Chapters 5-6 Summary
In November (following the squad’s search for Cacciato), Paul Berlin stands guard duty at midnight. He despairs at the incredible slowness of time. He checks his watch to make sure it is working; it is. Paul looks at Oscar’s raft and fantasizes about loading it up with supplies, using a poncho for a sail, and heading out across the Pacific Ocean to somewhere out at sea or perhaps even all the way home. He decides that counting will make the time move more quickly. He arrived on June 3, and it is now the end of November. He is not sure of the exact date because Vietnam lacks an autumn. He remembers Oscar’s birthday being in July. At first he thinks it was in August that Billy Boy Watkins died of fright, but he remembers it was in June. They had marched along the Song Tra Bog. In September, many of his comrades died, but he cannot remember the order.
Paul begins to think about the future. After the war is over, he plans on going home to Fort Dodge, arriving on the train wearing all his medals. His father would be quietly pleased and then take Paul out to the housing developments he is building to show his son all he accomplished while Paul was at war. The night moves on, and Paul contemplates going to Europe. He will go to Paris and experience all the things Cacciato had planned on doing. He would not go as a tourist but as a man who wanted to stay and to learn.
Back on the quest after Harold Murphy left them, the squad suddenly leaves the jungle and moves into an open, deer-filled plain. They spot of small swirl of smoke, and Stink believes it is a sign of Cacciato’s location. All of a sudden, they hear a squeal. Stink kneels down and begins to fire without aiming at two water buffalo yoked to a cart. Someone screams and one of the buffalo falls down, bleeding and dying. In the cart are two older women and a girl. Stink is ecstatic but the other men think it was a stupid thing to do. Paul learns from the girl that the dead buffalo had been raised by the women, who had fed it with their own breast milk. She asks Paul if the soldiers plan on paying for the dead animal, but Paul is vague. The girl says her name is Sarkin Aung Wan, a part-Chinese refugee whose parents are dead. She and her aunts are now returning home in the Far West. She tells Paul that the soldiers must take them there. Paul cannot get a specific village name from her, just the “Far West.” In the morning, Paul climbs into the cart with the girl and the newly formed company begins riding westward, in the direction of Paris.