Private First Class Dan Fuselli is anxious to become Corporal Dan Fuselli. He has seen motion pictures of Huns impaling Belgian babies on their bayonets and then being chased like rabbits by heroic Yankee soldiers who are later rewarded with embraces by pretty Belgian milkmaids. He looks forward to the time when his girl, Mabe, writing from San Francisco, his hometown, addresses her letters to Corporal Dan Fuselli.
Fuselli, of the Medical Corps, hates the U.S. Army and everything about it, but he knows that to become a corporal he must keep clean, keep his mouth shut, obey the brass, and continually cajole the sergeant. He is infuriated one night when he goes into town to see a young woman named Yvonne and learns that the sergeant has taken her over. Then, when he returns to camp, he hears that the consumptive corporal is back, the one in whose absence Fuselli had been made acting corporal. Fuselli, however, keeps his mouth shut. Someday he will be a corporal, perhaps even a sergeant, but for the time being he keeps his mouth shut. Finally, after a setback doing endless kitchen police duty and following his recovery from a venereal disease, and after the armistice, he does become Corporal Dan Fuselli; by that time, his girl has married a naval officer.
Matters work out differently for Chrisfield. He finds that Army life is not as easygoing as life in the Indiana farm country that is his home. The officers shout at the men and then make them do things they hate, but these things must be withstood. One night, Chrisfield becomes so furious that he pulls a knife on a sergeant named Anderson, but his friends hold him back and nothing happens. In Europe, life is not much better. Occasionally, Chrisfield has a talk about the stars and the fields with his educated buddy John Andrews, known as Andy. Mostly, however, the war is awful.
The marches are endless, and Chrisfield’s shoulders ache from his heavy pack. When bombardments come, the marchers scatter facedown in a field. Once Chrisfield asks Andrews to speak French for him to a French girl at an inn, but nothing comes of it. One day, walking alone through a wood near the front, Chrisfield finds the body of a dead German. When he kicks the body over, he sees that it has no face, only a multicolored, pulpy mass with green flies hovering around it. In the man’s hand is a revolver—he was a suicide. Chrisfield runs off, panting.
Chrisfield is high-strung. One time, as he is sitting and thinking, another soldier prods him and asks him what he is dreaming about, and Chrisfield punches the fellow in the nose. He and Andy hate the YMCA men who are always telling the men at the front what brutes the Huns are and urging them in the name of Old Glory to kill Germans. Chrisfield is court-martialed when he announces that he intends to kill Sergeant Anderson after the war is over.
One day, Chrisfield goes wandering and makes his way silently into the kitchen of a house near the front. Looking into the next room, he sees a man in a German...
(The entire section is 1242 words.)