The title of this story suggests a familiar American landmark and symbol: The soldier’s home, a place for retired military to live and relive their war experiences. In this tale, however, the soldier’s home is neither a haven for former soldiers nor an environment for reminiscing. It is the place to which Harold Krebs, a U.S. Marine who fought in World War I, returns to be alone and to face the lies that he and others utter about the war.
When Krebs returns to his hometown in Oklahoma, after having fought in various European arenas, he discovers that he has changed but that nothing in the town has changed. This dramatic difference between the returnee and those who stayed home sets up the basic conflict in the story: the dishonesty that is demanded for survival. It is demonstrated most clearly in the retelling of war stories, for the townspeople do not want to hear the truth about the atrocities of battle, preferring, instead, lies about the heroics of war. Krebs finds himself telling these lies because dishonesty is the path of least resistance, even though it causes a “nausea in regard to experience that is the result of untruth or exaggeration.”
Alienated from his family and the local people, Krebs spends his days aimlessly, sleeping late, reading, practicing the clarinet, and playing pool. He makes no effort to relate seriously with anyone, including women, because he does not want the complications or consequences of relationships. He is home, but it is no soldier’s home to which he has returned.
The climax of the story occurs during a conversation between Krebs and his mother. Initiating a discussion with her son about religion and a job—predictable maternal and midwestern topics—Mrs. Krebs leads Harold to tell still another lie. She asks him, “Don’t you love your mother, dear boy?” Harold responds with total honesty, “I don’t love anybody,” causing Mrs. Krebs to cry and revealing her inability and unwillingness to hear the truth. Nauseated by his next statement but believing that it is the only way to stop her crying, he lies and tells her that he did not mean what he said; he was merely angry at something. Mrs. Krebs reasserts her maternal role, reminding her son that she held him next to her heart when he was a tiny baby, reducing Krebs to the juvenile lie: “I know, Mummy. . . . I’ll try and be a good boy for you.” Mother and son then kneel together, and Mrs. Krebs prays for Harold.
After this emotional lie, Harold Krebs decides to leave the Oklahoma town, go to Kansas City for a job, and live his life simply and smoothly. The former Marine leaves his home.