Pyle and Fowler have just escaped from a fort, and Fowler has been slightly injured in a bazooka explosion. He says that he thinks his leg is broken. Pyle carries Fowler away from the fort, despite Fowler’s yells that Pyle should leave him to die. As Pyle carries Fowler, Fowler notices a bonfire in the distance, and realizes that the Vietnamese must be burning his car.
Fowler’s nihilism is so thorough that he’s willing to die rather than slow Pyle down. We’ve seen hints of this before, but it’s not until now that we see just how little Fowler values his own life. It’s also possible—indeed, quite likely—that Fowler particularly doesn’t want to be saved by Pyle, his romantic rival.
Pyle carries Fowler away from the fort. Fowler criticizes Pyle for his “schoolboy heroics,” and tells him that he wanted to die—indeed, that he came to Vietnam with the intention of dying. Pyle explains that he saved Fowler’s life because he couldn’t have looked Phuong in the eyes if he’d let Fowler die. He tells Fowler that he’ll try to find a French patrol. He leaves Fowler by the side of the road and runs off to do so.
Although Fowler and Pyle became much closer with one another in the previous chapter, their affection for Phuong continues to drive them apart. Ironically, it’s competition for Phuong that makes Pyle save Fowler—Pyle’s idealism leads him take a brave a noble action here. One could easily see another man leaving his romantic rival to die.
Fowler waits by the side of the road for many hours. At one point, he tries to run after Pyle, but finds that he’s in too much pain. Eventually, he becomes conscious of a flashlight shining in his eyes—it is Pyle, who’s found a French patrol and brought it to help Fowler.
It’s clear that Fowler owes Pyle his life. What’s less clear is what effect this new development will have on Pyle’s relationship with Fowler—and on Phuong’s relationship with both of them.