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Just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Navy deserter Lieutenant Richard Houston is knocked out in a boxcar fight and kicked off the train. After rolling onto the edge of the highway, he is picked up by good-natured farmer "Fixit" Smith, who is headed home to San Pedro, California, to enlist in the Navy. When Houston calls himself "Jim Smith from Tennessee," Fixit happily assumes that he is a distant cousin, and insists that Jim live with his family. As "Jim" is an experienced deep sea diver, he rejoins the Navy as a gunner's mate on a minesweeper, craftily using the birth certificate of one of Fixit's cousins as his own. One day after exhaustive training, Jim and Fixit go home to celebrate the birthday of Fixit's beautiful niece Mary, and Jim immediately falls in love with her. However, he soon meets his rival for her affection, gunner's mate Elliot Nash. Fixit, Jim and Elliot are assigned to a mine disposal ship, and one day while on a scouting mission, the ship's mooring lines become tangled in a mine. Sailors Welch and Ryan are sent to untangle the mine, and Elliot and Jim investigate as well. Jim notices that the bomb appears to be slightly different than others they have seen, and removes a "knife" from the mine and returns to the ship. Just as he and Elliot arrive at the ship, Welch and Ryan are killed when the mine explodes. Later, Elliot and Jim are assigned to serve under Lieutenant Gilpin and receive more specialized training in mine disposal. During their first assignment, Elliot rescues Jim when his oxygen lines become tangled in a net they are repairing. Gilpin becomes suspicious after seeing Jim's Navy pocket watch with the name Richard Houston engraved on it. When Jim is granted a twenty-four-hour leave, he borrows ten dollars from his shipmate, Stubby, and agrees to deliver a down payment for Stubby's engagement ring. Concerned that he will lose Mary to Elliot, Jim uses the down payment on a ring for Mary, and bets the rest of Stubby's money in a poker game. Jim becomes so involved in the game that he misses dinner with Mary and does not report back to his ship. Fixit gives up the rest of his leave and reports in Jim's place, telling Gilpin that Jim is sick. Fixit is then killed when a Japanese mine is set off by the minesweeper and destroys his ship. After winning money in the card game, Jim, meanwhile, proposes to Mary, who breaks the bad news about Fixit. Stunned and remorseful, Jim reveals the truth about his identity and plans to desert again, but returns to duty after he hears an urgent order from the Naval base for all men to return to base. Although Gilpin intends to arrest Jim, as he has confirmed his true identity as the AWOL officer through an investigation, he desperately needs to discover how the new type of mine which was responsible for Fixit's death works, and allows Jim to dive. Jim and Elliot dive together and when they notice that the mine starts moving up when a plane passes overhead, they report to Gilpin that the new type of mine reacts to sound waves. Gilpin orders Jim to resurface while Elliot disarms the mine, but Jim forces Elliot to resurface instead. Jim starts to dismantle the mine and transmits the information to Gilpin, but is killed when the mine explodes. Despite his death, the information Jim obtained is used to detonate countless mines, and he is posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, while Elliot and Mary mourn his passing.