The story begins with us being introduced to our main character, Tim O'Brien. We learn that he has just graduated from Macalester College and that he is politically naive.
Tim then receives a conscription for him to go to war. Tim doesn't want to go to war because he doesn't believe that it is right. Tim begins to think about fleeing to Canada, which is only an eight hour drive north, so he can escape the war. However, he is conflicted while thinking about this because he does not want to leave everything he has behind.
Tip Top Lodge 50 Miles
Tim decides to drive the eight hours through the night to get to Canada. As he's getting very close to the border, he comes across a lodge called Tip Top Lodge. He decides to stop there. He knocks on one of the doors and meets Elroy, an 81 year old man who didn't say much, but he took care of Tim for six days.
"I'm a coward, I went to the war."
"All I can do is cry. I can't leave my entire life behind, but I can't go to the war!"
Elroy takes Tim on his boat out really close to the Canadian shoreline. Tim doesn't know whether he should jump and swim and leave his whole family behind, or if he should stay and go home. Tim decides to stay and he will leave the next day.
Tim makes his way home, feeling like a coward for everything he's done and everything he's about to do.
"I got into the car, and drove south toward home."
Tim ended up going to war. He survived the war, but this is not a happy ending, he's still a coward.