Although Kemmerich appears in only two chapters of the book, his wartime experience makes the first strong impression of ill fate, suffering, and loss. As Paul and his friends visit him, they perceive the real truth about war; he lies on bed 26, incapable of sensing the amputation of his foot. During Paul’s hour-long last visit to his friend, Kemmerich, unwilling to accept false hope, frets that he will soon die. Childlike in size and teary-eyed in response to death in so makeshift a place, he expires in ragged gasps, leaving undried tears on his cheeks. For Paul and his buddies, Franz is the first face-to-face warning of hard times to come.
On furlough, Paul maintains his loyalty to Franz by facing the boy’s mother. Having witnessed her humiliating display of motherly affection when Franz departed for the front, Paul knows that she will not accept her son’s death with grace. To spare her further pain, he concocts a scenario in which Franz dies instantly. The lie, prophetic of Paul’s death, epitomizes a dignified exit that any soldier would prefer to the ragged, agonizing demise of Haie, Tjaden, Kat, Berger, Gerard Duval, Johann Lewandowski, and other mangled sufferers.