Gene, Finny, and Leper are young men attending boarding school who are mentally preparing themselves for the inevitability of becoming participants in the war while grabbing at the moments of their youth.
Finny embraces the idea of going into the service and going to war. He knows it is his duty. Because he does not have the educational skills that Gene has, he will need to succeed in the military. He is also competitive. He has spent his life preparing for the military. After he is injured and can never qualify for the military, he struggles to find a new purpose in life.
The threat of the idea of the draft hovers over Gene and Leper. Leper is more of an analyzer, and he begins to imagine what war is like. He indicates that he is ready to go in the military and go to war. He watches a film about skiers in the military and becomes excited about joining. He expresses that he wants to join the ski-troops. He had never thought he would go in the service before, but the film helped him to decide that choosing what branch of service to enlist in was better than having the draft choose for a person. He has some level of romanticism about the war once he has seen the ski movie. However, when he leaves the school and enters the military, his mind snaps. He goes AWOL and hides out in a room in his parent's home. He was going to be discharged with a Section 8 for mental illness.
For Gene, the war almost has riveted him in time. He speaks of the time in his life when the war was going and how it represented a moment in history for him. At 16, he prefers to think of the present. Looking ahead means that things will change, and he is not ready for the responsibility. He views the war as something that will chip away at his future. However, he teeters on the idea of enlistment. Like many other young men, Gene also sees the excitement of promised danger and in some ways this presents a thrill about going to war. On the other hand, Gene loves peace and does not want the war to take away the things he had hoped for his future.