There will always be certain triggers that will take me right back. Those kinds of things are inevitable. All in all, though, I have to say that I am fortunate. I am alive. Some of my friends did not live to tell their stories of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
I put my head down at night and I fall asleep immediately. I cannot recall any of my dreams. Sometimes when I walk, early in the morning, and I smell the odor of wood burning from a fireplace, I am transported back, immediately, to the small villages we went through on our way to Tel Shams.
When the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed and the rubble smoldered for months, and the smoke from the rubble was carried across the Hudson River to New Jersey, I recognized that smell and what it meant. I had smelled that before.
We passed through small Syrian villages, Khan Arnaba, Jubat-el-Hashab, Hader and Harfa. All had been deserted. The Syrian plateau was a massive landscape of anti-tank trenches and the burned, smoldering hulls of Soviet tanks, trucks and artillery. I was overcome with a thought, that the Soviets and their allies had invested heavily in Syria. No tractors, no modern farm machinery, no fields of corn or cotton, no, there was nothing of the kind. The Soviet investment in Syria, at least from the border with Israel to Damascus, was an investment of the instruments and the machinery of war.
In one of the villages, we cleared the small houses as a precaution against snipers and surprise attacks. I entered a house and cleared room after room, when I came upon a cache of RPG rockets. In another room, a Syrian gave up his RPG (a Soviet made rocket propelled grenade launcher) and it became mine. Lieutenant E. told me that my hands were bleeding. I pulled tiny fragments of shrapnel from them and went on to the next house. My squad sergeant told me to fire my newly acquired weapon into another house. The accuracy of the RPG was impressive. We moved on to the next village.
I found a room filled with sacks of anise. The aroma of licorice was everywhere. Later I learned that anise was a primary ingredient of arak, an alcoholic beverage. I found a beautiful Jambiya (an ornamental dagger) beneath one of the sacks of anise. We mounted up, into our halftracks and headed towards the next village.
None of us had showered or bathed for a week. We slept when we could, sometimes by the roadside, taking turns at watch, sometimes on a mattress from an abandoned house in a village. We paid the price, because many of us had small insect bites all over our bodies. One of our supply sergeants radioed for a water truck and a battalion medic. A rotation was established and we showered with the water from the truck while others guarded the perimeter. The battalion medic doused us all with something that would kill whatever had been crawling on us and biting us.
We came upon one of our mobile mortar units. The 88 mm mortars were mounted in the open rear end of modified M113 armored personnel carriers. They were laying down a massive barrage of suppressive fire against the retreating Syrian units. Suddenly we heard a huge explosion, and I saw a fireball tear apart one of our mortar units. Moments later I heard the report over the radio that the team had worked so fast that the loader had not waited for the mortar rocket to exit the tube, and had loaded a new rocket just as the previous one exited the 88 mm tube. Everyone inside that M113 was killed.
We prepared for nightfall and got off the road, which was in a kind of valley between two ridges on either side. We took up positions next to our halftracks, as there was still the odd Syrian MiG-21 that could strafe us and do serious damage. And, that was exactly what was about to happen.