Richie is an intelligent and naive young man who is changed by his time fighting in the Vietnam War. Richie is an excellent student at a black high school in Harlem. He doesn't have any prospects for college, however, and decides to volunteer to fight in the Vietnam war. He has a knee injury that he believes will keep him out of intense combat. He makes friends with PeeWee and Jenkins during basic training. The three are stationed in Chu Lai where they expect to encounter little conflict. However, Jenkins is killed on their first expedition. Richie grows disenchanted with his vision of himself, his country, and the war. He witnesses increasing displays of brutality and works under a commander more concerned with promotion than the safety of his subordinate officers. When his Lieutenant is killed, RIchie finds himself unable to write a letter to his family. He doesn't know how to express the complex emotions he feels to someone who has not served in combat. He worries a lot about what his life will be when he returns home. He has no new solutions for the situation he went to war to escape. Richie's anxieties deepen when he is injured and put in hospital. He considers desertion from the army but returns when he is recovered. While he was away, his squad was placed in the command of Sergeant Dongan, a cruel man who puts black soldiers in harms way. The squad bands together against the Sergeant and Dongan is soon killed in combat. Richie and PeeWee are wounded in a battle soon after, both significantly enough to be honorably discharged from service. The two fly home amidst the coffins of their peers. They nervously watch new recruits being shipped off to war.
Best part of story, including ending:
I had never read a portrayal of a black soldier's experience in Vietnam. It adds a new wrinkle to the horrible mess it was.
Best scene in story:
I enjoyed the battle scenes. They felt different somehow than other war stories I've read. Richie had really helpless terror.
Opinion about the main character:
Sometimes Richie seems to be a participant in his own naiveté. Other times it seemed like I just had the benefit of forty years reflection on Vietnam. Either way, he has so so much to unlearn about the world, as a character. You wish someone would sit him down and tell him how it is.