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Following his retirement ceremony, Fleet Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey, Jr. must return to his cabin to don civilian clothes. Before leaving, he asks his valet, Manuel Salvador Jesus Maravilla, for his recollections of their time together, and when Manuel brings up Guadalcanal, Halsey is flooded with memories of his most difficult command: In October 1942, Halsey and his handpicked staff, including pilot and aide Lt. Cmdr Andrew Jefferson Lowe III and flight surgeon Capt. Horace Keys, fly from Pearl Harbor to the South Pacific island of Guadalcanal, which is under heavy fire from Japanese troops, lead by Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto. Yamamoto, a brilliant strategist, learns that a plane has been spotted and, although he does not know that Halsey is aboard, orders the plane intercepted. In turn, Halsey, upon hearing that there has been an unusual amount of Japanese radio traffic, decides to change course, thus avoiding a confrontation. Soon after, Halsey receives notice that he has been selected to take command of the South Pacific forces in Guadalcanal, replacing Adm. Robert L. Ghormley, a close friend of Halsey. Upon reaching his new command ship, Halsey meets with Ghormley and quietly assures his friend that his only mistake was in being the first to lead the difficult battle. Although Yamamoto assumes that Halsey will need at least a month to gain a full understanding of the many military units on the island, Halsey immediately calls all key personnel to brief him, and works at his customary ceaseless pace to get a full picture of the Allied position. Ghormley's chief of staff, Capt. Harry Black, believes he will be fired, both for his loyalty to Ghormley and because he favors a "by-the-book" approach, as opposed to Halsey's more intuitive approach to decision-making, but the fair-minded admiral asks him to stay on, as he values the captain's experience and contrasting viewpoint. After working through the night, Halsey meets with the heads of each branch of the military: Air Force Maj. Gen. Millard F. Harmon; Army Col. Evans Carlson, who created Carlson's Raiders; Marines Maj. Gen. Archie Vandegrift; aviation commander Maj. Gen. Roy Geiger; and Navy supply ship commander Rear Adm. Kelly Turner. From each, Halsey hears the same story: they need more men, more supplies and more naval protection. Although the situation is bleak, Halsey reminds them that Guadalcanal is the stronghold of the Allied defense and must be held, and promises aid, though he knows that he will be hard-pressed to obtain any more supplies or air support from Washington. Later, Halsey diverts nearby troops to the Guadalcanal ground force, despite Black's misgivings that they do not have the proper authorization. At the end of the day, Lowe and Keys try to convince Halsey to get his annual shots and go to sleep, but the wily admiral evades them and plans a trip the next morning to the front lines, regardless of the danger. There, he personally observes the harsh conditions, with young boys remaining courageous in the face of hunger, crippling injuries and exhaustion. Even the hardened Halsey is forced to seek shelter in a bunker when the Japanese planes relentlessly strife the camps. The next day, as Halsey is readying to leave, Lowe informs him that the soldiers have gathered to hear him talk. Halsey is reluctant but delivers a stirring speech, reminding the boys how vital their sacrifice is, then nails Yamamoto's intercepted terms for the Allied surrender to a tree to inspire them. The admiral's visit inspires the troops, and soon Yamamoto learns that resistance has increased. As Yamamoto plans the obliteration of the island's airfield, Halsey soon deduces that a major attack is forthcoming. Although the Allies have only two carriers to fight the entire Japanese fleet, Halsey plots a surprise attack. That night, Halsey grants Lowe's request to enter combat on one of the carriers, the Enterprise , and when Lowe's only final plea is for the admiral to get his shots, Halsey is forced to acquiesce, to the delight of his entire crew, who line up to watch. Halsey remains awake all night while the attack is mounted. When it is over, he understands that the outcome was strategically positive despite the huge losses to the Americans. The other military leaders fear that they are too weak to go on, but Halsey points out that Yamamoto has historically always failed to follow up on an advance, and pools the military's mechanics to repair the damages to the carriers. His hunch proves correct, as Yamamoto retreats, allowing the Americans to work on the carriers. On the Enterprise , Halsey approaches pilot Roy Webb to be his new aide, and when Webb explains that he recently lost half his squadron and feels unfit for duty, Halsey counsels, "There are no great men, only great challenges that ordinary men are forced by circumstances to meet." Later, Halsey's men correctly guess that Yamamoto will attack on November 11. On November 9, the Navy sends supplies and reinforcements, and Halsey is forced to order the still-crippled Enterprise to protect the arriving ship. Soon after, he learns that his son's plane is missing in action. Yamamoto then moves his command closer and determines to visit his front lines, as Halsey has done. Meanwhile, Halsey prepares for battle, tormented by the multitude of lives he must sacrifice. Alone in his room, the admiral tries to clear his mind of the voices and uncertainties that plague him. By morning, many of Halsey's men¿and friends¿have been killed, but the defense has been successful, and Halsey learns that his son is alive. Lowe presents Halsey with his fourth star, which he orders sent to the widows of the naval admirals. Just that morning, the Allied forces have managed to break the Japanese code and have learned that Yamamoto is aboard a nearby ship. Despite some misgivings that this may be a trap, Halsey goes against protocol to detach ships to attack him. Allowing his key personnel to help plan the assault, Halsey rushes forces in. The Japanese are soon in retreat, but Halsey is disheartened to hear about the huge American casualties. The soldiers, sailors and pilots continue fighting despite their exhaustion. Finally, word comes that Yamamoto and his top aides have been killed, and the men enjoy a triumphant celebration. Back in the present, Halsey changes into a suit and bids a fond goodbye to Manuel. As he leaves the ship, each member of his staff salutes him with the great respect and affection that he has never failed to earn.