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In November 1952, off the coast of Korea, U.S. Navy helicopter pilots Mike Forney and Nestor Gamidge rescue bomber pilot Lt. Harry Brubaker from the icy Pacific after Harry is forced to ditch his damaged plane. Mike, who wears an emerald green top hat and scarf during his rescues, delivers Harry safely to the deck of his aircraft carrier, which is under the supervision of Rear Adm. George Tarrant. Impressed with Harry's professionalism, George later advises him to pursue a career in the Navy, but Harry disdains the notion. Harry, a lawyer in civilian life, complains about being recalled to duty after serving in World War II and questions why America is fighting in Korea. After responding that America must fight in order to keep Communism in check, George states that a successful attack on the bridges at Toko-Ri would greatly help the war effort. George then reveals that Harry's wife Nancy and young children, Kathey and Susie, are in Tokyo, where the crew is due for a five-day leave. Later, as the ship is approaching Tokyo, Cmdr. Wayne Lee, who heads Harry's air group, argues with George about the berthing procedure, which he feels is overly stressful for his pilots. When George criticizes him for going over the ship captain's head and jeopardizing his chances of promotion, Wayne backs down, and George laments privately that Wayne is a weak officer. Upon docking in Tokyo, Harry joyfully reunites with Nancy, while Mike reunites with his Japanese girl friend, Kimiko. Harry and Nancy then join their daughters at a hotel in Fujisan, where George also is staying. That evening, Nestor finds Harry at the hotel bar and beseeches him to help Mike, who, he explains, was arrested by MPs in Tokyo after brawling with a sailor over Kimiko. Harry agrees to intercede, and while he drives to Tokyo with Nestor, in Fujisan, George gently lectures Nancy about facing up to the grim realities of war. George, who lost two sons during World War II, tells Nancy about his daughter-in-law and wife, both of whom were destroyed psychologically by the war. Nancy takes George's words to heart and, after Harry returns, having bailed the heartbroken but feisty Mike out of jail, insists that he stop protecting her and talk about his upcoming mission in Toko-Ri. Harry describes the strategically vital, heavily fortified bridges, which span a narrow gap between two mountains, and the difficulty he will have in bombing them. Though disheartened, Nancy states that in order to survive emotionally, she, too, must face the bridges at Toko-Ri. After Harry and his family make the most of their time together, enjoying a dip in a public bath, Harry bids Nancy goodbye at the dock. Later, in preparation for the Toko-Ri bombing, Harry, Wayne and other pilots escort a plane equipped with a motion picture camera to photograph the Korean defenses there. Although the mission is successful, Wayne overshoots his on-deck landing and breaks the net barrier, forcing Harry to land without a barrier. Under pressure, Harry executes a perfect landing, but after viewing the Toko-Ri footage, which shows the camera plane flying through a barrage of anti-aircraft fire, is filled with dread. Wayne notices Harry's unease and advises him to bow out if he is unsure of himself. Harry declines and takes off with the other pilots. Despite heavy enemy flak, the bombers blow up all the bridges, and Wayne decides to continue the mission and shell secondary targets. Harry's plane is hit and he is forced to crash-land in the hills. After a rough landing, Harry jumps from his wrecked plane and hides in a nearby irrigation ditch, but is soon spotted by enemy soldiers. Armed with only a pistol, Harry is relieved when Mike and Nestor's helicopter arrives, but the Koreans immediately disable the craft and kill Nestor. Although the American bombers return to strafe the Koreans, Harry and Mike are eventually cornered in the ditch and killed. Later, when questioned by George, Wayne firmly defends his decision to continue the mission after the bridges were bombed, and though greatly saddened by Harry's death, George admits that Wayne, like Harry, is a "good man" after all.