Retired marine colonel "Red" Elwell is sent on government business to the island of Peleliu, the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. On the night of his arrival, he is ambushed in the jungle by a band of men and bayoneted to death. Elwell had been a war hero and a public figure, and the press swarms in from the four corners of the globe.
Only one newsman remains to find out the truth behind the press handouts. Marshall Booker, "a master writer masquerading as a journalist," persuades Major Beckman, an anomaly among military men, to let him in on the manhunt. The search for the murderous band is complicated by the presence of other desperate men–commercial bone hunters, salvaging the remains of soldiers killed during World War II; stragglers from the Japanese Army who have never surrendered; ruthless politicians, both local native and American, vying for control of the people the riches of Peleliu; American government officials competing with Peace Corps members in their own struggle to control the island.
In this highly inflammable situation, Marshall Booker unwittingly sets off a chain of events that plunges the island into turmoil and determines his own fate as well.