The stories take place in the environs of the Coral Sea and the Solomon Islands. Michener as narrator gives a first-person voice to several of the stories as an unnamed "Commander", performing duties similar to those that he himself performed during World War II.
The stories are interconnected by recurring characters and several loose plot lines. One plot line in particular is the preparation for and execution of a fictitious amphibious invasion, code-named "Alligator". The focus of the stories is, however, the interactions between Americans and a variety of colonial, immigrant, and indigenous characters.
The chronology of the stories begins with the building of an airfield on Norfolk Island before the Battle of the Coral Sea, in 1942, and goes through the early 1944 invasion of one of Michener's fictional islands. Although the stories are primarily about the U.S. Navy, most of the action is shore-based, and none of the stories concern ships larger than a LCI.