World War I: In November 1918, a United States Army private kills a surrendering German Army soldier with his trench knife, thinking the surrender is a trick. When he returns to his company's headquarters, the private is told that the war ended four hours earlier.
World War II: In November 1942, the US soldier, now a sergeant in the "Big Red One", leads his squad of infantrymen through North Africa; they are initially fired on by a Vichy French general, who is then overpowered by his French troops, who are loyal to Free France. Over the next two years, the squad is part of the Allied invasion of Sicily, where they are given intelligence on the location of a Tiger I tank and are fed by grateful Sicilian women; the landing on Omaha Beach at the start of the Normandy campaign; the liberation of France, where they battle Germans inside a mental asylum; and the invasion of western Germany. The sergeant's German Army counterpart, Schroeder, participates in many of these same battles, and at different times both he and the sergeant express the same sentiment that soldiers are killers, but not murderers, though Schroeder also displays a ruthless loyalty to Hitler and Germany.
During the advance across northern France, the American squad crosses the former WWI battlefield on which the sergeant killed the surrendering German, where a memorial now stands to the earlier war. Schroeder has sprinkled his own living men among the German dead from a recent battle at this location, but the sergeant senses a trap and checks out the bodies in a burned-out tank. Noticing that the piping on the German uniforms is not consistent, he silently kills the living Germans in the tank. Feigning orders from his commander on the radio, the sergeant begins leading his men away, quietly telling them that living Germans are about. One of his new recruits sees a German move and shoots him, setting off a skirmish in which the Americans wipe out the Germans with only minor injuries in their own ranks. While the sergeant's squad are patching up their wounded, a French couple arrives on a motorcycle and sidecar. The husband dies of his previous wounds, but not before begging the sergeant to help his pregnant wife. The squad clears the tank and puts the woman, who is in active labor, in the tank. After a somewhat comical series of attempts to help the mother give birth, a child is born. Schroeder takes advantage of all of this excitement to sneak away unharmed.
The squad's final action in the war is the liberation of Falkenau concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, during which the American soldiers are shocked by what they witness. The sergeant befriends a young boy he finds in the concentration camp, but the boy dies that same afternoon. Shortly after this, the sergeant is in a forest at night when Schroeder approaches him, attempting to surrender. The sergeant stabs Schroeder and then his squad arrives and informs him that the war in Europe ended four hours earlier. This time, as the squad walks away, Private Griff notices that Schroeder is still alive; the sergeant and his men work frantically to save his life as they return to their encampment. Private Zab, in voice-over, remarks that he and his fellow American troops have more in common with this Nazi soldier, because they have all been through the war and survived, than they do with all of the replacements they may have fought alongside, but who are dead.
Only logged in users may leave a review.