When the war begins, Jethro is quite young. He even thinks the war is kind of neat, imagining horses, trumpets, and polished brass buttons. Throughout the book he not only loses that glamorous image, but he comes to understand that the war is an unrelenting force that propels him and everyone else forward without mercy. Jethro is hurled from boyhood into manhood, as he assumes responsibilities left after his father has a heart attack. He is the only boy in the family not fighting in the war, and thus he is somewhat of an outsider. While he does not have to experience the death and destruction of war directly, what he does experience—the news of his family members' experience of war—is more out of his control and sometimes harder to handle. He must wait for letters from his family to know if they are dead or alive, and he must sit back and watch the deteriorating effects of the war on people he loves. He worries about the outcome of the war and consumes himself with trying to understand exactly what is happening and why.

The war strips away Jethro's identity. Tangibly, it takes away his brothers, his teachers, and his ability to enjoy the freedom of boyhood. Jethro must deal with this set of alien circumstances while at the same time growing up. Jethro loses some of the shine in his eyes and is less precocious and talkative at the end of the text, but he gains valuable knowledge and experience, and, at the end of the book, he returns to his studies.