Camp Elliott, California
Eugene Sledge is under pressure to fire a mortar to specific coordinates as his sergeant is screaming in his ear. The moment seems acutely desperate, and Sledge fire and hits his target..which, in this case, were a couple of friendlies.
Friendly dummies, to be more specific. Named Bob and Dave. The livid drill sergeant asked Sledge if he had found out that Bob had been drilling his girlfriend. Sledge apologizes and explains that he incorrectly heard the corrected coordinates and the Sarge blasts him for not asking.
"You yell, you scream it if you have to because you just killed two of your best friends," he says, pointing to two other dummies named Tojo and F*ckface as examples of the enemie still being alive. The man reminds them that they are Marines, not recruits, and if they think they're going to fire a short round, that they say so. Sledge gives him a "yes sir" and they try the exercise again.
Somewhere in the Pacific Private Robert Leckie and his compatriots in the 1st Marine Division are singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" on the deck of a troop transport. Once that's over, they launch into "Silent Night." Leckie writes Vera a Christmas letter, saying he can't tell her where they are but they had a hearty dinner and sang carols. He says he just wanted her to know that he's safe during Christmastime. He signs off with, "Your friend, Robert Leckie."
The ship pulls up to Cape Gloucester, New Britain. Grim faced, they make their way through the jungle and encounter fake camps filled with straw men in Japanese uniform. They set up camp. One of the officers, Lt. Stone, comes up and points out to Leckie that this is no longer his company , and Leckie confirms he's been transferred to battalion intelligence under Lieutenant Larkin, but he's still there to assist. Stone grins -- isn't that just the Marines. He reminds the men that they still have to do patrols with the rest of the grunts.
Later, Leckie and the rest of his company are quietly patrolling through unfamiliar territory, joining Juergens on point. He hears a strange sound and signals to them to drop down, but it turns out there's nothing.
Stone takes Leckie off point and puts him in the rear after they find evidence of shrapnel. Leckie complains, but as the others continue on he hears something behind them. He crouches under a log until a Japanese scouting party comes close enough for him to spring up and take them out. He runs to the rest of the troop and reports. Stone congratulates him.
A storm rolls in as night falls, and the boys settle in at camp. But before long there's movement in the jungle -- the Japanese are attacking. Everyone falls into position except for Leckie, who is handed a grenade and instructed to hang back in the officer's tent with the files and burn it if the camp is overrun. A terrifying cry goes up from the Japanese soldiers, who are thick in numbers, as they charge the Marines. Juergens, Phillips and the rest of Leckie's former company lay down machine gun to repel the attack, frightened all the while. The Japanese keep running toward them until the last man. When he cease fire goes up, Juergens grabs his partner's helmet and they hug each other in relief. Leckie watches this from the tent with a guilty look on his face.
In the morning he joins his friends, and as they survey the carnage, Runner says they got two of their fellow Marines. A man nearby, Gibson, grimly says that the next war there will be two other men missing -- "me, and the MP they send after me." He walks away. Leckie joins Runner for a smoke and tells him that another company took three alive. Runner sarcastically replies that the rest get a bonsai suicide attack. Apparently all the enemy on this end of the island is running away and left their sick and wounded in a camp nearby. The others ran up against them -- 100 against 1200.
"They're either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid," Runner said.
"Or they just really f*****g hate us," Leckie offers.
The men patrol to the camp holdout for the enemy wounded and sick, and find rotting bodies everywhere. Larkin comes across a dying man holding a grenade and orders the other man to keep checking. He finishes the man off with a bayonet.
Leckie goes into what seems to be an officer's hut and rifles through some papers, finding a chest contain papers and pistol. He takes the chest as a souvenir. Then he hears a sound from outside. It's Gibson standing over a dying man whispering to himself in Japanese. Leckie silently watches as Gibson puts down his gun and strangles the man to death with his bare hands. When he's finished, he looks up at Leckie as his face breaks into a maniacal grin. Leckie coldly walks away.
By the time they make it back to camp, it's raining again. Inside a large tent the boys sit with Leckie, and Hoosier finds the gun in Leckie's stuff. He asks what he wants for it. "I don't even want you to touch it," Leckie says. They go to the tent's opening and see Gibson struggling with his shelter. They insist he's OK, that he's just tired.
One of them finds a comic detailing Basilone's exploits and enviously observes that Basilone is home digging blondes and selling bonds while they're still out in paradise. Phillips grins bitterly.
Leckie writes to Vera that they haven't seen a Japanese soldier for two weeks, that the enemy smartened up and left. The Japanese is not the enemy anymore. Now the enemy is the jungle and the rain.
It rains nonstop, and the boys are bailing out the tents, trying desperately to find a patch of dryness anywhere. Leckie loses his boots to powerfully sucking mud as he heads out, and slips and falls into the filth while simply trying to head uphill. It's miserable. After a point he takes to walking around in bare feet. When he comes back to his tent, his chest is gone.
He goes to the officer's tent and discovers that Lt. Larkin has it. He gives Leckie an excuse about having the chest being against regulations, and that he needs it to store papers. Leckie asks about the pistol, and Larkin says, "What pistol?" Leckie throws open the chest to reveal what's really inside: Larkin's clean, dry socks, shirts and underwear. Stone tells him to get out of his tent, and Leckie, who is standing outside, points out that he's not in the tent. Leckie stands for a moment in the rain before walking away.
Back in his tent, Leckie complains to the boys and daydreams, out loud, of ways that Larkin could meet with an accident. They quickly get tired of hearing it.
The next day a fuming Larkin barks at Leckie to get up from his rack. He informs him that he is no longer in intelligence, but on clean-up duty in the officer's mess. Leckie doesn't care. Larkin leans in and says that something is missing from his tent. Leckie points out to Larkin that the very thing he thinks he's missing, which may or may not exist, doesn't belong to him anyway. He tells Larkin that his new assignment will be a nice change of pace. All in all Leckie seems very triumphant until the Lieutenant points out that Leckie seems to have pissed himself.
The doctor's diagnosis is enuresis (bed-wetting) for which there is no treatment. He tells Leckie to try to stay dry. Gee, thanks. Cut to another rainstorm, and Leckie cleaning up the remains of the last meal. As he's doing the dishes, he sees one of his fellow Marines strip himself naked, put a pistol in his mouth and pull the trigger. After the rain comes the blistering sun, beating down on them as they languish on the deck of the troop transport. As the rest of the men try to sleep, Leckie sits up and stays awake, looking like a hollowed out shell of himself.
Pavuvu, May 1944
New camp. Runner is burning up with fever and jokes that after the sweat, the chills feel great. Juergens throws a blanket over him, and Runner asks Leckie to read to him. He reads his letter to Vera, in which he tells her that the rain has stopped, but the sun makes the smell of rotting coconuts worse. The rats and crabs have come out of hiding, and he feels like he's killed more of them recently that he ever will of the enemy. Everyone's sores and dysentery has gotten worse, and Runner is battling malaria.
He says that the island has an exotic name that, translated, means "the death of hope."
"Thinking of you always, Robert."
Runner asks if that's what Pavuvu really means. "I don't know what it means, and I don't care," Leckie replies. Hoosier walks up and asks Leckie if he has his dress blues, because he might want to get spiffed up. They're holding a lottery, and the prize is a ticket home.
The Marines all gather as the commanding officer announces the names of the lucky grunts that get to go home. Juergens goes over to get Leckie out of bed, and he won't budge. Juergens checks Leckie, but he's under a blanket on his cot, eyes open but non-responsive. He's wet himself again. Juergens gets the doctor, who tells him that he's getting some paperwork together so that he can be treated at a hospital on a nearby island.
Leckie checks into the hospital, where they take his belt and razors. "What do you want me to do with this?" Leckie says, cockily pulling out the Japanese pistol he stole back from Larkin, much to the orderly's horror.
A Navy psychiatrist talks to Leckie and tells him that his official diagnosis is enuresis. He tells them that he can rest but a nurse will get him up every hour on the hour to make sure he gets to the bathroom. The man produces the Japanese pistol and asks Leckie if he'd ever be interested in selling it. "No sir," Leckie insists, and the man shrugs and tells him he'll get it back when he leaves.
Leckie sits on the bed and stares at an attractive nurse, drinking in the vision of her neck, her lips and her hair. He sees the other men on his ward talking to themselves, a reminder that he's undergoing psychiatric treatment. Later he wakes up in bed. He's wet himself again.
He snaps at the orderly bringing him a fresh pair of pants and stares at the man talking to himself. The orderly tells him to ignore the man, who he calls Captain Midnight.
The next day, the psychiatrist congratulates Leckie, saying that he passed the test -- he really did have enuresis. Leckie curses him and asks the doctor if he's going to ask him to, say, tell him about when his mother stopped nursing him. The doctor tells him that back home he would be happy to head-shrink him, but here he's supposed to assess.
Before long, Leckie unburdens himself. In Guadalcanal, he says, the Japanese were trying to bomb them every night, just to keep them up. In Gloucester, it was rain, and on Pavuvu, it was mostly the fact that they were on Pavuvu. He jokes that he was a freshman in high school when his mother stopped breastfeeding him, and does the doctor see that as a problem? They both faintly laugh.
At night, Leckie is using the bathroom and sees a man crouched on a cot in a locked down cell. Leckie goes back to his cot tries to rest when Captain Midnight loses it and as he struggles, gives the orderly a bloody nose. Leckie gets the doctor and they get Captain Midnight sedated. After Leckie assists the staff, he walks past the locked cell and the man he saw earlier asks, from the shadows, for a cigarette. Leckie obliges, and when the man comes over to get it, he sees it's Gibson.
"Hey Leckie," Gibson says flatly, then retreats to his cot in the shadows.
The orderly is washing the blood off of his face as tells Leckie later that Gibson tried to steal a plane to get home, and when he got caught, tried to kill himself. He points to the blood on his shirt. "I'm fortunate, aren't I?" the orderly says. "This is as bad as my war gets."
Leckie has his session with the doctor and tells him that he doesn't really like this place. The doctor says he doesn't know what the war is like, and Leckie says sure he does -- the war comes through here all the time.
Leckie tells the doctor that this place isn't for him, that he needs to be back out there with his guys. He offers the doctor the pistol in exchange for his walking papers.
"Why just give me the pistol? You must have gone through a lot to bring it here. Why just give it to me?" The doctor asks. Leckie doesn't answer him, except to tell him he's rested and fit and wants to get back to his unit, and that the hospital isn't doing him any good. To please sign the papers. The doctor obliges.
Before Leckie leaves, he finds Gibson again and gives him the remains of his pack of Lucky Strikes. He tells Gibson he asked to leave. Gibson tells Leckie that he doesn't think they'll send him back, and starts to cry. Leckie assures him that all he needs is a break from it all, and that he'll be alright.
Gibson reveals that on Guadalcanal, his unit was returning when the Japanese bombers caught them out in the open. All they could do was jump into a hole. He remembers a man who was on his back, feeling his heartbeat, his lungs gasping for air, his lips on the back of his neck as he prayed for God to save him. Gibson breaks down, then quickly thanks Leckie for the smokes.
Leckie turns to leave and Gibson adds, "I hope it's quick and easy for you, Leckie. A Jap sniper, maybe. Get nailed in the first two minutes. No worries about ending up like me."
Leckie stares at him for a moment, then Gibson turns away and slumps down on his cot. Leckie steels himself, picks up his knapsack and walks outside. But he stops for a moment to choke back fresh tears. After he collects himself, he looks around the yard -- at the pretty nurses, at the soldiers playing ball. He straightens up and walks down the sidewalk, off the hospital grounds, and gets ready to head back to the war.