A drizzling rain falls as the platoon makes its way to the Tuy Loan River trail, which was named Purple Heart Trail three months ago. Lance Corporal Crowe walks delicately. Behind him, Allen and Lonehill look for snipers. Caputo follows them with Jones behind him, then the rest of the patrol. Jones alerts Allen to a sniper in the right flank, and Allen pops a grenade launcher three times. Lonehill sprays the trees with his automatic rifle, then the platoon comes running up the trail. There are only four people in the village: two old women, a girl, and a small boy. The old woman hands them an ID and, when questioned, says that she has not seen any VC. Caputo thinks she’s stubborn and fantasizes about slapping her with the back of his hand. He lets her go, and she shuffles away.
The naming of the trail is ironic. It is a place in which marines have endured substantial casualties, which the institution rewards with honors. Though there is honor in the idea of sacrificing one’s self to the institution, the soldiers seek to avoid any situation that would result in being awarded a Purple Heart. Caputo’s hostility toward the old woman results from frustration due both to cultural differences and the belief that the villagers are against the marines and secretly working with the Viet Cong. Caputo perceives enemies everywhere and mistakes miscommunication for deception.
On the 23rd, Caputo’s regiment links up with D Company to conduct a three-day operation, called Harvest Moon, to clear the VC out of Hoi-Vuc. The platoon is in a cheerful mood, marching toward Charley Hill. At this point in his service, Caputo has ceased to care about dying. The platoon marches all morning and all afternoon. The trail climbs into high country and the Song Tuy Loan gets narrower. Crowe and Caputo take turns hacking through the brush with a machete, and leeches drop from the leaves and latch onto their necks.
Caputo’s indifference about death no longer stems from his secret wish to be a hero. He has simply stopped caring so that death will not come as a shock. His indifference also eliminates his fear in confronting the Viet Cong and makes him a bolder soldier. He is not eager to go to battle, but he no longer dreads it either.
The rifleman ahead of Caputo drops to one knee and holds up his right hand to signal that everyone halt. Allen whispers hurriedly that there are three VC standing by a pagoda. Ten or fifteen more are around the bend in the river. Caputo tells them to hold their fire unless they are seen. Caputo is still on his belly and turns as slowly as he can, afraid that the VC can hear the beating of his heart.
Caputo’s earlier expression of indifference immediately dissolves when he realizes that the guerrillas are close. He suddenly becomes more attuned to his body and its life force and worries now about getting shot. The instinct to survive is stronger than any psychological trick to feign indifference.