Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien is his third title regarding his Vietnam war experience. I have also recently read If I Die in a Combat Zone and The Things They Carried. These are three of the best books of fiction and mixed non-fiction regarding the war.
As a soldier in Vietnam in October 1968, Paul Berlin discovers that Cacciato, a soldier in his unit has gone MIA. Cacciato previously informed Berlin that he was planning to walk from Vietnam to Paris.
The unit chases Cacciato as ordered by their unit commanding officer. The soldiers track him to a hill, but Cacciato sets off a smoke bomb and disappears.
O’Brien reveals how Berlin recalled his service beginning in June 1968 with the 198th Infantry Brigade. As their chase leads into November, the unit loses Harold Murphy who left on his own. Yet the unit permits three women to join their chase. Soon they fall into a hole and discover a deep underground network of tunnels. As they crawl through the tunnels they meet a Vietcong soldier. They are able to somehow escape the tunnel and land in Burma.
Berlin sees Cacciato dressed as a priest and tries to capture him but is overwhelmed by Cacciato’s new friends who are also dressed in priestly robes. One of the women still in their unit tells Berlin she saw Cacciato catching a train to Delhi. The unit is able to catch the next train and continue their chase.
The soldiers arrive in Delhi and stay at the Hotel Phoenix. They begin a daily search around the city for Cacciato. The unit’s physician Doc Peret discovers a newspaper photograph showing Cacciato taking a train to Kabul, Berlin’s Lieutenant Corson initially decides to stay in Dehli for a woman named Hamijolli Chand. But the unit’s soldiers drag him to the train when he was drunk. At this time O’Brien shows in a flashback the reason for Corson’s arrival to the unit: the fragging of their previous unit commander.
The soldiers move from Kabul to Tehran on Christmas day 1968. The unit is temporarily arrested but later released under false pretense. The soldiers are arrested and threatened with execution at dawn. They manage to break out of jail and escape Iran. They flee to Turkey and arrange travel by boat to Athens thinking Cacciato has led them to Greece.
The unit cannot locate him and move the chase to Yugoslavia then Luxembourg. From there they board a train to Paris. The unit decides to break up and forget the war until local police seem to again have them ready for arrest. Berlin actually tracks Cacciato from an outdoor market to a hotel. He then rushes to the unit where Oscar Johnson the new commanding officer orders a night ambush. They rush Cacciato’s hotel and Berlin is surprised by the open door to Cacciato’s room. Berlin steps inside and fires into the dark.
Here the story returns back to October 1968. The unit is back and ordered to arrest Cacciato on the original hill. Berlin accidentally kills Cacciato. The commanding officer Corson is sympathetic to the tragedy and reports Cacciato as MIA.