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In England, in June 1944, as the 101st Airborne Division awaits its orders for the imminent Allied invasion, three new replacements arrive. Among them are the surly Pvt. Mason and the folksy Southerner Pvt. Corliss. Lt. Pauling, the head of the squadron, tells the newcomers that the team has spent the last two years training for their mission. Mason's belligerent attitude angers Sgt. Forrest, who assigns him to extra drill practice. One evening, as the men prepare for a night out at the local pub, Mason refuses to join them. Corliss, who served with Mason in the merchant marines, stays behind and advises his friend to learn to get along with the others. Mason, who never forgets a slight, launches into a litany of all those who have scorned him. As the squadron nears town, they are stopped by MPs and sent back to camp, signaling the start of their mission. Upon entering the barracks, they find that the drunken Mason has overturned all the bunk beds. While Corliss sobers up Mason, Forrest suggests that Pauling discharge the insubordinate private from their squad. The compassionate Pauling responds that he would rather try to redeem the embittered soldier. When Pauling polls the others about Mason, they all agree that he should be allowed to participate in their mission. On the sixth of June, after they take off in a transport plane, Pauling explains that their job is to hold a bridge on the road to Utah Beach, where Allied troops will be landing. Six miles from their drop point, Germans open fire on the plane, and when dense fog obscures the ground below, making their position uncertain, they are forced to jump. After reconvening on the ground, they split into three groups to look for landmarks that might indicate their position. Corp. Dreef leads Corliss and Mason and orders them to hold their fire. When they spot three Germans on a bridge, Mason wants to kill them, but Dreef insists on returning to their squadron. As Dreef and Corliss turn around, Mason sees a German sentry aim his rifle at Dreef and hurls a knife into the German, causing him to miss his target. Alerted by the gunshot, the other Germans see the Americans and fire, killing Dreef. After shooting the remaining Germans, Mason and Corliss rendezvous with the squad. When Forrest blames Mason for Dreef's death and suggests beating him, Pauling admonishes the sergeant that his responsibility is to hold the group together, not punish them. Although Mason asserts that he threw the knife to save Dreef's life, the men disbelieve him. Unknown to the Americans, one of the Germans from the bridge has survived and fires at Pauling. Throwing his knife, Mason hits the German in the arm, causing him to miss his target, but the gun blast blinds the lieutenant. With twenty miles of enemy-held territory between them and their objective, the blinded Pauling orders Mason to be his guide and puts Forrest in command. As he guides Pauling, Mason grumbles that no one believes his story. Pauling then assures him that he believes in him and reveals that the rest of the squad voted to include him in the mission. Coming upon a farmhouse occupied by German soldiers, the squad is attacked and several men are killed. After killing the enemy with a well-armed grenade, the Americans enter the farmhouse and find a German soldier attacking a young Frenchwoman. The woman, Marianne, is unable to speak English, so Pauling speaks to her in French. After she tells him that the Germans killed her mother and father, Pauling asks Marianne, who speaks German, to interrogate the prisoner for him. Through Marianne, Pauling learns that the Germans are headquartered at the village and that three hundred troops occupy the countryside. When the prisoner tells them that the Germans are sending a truck to pick him up, Pauling decides to hijack it. After overpowering the unsuspecting driver, the Americans climb into the back of the truck and force the Germans to drive them to town. There they take over the German headquarters and lock their prisoners in the cellar, except for the radioman. Pauling then commands the radioman to notify the troops in the field to move out to the northwest, a direction that will send them directly into the Allied advance. When the Americans are distracted, however, the German turns on the radio lines, thus enabling the German troops to overhear the Americans. Realizing that they have been tricked, the German convoy turns back toward the village. Before the Germans can arrive, Marianne notices that the radio set is on, after which they all escape out the back. Although Pauling orders Mason to leave him behind, the private pulls him into a house for refuge. When the Germans enter the house looking for them, Mason gets the jump on them, but is wounded in the crossfire. Mason then leads Pauling out back, and as he rails about the others deserting them, a burst of gunfire is heard and Forrest and the rest of the squad appear. After holding off the Germans, the group jumps into a truck and speeds off. Informed by Forrest that seven of their men were killed, Pauling, a former schoolteacher, recites John Donne's poem "no man is an island, everyman is a piece of the continent¿.any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind." After the truck's brakes give out, they are forced to continue on foot. As they approach their objective, they are met by Maj. Carter who informs them that the bridge has been secured. Carter offers to drive Pauling and Mason to the hospital, after which they bid Marianne goodbye. When Pauling wonders what will happen to her, Mason tells him not to worry because she is now a member of the 101st.