The story begins soon after VE Day 1945. Four American soldiers, decorated veterans of the campaign to liberate Europe, are called together at the Division JAG Office to be informed that they are being investigated for the of murder of a young soldier, PVT Steiner (George Chikiris) who went missing during a patrol they were part of in Germany's Black Forest in early 1945. One of soldiers, SSG Joseph Dusak (Harry Morgan) was the patrol leader. The other soldiers, Corporal John Crocker (Jon Locke), Corporal Quinn (Gregory LaFayette) and Private Pope (Robert Levin), are the only members of the patrol to survive the war.
The soldiers are informed that the remains of the missing private were recently found and evidence pointed to the cause of death as murder, the bullet being fired from a US made .45 cal pistol. Investigators found irregularities with SSG Dusak's patrol report who wrote that they got lost. Suspicious, investigators uncovered the report of another patrol from an adjacent unit that stated they encountered SSG Dusak's patrol and suspected them of goofing off. The patrol leader, Sergeant William Hutchins (Karl Lukas), testifies that the patrol did not appear to be lost as was reported, but appeared to be having a good time. In addition, SSG Dusak was the only member of the patrol who carried a .45 cal pistol.
1LT Steve Rogerson (Rex Reason), a combat veteran, is appointed to defend the soldiers and as the evidence mounts, LT Rogerson suspects that the patrol members are not telling all that they know. Under pressure, one of the soldiers comes clean and confesses they hid in a cave to rest and get warm. While looking for materials to start a fire, one the patrol members uncovers a cache of thousands of US dollars hidden in the cave. SSG Dusak is all for turning the cash in but the other soldiers convincingly argue that they have fought for three years and deserve more than just a pat on the back. So all agree to keep and divide up the money. Since they cannot carry the loot back to their unit, they all agree to leave the cave one at a time so that each can find a secret location to bury their share and then reassemble at the cave.
However, every soldier returns to the cave except PVT Steiner. A quick search fails to find any trace of the soldier and PVT Steiner is reported as MIA. With this new information, LT Rogerson reports the confessions and arms the prosecution, CPT Linn (Steve Brodie), with a motive. During testimony, SGT Hutchins states that one of the patrol members he saw was armed with a .45 cal pistol and had a frostbit hand. He further states that he does not recognize any of the suspects as the soldiers he encountered that day on patrol.
LT Rogerson has his suspicions and requests that all camps holding German POWs report any with frostbite injuries. Within days, a LT Karl Stagg (William Allyn) of the Wehrmacht is escorted to the courtroom. Under intense questioning, LT Stagg admits to being a member of a patrol in the Black Forest that same day. Dressed in US Army uniforms, they were scouting for the American battle positions when they encountered and captured PVT Steiner burying his loot. Afraid that he will reveal their location, LT Stagg executes the soldier. It was his patrol that SGT Hutchins encountered and reported that day.
With the charges dropped, the four soldiers are celebrating when LT Rogerson drops in to announce that not only is the US Army dropping charges against them concerning the money, but that SSG Dusak will be awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for courageous acts he performed earlier in the war. He also drops a bombshell - that the money they risked their lives and freedom for was all counterfeit.
As LT Rogerson grabs his coat and turns to leave, you hear SSG Dusak's voice-over state, "and that was the last time I saw LT Rogerson". The scene fades to refocus again to show former SSG Dusak at Arlington Cemetery. The whole story was being told in flashback and he is standing over the grave of Major Steve Rogerson. His headstone reads that he was killed in action in Korea in November, 1950. As SSG Dusak lays his DSC on Major Rogerson's headstone, he says, "you deserved this medal more than I did".
As I recall, this movie was well written with twists and turns in the plot that were both suspenseful, yet believable. The movie showed a different view of American soldiers that were both flawed and war wary. Fatigued from relentless combat, they gave in to temptation to keep the money. I really would love to see this movie on DVD. Harry Morgan's performance as a combat hardened soldier is an early preview of his acting style and abilities as seen on Dragnet or M*A*S*H. But a truly good performance is acted by all in this gem of a movie.