Joe becomes conscious again, as if he is resurfacing after a stretch of drowning. Though he cannot see or hear, he soon realizes that he feels doctors working on him, and he is grateful for their help. He feels a pinching on his left arm and finally realizes that they have cut his arm off. Joe's immediate reaction is to feel angry and victimized: the doctors have cut the arm off because they are too lazy to fix it and Joe has no way of protesting. Joe wonders how they will dispose of the arm. Suddenly, Joe realizes with panic that the ring his girlfriend, Kareen, gave him is on the hand that is now gone.
Joe's memory of his last night with Kareen takes over. Kareen gives him the ring, which her mother gave her, for him to wear on his little finger. They kiss on Kareen's couch as she tells him her fears about him going to war. Kareen's father, Mike,—a coal miner whose body is bent from heavy labor—comes in and orders them to get up from the couch. In a moment of softness, Mike orders them both into Kareen's room to spend the night together before Joe leaves in the morning.
Kareen and Joe spend the night holding each other, and Mike brings them breakfast in the morning. Kareen and Mike take Joe to the train station, where all the soldiers are leaving. Joe's mother and sisters are there as well. Joe says goodbye to all of them as patriotic songs and speeches blare in the background. A mother appears looking for her son, who has agreed to join the army so he could be let out of jail.
As Joe replays the memory of holding Kareen in his arms, it suddenly dawns on him that both of his arms have been amputated. He mentally cries out.
Joe feels extremely hot and suddenly experiences a memory of working on the railroad one summer in the desert with a boy named Howie. Joe and Howie work for one day only, passing out several times due to heat and muscle pain while rest of the crew—primarily Mexican men— continue working. Joe and Howie had decided to leave Shale City and join the work gang because Diane and Onie, their respective girlfriends, had cheated on them with another young man named Glen Hogan.
That night, Howie receives a telegram from Onie, renouncing Glen Hogan and begging Howie to come back. Joe knows that Onie is only renouncing Hogan because Hogan has dumped her for Joe's girlfriend, Diane; nonetheless, Joe decides to endorse Howie's early return to Shale City. The boys leave on a gravel train that same night.