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West Beirut, the eve of Rosh Hashana, September 18, 1982 – We moved toward the corner, going into the dawn’s light battle. It was like walking down any city street, with the sidewalks and the doorways and the storefronts. Only now our combat boots crushed the crunchy shards of broken glass. Live wires dangled from above, sizzling and crackling. A few parked cars were smoldering wrecks. Dust filled the Mediterranean air, filtering the sun as it rose over Mount Lebanon into the port of Beirut. There were some bright flowers at the door of a house, growing profusely, the grit of the summer’s battles vainly trying to smother their sturdy petals and leaves.

We shuffled along in single file, our assault rifles loaded, fingers on the triggers. One of our 43-ton Merkava battle tanks rumbled along in the road next to us, its thousand- horsepower engine coughing like a sick Ford pickup truck. The monster shook the ground and made the walls shudder.

Its visceral power calmed me.

But the thick air choked us. The heaving rat-tat-tat of our comrades’ guns sounded nonchalantly from somewhere down the block. But when the distinct guttural sound of a Kalashnikov rifle spraying its thick 7.62mm rounds echoed above, we knew our Palestinian enemy was real and he was waiting for us. This wasn’t going to be a Louisiana snake hunt.

Half a dozen Israeli jet fighters streaked across the sky visible above between the multistory buildings. The warplanes were very high, and howling away into the gray haze toward the Mediterranean Sea. Yellow streaks of anti-aircraft fire followed but did not quite reach them.

I looked back. Behind us was the rest of my platoon and behind them my 906th battalion, fresh from non-commissioned officers’ course. And behind them an entire brigade or more of the Israel Defense Forces, all waiting for the battle to begin. It was as if this mighty juggernaut was waiting... for me. I turned back around. The sergeant was signaling with his hand: “Forward.” I lifted my booted foot. I turned the corner and literally stepped into my war.

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