Edward Welsh, the first sergeant in Charlie Company. He enlisted in the Army at the beginning of the Great Depression, believing that he had shrewdly escaped the general economic calamity but convinced that, as a career soldier, he would not escape the next war because of the pattern of America becoming involved in wars at roughly twenty-year intervals. His personality is full of paradoxes. Even though he cynically dismisses all ideals as empty and believes that all wars are struggles over property rights, he is completely uninterested in acquiring property and respects only the most fatalistic acceptance of the insignificance of the individual. Even though he has no combat experience before the Guadalcanal campaign, he instinctively understands and accepts the demands of battle and the likelihood of death. He takes every opportunity to exhibit his contempt for his subordinates and his superiors alike, but he has an underlying pity for their limitations and a desire to compensate for them. He lives up to his nickname of “Mad Welsh,” but at bottom he conceals a reflexive compassion to which he will not admit, even to himself. In particular, he singles out Corporal Fife for verbal abuse, recognizing that Fife is too self-reflective and has too strong a sense of self-preservation to be suited to combat. When Fife is finally injured seriously enough to be offered evacuation, it is Welsh’s further derision that, ironically, makes him decide to accept the offer. In effect, Welsh has saved Fife by allowing Fife to think that he is spiting him. In another instance, a soldier named Tella is gut-shot and left lying in screaming agony on the open ground cleared by enemy machine-gun fire. When a medic is cut down trying to administer morphine to Tella, Welsh insanely runs across the open ground to the wounded man. Although he cannot rescue Tella, he is able to administer the morphine to relieve his suffering and to quiet the screaming that is unnerving everyone. Afterward, he is so embarrassed at having revealed how much he cares for the men in his company that he loudly threatens Captain Stein for wanting to recommend him for the Silver Star. When the Guadalcanal campaign is almost over, Welsh contracts malaria but refuses to accept evacuation because it will mean being permanently separated from the company.
Storm, the mess sergeant in Charlie Company. In many ways, he is Welsh’s opposite. Whereas Welsh is explosively abusive of his men, Storm tries to be consistently self-controlled and reassuring. Whereas Welsh finds his emotional equilibrium in combat, Storm is appalled by the little combat he sees, in particular by his participation in the abuse of some Japanese prisoners after an especially fierce hand-to-hand engagement. When he is wounded, he gladly accepts evacuation, wanting only to prepare one last meal for the company before departing. At bottom, he believes that the levelheaded performance of his duties is all that he owes the men of Charlie Company.
John Bell, a private, later a sergeant, and finally a lieutenant in Charlie Company. A commissioned officer in the regular army in the years before the war, he resigned his commission when given an assignment that would require a prolonged separation from his wife, Marty. When he is drafted as a private into Charlie Company, the other soldiers regard him as something of an enigma because he exhibits no bitterness or presumptuousness about his having been an officer. Initially, Bell goes into combat...
(The entire section is 1456 words.)