Set in the summer and autumn of 1941 at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, the story follows several members of G Company, including Captain Dana “Dynamite” Holmes and First Sergeant Milt Warden, who begins an affair with Holmes's wife Karen. At the heart of the novel lies a struggle between former bugler Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt, an infantryman from Kentucky and a self-described "thirty-year man", and his superiors. Because he blinded a fellow soldier while boxing, the stubborn Prewitt refuses to box for his company’s outfit and then resists the "Treatment", a daily hazing ritual in which the non-commissioned officers of his company run him into the ground.

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