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In 1952 M. Sgt. Albert Callan, who distinguished himself in World War II by strangling a German soldier with his bare hands, is assigned to a petroleum supply depot in France. Upon discovering that the camp lacks discipline under the leadership of insecure and alcoholic Captain Loring, Callan seizes command and imposes his own strict military standards on the resentful men. At the same time he is attracted, almost subconsciously, to handsome young Pfc. Tom Swanson. After forcing the hardworking Swanson to become his orderly room clerk, Callan tries to monopolize the private's time and even refuses to issue him passes to date his French girl friend, Solange. Mistaking the sergeant's attentions for loneliness, Swanson begins to spend more time with Callan, but after the sergeant succeeds in driving away Solange, Swanson realizes the truth and openly defies his superior. Driven to excessive drinking, Callan desperately attempts to make love to Swanson and is violently rejected. The next morning, when the sergeant comes to company formation in a state of drunken dishevelment, Loring relieves him of his duties. After spending that night in the orderly room, Callan takes a rifle from the company armory, goes into a nearby woods, and kills himself.