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Authors: Tim O'Brien

Going After Cacciato

BOOK: Going After Cacciato

Praise for Tim O’Brien and
Going After Cacciato

“A luminescent piece of writing and, assuming we last that long, it will still be read in a hundred years from now.”

Miami Herald

“As a fictional portrait of this war,
Going After Cacciato
is hard to fault, and will be hard to better.… The scenes are so carefully mortised, and the whole so firmly fitted and tightened and polished, that each efficient page carries the heft of importance this material has for the author.”

—John Updike,
The New Yorker

“The finest piece of American fiction to emerge from the Vietnam War … 
Going After Cacciato
has the depth and resonance of classic fiction of war”


“A splendid book … In
Going After Cacciato
, O’Brien moves into the first rank.”

—New Republic

“A strong and convincing novel that deserves its National Book Award … goes well beyond mere disillusionment about the war and national policy. It is a book about the imagination itself.”

—New York Review of Books

“A superior accomplishment … stands with any war novel written in this century by an American.”


“O’Brien’s skill and vision make anything possible.… The author was a foot soldier in Vietnam, and knows his material. He needs to succeed, and does. Brilliantly.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Excellent!… The reader is carried along by a flawless narrative.”

—Associated Press

“Harrowing … No novel I have read in the past year has surpassed
Going After Cacciato
in artistry and imaginative power.”

Chicago Sun-Times

Books by Tim O’Brien

If I Die in a Combat Zone

Northern Lights

Going After Cacciato

The Nuclear Age

The Things They Carried

In the Lake of the Woods

Tomcat in Love

A hardcover edition of this book was originally published in 1978 by Delacorte Press. It is here reprinted by arrangement with Delacorte.

GOING AFTER CACCIATO. Copyright © 1978 by Tim O’Brien. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information, address Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.

BROADWAY BOOKS and its logo, a letter B bisected on the diagonal, are trademarks of Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

First Broadway Books trade paperback edition published 1999.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
O’Brien, Tim, 1946–
 Going after Cacciato / Tim O’Brien.
  p.   cm.
  eISBN: 978-0-307-48550-2
  1. Vietnamese Conflict, 1961–1975 Fiction.
2. War stories. I. Title.
PS3565.B75G6    1999
813′.54—dc21    99-29275


For Erik Hansen

Soldiers are dreamers

Going After Cacciato

t was a bad time. Billy Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy had died of fright, scared to death on the field of battle, and Frenchie Tucker had been shot through the nose. Bernie Lynn and Lieutenant Sidney Martin had died in tunnels. Pederson was dead and Rudy Chassler was dead. Buff was dead. Ready Mix was dead. They were all among the dead. The rain fed fungus that grew in the men’s boots and socks, and their socks rotted, and their feet turned white and soft so that the skin could be scraped off with a fingernail, and Stink Harris woke up screaming one night with a leech on his tongue. When it was not raining, a low mist moved across the paddies, blending the elements into a single gray element, and the war was cold and pasty and rotten. Lieutenant Corson, who came to replace Lieutenant Sidney Martin, contracted the dysentery. The tripflares were useless. The ammunition corroded and the foxholes filled with mud and water during the nights, and in the mornings there was always the next village, and the war was always the same. The monsoons
were part of the war. In early September Vaught caught an infection. He’d been showing Oscar Johnson the sharp edge on his bayonet, drawing it swiftly along his forearm to peel off a layer of mushy skin. “Like a Gillette Blue Blade,” Vaught had said proudly. There was no blood, but in two days the bacteria soaked in and the arm turned yellow, so they bundled him up and called in a dustoff, and Vaught left the war. He never came back. Later they had a letter from him that described Japan as smoky and full of slopes, but in the enclosed snapshot Vaught looked happy enough, posing with two sightly nurses, a wine bottle rising from between his thighs. It was a shock to learn he’d lost the arm. Soon afterward Ben Nystrom shot himself through the foot, but he did not die, and he wrote no letters. These were all things to joke about. The rain, too. And the cold. Oscar Johnson said it made him think of Detroit in the month of May. “Lootin’ weather,” he liked to say. “The dark an’ gloom, just right for rape an’ lootin’.” Then someone would say that Oscar had a swell imagination for a darkie.

That was one of the jokes. There was a joke about Oscar. There were many jokes about Billy Boy Watkins, the way he’d collapsed of fright on the field of battle. Another joke was about the lieutenant’s dysentery, and another was about Paul Berlin’s purple biles. There were jokes about the postcard pictures of Christ that Jim Pederson used to carry, and Stink’s ringworm, and the way Buff’s helmet filled with life after death. Some of the jokes were about Cacciato. Dumb as a bullet, Stink said. Dumb as a month-old oyster fart, said Harold Murphy.

In October, near the end of the month, Cacciato left the war.

“He’s gone away,” said Doc Peret. “Split, departed.”

Lieutenant Corson did not seem to hear. He was too old to be a lieutenant. The veins in his nose and cheeks were broken. His back was weak. Once he had been a captain on the way to becoming a major, but whiskey and the fourteen dull years between Korea and Vietnam had ended all that, and now he was just an old lieutenant with the dysentery.

He lay on his back in the pagoda, naked except for green socks and green undershorts.

“Cacciato,” Doc repeated. “The kid’s left us. Split for parts unknown.”

The lieutenant did not sit up. With one hand he cupped his belly, with the other he guarded a red glow. The surfaces of his eyes were moist.

“Gone to Paris,” Doc said.

The lieutenant put the glow to his lips. Inhaling, his chest did not move. There were no vital signs in the wrists or thick stomach.

“Paris,” Doc Peret repeated. “That’s what he tells Paul Berlin, and that’s what Berlin tells me, and that’s what I’m telling you. The chain of command, a truly splendid instrument. Anyhow, the guy’s definitely gone. Packed up and retired.”

The lieutenant exhaled.

Blue gunpowder haze produced musical sighs in the gloom, a stirring at the base of Buddha’s clay feet. “Lovely,” a voice said. Someone else sighed. The lieutenant blinked, coughed, and handed the spent roach to Oscar Johnson, who extinguished it against his toenail.

“Paree?” the lieutenant said softly. “

Doc nodded. “That’s what he told Paul Berlin and that’s what I’m telling you. Ought to cover up, sir.”

Sighing, swallowing hard, Lieutenant Corson pushed himself up and sat stiffly before a can of Sterno. He lit the Sterno and placed his hands behind the flame and bent forward to draw in heat. Outside, the rain was steady. “So,” the old man said. “Let’s figure this out.” He gazed at the flame. “Trick is to think things clear. Step by step. You said Paree?”

“Affirm, sir. That’s what he told Paul Berlin, and that’s—”


“Right here, sir. This one.”

The lieutenant looked up. His eyes were bright blue and wet.

Paul Berlin pretended to smile.



“Jeez,” the old man said, shaking his head. “I thought you were Vaught.”

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