By September 1944, the Allies seem to be moving steadily toward victory in Europe. "Militarily," General Dwight Eisenhower's chief of staff tells the press, "this war is over." But in the coming months, on both sides of the world, a generation of young men will learn a lesson as old as war itself — that generals make plans, plans go wrong and soldiers die.
On the Western Front, American and British troops massed on the German border are desperately short of fuel. Allied commanders gamble on a risky scheme to drop thousands of airborne troops, including Dwain Luce of Mobile and Harry Schmid of Sacramento, behind enemy lines in Holland, but nothing goes according to plan; it's clear that the war in Europe will not end before winter.
Over the next three months, American soldiers are ordered into some of Germany's most fiercely defended terrain. In the Hurtgen Forest, tens of thousands of GIs, including Tom Galloway of Mobile, fight a battle in which the only victory is survival. During his missions over Germany, fighter pilot Quentin Aanenson of Luverne loses so many friends and sees so much death that he comes close to collapsing in despair. In the Vosges Mountains, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, including Robert Kashiwagi, Susumu Satow and Tim Tokuno of Sacramento, is assigned to an overly ambitious general and endures weeks of brutal combat. At the end of October, they are ordered to break through to a battalion of Texas soldiers caught behind the lines - no matter the cost.
In the Pacific, General MacArthur is poised to invade the Philippines at Leyte. The 1st Marine Division, including Eugene Sledge and Willie Rushton of Mobile, is ordered to take the nearby island of Peleliu. The fighting drags on for more than two months in one of the most brutal and unnecessary campaigns in the Pacific.
In October, Sascha Weinzheimer of Sacramento and the other internees in Manila thrill to the sight and sound of American carrier-based planes bombing Japanese ships in the nearby bay, and a few weeks later, American troops land on the island of Leyte, 350 miles away. In movie theaters back home, as Katharine Phillips of Mobile recalls, Americans cheer the newsreels of General MacArthur's "return." But months of bloody fighting lie ahead before the Philippine Islands are liberated.