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At the Camp Carver Army base, Capt. Burke reprimands brawny Sgt. William Ames for attacking Sgt. Dorian "Dodo" Doubleday, whose photographic memory spurs him to pontificate on every possible subject. Later, during the troop's war games practice, Doubleday instructs his squadron to respond to a series of quail calls and Ames, suspecting a trick, steals the quail whistle and gives identical orders to his men. When a flock of real quail, however, respond to the call, Ames's men run back and forth in confusion and the troop is soon "captured." After being admonished that evening, Ames hears Doubleday's voice in his sleep and races to Burke to beg for a transfer. Burke reluctantly agrees to take Ames along with him to Korea, and despite the extreme danger of the mission, Ames rhapsodizes about his luck. Weeks later, while on duty in Korea with Corp. Jackson, Ames is still singing happily at his fate. When Ames and Jackson find a duck on one of their missions, Ames adopts it, names it Clarence, and feeds it half of all his rations so it will fatten and he can eat it later. The troop then comes under enemy fire for days and anxiously awaits reinforcements. When the paratroopers finally arrive, they include Doubleday, who lands directly in Ames's trench. The next day, Ames and Doubleday are instructed to string a cable over a hill, and when Doubleday orders his men not to cross the hill, Ames reports him for insubordination. Burke's arrest of Doubleday is interrupted by Col. Lockwood, who agrees with Doubleday's assertion that the lack of cricket chirps must mean that the enemy is near. With danger narrowly avoided, Lockwood commends Doubleday and Burke yells at Ames. The next day, Ames invites Burke and Lockwood to share in a dinner of roasted duck, but when the time comes to kill Clarence, he cannot. Instead, he invites Doubleday to dinner in exchange for slaying the duck. Doubleday tries, but he cannot go through with it, either, and the two decide to hide Clarence and claim he has run away. Although the colonel and captain deduce the ruse, they pretend to have lost their appetites. That night, while Doubleday plays the piano for a visiting singer, Burke puts Ames on watch. Distracted by the singer, Ames fails to notice an enemy soldier disguised as an American, but Doubleday notes from the stage that the soldier's boots are Chinese. He shouts an order in Chinese to surrender, and after the man is apprehended, Ames is demoted to private. Days later, however, he finds his opportunity to win his stripes back when Lt. Kim's squadron is trapped in the hills and a volunteer is needed to carry a secret message across enemy lines. Lockwood, upon hearing about Doubleday's phenomenal memory, orders the two to go together. Doubleday memorizes the complicated plans in seconds, and the two set out on the dangerous mission. Hearing a noise behind them, they are pleased to find Clarence following them. When a bomb lands near them but does not explode, Ames and Doubleday settle down directly next to the bomb to make plans. Although Doubleday finally realizes what the ticking noise is, Ames insists on staying long enough to rescue Clarence, escaping moments before the bomb detonates. They continue on, following Clarence's signals, until the duck is stolen by a Chinese unit. Enraged, Ames thunders into their camp and single-handedly defeats the whole troop to rescue his pet. Upon finally reaching Kim's men, Ames and Doubleday recognize that they have succeeded by working together, and Doubleday promises to try to control his speeches in the future. Doubleday then sends a radio message to Burke so convoluted that the enemy cannot decode it, and the unit escapes. Back at headquarters, Lockwood announces that he is recommending Ames for the Congressional Medal of Honor. While Jackson laughs uproariously upon discovering that Ames's middle name is "Lillywhite," Ames boasts to Doubleday about his new status. Ames's mood sours, however, after Doubleday launches into a detailed description of the medal's history. Ames attacks, and when the squabbling sergeants knock down Lockwood's tent, the colonel rips up Ames's letter of recommendation.