H ow had he gotten here, to this noisy, frigid airplane, this bench filled with men smoking, dozing, some of them sweating despite the wind that flew roughly in through the open door?

Two years had passed like a dream: the excitement of enlisting as a paratrooper, the brutal physical training, the jumps off wooden towers, the wind machines, the folding of every cord, every piece of the parachute once, twice, hundreds of times, the very first drop from a moving airplane.

And then there was the fear, the elation, the thrill during freefall as he hurtled down towards the earth below, the overpowering euphoria when the chute opened and he began to drift through the air. From that very first time when, safely harnessed into a seat, he’d made the parachute jump in Coney Island, Abe had known that this was where he belonged.

He remembered his words to Annie, long ago, in another world, far from the frenzy of battle: The world is at war, Annie, and I’m young and strong and have to be a part of it. But if I have to be wounded, if I have to die, I want to die somewhere between heaven and earth.

Well, the world was still at war, and here he was, between heaven and earth. But he was not the same man who’d said those words with such careless abandon. He was a father of a son he’d never held, his Mutty, whom he yearned for as he’d never believed he could. And he was the husband of a woman who’d completed his life, his very being.

Please G-d, let me come back to them.

They were over the Channel now, speeding towards the coast of France. He glanced out the open door of the plane and gasped. Below, the churning waters were full, crowded as a New York City subway train during rush hour, with vessels of all kinds, all sizes; one after the other they were steaming towards Normandy, towards invasion.

The sight, eerie and awe-inspiring, eased the flash of inexplicable emotion — melancholy? fear? — that shot through him. He was Abe Levine, husband and father, but he was also a soldier, one of millions who were ready to do whatever was needed, give whatever was demanded for something vast and important and worth even their lives.

The planes droned on, flying in V-formation. Reb Leibush had advised Abe to memorize a few chapters of Tehillim — “You may need it for comfort, and not be able to read it from a book,” he’d said — and now Abe found himself quietly mouthing the words. His head nodded back and forth in rhythm with the propellers and, despite the tension, he found his eyes closing in sleep.