Chapters 31-32 Summary
The platoon of thirty-two soldiers is on night march, silently crossing the meadow to the rice paddy. Lieutenant Sidney Martin signals the men to kneel and stay still. All they hear is their breathing and one of the men urinating. Some are excited, others afraid or exhausted.
Paul Berlin lies quietly, his forehead resting on his rifle. He pretends he is not in the war but home camping with his father. This is his first day, but in the morning he will be at the sea and try to forget, hoping the second day will not be so bad. He hears a voice next to him, but he is barely able to see the round face smiling beside him. The two crawl into the paddy, where the other soldiers are strung out. He looks at the stars, telling him that soon he will learn their names.
He tries not to think of Billy Boy Watkins, who died of fright. Doc Peret said it was a heart attack. Paul counts his steps to keep from thinking. His clothes have lost their newness from muck and slime. He vows he will not be part of the platoon, only play his part. They pass a village, and soon they are squatting in the wet grass. The same round, child-like face is next to him. He smells Doublemint gum on his breath. The boy talks about gum, giving him a piece but warning him to chew quietly. The boy whistles, forgetting they are supposed to be quiet until Paul tells him. The boy is surprised he has never chewed Black Jack gum; it is his favorite. They talk about Billy Boy’s death. Billy Boy had tripped a mine during a march. He saw his shoe was blown off, and then he noticed his foot was still in it. Doc Peret tells him that this is a “million dollar wound,” and he will get to go home. The war is over for him. Ignoring him, Billy Boy tries to tie his boot (and his foot) back onto his leg. Suddenly, a look of fear comes over him and he dies. They put him in a body bag and mark it with yellow smoke bomb so the chopper can pick him up.
Back at the Observation Post, it is now four thirty. Paul opens a can of pears, thinking how Billy Boy is now dead. It is merely a fact.