The chapter begins near the start of Paul Berlin’s time in the army, with the soldiers sitting in a helicopter. Everyone is nervous, and some of the soldiers are more terrified of flying than they are of fighting. As the helicopter drifts to the ground, the soldiers open fire, though the narrator doesn’t say at whom, exactly, they’re firing. The helicopter touches down, and the soldiers rush out, still shooting into the distance.
The ambiguity in O’Brien’s description of the helicopter’s landing is a good encapsulation of the Vietnam War itself. It’s often been said that in Vietnam, the American soldiers didn’t properly understand just who they were fighting, or what they were fighting for.