Chapters 41-42 Summary
The battle ends at the ditch and continues like "dripping rain after a storm." In the ditch, Cacciato finds Buff, one of the platoon. They drag Buff from the ditch and lay his body in the grass, covering it with a poncho. Eddie calls for a helicopter to retrieve the corpse. Doc examines the body, removing the ammunition and searching the pockets. Eddie tells him he forgot to check the helmet, but Doc tells him to just cover him up.
Paul Berlin closes his eyes, trying to imagine himself at the bottom of a chlorinated pool. He thinks of Buff’s shirt sticking to his shoulders. Buff was short for “Water Buffalo” because he was overweight and stank when he sweated, which was often. Cacciato opens a can of peaches and eats them. Eddie says they found Buff on his knees with his face in his helmet, like an “Arab praying.” He keeps talking, even though everyone, especially Doc, is tired of listening to him. Paul tries to think of better things. Eddie keeps going on about Buff on his knees, praying like an Arab, and Paul tries to ignore it all. Eddie asks if they killed any of the enemy, but Buff is the only casualty on either side. They try to think of positive things to say about Buff and eventually talk about what a good shot he was. Harold Murphy is elected to inherit Buff’s big gun. They watch the chopper retrieve Buff’s body, unable to get truly sad. They see that Buff’s helmet is still in the ditch, but no one will retrieve it until Cacciato picks it up, cleaning it off. Oscar says that there is a lesson in this: Don’t get shot.
Back at his Observation Post on night guard duty, Paul Berlin thinks of the men who have been killed: Frenchie, Pederson, Rudy Chassler, Billy Boy Watkins, Bernie Lynn, Read Mix, Lieutenant Sidney Martin, and finally Buff. The deaths are all that Paul Berlin can remember about the war. The fighting itself, the marching, the villages, the jokes—all of this is blurred in his mind. All that remains are war stories and simple lessons, such as that dead men are heavy. He gazes down at the beach. It is now five o’clock, and dawn is beginning to break. He thinks of what might have been.