The story opens at boot camp for the United States Marines in San Diego, California. One man is nicknamed “Hey Baby” because he has been caught writing a letter to his girlfriend when he should have been studying his rifle specifications. The narrator, another Marine in training, takes a dislike to Hey Baby because he continually harasses Jorgeson, the narrator’s friend. Jorgeson is the only one at boot camp who has not dedicated himself to becoming a Marine; he dreams of becoming a beatnik or an artist. Although the narrator is serious about his training and becoming an elite paratrooper, he is fascinated by Jorgeson’s dreams.
Hey Baby’s dislike for Jorgeson leads him to knock the other man down. The narrator comes up behind Hey Baby and clubs him in the head with the butt of his rifle. Hey Baby is unconscious for three days and permanently injured. Although the narrator worries that he could be in trouble for his rash act, no one reports him.
After boot camp, the narrator intentionally flunks out of com school, so he can be sent to the infantry. He meets up with Jorgeson, who is now dedicated to the Marines, and the two work to join a reconnaissance patrol. They soon go into enemy territory.
The first trip starts badly. A corporal with less than two weeks to go in Vietnam is sent across an open field. The narrator is sent off from his group to investigate a pile of dirt that might indicate the presence of a tunnel. No sooner does the narrator separate from his group than mortar fire comes in. The narrator is thrown to the ground by the force of the blast. From a distance, the narrator watches as North...
(The entire section is 676 words.)