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While helping to load gasoline aboard a neutral freighter in the last days of the Korean War, greenhorn Private Dennison fails to notice an enemy plane, and his lieutenant is killed. As the freighter prepares to move on, Dennison rescues the wounded enemy pilot, and the man, referred to as "the gook," is taken prisoner. When Sgt. P. J. Briscoe reports by radio to South Korean headquarters, he is told that the enemy has bombed both the headquarters and a Red Cross hospital, and he is ordered to execute the prisoner. Briscoe at first objects but finally agrees rather than blacken his unblemished record. Dennison, however, pleads for the man's life and deflects Briscoe's arm when he attempts to kill him. As the hours aboard the ship become days, the prisoner becomes less an enemy and more a part of the group. When both Dennison and Briscoe's stooge, Private Hackett, refuse to carry out the execution, Briscoe decides to do the job himself; but by now, even he cannot pull the trigger. As word of an armistice arrives, the terrorized, uncomprehending prisoner escapes. Armed with a straight-edged razor, he makes his way to the hold and attempts unsuccessfully to ignite the gasoline. Just before Briscoe fells him with a fatal blow from a wrench, the man utters a word. Later, Briscoe learns the word means "I can't"--the prisoner, like his captors, has been unable to bring himself to kill.