Chapters 39-40 Summary

Stink screams what he believes are Vietnamese commands to the villagers, ordering them to lie down. They just look at him, uncomprehending. He continues to scream, consulting the Vietnamese-English dictionary the other soldiers gave him for his birthday. They love watching him try to give orders, mixing up the two languages so they are unintelligible to either. Eventually, Stink fires his rifle and the villagers lie down and cover their heads. Stink tells Doc they obviously understand him fine, he just had to “punctuate” his sentences.

Because they do not know the language, the Americans do not understand the people. They do not know how they feel about the war or about American soldiers. Perhaps their facial expressions are the opposite of those of Westerners. Paul Berlin is plagued by these questions, wondering who these people actually are. Do they like him? A little girl with gold hoops in her ears intrigues him. Doc treats sores on her forehead with iodine. Paul wonders how she feels about this. He feels he has no enemies and would like the Vietnamese to know this. In one village, Oscar Johnson and Rudy Chassler shot down ten dogs just for the fun of it. He would like to explain that he is not one of these men. He does not know if the war is right or wrong, but he knows he must fight it out of allegiance to his country.

Paul is called before the promotion board and asked some ridiculous questions to determine if his rank should be increased. His answers are vague, but he is promoted anyway.

When the men land at Athens, they walk down the gangplank and past the police, who are not looking for them after all. After a couple of days touring Athens, they board a bus northward for Yugoslavia. As they progress through Eastern Europe, they encounter a girl from California driving a VW van. She gives them a ride and tells them how much she admires them for deserting the war. After listening to her talk on, Oscar holds his rifle to her head, ordering her to stop. Thinking they plan on raping her, the girl tells them she is willing, but they are simply tired of being praised for being deserters. They set her out on the road and drive on. They cross over into Germany and are soon in Luxembourg, next to France.