Chapter 15 Summary

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Piltchard and Wren

Captains Piltchard and Wren are “inoffensive joint squadron operations officers” who want nothing more than to fly combat missions. They persistently beg Colonel Cathcart to fly hundreds of missions and fly every one they can. War is the pinnacle of their life-experience, and they are afraid they may never be in another one. They do not cause any disruption but are most comfortable with their own company. They gently reprimand Yossarian publicly for forcing Kid Sampson to turn back from the mission in Bologna.

Piltchard scolds Yossarian and says a mission should be scrapped only for something important, not a defective intercom. Wren has nothing to add but is proud to announce that Cathcart has given his permission for the squadron to strike the ammunition dumps tomorrow. To show they hold no ill will toward Yossarian, the captains assign him to “fly lead bombardier” in the first formation.

Yossarian locates the target when suddenly his airplane is bombarded with flak. He sees the black puffs of smoke rising up from below, but there is nothing he can do until his bombs have been dropped. As soon as the eight five-hundred-pounders have been released, Yossarian screams at McWatt to make a hard turn, which he does. Yossarian tells him to climb higher, but soon the aircraft is back in the line of fire from below.

The bombs he dropped are now landing, “exactly where he had aimed,” and his bombs and those which were dropped after his destroy the ammunition dump. Aarfy, a fat, annoying pest, has come to the nose of the plane to taunt Yossarian by claiming he cannot hear anything Yossarian says. Infuriated, Yossarian tries unsuccessfully to push Aarfy to the back of the airplane as Aarfy continues to mock him and ignore his wishes.

The aircraft is hit more than once and Yossarian is certain they are all going to die; however, Aarfy is in a state of “rapturous contentment” and keeps taunting Yossarian. Yossarian continues to navigate McWatt through the flak until they are miraculously out of range and still airborne. Yossarian is amazed that they are still alive. Behind them men are dying, “strung out for miles in a stricken, tortuous, squirming line” as they follow the path Yossarian’s aircraft just traversed. One plane is on fire; four men parachute out before the plane nosedives to the ground. One entire flight of airplanes is “blasted apart.”

Someone suddenly asks about Orr, Yossarian’s tentmate, and Yossarian is distraught when Aarfy claims Orr’s plane has gone down. Yossarian continues to watch and finally spots Orr’s aircraft as it emerges from the forest. At first Yossarian is thankful but then curses Orr out of “resentment and relief.” Aarfy is still horribly annoying so Yossarian gets away from him as soon as he can. Yossarian makes his report to Captain Black and waits with everyone else until Orr safely limps his airplane into a crash landing; then he packs “feverishly” for “emergency rest leave” in Rome. 

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