H e could go to sleep. He should go to sleep. He’d lucked out: this billet, this cellar, was as immaculate as the Dutch village they’d liberated today, its stone walls offering sturdy shelter from German artillery attacks. When they’d realized the Germans had left, the owners had returned to their home, and he’d feasted on a meal of apples, bread and fresh milk from their small herd of cows. (Their precious sausage, presented to him with gestures of great fanfare, he had, of course, refused.)

He’d insisted on sleeping in the cellar — much safer if a German counterattack began during the night — so they’d hauled down for him the unheard-of luxury of a mattress and a goose-down blanket. Brave people: if the Germans returned and found they’d assisted the American G.I.’s, they would be publicly hanged — if they were lucky.

Tomorrow he might be in a foxhole, or a barn, or on the bare earth. Now he should get some badly needed sleep. He tried, but it eluded him: jumbled thoughts of bravery and warfare and death were keeping Abe Levine awake.

Maybe writing would help; it often did, after a disturbing or difficult day. He lit the small kerosene lamp they’d given him — another extravagant rarity in war — and began to write.

My dear, I hope Rosh Hashanah went well for you and the children. Did Mutty behave at the shofar-blowing? As I am writing to you, I am well fed and warm. Of course I can’t tell you where I am — and even if I could, I wouldn’t be able to pronounce it! Rosh Hashanah was a little…”

He stopped and stared at the bare stone wall. One day, when — if — he returned home, he would tell his Annie everything, but in these letters he was determinedly optimistic. She had enough to worry about, his beloved young wife, and he would not add to her burdens.

“… a little busy, and unfortunately I couldn’t locate a shofar anywhere, though they said that chaplains had brought them.”

A little busy.

With the filthy, bloodstained business of war.

The day after their jump — the first day of Rosh Hashanah — had gone as smoothly as the drop itself. The paratroopers marched, lobbed grenades at the occasional ineffective German defenses, and secured some of the bridges essential to bringing in more troops and supplies. The area was flat, and, standing on a small hillock, Abe could make out the thin ribbon of highway that he hoped would ultimately lead to the German border — perhaps to Berlin itself. It was on the second day of the new year that things began going wrong.