After World War II, returning veterans Fred Derry, Homer Parrish, and Al Stephenson meet while flying home to Boone City. Fred was a captain and bombardier in Europe. Homer was a petty officer; he lost both hands from burns suffered when his ship was sunk, and now uses mechanical hook prostheses. Al was an infantry platoon sergeant in the Pacific. All three have trouble readjusting to civilian life.
Al is a banker with a comfortable apartment and a loving family: wife Milly, adult daughter Peggy, and high-school student son Rob. He is promoted to vice president in charge of small loans, as the president views his military experience as valuable in dealing with other returning servicemen. When Al approves an unsecured loan to a young Navy veteran, despite the man’s lack of collateral, the president advises him against making a habit of it. Later, at a banquet in his honor, an inebriated Al expounds that the bank—and America—must stand with the vets and give them every chance to rebuild their lives.
Fred, a soda jerk before the war, wants something better, but the tight labor market forces him to return to his old job. Fred had met and married Marie after a short acquaintance, before shipping out less than a month later. She became a nightclub waitress while Fred was overseas. Marie makes it clear she does not enjoy being married to a lowly soda jerk.
Homer, a high school football quarterback, had become engaged to his next-door neighbor, Wilma, before joining the Navy. He does not want to burden Wilma with his handicap so he eventually pushes her away. However, she still wants to marry him.
Peggy drives her parents around to various nightclubs to celebrate. The last place they stop is a small bar owned and operated by Homer’s uncle. There Al is reunited with Homer and Fred. Peggy and Fred are attracted to each other.
Fred finds himself working under a young man who had been Fred’s assistant before the war. Peggy drops by, and they have lunch together. Afterward, he suddenly grabs her and kisses her quickly but passionately. He immediately apologizes. Confused and somewhat upset, Peggy gets in her car and drives away. She decides to find out more about Marie in person, and arranges a double-date with herself and a boyfriend. Peggy dislikes Marie, and informs her parents later that night that she intends to end Fred’s unhappy marriage. Al demands that Fred stop seeing his daughter. Fred agrees, but the friendship between the two men is strained.
Fred is having a casual conversation with Homer at work when an obnoxious customer enrages Homer with his remarks about fighting the wrong enemy in the war. Fred intervenes, knocking the man down and losing his job. Later, Fred encourages Homer to marry Wilma. When Wilma visits Homer at home later that same evening, Homer shows her how hard life with him would be, but she is undaunted.
Fred catches his wife with another man when he returns home unexpectedly. They argue, and Marie tells him that she is getting a divorce.
Fred decides to leave town to make a fresh start. While waiting for a plane, he wanders into a vast aircraft boneyard. Inside the nose of a B-17, he has a flashback. The boss of a work crew, in charge of disassembling the planes for materials for “prefabricated houses,” rouses him. Fred persuades the man to hire him.
At Homer and Wilma’s wedding, Fred, now divorced, is Homer’s best man. Fred and Peggy glance at one another. After the ceremony, he takes her in his arms, kisses her and asks if she understands the troubles that lie in store for them. Peggy smiles fondly at him, and then kisses him again.