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In war-torn Italy, 1944, fresh American recruits Willie Dooley and Dave Fairchild relax in camp, reading mail from home and sneaking off to consume illicit alcohol. While drinking, working-class Willie and worldly Dave, who "married rich," are shocked when another soldier is shot through the head by a sniper. A patrol is sent out to hunt down the sniper, and Dave comes upon the man hiding in some brush. Although Dave, who earlier confided to Willie his fear of combat, has the advantage, he cannot bring himself to fire his weapon. The sniper is about to shoot Willie when Sgt. Ewald "Preacher" Wollaston spots them from a distance and shoots first, killing the sniper. The next morning, after Dave thanks Preacher for saving his life, Preacher reveals his deep religiosity, claiming to be fearless and unquestioning in the face of evil. Later, after the unit is awarded a four-day leave, Willie and Dave eagerly anticipate meeting women, while bachelor Preacher plans to visit an old church. Flabbergasted by Preacher's piety, Willie and Dave decide to "do something" for him and hire Fiamma, a local woman, to seduce him. Fiamma befriends Preacher as he is buying a crucifix from a street vendor and coaxes him to invite her to lunch. Fiamma suggests they go to her place and is bewildered when Preacher expresses a desire for buttermilk. Eager to please, Fiamma takes the tee totaling Preacher to a nearby farm and watches in amazement as he gulps down fresh buttermilk. Preacher tells Fiamma about his drunken father and absent mother, and his uncle, who adopted him and taught him religion. At the end of the day, Preacher escorts Fiamma home but leaves in a panic when she kisses him. In town, a grinning Preacher admits to Dave that he met "someone" and returns to see Fiamma the next day. When Preacher again grows uneasy, Fiamma reassures him that their feelings for each other are "good" and persuades him to spend the rest of his leave with her. During their last day together, Fiamma speaks hopefully about marriage and, swearing that love is pure, not shameful, finally breaks down Preacher's resistance. After a passionate kiss, Preacher gives Fiamma his cross and vows to return to marry her. That night, Fiamma finds Dave in the local tavern and insists on returning the money he gave her to seduce Preacher, explaining that they have fallen in love and plan to marry. Dave is happy for Fiamma, who admits that she sold her body to put food on her family's table and has lived in anger and shame ever since, and agrees never to tell Preacher about their deal. When Preacher arrives, Dave congratulates him and pretends to have just met Fiamma. Preacher is giddy with joy until a soldier walks in and drunkenly tries to renew his acquaintance with Fiamma. After intimidating the soldier, Preacher forces Fiamma to confess her less than virtuous past and storms off in disgust. Crying, Fiamma chases after Preacher, begging him to forgive her, but he refuses and rips the cross from her neck. In retaliation, Fiamma reveals her deal with Dave, and Preacher condemns them both as "evil." Later, back in camp, Willie wins $1,000 playing craps and is invited by the losers to a rematch. Dave tries to persuade him not to gamble with his winnings, but Willie is determined to make enough money to open a restaurant in New Jersey with his devoted wife Jeannie. In the midst of a losing streak, an air raid begins, but Willie and his opponents continue playing, oblivious. Willie's fortunes soon turn and he ends up winning $30,000 in cash. Willie's subsequent celebration is cut short when Preacher, still angry over Fiamma, orders him to leave immediately on a reconnaissance mission, without his money. At first, Preacher refuses to allow Willie time to hide his cash, but after Dave accuses him of being a hypocrite, too afraid to offer forgiveness, Preacher allows Dave ten minutes to stash his money. During the patrol, Preacher's men storm a farmhouse occupied by Germans, and once again, Dave freezes with fear before finally pulling the trigger. After the Germans are destroyed, Willie, Dave and Preacher seek refuge in the farmhouse with fellow soldiers Smitty and the badly wounded Wilbur. Concerned that more Germans are on their way, Preacher at first orders that Wilbur be left behind, but when confronted angrily by the others, allows Smitty to close up Wilbur's wound. Soon after, however, a German tank begins shelling the house, and Smitty and Wilbur are killed. Once safe, Preacher pulls Willie out of some debris and sees that his uniform is stuffed with his winnings. Furious, Preacher accuses Willie of sinful greed and tosses handfuls of his money on the ground. Willie pleads with Preacher and tries to retrieve the cash. Just then, the German tank reappears and fires on them. After Preacher is wounded, Willie frantically begins scooping up the scattered bills, until he is shot down by the Germans, dying while uttering his wife's name. Enraged by Willie's death, Dave finds the courage to destroy the tank single-handedly and then collects Willie's money. Dave informs Preacher that he is going to send the money to Willie's wife and tell her that Willie died getting it for her, then asks Preacher who he is "going to die for." Preacher answers by handing Dave his cross, and Dave, satisfied, lifts Preacher onto his back and carries him back toward camp.