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In the spring of 1917, America enjoys peaceful prosperity, while war rages in Europe. In New York, laborer Slim Jensen toils on a skyscraper, while in the Bowery, Michael "Bull" O'Hara tends bar. On the other side of town, wealthy idler James Apperson scoffs at the idea of working in his father's factory. All three men's lives are interrupted by the news of America's declaration of war against Germany. Disinterested in the war news, Jim is bewildered by the patriotic fervor that stirs the crowds and inspires an enthusiastic parade. When a group of Jim's buddies excitedly tell him that they are enlisting, Jim impulsively joins them. That evening, Jim avoids telling his family he has enlisted, so as not to worry his anxious mother. Jim's father berates him for his indolence and points out that Jim's brother Harry has already placed the family factory in war production. Jim's proud fiancée, Justyn Reed, then accidentally reveals Jim's enlistment, which dismays Mrs. Apperson, but cheers Mr. Apperson. Several days later in boot camp, Jim meets Slim and Bull. After a hasty training period, Bull is made sergeant and the company is shipped to France where, after several days march into the countryside, set up camp in the farming village of Champillon and are welcomed by the villagers. A few days later, Jim receives a cake from Justyn that he shares with Bull and Slim. To break up the monotony of camp life, Jim decides to rig a shower for the men near the river and searches for a barrel in the village. There, he is spotted by farm girl Melisande, who lives alone with her mother. Curious about Jim's actions, Melisande follows him back to the river and watches Bull and Slim try out the primitive shower. Jim then introduces himself to Melisande, although he speaks no French and she does not understand English. Jim is annoyed when Bull and Slim also show interest in Melisande, but she rejects them in favor of Jim. That evening, Jim waits for Melisande in front of her home and when she appears, shyly offers her a stick of gum and shows her how to chew it. Using a French dictionary, Jim and Melisande manage to communicate their mutual attraction to each other and over the next several weeks, Jim sees Melisande as often as possible, despite constant teasing from Bull and Slim. At mail call, some days later, Bull is angry when someone playfully takes his letter, causing Bull to mistakenly attack an officer he believes responsible. The officer angrily then angrily demotes Bull. Upon retrieving the letter, Bull is taken aback to learn that he is going to be a father. Meanwhile, Jim is overcome by guilt when he receives a letter and photo from Justyn, who frets at not hearing from him. Melisande finds Jim and the two quarrel when she realizes that Jim is engaged. Despite Jim's insistence that he genuinely cares for her, Melisande is hurt and departs in tears. Moments later, the company receives orders to move to the front immediately and Jim hurries to gather his equipment. The villagers rush to bid the soldiers farewell as trucks and equipment begin speeding through Champillion. After hastily packing, Jim searches frantically for Melisande, but is forced to join his unit. Attracted by the bustle of the army's sudden departure, Melisande anxiously joins the crowd of soldiers marching through the village, desperately hoping to find Jim. Jim finally spots Melisande and, rushing to her, vows that he will return. An officer orders Jim to return to his truck and as the transport moves off, Melisande frantically hangs on to the truck's side in a vain effort to stop its departure. When she is forced to let go, Jim throws Melisande a necklace and a shoe, which she clings to as the caravan of soldiers speeds away. Jim, Bull, Slim and the company then proceed toward enemy lines under the protection of fighter planes. When the company must continue on foot, the men are strafed by a German planes and Jim sees his first wounded and dead. Jim and his company are then ordered to spread out to march through a forest filled with German snipers. Continuing on, the men are bombed by shells and gas and, putting on their masks, seek shelter in the trenches. After surviving an afternoon-long attack, night falls and Jim, Slim and Bull take turns napping and eating canned ham. While the Germans lob shells over the trenches every few minutes, Jim tries some of Slim's chewing tobacco for the first time. Later, an officer creeps into their trench to order one of them to destroy the German cannon. Knowing that he is the best spitter, Slim suggests a spitting contest to see who will take on the dangerous mission. After winning the contest, Slim slowly crawls through the dirt, hiding behind dead bodies until he reaches the German cannon nest, which he destroys with a hand grenade. As he crawls back, however, flares illuminate Slim, and German machine gunners shoot at him as Jim and Bull listen tensely from their trench. When Slim does not return, Jim and Bull begin calling for him anxiously, until they are reprimanded by an officer. A little later, Jim and Bull hear Slim feebly calling for help and, frantic, Jim disobeys orders and leaves the fox hole to rescue Slim. Bull joins Jim and upon finding Slim dead, both men grieve, then, in a fury, destroy the German machine gun nest. While moving in on a second nest, Bull is killed and Jim wounded in the leg. Jim attacks a German with his bayonet and the two tumble into a shell hole together. His rage abruptly spent, Jim cannot kill the young soldier and instead offers him a cigarette, but the soldier dies minutes later. A few days later, Jim awakens in a church turned into a makeshift infirmary. A fellow patient tells Jim that he was wounded in nearby Champillon which was subsequently overrun by the Germans. Alarmed, Jim escapes from the hospital on crutches to go in search of Melisande, unaware that the village has been evacuated. Jim collapses upon arriving at the shattered village, where he is later found by a medical unit. Upon the declaration of peace, Jim returns home, an amputee as a result of his wounds. Although Justyn and Harry have become involved in Jim's absence, she is determined to maintain her engagement to Jim. Despite his family's sincere relief at his return, Jim realizes that they can never understand how his war experiences have changed him. When he later confesses to his mother that he is in love with Melisande, she encourages him to find her. Much later in France, Melisande and her mother are working in the fields when Melisande spots a distant figure coming across the hills towards them slowly. Incredulous, Melisande recognizes Jim and the two are reunited.