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During World War II, black soldier Peter Moss is admitted to a military hospital suffering from partial amnesia and paralysis. After the doctor finds no physical injury to account for his condition, the doctor asks Moss's superior, Maj. Robinson, to recount for him their recent reconnaissance mission: Robinson recalls that he had chosen his best men for a four-day mission to survey a Pacific island occupied by Japanese forces. Summoned to Robinson's office are Corp. T. J. Everett, a cartographer named Finch and another soldier named Mingo. When Moss arrives, Finch, his old school chum, is thrilled to see him, while Robinson expresses dismay. Robinson phones Col. Baker immediately to complain about Moss's race, but is told that he was the only surveyor to volunteer. Back at the hospital, the doctor begins a treatment called "narco-synthesis," in which drugs are used to trigger repressed memories. When the shot is administered, Moss recalls that after landing on the beach, the team buried their rubber dinghy in the sand. During their breaks from collecting data, Moss and Finch plan the restaurant and bar that they will open when they return home. After Moss and Finch become lost, however, Finch blames Moss and almost calls him "nigger." Just as a disappointed Moss is forced to acknowledge Finch's racist feelings, Finch is shot. Realizing that he is badly injured, Finch tells Moss to leave with the maps. Back in the hospital, Moss wakes up from his trance feeling that he was responsible for Finch's death. During a subsequent session, however, Moss recalls that he had asked Robinson for permission to return for Finch, but had been refused. From their position near the beach, the team listens to Finch's plaintive cries as he is tortured by Japanese soldiers. Robinson instructs T. J. to cross the beach and uncover the dinghy, instructing each of them to fire four quick shots if they encounter trouble. Moss volunteers to wait at the camp while the others go the beach to inflate the dinghy. Suddenly, he sees Finch crawl into a nearby clearing and die. Now finding that he is unable to walk, Moss fires four shots to summon the team, who must carry him to the dinghy. Back in the hospital, Moss awakens from his trance, and the doctor postulates that after seeing Finch shot, he experienced a momentary flash of relief that the bullet had wounded Finch, instead of him. This feeling of relief then led to guilt, the doctor explains, and the result was paralysis. To persuade Moss to try and walk, the doctor shouts, "Get up, you dirty nigger," which so angers Moss that he struggles to his feet and stumbles forward. By the time he has crossed the room, however, Moss's anger has subsided, and he gratefully embraces the doctor. The next day, shortly after he is discharged, Moss meets Mingo, who has lost an arm in battle. Moss repeats the doctor's explanation of his paralysis, and Mingo admits to feeling momentarily relieved after seeing a buddy shot. This admission consoles Moss, and he and Mingo decide to become partners in the restaurant and bar business.