Chapters 29-30 Summary
The men of Third Squad stop in Tehran, Iran, in December. There they celebrate Christmas by sneaking in to the Shah’s National memorial Gardens and chopping down a tree. They drink, trip the tree, try to sing some carols, and then smoke the last of Oscar’s marijuana. Sarkin Aung Wan goes to bed, and Eddie and Oscar play craps. Paul Berlin dismisses all this since they are in a land of “infidels” anyway. The lieutenant becomes sick again, the dysentery returning. More troublesome is that he sits wrapped in blankets, eating and saying nothing. Doc says this is very serious, a sign that he has brain fever. He says it is nostalgia, a homesickness for the war, and the only antidote is time.
The men wander Tehran as December becomes January. They walk into a city plaza to find a crowd gathering around a platform. There are chairs for military officers. A young man is brought in and placed on the platform. He is shaved, and Doc says they are about to see one of civilization’s grandest offerings: keeping the peace. Paul realizes he is about to witness a beheading. He notices a fly crawling on the young man’s nose and calls out for someone to brush it away. Soundlessly, the axe falls and the young man is dead, the fly still on his nose.
After the execution, Stink says he wants clams. They ask a police officer where they can find clams, and, not having their passports, they are arrested. At the police station, they are questioned by Captain Fahyi Rhallon, who had wanted to serve against the Kurds but was transferred to Internal Security instead. Doc tells Rhallon they are soldier tourists and not required to have passports. Rhallon is intrigued, especially when he learns that they are tracking Cacciato. Doc explains that the regulations covering their status were decided in Geneva. Rhallon apologizes, saying he has never heard of these rules but doubtless they are true. He understands that Cacciato is a deserter and explains that the young man who was beheaded was AWOL, the punishment for desertion being much less merciful. He releases the men with apologies and buys them a drink.
Back on his Observation Post, Paul waits for dawn. It is now four o’clock. He thinks about his military career so far and thinks of the day he witnessed the ultimate war story.