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After he is discharged from the Marines, twenty-one-year-old Cliff Harper returns to his home in Los Angeles. At his parents' empty house, Cliff meets his new neighbor, Helen Ingersoll, a vivacious college freshman, who is immediately starstuck by the decorated hero. Anxious to be with friends, Cliff heads for Scuffy's, his favorite pre-war soda shop. At Scuffy's, which has been transformed to a bar, friend and fellow ex-serviceman Pinky introduces Cliff to Pat Ruscomb, and instantly attracted to her, Cliff asks her to dance. In a romantic daze, Cliff abandons Pinky, goes to Pat's apartment and kisses her impetuously. When he professes his passion, however, Pat withdraws from him and talks about her husband, who was killed during the war. Depressed by Pat's mourning, Cliff returns home and is greeted ecstatically by his parents. That night, the Harpers host a barbeque, and Cliff is subjected to a variety of questions about the war. At odds with the prevailing mood of the party, Cliff tries to call Pat, who is out, then cries himself to sleep. The next day, Pinky invites Cliff to go ice skating with him and Pat, and Cliff asks an eager Helen to be his date. In the skating rink café, Cliff and Pat see a lonely soldier shaking from post-traumatic stress disorder and approach him. Cliff commiserates with the veteran, while Pat talks about her own painful past to give him courage. The next morning, Cliff is questioned by his father about his future plans and disappoints him by answering that he is unsure about what he wants to do with his life. Cliff then goes with Helen and platoon mate William Tabeshaw, who has just arrived from New Mexico, where he works as a cowboy, to see Perry Kincheloe, a fellow veteran and former boxer. Though happy to see Cliff and Bill, who has a metal plate in his skull from a war injury, the legless Perry rejects their attempt to cheer him up and politely rejects the advice of Sergeant Gunny Watrous, his discharge officer, to wear his artificial legs. Later, Cliff sees Pat drinking with an army captain at Scuffy's and then fights with his parents, who accuse him of behaving like a stranger. Unhappy and jealous, Cliff passes up the lovesick Helen and waits for Pat's return outside her apartment. After he spies Pat drunkenly kiss the captain goodnight, he calls her a tramp and leaves in a jealous huff. Once calm, Cliff returns to apologize to Pat, who reveals that she went out with the captain only because he was her husband's co-pilot. Ashamed, Cliff comforts Pat and admits that he, too, is lonely and confused. At Pat's suggestion, Cliff then takes an inspection job at the radio factory where she works as a secretary, but soon picks a fight with his supervisor. After another discouraging visit with Perry, Cliff proposes to Pat, but she rejects him for not taking charge of his life. Angry, Cliff goes drinking with Bill, who reveals that he lost his job as a cowhand in New Mexico after the metal plate in his skull began causing him unbearable pain. Concerned about Bill, who refuses to see a doctor, Cliff telephones Perry on the pretext of asking him to invest in a ranch deal that Bill has proposed. By the time that Perry, who finally finds the courage to don his artificial legs, arrives at the bar, however, Cliff has become drunk and is discussing the ranch as a serious proposition. Cliff also telephones Pat and insists that she go with him to New Mexico, but she refuses the offer and tries to talk him out of it. Cliff, Bill and Perry are then approached by a group of men who invite them to join their veterans' organization. When the group's spokesman smugly states that no "Catholics, Jews or Negroes" are admitted to the organization, Bill knocks him out and instigates a brawl. During the mêlée, Perry happily discovers that he can still throw a punch, while Bill is hit on his head and is sent to the hospital. Once Bill's condition has stabilized, Cliff comes to terms with his parents and, after declaring his intention to stay in Los Angeles, reunites with Pat.