Chapters 45-46 Summary
At his Observation Post, Paul Berlin watches dawn break. Soon the other men will awaken and go on patrol. There is no prospect of battles, only a long, hot day. These are the facts. The war was still a war, and he was still a soldier. He had not deserted or run. It is now six o’clock. The facts are that several men are dead, but he has trouble relating the chronology and reality of other facts. It is a fact that one day, Cacciato left the war and went walking toward Paris. Third Squad went after him, following his trail into the mountains. They cornered him on a hill. They shot flares into the sky and moved in, but Paul shouted to Cacciato to go. This is the last known fact. The rest is only possibilities.
The lieutenant and Sarkin Aung Wan left, abandoning them in Paris. Paul fights back tears, the others commiserating. They find a note stating they are walking east, back to Vietnam. Doc does not believe it can be done. Oscar Johnson takes command. They stake out Cacciato’s room, plugging the exits and waiting for him to show himself. They find a dead-end alley below Cacciato’s hotel room. Oscar goes to the front door. They prepare to get Cacciato, with Paul leading the way. He enters Cacciato’s room and hears someone whimpering. He fires several shots and smells something burning. He loses control of his bladder.
He is in Vietnam, where he has always been, not on his fantasy quest after Cacciato. He is shaking, and Doc helps him lie on the grass. Corson leans over him, asking if he feels better. Paul apologizes for firing his rifle. He asks about Cacciato, but Doc just tells him it is over. Paul gets up and looks over the hillside, where he had expected them to catch Cacciato. He remembers the fear. The men talk about how close they came to catching him. They find the trail and begin backtracking. When they come down from the mountain, the lieutenant radios that Cacciato is missing in action. That night, they talk about the rumor that they will be stationed by the sea. They talk about the war, stating no one would believe their war story. Paul and the lieutenant talk about Cacciato and wonder whether he could possibly make it all the way to Paris. The odds are miserable, but he just might make it.