At a Southern California Marine base hospital, disabled Vietnam veterans play pool and consider justifications for their sacrifice to the war. Elsewhere on base, Capt. Bob Hyde jogs and eagerly trains for his deployment the following day. Bob’s wife, Sally, is afraid of Bob’s departure but proud of his military service. Before dawn, Sally delivers Bob to the base and gives him a gold ring as a parting gift; he promises to never take it off. As Bob leaves, he introduces Sally to another enlistee, Sgt. Dink Mobley, and his free-spirited girl friend, Viola “Vi” Munson. When Sally asks Vi to join her for a drink, Vi invites the captain’s wife to her attic apartment. There, Sally explains that she must move from the officers’ quarters, now that Bob has shipped out, and Vi talks about her brother, Bill, who came home from Vietnam to be hospitalized for mental illness. Vi works at the base’s Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospital to be close to Bill. Sometime later, paraplegic veteran Luke Martin uses a pair of canes to propel himself through the hospital on a gurney. He complains to a male nurse nicknamed “Pee Wee” that his catheter bag needs changing. Meanwhile, Sally arrives at the hospital to apply as a volunteer. She and Luke accidentally collide and Luke’s catheter bag drops, squirting urine on Sally. Overcome with rage, Luke pummels his cane against nearby trays and wails about the mistreatment of patients. He is restrained and carted away. Sally later moves to a beachside house next door to Vi’s apartment, despite Bob’s insistence that she live with his mother during his absence. Unpacking boxes, Sally shows Vi her high school yearbook and points out a picture of Luke, who was captain of the football team. Back at the VA, Luke stages a hunger strike, protesting his restraints. Sally arrives for her first day of work and checks on Luke, who remembers her as a cheerleader and asks her to remove his shackles. She reluctantly complies, but her efforts are thwarted by Pee Wee and a female nurse, who order Sally to leave before dislodging Luke, themselves. Later, Sally’s car breaks down and she buys a Porsche Speedster. She writes a letter to Bob, telling him that she is a volunteer, despite his wishes that she remain out of work, but she refrains from mentioning the beach house and sports car. Back at the hospital, Luke criticizes Sally for being a socialite and warns her that Bob will come home in a body bag. Sally takes her patients’ stories of mistreatment to a committee of high-ranking Marine wives, asking them to publish an article in the base newsletter, but the ladies refuse. When she reports back to her patients with indignation, Luke says, “You are beautiful when you are excited.” Sometime later, Sally changes her conservative hairstyle and Luke is transferred to a wheelchair, allowing him to become more mobile. She invites him to dinner. At a Veteran’s Day celebration, Sally and Luke join Vi and her brother, Bill, who breaks down sobbing while playing guitar. Luke, also in tears, embraces his fellow soldier. Afterward, Sally escorts Luke to her house and he confesses his attraction to her. Although Sally is reticent about being unfaithful to Bob, she accepts a ride on Luke’s lap when they return to the hospital, and responds tentatively to his farewell kiss. The following day, Sally receives a telegram announcing that Bob and Dink are scheduled for leave in Hong Kong. She invites Vi to come along, but the young woman refuses to leave her brother. Outside, Luke joyously tells Sally that he is being discharged from the hospital in several days, but his mood shifts when he learns about Sally’s reunification with Bob. In Hong Kong, Bob is angered by news that Sally is working and Dink is upset by Vi’s absence. Following Sally’s advice, Dink decides to marry Vi and gives Sally a letter with his proposal. In their hotel room, Bob expresses his disillusion with the war, confessing that his soldiers wanted to decapitate their victims for sport. However, he snubs Sally’s attempts at consolation. Meanwhile, back in California, Vi’s brother Bill emotionally unravels in the hospital and commits suicide by injecting his arm with an empty syringe. Sally comes home that day to find Vi grieving for her brother. In the evening, the two women go to a club and Vi decides to accept Dink’s proposal, but flirts with intoxicated would-be suitors. They escort the ladies to a hotel room, where Vi performs a strip tease before breaking down in tears. Elsewhere, Luke loads his customized Mustang with chains, drives to a Marine recruit depot, and shackles himself to the gates in an act of civil disobedience. As Sally leads Vi through the hotel lobby, the friends see a television news broadcast of Luke, who tells reporters that he wants to prevent others from killing themselves in Vietnam to commemorate Bill’s suicide. Sally bails Luke out of jail and expresses her desire to make love, but the couple is unwittingly followed to Luke’s apartment by men who are conducting surveillance. That night, Sally experiences an orgasm for the first time. In the coming days, Sally and Luke become inseparable, unaware that they are being watched. One day, Luke picks Sally up from work with an opened letter from Bob, who has been shot in the leg and is coming home. Sally and Luke make love one last time and vow to remain friends. At the base airfield, Sally reunites with Bob, who is displeased by her transformation but delighted by the sports car. The couple returns to the beach house and Bob reports that he accidentally shot himself in the leg, but Vi suggests that his actions were intentional. Angry, Bob leaves Sally to drink with fellow Marines. Sometime later, Bob is summoned to Marine intelligence headquarters by the FBI and learns of his wife’s affair. Bob goes to Luke’s apartment to tell him about the surveillance and claims that Sally has also been informed. However, Luke phones Sally to discover that Bob has not mentioned the news to her and he becomes concerned about Bob’s mental state. Bob returns home with a loaded bayonet rifle and Sally admits to the affair, but she argues that she still loves Bob and wants to work on their relationship. Bob is further incensed when Luke arrives at the beach house expressing compassion, and he holds his wife and her lover at gunpoint. Luke explains that Sally always defended her marriage, and she wants to help her husband recover from the ravages of war. As Bob lets down his guard and Sally consoles him, Luke unloads bullets from the bayonet and leaves. Sometime later, Bob receives medals for his supposed heroism, but feels undeserving. Meanwhile, Luke gives a speech to high school boys considering enlistment and tells them they have a choice to save their own lives. Back at home, Sally leaves Bob to go to the grocery store. Alone and despondent, Bob walks to the beach, removes his clothes, including his ring, and jogs into the waves.