The author of the famous late 1930's antiwar book Johnny Got His Gun wrote and directed this film adaptation. It concerns a nameless young soldier (Timothy Bottoms) in a veteran's hospital in the World War I period. The young man has had his face blown off, he is without the use of any of his senses save touch, and also has no arms or legs.
He is in a coma at the beginning of the film, and his doctors doubt that he will regain consciousness. This is also what they hope. A nurse, while changing his dressings, discovers that he is awake and responsive. The unrelieved awfulness of his situation is apparent to many.
However, in order to keep the good order of the military, the regular Army general commanding the hospital will not allow the boy to be seen or his family notified, nor will he permit anyone to perform a mercy killing. Interspersed with this horror are flashbacks of the youth's life before the war.