In "Where Have You Gone, Charming Billy," what are the soldiers in this story doing?  

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What the soldiers in this short story are doing is indicated by the first few lines of this text, which places us immediately into the middle of the action where this platoon of soldiers are quietly making their way as discretely as possible back to their place of safety. Note how they are described and how this yields clues as to their purpose and actions:

The platoon of twenty-six soldiers moved slowly in the dark, single file, not talking. One by one, like sheep in a dream, they passed through the hedgerow, crossed quietly over a meadow, and came down to the rice paddy. There they stopped. Their leader knelt down, motioning with his hand, and one by one the other soldiers squatted in the shadows, vanishing in the primitive stealth of warfare. For a long time they did not move. Except for the sounds of their breathing, the twenty-six men were very quiet: some of them excited by the adventure, some of them afraid, some of them exhausted from the long night march, some of them looking forward to reaching the sea, where they would be safe.

The fact that they are "not talking" and "moving slowly" with "primitive stealth" clearly indicates that they are making their way through territory that is dangerous and is probably full of enemy soldiers who could be around them. The care with which they stay absolutely silent for so long indicates that they are in a very dangerous setting, as they are trying to establish that there are no enemy troops nearby before continuining on their journey. The various thoughts and feelings of the soldiers reveal that they are on their way back to a place of safety, towards the sea.

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Tim O'Brien

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