The chapter begins with the narrator noting that Eddie Lazzutti loves to sing. He listens to radio broadcasts and sings along with the music.
Singing, like humor and storytelling, is another way of processing and escaping from the horrors of war.
The narrator proceeds to describe the other soldiers. Oscar Johnson is dark-skinned, and has an “aristocratic” bearing. He always claims that he’s from Detroit, and talks about it all the time. Nevertheless, every letter he writes is sent to Maine—never Michigan. Paul Berlin is fascinated with Johnson—he thinks that Johnson is half performing, half being, to the point where nobody, least of all Johnson, can tell the difference.
The difference between performing and being is a complex one, and highly relevant to the story. All the soldiers in the novel are lying to themselves in some profound way. They want to believe that they’re going to Paris to arrest Cacciato—but in fact, they’re traveling to Paris because they want to escape Vietnam forever.
The next soldier the narrator describes is Jim Pederson. Pederson carries rosary beads wherever he goes, and tries to pass on Christianity to the people in whichever village the soldiers visit. He’s regarded as the most moral of the soldiers, and once, he convinced the others not to burn down a village. He was also the soldier who wrote to Billy Boy’s parents after Billy Boy’s death of “fright.”
Pederson—supposedly the “good” soldier of the group—is among the first to die. His moral goodness also seems entirely relative, as there doesn’t seem to be anything extremely moral about telling people not to burn down an entire village. The standard for good has been set so low in Vietnam that Pederson seems like a saint.
Stink Harris comes from a big family. He takes great care of his rifle, and often says that it’s his best friend. Early on, he befriends Bernie Lynn, and even writes a letter to his own sister, Carla, introducing Carla to Bernie. Bernie and Carla begin writing frequent letters to each other. Stink supports these correspondences, until he finds Bernie carrying a photograph of Carla, naked.
The chapter is structured as a list of soldiers, each of whom has a “persona.” Stink’s persona seems wild and unkempt, and he has a good relationship with his family, which is also big and loud. His sister, it’s loosely implied, is one of his closest friends.
Lieutenant Corson is a widower, but he still wears his wedding ring. He’s different from other lieutenants, such as Sidney Martin, in that he doesn’t place too much emphasis on routine. Whereas Martin orders single men to explore the tunnels before blowing them up, Corson orders the tunnels blown up straight away.
Corson is older and more experienced than Martin, but on the surface he seems less organized and brave. This points less Corson’s cowardice or incompetence, however, and more to a sense of disillusionment and world-weariness.
Doc Peret is the soldiers’ resident scientist, and he has complicated ideas about everything. But he defines science a little oddly—anything that “gets results,” he insists, is scientific.
Doc is a somewhat comic character, but like all the comedy in the novel, there’s a serious message underlying. Doc is focused on results, and like the other soldiers, he’ll do almost anything to survive.
The narrator ends the chapter by noting that the soldiers almost never knew each other’s real names. Some soldiers have to earn their nicknames through hard work, while others arrive with their nicknames and never lose them. Other men go by their surnames and nothing else—Cacciato, for example. Still others, such as Sidney Martin, go by their rank alone—lieutenant.
One paradox of the war in Vietnam, O’Brien implies here, is that the soldiers were forced to confront the most personal, intimate parts of themselves, while also creating artificial, one-dimensional versions of themselves as a way of processing their experiences and retaining their sanity.