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In 1943, in the Southwest Pacific, four Seabees--Dave, Jim, George and Cip--land, from a small dinghy, on Gizo Island. The mission of the group, led by Dave, a lieutenant, is to establish the feasibility of constructing an airfield on the island, and must be carried out within seventeen hours, at which time they are to be picked up. They proceed through a swamp to a clearing, where they are attacked by several Japanese soldiers, and George is shot in the leg. The others are forced to leave him, and tell him to return to the dinghy. They move on, but are still pursued by a small group of Japanese soldiers, and in another skirmish, Jim is shot in the hand. Meanwhile, George, an African-American soldier, crawls back through heavy undergrowth and is seen by a native girl, who has been taken prisoner and ordered to cook for a Japanese detachment nearby. While hiding, George watches as a Japanese captain berates his troops for the loss of three men. Dave and the others use a rudimentary map to try to establish the location of a flat, dry area. When they think they are near it, Cip volunteers to climb a tree to scan the area. From the tree, Cip sees a three-man, Japanese patrol approaching Jim and Dave, but is able to warn them and they kill the enemy soldiers. When they reach the flat area, Dave determines that the ground is too wet and lacks the foundation necessary for an airstrip. Meanwhile, the girl brings George, who is still in hiding, some canned food, and he realizes that the Japanese are actually mapping the island. After the draftsman shoots a wild boar, some of the Japanese have a party while several others leave on patrol. George crawls into a tent, takes the map from a draft table, then leaves a grenade under the foot of a chair as a booby trap. When the map maker discovers the map is missing, he accuses the girl of taking it. However, George opens fire and the grenade explodes, killing all the soldiers in the camp. The noise alerts Dave and the others and they start toward its source as the girl helps George to walk away. At the same time, the patrol finds their dead comrades and chases after the Seabees. As the trio crosses a stretch of water, a Japanese soldier emerges from the water and stabs Jim to death. Dave is attacked by another Japanese, but is saved by Cip, who then is bayoneted by a soldier, whom Dave kills. Cip, though wounded, feels that he can make it to the dinghy. George and the girl are already there, but when George insists on waiting for the others, the girl runs off to look for them. While heading toward the dinghy, Dave sees movement in the undergrowth, shoots and accidentally kills the girl. When Dave and Cip reach George, he asks about the fate of Jim and the girl, then they all paddle away from the island.