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One afternoon, in 1943, Lew Marsh, the third generation of Marsh men who have served as pharmacist to the small community of Hartfield, Iowa, is lunching with his devoted wife Agnes when a telegram arrives notifying them that their only child, Russell, whom they called Rusty, has been killed in action. Lew is overwhelmed by his grief, and as the weeks pass, he neglects the pharmacy and refuses to talk even to Agnes. Reverend Wood attempts to comfort Lew with the knowledge that Rusty died for his country, but Lew, bitter that Rusty never married or had a son of his own, declares that Rusty died for nothing because he had not lived a full life. After the reverend leaves, Lew is visited by the spirit of his late grandfather, Edward "Gramp" Marsh, who reared Lew after his parents died. Gramp tells Lew that he has been watching over him and is disturbed by his intense, prolonged mourning. At first Lew resists Gramp's offer to help, but Gramp insists on accompanying him on his afternoon walk. As they meander through the town, Gramp takes Lew back in time to review the events of his and Rusty's lives: Twenty-five years previously, Lew marches in a parade welcoming home the soldiers of World War I. After learning that his girl friend married another man during his absence, Lew meets Agnes Dickens. Lew and Agnes fall in love, and after they are married, Agnes gives birth to Rusty. Gramp dies shortly after Rusty's birth, but Lew takes comfort in his new family. As Rusty grows up, he becomes a mischevious boy who refuses to go to kindergarten without his dog, but also a kind-hearted little fellow who brings two half-starved classmates to the pharmacy for ice cream. When Rusty is twelve, Lew and Agnes watch with pride as he is inducted into the Boy Scouts. Lew's pride grows when, one day, he watches unseen as Rusty uses his own savings to pay for a prescription needed by a poor man for his pain-stricken wife. When Rusty is eighteen, he is a happy and hard-working teenager who falls in love for the first time with Gretchen Barry. Lew and Agnes are anxious about the relationship, and their fears about Gretchen are realized when she drops Rusty for an older boy. Lew tries to comfort his son by sharing a toast of loganberry wine, thereby acknowledging Rusty's manhood. Rusty is not alone for long, however, for he notices that Lenore Prentiss, a childhood playmate, has grown into a lovely young woman. Rusty and Lenore begin courting, and soon after, the youngsters are caught up in discussions about German aggression in Europe. Although some of Rusty's friends join the Canadian Flying Corps, Rusty decides to obtain his pharmacist's certificate so that he can be of more use if the war continues. Rusty does well in his classes, and despite their reluctance, Lew and Agnes realize that it is Rusty's right to make his own decision when he announces that he is joining the Navy. Rusty bids a fond farewell to Lenore and his parents, who do not know that it will be the last time they see their son. Gramp then brings Lew back to the present day and coaxes him to admit that Rusty did enjoy a full, rich life. Lew is still not sure that Rusty's sacrifice was worthwhile, however, so Gramp urges him to go to the pharmacy that evening. Lew does, and as he is closing up, a shy, young sailor named Anton Cavrek enters. He tells Lew that he is Tony, the soldier about whom Rusty often wrote in his letters home. Lew takes Tony to meet Agnes, and the Marshes listen as Tony describes how Rusty died while trying to save a wounded comrade. Agnes then bustles about preparing a room for Tony, who has no family of his own, while Lew pours him a glass of loganberry wine.