Chapters 11-12 Summary
A flashback to Jim Pedersen's death is presented. He was killed in a rice paddy, where muck covered (and entered) everything. Doc Peret located Pedersen’s broken dog tags and, as was common practice, put them in the soldier’s mouth and taped it shut. The chopper comes and takes Pedersen’s body away.
The others do not talk about him at first. They check their equipment and walk to a hill half a kilometer away. They look down at the village called Hoi An. Using whatever they have at hand, the soldiers try to remove muck, but it seems to be everywhere. The lieutenant checks the coordinates of the village and calls them in, asking for a marking round. As the men wait for the barrage of missiles, Paul Berlin looks at the rice paddies stretching in all directions, with no sign of bird or animal life. Everything looks clean. He avoids thinking of Jim Pedersen and tries to get muck out of his mouth.
He hears a whining sound; the first barrage hits, but it misses the village. The lieutenant calls in the measurement for adjustment, and the village of Hoi An is bombarded with white phosphorus, which burns with a hot, white light. The heat causes the wind to blow as the men watch the total destruction of the village. They feel the heat even half a kilometer away. Liquid phosphorus flows through the village, catching everything on fire. Without malice, Paul Berlin quietly says, “Kill it.” The soldiers fire into the village, killing anything showing signs of life. In the end, the village is just a hole. That night, the men finally talk about Jim Pedersen.
Again, in his post-Cacciato guard duty, Paul ponders courage and how it affects behavior. Fearlessness was not an issue; how to act wisely in spite of fear was. The greater a man’s fear, the greater his potential for courage.
It is now fifteen minutes after two in the early morning. The others still sleep. Berlin wakes himself up with some physical training and walks around the observation post’s small platform. As he lights another cigarette, Paul decides he will quit smoking after the war. He thinks about things that frightened him as a child: noise, dark, and tunnels. He thinks about the time he almost won the Silver Star for valor. He would have liked to win it and show it to his father.