We all have wet dreams at one time or another. Usually in our mid-teens. Not when we are 30. In basic training. Surrounded by a bunch of eighteen year old kids in a tent. With a stray cat sleeping on your leg. It’s a long and winding tale how I got to be a 30 year old doing basic training in the middle of the desert. You can read about it here. But back to the nocturnal emission. And wondering how I explain myself when they come around and rudely rouse us from our slumber. Yeah, no worries, boys. I was totally having a wet dream about some chick. High five bro. Totally not gay. Which I’m not. Or am I?
My biggest assignment for the Educational Corps was a film commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 52nd armored Battalion of the 401st Division. Yeah, that meant as much to me as it probably does to most of you reading it. Nada. Zilch. What the hell is the difference between a battalion and a division? Tanks? Can you tell the difference between a Soviet T-71 from a Sheridan? A Merkava from an M1 Abrams? I sure as hell couldn’t.
So the concept was to interview a veteran from each major conflict over the past sixty years. Israel is definitely not lacking in that department. But make it a personal story. Make it universal. And inspiring. Help motivate the young kids now serving in the tanks. Help them to appreciate the long and honorable heritage of this great battalion. Make it look cool. Make it look modern. Yeah, sure thing. Oh. One more thing. Heavy on the glory and light on the guts. Blood and guts that is. Nobody wants to think about that.
U. was in his eighties and had served in the 52nd during the War of Independence. It wasn’t a tank unit then. It was an infantry (ground troops) battalion and part of Givati. He fought bravely in the south against the Egyptians. At one point in the interview he takes out a bullet riddled Koran and tells me how he took it off a dead Egyptian soldier. “I wanted to remember that dead soldier, that kid, and even though he was an enemy combatant he was a human being. Just like me.” And so U. had kept the Koran for all these years as a way to honor that fallen Egyptian soldier. Of course that whole scene was chopped out of the film by my CO.
A. was in his late fifties. He had been awarded the President’s Medal of Honor for bravery during the Yom Kippur war. He was with the 52nd in the Sinai Peninsula and managed to survive the Egyptian onslaught. Every crew member in his tank was killed in an explosion. He tried to rescue his friend who was caught twenty meters outside the tank. He ran right through a barrage of bullets from the Egyptians. They all missed. And he says “they all missed” like he’s still surprised. After all these years. And there’s a brief moment on tape where he’s silent. I see it in his eyes. He’s right back in the thick of it. Surrounded by the sheer horror of his own mortality. He brought his comrade back to the tank but the comrade was already dead from his wounds. That brief lull, that infinitely compassionate pause was removed to the trash bin with a click of the button.
I had another wet dream on the last night of basic training. I swear to God they put viagra in the food. I walked around with an erection for days. I had gone an entire decade without having one wet dream and here I was having two of them at the worst possible time. Jesus Christ. And one of my buddies asks me as I stealthily reach into my kitbag for another pair of underwear “Why are you sleeping naked?” What’s the right response? I don’t know if there is one. So I didn’t answer. And he didn’t follow up.
R. was the Battalion Commander during the Second Lebanese War in 2006. His tank went on a mission to rescue the crew from another tank that had been hit. It was an ambush and his tank was fired upon from all directions. Two members of his crew died. He was paralyzed from the waist down for months. But he managed to recover. We sat on top of the Merkava 5 tank and he told me the whole story. He had told it many times already to all the Israeli news outlets and even CNN. He was a bona fide national hero. There was a brief pause as he told about the seconds before the tank was hit. The quiet. And he got quiet too. Choked up. Human. It was such an intimate, touching moment and I had captured it on video. That gentle moment too found its place on the metaphorical editing room floor.
The grand finale promised to be the “fun” part. A chance to spend a few days with the brave men and women serving in the 52nd battalion at a base near Ariel. They asked me to document an exercise. A surprise roadblock checkpoint on some dirt road between two major Palestinian cities in the West Bank. Nothing too serious. Just to give the younger guys a chance to practice in a real life situation. Most of the terrorists know not to use that road by now.
And so there I am in the helicopter looking down at the villages of the West Bank feeling like Martin Sheen in that greatest of all war movies. Heart of Darkness. Maybe not exactly, but it was as close as I had been to action in… ever. I even got to wear the heavy body armor and helmet. But no weapon. Only my video camera.
They set up a road block and stopped a few Palestinians, who seemed quite inured to this sort of delay. I wasn’t. One car stopped and the woman was pregnant. Her daughter clung to her leg. Her husband showed the soldier some documentation and another soldier searched the car. I looked at that poor pregnant woman through my viewfinder and felt absolutely disgusted. I know that nobody was harmed. Nobody. But they were inconvenienced. And I hate to be inconvenienced. So I can imagine how they must feel. Especially if it happens all the time. And for no other reason than to train soldiers. That footage never made it to any final cut.
We screened the film for the (then) battalion commander and his ralashit, which means glorified personal assistant. He was so emotional he hugged me. The glorified personal assistant wiped away a tear. It was what they had hoped for and more. This should have made me ecstatic. We who create need to constantly hear how good we are. How well we write. How well we film. How well we edit. But it was bittersweet because the real emotion, the real story would never be anything more than an outtake sitting on a digital video cassette in some archive on some army base.
I finished basic training and not one of my comrades ever found out about my wet dreams.
I finished the army and not one of my comrades ever saw the raw footage.
Both are dirty little secrets that I’ve been carrying with me.
And of the two dirty little secrets, I’m sad to say that I don’t know which one is more embarrassing.