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Sergeant Robert L. Keen, an officer of the African-American 25th Regiment, is sent to many Northern states and all over the deep South on a recruitment tour. In Texas, at a family meal, Rodney Tucker, Jr. becomes upset when his cousin Jenny and his grandfather, who dresses in his old army uniform, talk about the coming war. Rodney's mother, Mama T., a religious woman, tries to comfort him by saying that she will be filled with concern when he joins the Army, but he walks off annoyed when she shows him a picture of his father, who she says was a good soldier. Sergeant Keen comes to town in search of recruits, and Martha Adams, Rodney's fiancée, sings at the recruiting drive. She berates Rodney when he calls Keen a "tin soldier," insisting that he lacks the courage to join up. When Rodney accuses her of wanting him in the Army so that she can go after Keen, she slaps him and returns his engagement ring. Rodney wanders to a poolroom, where a man talks, to his displeasure, about volunteering to help the country in the impending war. He next goes to a cigar store, where he hears an announcer on the radio relate the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Soon after, Mama T., who now sews for the Red Cross, tells Jenny, now a junior air raid warden, that she hopes the army will bring out the man in Rodney, who has not left the house since Martha went away after war was declared. The mail brings Rodney's draft notification and a letter from Martha wishing him luck. At Fort Watchuka, a training camp in the Arizona mountains, an officer tells the new recruits that the country faces the greatest crisis in its history. Rodney scoffs in disbelief and says that whites should do their own fighting, but another black soldier tells him that the country is as much theirs as anybody else's. When Rodney sleeps through reveille, he is assigned to K.P. duty. The recruits are taught field maneuvers and how to shoot rifles and clean a cannon. Rodney is reprimanded when he fires the cannon by accident. Officers comment that Rodney, who takes no interest in anything except athletics, has the potential to be a great soldier, and he is made to do cleaning chores. Meanwhile, Grandpa packs his old car with his war souvenirs to take to Rodney's camp in Arizona, hoping to inspire him and the other recruits. At the camp, Rodney meets up with Keen, who despite Rodney's resentment, invites him to his quarters one night. Keen turns on the radio, knowing that Martha will be singing from a camp in Texas, and when Martha dedicates a song to Keen, Rodney hits him. Although Keen tries to make little of it, Rodney is ordered to stay in his barracks. When he learns that Martha has arrived in town and that Keen is planning to bring her to the camp, he blames Keen for provoking the fight so that he would be stuck in his barracks when she arrived. Rodney goes AWOL and jumps a train heading east. He awakens in a boxcar and finds a tramp, who is unable to remember anything about himself before 1919 but believes that he was once a soldier. One night, the tramp, who walks in his sleep, falls off the moving train, and Rodney gets off and finds him. The injured man, his memory jogged by the fall, tells Rodney that he has to get home to find his wife Ellen and his baby boy, Rodney Tucker, Jr., who was born while he was fighting in France. The tramp dies and Rodney finds in his pocket a photograph of Ellen, his own mother, Mama T. Rodney realizes that the tramp was his father and that he never came home because he lost his memory in a traffic accident. As he buries his father, Rodney vows not to go back to the Army, then wanders through the desert. Meanwhile, Grandpa's old car is stopped by a motorcycle officer, who asks if he has seen any "Japs" in the vicinity. As Rodney walks, he imagines scenes of war, then collapses from exhaustion. Grandpa finds him and revives him with water. Rodney tells Grandpa about meeting up with his father, Grandpa's son, and confesses that he has deserted. He now realizes that he has everything--family, home, freedom and democracy--for which to fight, and vows to prove, if he is given another chance, that he is a red-blooded American like his father and the others who have fought for their country. Later, when they need water for the car radiator, Grandpa points out the entrance to what was once Geronimo's stronghold in the nearby cliffs, where a spring of water is located. As they climb, two Japanese with a radio transmitter, hear them and hide. Rodney and Grandpa find their hideout, and a fight ensues. Rodney fights both of them until a number of jeeps full of soldiers arrive and notice them fighting. Before he dies from injuries, Grandpa thanks God for letting him fight once more for his country. For his bravery in fighting the Japanese, Rodney is now given the chance to fight with his grandfather's regiment, the 25th. Martha, who has read about his heroism and is now in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, asks if he still has the engagement ring. He puts it on her and they kiss.