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In wartime London just before D-Day, Lieut. Comdr. Charlie Madison, an aide to eccentric Rear Admiral Jessup, specializes in supplying the top Navy officers with luxuries such as party girls. Madison is an exponent of cowardice as a virtue because he believes reverence of heroism promotes war. He falls in love with Emily Barham, his British motorpool driver, a young woman who has lost her husband and brother in the war. Admiral Jessup is obsessed with the idea that the Army has a better image than the Navy and is determined that the first dead man on Omaha Beach on D-Day be a sailor. Jessup orders Madison to photograph the D-Day landing, and, despite his protests which alienate Emily, Madison is forced at gunpoint to be the first man to land on Omaha Beach. Running from the bombs, Madison trips a land mine and is reported to be the first man killed in the invasion. Photographs of his supposedly dead body appear in the newspapers, and he becomes a hero, but later he is found alive. Admiral Jessup then organizes a hero's welcome for Madison, but he threatens to confess the true story of his cowardice to the press. Emily, in a reversal of sentiment, promises to marry him if he will keep his secret, and Madison agrees to remain quiet.