Fallen Angels

Fallen Angels Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-19

Chapter 17:

When Perry returns to the field, he finds his squad tired and disheartened. Alpha Company now has only the equivalent of two full squads. Perry is happy to see Peewee and Monaco, but senses that something is different. Soon, he learns that Simpson has decided to reenter "the World" and that the new sergeant, Dongan, is racist. Dongan puts the African American soldiers in the most dangerous positions on patrol. For example, he replaces Monaco with Peewee on point and forces Johnson to bring up the rear even though he carries the machine gun.

The rainy season is upon them, and it rains for 7 days straight. Perry thinks this contributes to the squad's overwhelming exhaustion. Johnson, meanwhile, refuses to acknowledge that Brewster is dead. Perry notices that for the first 5 days he is back with the crew, he barely has any interaction with Sergeant Dongan - quite a change from Simpson's consistent presence. A Catholic priest visits the squad and invites them to pray with him. Perry declines but appreciates the presence of the priest and the comforting power of his prayers.

The problems with Sergeant Dongan continue to escalate; Lobel tells Peewee that if the issue of race ever comes up, he (the "Jew") will support his African American comrades. Johnson clarifies the breadth of Sergeant Dongan's prejudice; the older man looks down on Monaco as well because of his Italian heritage. Yet when Lobel, Peewee, Richie and Sergeant Dongan head out on guard together, the GIs learn that even though Dongan is narrow-minded, he knows how to stay alive. He throws a rock instead of a grenade at a Viet Cong to get the enemy soldier's attention, and then shoots him when he emerges from his hiding place to investigate.

Back at the base camp, Perry receives two letters: one from Kenny and one from Peewee’s girlfriend. Kenny only sends good news but Peewee’s girlfriend confides in Perry that she cannot wait for him any longer. Perry decides against telling Peewee about the letter. On a rainy day, ARVN soldiers bring a Vietnamese woman and her two children to HQ. The woman appears to have no helpful information, so they release her. Peewee tries to make a doll out of grass for the woman's children. Before he can gift the doll, the woman hands one of her children to a GI from Charlie Company and the child explodes, killing the soldier. After the explosion the soldiers gun down the mother and her remaining child.

A private at the base camp gets shot in his butt, and everybody is very happy for him. The wound is serious enough to be sent to the hospital at Chu Lai, but not serious enough to kill him, which all of the soldiers see as an ideal situation. Johnson and Perry discuss the leadership of their company. Lieutenant Dongan asked Johnson if Lobel is a homosexual, but Johnson refused to answer, believing that each soldier is equally valuable on the battlefield regardless of his sexual orientation. They also learn that Captain Stewart is at odds with the ARVN colonel, as neither wants his soldiers to take first position on the upcoming joint patrol. Perry realizes that Johnson has a sense of maturity and understanding about the war (and the world) that most of the other soldiers lack.

Ultimately, Division gives the order for the American soldiers to lead the joint mission. They all have a bad feeling and feel as though they are heading into a potential ambush. Unfortunately, their fears are validated when on their second approach, enemy fire erupts from the wood line. Perry feels that he has slowed down after two weeks in the hospital, and is generally fatigued throughout the operation. The VC battalion surrounds the GIs and the ARVNs, all of whom head to the nearest hamlet that can serve as a suitable evacuation point. However, the hamlet is teeming with Viet Cong, and many of the Americans and ARVN die while attempting to secure it. Lieutenant Dongan is among the fatalities.

The South Vietnamese Army starts to move out from its camp, and the Americans follow. However, the North Vietnamese are closing in quickly and they are strapped for time. Before evacuating, the soldiers try to figure out what to do with the dead bodies. The North Vietnamese will dig up any bodies they bury, so they decide to burn them. Perry helps to strip the gear and tags off his fallen comrades. When this morbid task is complete, another soldier starts the fire in the hut. They discover that one of the "dead" soldiers is still alive but mortally wounded, so his friend shoots him to put him out of his misery. Unfortunately the soldier in charge of the dog tags leaves them behind in the hut. As the bodies burn, Perry imagines writing the letters to the families of those soldiers, trying to explain why there is no body to send home. As they leave the hamlet, the smell of burning flesh lingers in their wake.

During the hike out to the helicopters, the surviving soldiers face enemy sniper fire. Captain Stewart orders them to stay down, but Johnson yells at them to keep moving forward. Perry and the rest of his squad follow Johnson, and soon, Captain Stewart does the same; It is obvious that Johnson is a born leader. Perry experiences the same out-of-body sensation as he once did during a basketball game; he feels like there is someone else running and moving his legs. He wishes he could stop moving and watch the rest of the war from a distance, like a movie. They come upon a platoon of North Vietnamese soldiers and open fire. While the Americans rake down their enemies, they fail to kill the VC with the RPG (rocket propelled grenade), and he fires. Perry feels the sensation of someone else's flesh on him and aches to get away.


When Lieutenant Dongan arrives as a replacement for Simpson, he brings the racial tensions brewing in the United States to Vietnam. For the majority of the novel, the army environment has been an equalizer across class and race, but Dongan insists on putting the African American soldiers in the most dangerous positions and treating the white soldiers as if their lives are worth more. This racism serves to further complicate Perry's view of the army and reminds him that his world in Vietnam is still intertwined with his life back home.

After his injury, Perry constantly feels tired and nervous. His time at the hospital is his first time out of combat during his tour of duty, and he has had time to reflect. He has learned that servicemen believe it takes a person 2-3 weeks to become normal again after being in "the boonies." With his new perspective, it is difficult for Perry to accept that his experiences are progressively twisting his psyche. Additionally, his injury has left him with a constant fear of death.

In these chapters, Johnson again emerges as the de facto leader of the squad. Dongan is clearly a flawed character and proves to be more concerned with his own safety than that of his squad members. When Dongan inappropriately probes Johnson to speculate about Lobel’s sexuality, Johnson refuses to answer. He sets an example for the rest of the squad by insisting that he has respect for anyone who fights alongside him, regardless of race or sexual orientation. After Dongan’s death, Johnson takes command in the field when it is clear that Captain Stewart is incompetent in this capacity. Even though obedience to one’s commander is highly important to the army, the squad listens to Johnson rather than Captain Stewart when they are fighting for their lives because Johnson has earned their trust, while Captain Stewart is a leader in rank alone.

Captain Stewart is emblematic of the greater problems plaguing the army. Upon Perry’s return from the hospital he finds that Alpha Company is at less than half of its full capacity and many squads are made up of only 4 or 5 soldiers. Lieutenant Gearhart is only in charge because of a shortage of officers, even though he has trained in reconnaissance and is ill equipped to be their leader. These personnel issues allude to the domestic unpopularity of American presence in Vietnam and the high-level structural problems in the United States Army. Ultimately, these haphazard leadership decisions have often deadly effects. For example, during one of the battles, an American soldier throws a grenade into a hut housing other American GIs and South Vietnamese soldiers, killing his own men and allies.

Finally, Perry finds himself in a supra-conscious state when he is running away from sniper fire. He feels distant from the experience, as if he is looking down at his own body moving and feeling as though somebody else is moving his legs. This out-of-body experience, in which Perry mentally removes himself from a tough situation in order to keep moving, also occurs when he plays basketball. Even though his body is fighting against him, Perry makes sure he is able to complete his task by watching himself from the standpoint of an observer. He wishes that he could watch the rest of the War like that, as an observer rather than as a participant, but right now - this fantasy serves as an effective survival tactic.