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In Depression-era Los Angeles, young Guy Gabaldon's widowed mother is taken to the hospital, and the boy is left to fend for himself. After learning about Guy's predicament, school basketball coach Kaz Une takes him to live with his own parents, and when Guy's mother dies, the family adopts him. To comfort Guy, Mother Une tells him the old Japanese tale of the Peach Boy, whose love for his parents is as precious as a great treasure, whereupon Guy tearfully embraces her. Years later, as Guy talks to Ester, his foster brother George's girl friend, a young white man calls Guy a "Jap lover" and accuses him of consorting with the enemy. Later that day, the family is distressed to learn that the United States has declared war against Japan. George wants to enlist immediately, but Kaz, who had tried to join up the day before, tells him that Japanese Americans are suspected of being spies and are being rejected from military service. Soon afterward, Guy's family and Japanese friends are taken to relocation camps. While George's parents and brothers go willingly, eager to help their government in any way they can, Guy is unwilling to betray the people he loves and refuses to enlist. Kaz and George finally do join up, and while they are fighting in Italy, Guy travels to Camp Manzanar in California to visit his parents. When Mother Une claims to be proud of her "All-American" sons, Guy realizes that she wants him to enlist. Soon afterward, Guy joins the Marines and, while in training at Camp Pendleton, befriends Sgt. Bill Hazen and Corp. Pete Lewis. Before facing active duty, the three men visit a Honolulu nightclub called the Hawaiian Village, where they meet Famika, a stripper, Sono, a barmaid, and Sheila Lincoln, a reporter. Nicknamed the "Iron Petticoat" by the soldiers who have unsuccessfully attempted to seduce her, Sheila fumes as the men, now drinking at Sono's apartment, watch Famika perform a striptease. Too much whiskey and an attraction to Guy lead Sheila to perform a strip act of her own, after which each couple finds a private spot for lovemaking. Later, the Marines land on a well-defended beach in Saipan, and although he experiences conflicting emotions, Guy soon grows accustomed to the need to "kill or be killed." Because he speaks Japanese, Guy is able to persuade many of the starving local people to surrender their arms and emerge from the caves in which they have taken refuge. When Bill is killed, however, Guy is transformed by rage and massacres injured and unarmed Japanese soldiers who try to surrender. A letter from his mother soon softens his hatred, and he is appalled when he sees unarmed civilians, frightened at the prospect of becoming prisoners, leaping off steep cliffs to escape capture. On a scouting mission, Guy and another Marine overhear Japanese general Matsui ordering his sick and starving troops to prepare for a sudden, last-ditch attack on the Americans. The two Marines manage to capture Matsui and steal the attack plans, but Guy's partner is killed trying to warn the American troops. While Guy holds the general at gunpoint, he descries the fact that the Japanese commander would send injured soldiers, women and children into battle to face certain death against superior American forces, and then reveals that he was reared by a Japanese family. In a lengthy, emotional speech to his forces, Matsui orders his people to surrender, and as hundreds of prisoners accompany Guy back to the Marine encampment, the shamed general commits hara-kiri.