A rich son, who is engaged, enlists and goes to France, where he falls in love before being wounded in the fighting.
In April 1917 Mrs. Apperson (Claire McDowell) reads that the United States has declared war and needs enlistments. Justyn Reed (Claire Adams) tells Jim Apperson (John Gilbert) that she will love him more if he joins, and Jim is influenced by a parade. Harry (Robert Ober) works in the factory. Mr. Apperson (Hobart Bosworth) tells Jim to do something or get out. Justyn says Jim enlisted.
The troops go to Champillon, France. Corporal Bull (Tom O'Brien) orders Jim, Slim (Karl Dane) and others to shovel manure. Jim gets a cake from Justyn and shares it. They wash their clothes in a stream. Jim gets a barrel to make a shower. Melisande (Renée Adorée) sees Bull and Slim naked, and Jim tries to talk to her. Bull and Slim irritate her. A bugle calls mess, and Jim kisses her. He gives her gum, and they look up words to communicate. Melisande slaps Bull.
Melisande brings Jim to a patriotic meeting. Bull and Slim drink wine in the cellar. Melisande runs out of wine and goes with Jim to the cellar. He fights Bull and Slim and is caught by two MPs. A brawl ensues, and Jim escapes.
Bull kicks an officer and is demoted. Jim reads a letter from Justyn reminding him they are engaged. Melisande sees Justyn's picture and is sad. The men are called to move up. Melisande looks frantically for Jim, and he finds her. They kiss goodbye, and he promises to come back.
Trucks advance on roads, and then soldiers march to the front. A plane attacks, and they shoot it down. They fix bayonets and go into a forest. Men are hit, and Slim shoots a sniper. Some Germans surrender. Machine guns hit several men, and others throw grenades. Cannons cause explosions. In a field they put on gas masks. Jim, Bull, and Slim take cover in a shell hole.
At night they share a can of corned beef. A soldier gives them an order to get the cannon. Slim wins a spitting contest and crawls on his belly. A flare shows him up, and he is shot by a machine gun. They hear Slim moaning, and Jim gets angry and goes after him. Jim and Bull find Slim dead and charge forward. They kill the machine-gunners; but Bull is badly wounded, and Jim is limping. Bull dies. Many men advance against the Germans, and a battle rages.
Jim is taken to a bed in a cathedral, and another wounded man tells him of fighting in Champillon. Jim limps out with a crutch and gets a ride. Melisande walks with refugees. Jim finds the town deserted. He collapses and is put in an ambulance.
After the war Mr. Apperson welcomes Jim back. Mrs. Apperson sees Harry kissing Justyn, and he says he does not want to giver her up. Jim has lost a leg. He embraces his mother, and Justyn kisses him. Jim tells his mother that he has a girl in France, and she says he must go to her. Melisande is plowing and crying. She sees a man and runs to Jim.
This drama portrays an American's involvement in the
first world war with the patriotic fervor, restricted army life
with its male companionship, the temptation of French women, and
the brutal fighting at the front. What is it about humans that
makes us so willing to follow a foolish parade?