Chapters 19-20 Summary
It is November after the “walk to Paris,” and Paul Berlin is still on guard duty at three in the morning. The Jolly Roger flag Eddie made is flying at half mast from the observation post. As hot as the days are, Paul is amazed at how cold the nights can be. He lights another cigarette. The war has taught him to smoke. He decides not to wake Stink for his guard duty. Tonight there will be no changing of the guard. Paul reflects that this time of night is the most dangerous, for it is now that observation posts are most often attacked. He tries to forget and think of other things, such as his trek to Paris. He thinks about life after the war and the stories he will tell. He wonders about Cacciato. What did he do about food and money, about crossing borders with no passport? Paul thinks these issues are trivial. They can be easily overcome. Money can be earned, or stolen. Passports can be forged. He wonders what Cacciato saw along the way. Paul is sure such a trip could truly be done.
The scene changes to earlier in the summer, before there were casualties. The squad is flying in a Chinook toward the combat zone. Paul wonders how it could be so cold in the helicopter. The gunners at the door fire below, aiming at returning gunfire. All the men occupy their time with nervous activity. The chopper is dropping swiftly, bouncing back and forth through the air. Paul has a bad feeling, thinking that the cold air does not feel right. The crew chief warns them that landing is in four minutes. As they fly lower, Paul hears different sounds, and the chopper banks hard. The chief warns them that the helicopter is hot and not to waste time when they land. One minute until landing, Harold Murphy falls over, unable to get back up. Holes open in the chopper’s hull, and long tears appear in the floor. The wind is making it difficult to function. They land, and the squad exits quickly. Pederson is hit first, shot in the legs. He lies back in the mud, now shot through the stomach, which he tries to hold in place. He is calm and the gunners fire around him. He fires at the elevating Chinook chopper. Paul still hears the firing of the guns.