy but cannot write about himself as a hero because he does not view himself that way. His growing moral qualms about the war prevent him from perpetuating the romanticized myth that he was able to convey when writing the letter to Lt. Carroll's wife.

After his encounter with the VC, Perry is injured in battle. The description of his experience is visceral, mirroring the chaos of the battle unfolding around him. He sees his injury before he even feels the pain, but his first reaction is to call out his mother's name and beg for his life. In this moment, Perry comes face to face with his fear of death. He starts to worry that he will not make it home, even though he writes to Kenny about what they will do when he gets back. After his injury, Perry's focus changes. He is no longer concerned about the greater meaning of this war - he just wants to live beyond his tour of Vietnam, killing the Congs before they kill him - just as Peewee had told him several weeks before.

As Perry finds himself evolving due to his close encounters with death, Captain Stewart's professional ambition drives his recklessness. He estimates the body count from the interdiction mission to be 28 VC, even though Perry is uncertain about the number being so high. When Peewee and Perry find the wounded VC soldier hidden underneath the rug in the village, they pause, but Captain Stewart completes the kill. Additionally, Perry notices that the Captain has been drinking heavily - which is perhaps his own method of distancing himself from his actions.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Simpson steps in to fill the void that Lt. Carroll has left and tries to help the GIs survive the war. He stands up to Captain Stewart who has been volunteering Alpha Company for missions all over the place in an effort to increase his body count and simultaneously, his chances for a promotion to major. Simpson even extends his tour by 30 days after weeks of counting down until the end of his duty. However, even Simpson returns to "the World" soon enough. It is possible he has given up on trying to right moral wrongs, which emphasizes the hopelessness of the situation at this point.

The move to Tam Ky signals an escalation in the intensity of Perry's experience in Vietnam. There, he faces unknown dangers and is often plunged into darkness, both metaphorically and physically. As Sergeant Simpson commands, Perry and the rest of Alpha Company must remain alert at all times. The enemy they are fighting is often out of sight, so a lot of the descriptions of battle in this section of the novel focus on sound. While at base camp, Perry gauges the level of activity by the number of planes he hears in the area. On patrol, he is constantly listening for sounds of the enemy because they cannot see anything in the complete darkness.