The chapter begins in the midst of a battle, which keeps getting larger and more complicated. When the battle finally ends, Paul Berlin, Cacciato, and Eddie Lazzutti patrol the area, searching for bodies. They find the body of a fellow soldier, Water Buffalo, or Buff, whose body seems to be placed in the position of Muslim prayer. As Berlin stares at the body, he tries to think of pleasant things—his father raking leaves, for example. The soldiers send up a flare, signaling for a helicopter to take Buff’s body away.
Even at this late stage in the novel, O’Brien is introducing us to new characters, reminding us that Berlin’s story is only one of the hundreds of thousands of stories of Vietnam soldiers. We now understand that Berlin uses his imagination as a kind of defense mechanism—he invents pleasantries to cover up the harsh realities he encounters as a young soldier.
After the helicopter takes Buff’s body away from the battlegrounds, Doc suggests that they look through Buff’s helmet—where he kept his most valuable items. Cacciato goes to rummage through Buff’s helmet. He finds a stick of gum, which he proceeds to chew. Oscar Johnson tells the soldiers the “lesson” of Buff’s death—“Don’ never get shot.”
Oscar Johnson is a strict realist, who considers survival in the most literal, physical terms. Johnson seems to be unconcerned with the question of guilt, however—as long as he can survive the war, he’s willing to do anything and kill anyone.