Fallen Angels | Study Guide

Walter Dean Myers

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Fallen Angels | Chapter 21 | Summary



The U.S. soldiers hear rumors that the North Vietnamese are on the retreat, beaten back on all fronts. The squad is sent to investigate activity on a stream nearby. Brunner's rank makes him squad leader, but the men truly follow Johnson's lead. They move along the stream, clearing a ridge parallel to it, and moving on without seeing anyone. As they head back, Monaco spots a Viet Cong in the river, and they realize the soldiers are hiding beneath the water, using reeds to breathe. Day turns to night as they move back toward the landing zone that they now use as an extraction point, and Brunner assigns Perry and Peewee to clear the ridge. They cross the stream and get to the top of the ridge, only to see a firefight erupting where they had left the rest of the squad. Then, everything is silent.


By this point, the squad has distinctly shifted its allegiance away from the hierarchy of rank; although Brunner is their squad leader based on rank, they only follow him because Johnson is in agreement with him. After months together, Perry and the others trust Johnson to look out for everyone on the squad. Brunner, on the other hand, has made racist comments to Johnson and has shown himself to be primarily concerned with promotion to the next rank. Beyond this, the squad trusts Johnson's judgment, believing that he will make better decisions than Brunner. However, their preference to follow Johnson goes against military rules, and they risk punishment for disobeying the orders of their commanding officers.

The men believe that the ridge poses the biggest risk to their squad, because occupying higher ground gives a significant advantage in a firefight. However, they clear the ridge on the way out and on the way back with no problem. The Viet Cong have taken a more guerilla-warfare strategy—choosing to hide, possibly with the intention of staging a surprising ambush rather than a typical set battle—by hiding in the water and breathing through the reeds. The novel's description of such tactics parallels the real events of the Vietnam War, in which such tactics were one of the reasons that the more traditionally trained U.S. military had difficulty defeating the Viet Cong.

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