Chapters 3-4 Summary
The Third Squad walks through jungle for days. After two days they find a trap Cacciato has escaped. There are a few empty ration cans and candy bar wrappers, along with his dog tags. The squad crosses over the last mountain and heads to the jungle in the valley below. They stop along a creek and soak their feet. Doc Peret shows the lieutenant on a map that in one more “klick” (kilometer) they will be in the neighboring country of Laos. The lieutenant answers the question of what they will do then by saying he does not know. Harold Murphy urges him to turn back. If they cross the border into Laos, they will officially be deserters. After resting a few more minutes, the men keep on walking. Paul Berlin struggles, hacking the foliage with his machete. Oscar Johnson says the lieutenant is about played out even though his dysentery is diminishing. There is no longer any sign of Cacciato.
For six days, the soldiers keep walking through jungle. Murphy is irate that they are wasting any more time on Cacciato; he believes they should go back to camp and officially declare Cacciato a deserter. The lieutenant falls in a stream and has to be carried out. As he recovers, the men take a vote on whether to keep walking or to turn back. The vote is to keep walking. In the morning, Harold Murphy is gone.
Paul Berlin flashes back to when he arrived at Chu Lai’s Combat Center in June. The camp borders the sea, and it is primitive and uncomfortable. He and the other newcomers do practice drills; they pitching fiberglass grenades and the officer tells them when they explode. They practice crawling through land mines, and Paul resents it when the officer declares him dead. Paul writes his father and tells him to look up where Chu Lai is because at the moment he feels lost. After seven days of training, the men are divided into three infantry brigades, which are then broken down further until the men are in squads. Paul remembers being in Indian Guides with his father and becoming lost. He was found, and eventually he became less sick of the camping experience. In the wooden latrine, Paul reads the scribbling of previous visitors. Many begin with, “I’m so short....” He adds his own: “I’m so short, I can’t see the forest for the trees.”
Paul is placed in the First Platoon of Alpha Company. The First Platoon leader dies and is replaced by Lieutenant Corson, whom the men love for taking no chances. When a chopper takes them into inland territory, Paul feels that is his first day of war.