Based on a true story, an American sergeant in postwar Japan helps an orphanage and falls in love with a Japanese translator.
In December 1949 Sergeant Hugh O’Reilly (Aldo Ray) and Corporal Neeby Muhlendorf (Dick York) are flown to Tokyo. They meet Idaho Johnson (Chuck Connors) who takes them to a dance with Japanese women. O’Reilly does not like the Japanese and decides to leave. On the street a Japanese man tries to sell him something, and O’Reilly shoves him into a man’s stall, knocking it over. A crowd gathers, and someone shouts, “Yankee, go home!” O’Reilly tries to fight him. The Military Police arrive and take O’Reilly and Muhlendorf to their new outfit in Osaka.
In Osaka they ride in the back of a truck with Yuko (Mitsuko Kimura) in the front. Muhlendorf has trouble pronouncing her name, and she mangles his too. She says she works for the Army at Camp Otsu. O’Reilly and Muhlendorf report to Col. William Shepherd (Phil Carey), who reminds them what is expected of them in Japan. They are supposed to represent the United States and to win friends and gain allies. He tells them to act accordingly. Muhlendorf says it is like being ambassadors, and Shepherd agrees. O’Reilly requests a transfer to another theater, but Shepherd says he needs them to train his troops for combat. O’Reilly was at Pearl Harbor, and Shepherd says he wants his men better prepared. Shepherd says he allows his officers one mistake, and then they have had it. Outside O’Reilly tells Muhlendorf that Shepherd is a good man.
O’Reilly observes soldiers in a combat exercise. Muhlendorf scolds Idaho, and O’Reilly gives them a critique. Muhlendorf gives O’Reilly a ride to headquarters. O’Reilly thinks someone stole his wallet, and he says it was some Japs on the road. At Camp Otsu they stop for refreshments. Muhlendorf says the Colonel told him his old man is ill. O’Reilly sees a Japanese man with his wallet and accuses him of stealing it. They go into an office, and Yuko translates that the man found it on the ground. They learn he is Father Oshida (Henry Okawa), a Catholic priest. O’Reilly says he does not want to prefer charges. Col. Shepherd suggests O’Reilly take Oshida and Yuko to his orphanage.
O’Reilly drives them in a jeep. He sees the Japanese children and nuns who are European. He meets Sister Genvieve (Camille Janclaire). He learns that the children sleep outside. He picks up a boy and carries him on his shoulders. The sister serves them a bowl of soup, and they pray before eating. O’Reilly asks if that is all they get, and she gives him another bowl. They say goodnight, and Genevieve invites him to come back. On the way back Yuko notes that he gave them some money. O’Reilly says no one pushes him around.
Idaho and Muhlendorf get their mail, and the latter gives a letter to O’Reilly from R. F. Yoshida. O’Reilly cleans up and asks Yuko to translate the Japanese letter, and she reads it to him in English. She offers to write an answer for him.
O’Reilly, Muhlendorf, and Idaho visit the orphanage with some gifts. Back in the kitchen Muhlendorf brings in money from the raffle. Idaho asks what the prize is. Other men donate too.
Col. Shepherd questions Major Charlie Rochelle about how much food the men are eating. Shepherd decides to investigate. O’Reilly, Muhlendorf, and another Sergeant Demetrios (himself) deliver boxes of food to the orphanage. Shepherd comes in with the Major. O’Reilly introduces them to Sister Genevieve, who praises them for bringing the food. She realizes they took it from the Army, but Shepherd says they can make some arrangement. Idaho comes in with men who are planning to build something, and he shows the plan to Shepherd. O’Reilly and Muhlendorf say they have $5,200. Shepherd says he cannot allow it. O’Reilly asks if they are allowed to contribute their own money, and Shepherd tells them to submit their plans to his engineer. O’Reilly is put in charge of the project.
O’Reilly and Yuko in a jeep go looking for steel. He carries her over mud. Mr. Ohta at a steel plant says they can have steel for an orphanage. O’Reilly asks the price, Yuko tells him that they are going to donate the steel. She asks if he does not like the Japanese. He asks if it is not against Japanese customs for them to be together alone unless they are engaged. He asks to kiss her, and she says no. She says in the occupation some Japanese women have changed. She says many girls would like him because he is big and handsome.
By the ocean O’Reilly and Yuko talk about raising money with a baseball game. She says Americans can be rough, but he is treating children with gentleness. She tells how she went out for charcoal at Christmas in 1945, and they were caught by American soldiers who gave them candy bars. He drives her home, and she invites him in to meet her family. He takes off his shoes. He meets her father, who invites him for dinner. They sit on pillows by a table, and the father’s wife, sister, and daughter serve them. Yuko in a dress comes in and shows him how to use chopsticks. O’Reilly thanks them and drives off. The father questions Yuko about his fear related to her working with Americans. He asks if she is ashamed to wear a kimono before this man. She admits there is friendship between them. The father says this must not be because she is of a different race. He asks if he will speak of marriage to her or be like the others. He says her mother is against this. He warns her the Army sends them home, and they do not return.
The Manchi Orions are playing the Wolfhounds in a baseball game. While they warm up, a band plays. The fans cheer, and the players bow to each other. Idaho pitches and gives up a hit. O’Reilly at first base tries the hidden-ball trick, but it does not work. O’Reilly keeps looking at Yuko in the stands, and he is hit in the head by the ball.
Muhlendorf visits O’Reilly in a hospital and says they lost the game but made money. Yuko comes in and says she was responsible for his being hurt. He says he did not send her tickets to bring another guy. He says if she wants to marry “a stinking Jap,” it is her business. She says he hates them, and she runs out. Muhlendorf comes back and says she was crying. The radio announces that North Koreans have invaded the South. All military personnel are ordered to report to the commanders.
Soldiers are taken in trucks and march to war. Muhlendorf says they are running out of ammo. O’Reilly reads a letter and tells him about the orphanage. Muhlendorf asks if he has heard from Yuko. O’Reilly says he let it go too far. Explosions are coming near them, and they try to hit their enemy. Muhlendorf and O’Reilly are wounded by an explosion.
In a hospital they are recovering. Shepherd tells O’Reilly that they are going to the dedication of the orphanage in Osaka.
A plaque commemorates the Wolfhound regiment’s contribution for the Holy Family Orphanage. The Japanese speaker calls Sgt. O’Reilly and makes him an honorary Japanese citizen. He does not know what to say, and the children sing. Sister Genevieve shows General Shepherd a Korean orphan. O’Reilly runs after Yuko into the garden. She does not want him to see her in a kimono, and he says she is most beautiful. He refers to what he said, and she says no one cares what he says but what he does. He is about to kiss her, but a nun calls them. He says the Army is sending him home on Saturday, but he is coming back. She says he will not come back. She says he must leave now; it was not meant to be. He asks her to stop, but she runs off.
O’Reilly finds Shepherd at a Japanese temple. O’Reilly asks to be discharged in Japan rather than be shipped home. Shepherd asks if it is the girl and whether he will marry her. O’Reilly says yes. Shepherd warns him that it will not work. He challenges him to take her home if he really loves her. O’Reilly is afraid the Americans will treat her badly. Shepherd denies his request and says he is secretly relieved.
O’Reilly is drunk and meets Muhlendorf at the baths. They get massages. Muhlendorf says he may make sergeant, and he invites O’Reilly to meet his old man.
Yuko’s father tells O’Reilly that he will not let him enter. O’Reilly says only Yuko can turn him away. He waits in the garden, and Yuko comes out in a kimono. He says he wants to marry her and take her home with him. She asks about her family and their children. He realizes she is afraid. He says they need each other and can help each other. He reminds her of the soldier who gave her candy, and they kiss. They go in to the house.
The epilog states that the Wolfhounds still support the Holy Family Orphanage and that O’Reilly and Yuko live at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
This romantic drama depicts the American occupation during the period when Japan was transforming itself from a military empire to a peaceful democracy with assistance from the Americans who decided not to be vindictive but rather constructive. This touching story shows on a personal level how some soldiers could turn from war to peace and help people rebuild their lives after a devastating war.