Friendship in War: Emotional Bonds Between Soldiers in Walter Dean Myer’s Fallen Angels

 

Walter Dean Myer’s novel, “Fallen Angels,” tells of the experiences of several young soldiers during the Vietnam War, from the point of view of Richie Perry, the main character. In the story, it can be witnessed that the soldiers form strong attachments with each other, which would normally not have formed in a civilian setting. These attachments gradually develop and even grow stronger than racial and other personal prejudices, and even the threat of death.

These strong attachments are especially evident between Richie and Peewee, another young soldier that Richie gets to know very well. When Richie finds that he cannot write to his family about his feelings when he first witnesses a fellow solder’s death, he has only his other fellow soldiers to turn to, and he turns to Peewee for comfort. After Richie kills a man at close quarters for the first time, Pewee consoles him and they fall asleep holding each other. The feeling of dependence on each other for each other’s safety is again reinforced when Peewee and Perry have to hide in a small cave and kill an enemy soldier. Because of the incredibly disillusioning experiences of war, Richie realizes that his only “mission” is to stay alive and to help his friends stay alive as well. Richie even turns down a chance to be assigned to a non-combat role because of a feeling of friendship with the others in his squad, especially Peewee.

Such traumatic experiences as depicted in the novel alienate a soldier from the “normal” world, and he has no recourse but to find comfort in fellow soldiers. This is probably somewhat similar to the Stockholm syndrome, where a hostage develops a feeling of loyalty and sympathy for a kidnapper. Such a development has been attributed by some scholars to a natural and subconscious instinct to “get in the good graces” of whoever one’s safety depends on. In the case of “Fallen Angels,” every soldier’s safety depends on everyone else’s, so it is natural to expect that the soldiers would form strong bonds, which ultimately served to make each of them safer.

In war, especially, the line between “right” and “wrong” can become blurred, and soldiers start to see the safety of themselves and their fellow soldiers as the ultimate “right.” As their terrible experiences add up, the bond between the soldiers are reinforced, which helped them ground their emotions and gave them a reason to survive.