From Here to Eternity
is a 1951 war novel by American author James Jones. Set in 1941, the third year of World War II, it follows several officers of the U.S. Army infantry company who live in Hawaii shortly before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The novel draws from Jones’s own experiences as a soldier in the so-called “Boxing Company” of the Hawaiian Division’s 27th Infantry. The novel won the National Book Award, has been adapted into several films and stage dramas, and was given the designation of one of the twentieth century’s best novels by the Modern Library Board.
The novel begins in February 1941. Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt, or “Prew,” arrives at his new post at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. He has spent most of his adult life in the army, including six years of service, and is a bugler and former professional boxer. He arrives at the post with a diminished reputation and an official demotion for having recently complained that a bugler was unfairly promoted over him; he insinuated that it was because the officer was in a relationship with the Chief Bugler. His new company is overseen by Dana “Dynamite” Holmes, who chose Prew partially because he is also a boxer. To his chagrin, Prew declines the opportunity to box for Holmes’s team. He subjects him to a hazing ritual called “The Treatment,” in which he is forced to perform more duties and pointless labor.
Since Holmes is usually away, the company is overseen by his First Sergeant, a kind, sympathetic, and pragmatic man named Milt Warden. Warden likes Prew and divulges that he has been sleeping with Holmes’s wife. Warden discovers that Karen’s promiscuity follows from her being forced to have a hysterectomy to cure a gonorrhea infection transmitted by her husband. Meanwhile, Holmes begins to suspect Karen is having an affair but does not track it to Warden. Their secret relationship eventually causes stress that impairs their connection.
Prew makes friends with a headstrong new recruit, Private Angelo Maggio. One night while drunk in town, Maggio gets into a fight with some military police. He is sent to the local military prison. Prew meets Lorene, a beautiful sex worker, at a nearby brothel. He learns that her real name is Alma Schmidt and that she hopes to save enough money to return to Oregon, her hometown, and leave the sex work industry by marrying a respected man. They fall in love, but she rejects him since he is not wealthy or well-known. Before the company’s boxing match, Prew fights a boxer, Isaac Bloom, permanently disfiguring him. Sergeant Galovitch attacks an unsuspecting Prew with a knife. Prew defeats him but conceals the fact that Galovitch threatened him with a lethal weapon, accepting a three-month term in jail. As he waits there, Bloom commits suicide, no longer able to bear being a closet homosexual.
The prison is brutal. Prew observes prisoners being tortured by the Staff Sergeant, “Fatso” Judson. Prew finds Maggio, who has been transformed by his abuse. In an effort to join him, Prew commits an infraction and is transferred to his more secure and torturous cell block. Maggio tries to feign insanity to escape the Army and return home but is prevented by Judson, who believes he is pretending. Judson beats him brutally to extract an admission but fails. Maggio is sent home on a dishonorable discharge, and Prew never meets him again.
Judson tortures another prisoner, Blues Berry and ends up killing him in front of Prew and several other barracks members. Prew concludes that he will kill Judson upon his release. He eventually makes it back to Company G, where he finds that Holmes has been promoted and reassigned elsewhere. Prew finds Judson and kills him in a knife fight, sustaining serious injuries in the act. He absconds to Alma’s house and recuperates even as their relationship dies. Prew fears that he will be imprisoned for killing Judson, but he meets in secret with Warden and learns that he is not a suspect. Warden warns Prew that he is considered to have gone AWOL, and will likely have to return to the stockade for a month to serve time. Prew decides to go back into hiding instead.
When the Japanese besiege Pearl Harbor, most of the damage misses the Schofield Barracks, hitting instead Hickam Field and the harbor proper. Prew decides to run back to his unit and departs from Alma’s with a sad goodbye. On the way, a group of guards seizes him for having no ID. They place him under arrest, but he fears to return to the stockade so much that he makes a run for it and is shot and killed. Warden arrives to identify his body and collect his possessions.
At the end of the novel, Warden says goodbye to Karen before she returns to the U.S. mainland and he enters combat. They both express regret for breaking up, acknowledging that they have both improved from each other’s company. As Karen departs Hawaii, she meets a beautiful woman who claims to be leaving the island because her fiancé, Robert E. Lee Prewitt, was killed while working as a bomber pilot at Hickam Field. Karen remembers the story of Lorene as told by Warden, and realizes that the girl is the prostitute. The novel ends with a feeling of irresolution, demonstrating the senselessness of the ongoing war.