In this story, four friends are trying to call home from Vietnam to the United States. They are using a radio telephone technology that is new to most people.
In the story, Eddie and Doc go first and second, respectively. They both get through to their families. For them, the calls show how they have grown in some way apart from their families. All they can talk about is how their parents are behind the times and, in Eddie's case, how his little brother is growing up.
Paul, by contrast, does not get to talk to his family. The phone keeps ringing, but no one answers. While it rings, he pictures his home and its surroundings. But he ends up happier, perhaps, than the others because he got what he wanted just picturing home.
In the short story "Calling Home" Paul is awaiting his turn to make a phone call using the new technology of the MARS system. He is stationed in Chu Lai during the war and is on a week-stand down. He and his friends are given the chance to use the telephone system to talk with their families. Eddie goes first and gets to have a conversation with his mother, father and brother. He tells Paul about his conversations with each of his family members. He is very excited about the success of the technology.
When Paul's turn comes, he begins to remember what his home looks like and the things that family members would be doing at the present time. The phone is connected and begins ringing. Paul continues to recall his family and the details of his family member’s activities. He never gets connected with them because no one is home.
The difference between Paul and the other soldiers is:
1- Despite the excitement over technology, he uses his imagination to take him home instead of the phone call.
2- Paul is unable to reach his family on the phone because no one answers his call.
3- Paul’s memories for home have him so entranced that he feels satisfied as if he had actually had the phone call. His memories took him home in a more vivid and comforting manner than the other boys who had talked with their families had felt.
4- Paul identifies the ringing of the phone as his connection into the family’s home. He does not need to hear their voices. Just to know the phone is ringing in his home is his way of going there.