Tel Shams is another of the volcanic mounds, or hills on the Syrian plateau. Every inch of that hill was fortified by the Syrians, and all of the bunkers and gun positions faced west, towards Israel. All of the entrances to the bunkers faced north-east, towards Damascus. Imagine a cross section of an anthill, with its various connecting tunnels and storage areas and you kind of get the idea.
Together with Israeli Paratroop units and some armored units, Golani took the Tel. We quickly set up positions and stowed our gear in the narrow chambers that the Syrian military had used for storage.
Spreading our sleeping bags one next to the other we could squeeze eight to ten troops into a “room”, but one had to be careful not to step on anyone, there was not an inch of space between us. We organized a watch rotation, guarding different positions on and around the Tel. One of the officers present, and not one from our organic unit, decided to “make sure” that we were prepared for the tasks of our guard duty, and lined us up outside, at the entrance to one of the bunkers we occupied. Of course the Syrians, who had just left, albeit unwillingly and in retreat, knew each and every position of Tel Shams, and wasted no time bombarding us as we stood in formation awaiting this officer’s inspection.
Needless to say he was no longer allowed to conduct any inspections of our squad, our platoon or any of the brothers of the 13th Battalion Golani Brigade. We were fortunate that during that particular bombardment we had no casualties. Further, only our own squad leaders would conduct preparedness inspections, which for the most part they deemed totally unnecessary.
We remained on Tel Shams for a few days. My post was at the base of the Tel, facing the Syrians, and during one of my shifts, towards dusk, I was joined by K., who had emigrated to Israel from Belgium, and had volunteered to serve in the Golani Brigade. Nowadays such soldiers are called “lone soldiers” but back in ’73 not much of a fuss was made about that.
There we were, the two of us in a foxhole we had dug out a day or two earlier, protected only by some layers of jute or burlap bags filled with the dirt of the foxhole. As night fell, the Syrians opened up with an artillery barrage that seemed to have the both of us in mind as targets for their shells. Explosion after explosion ripped open the earth in front of our position. Deeper and deeper we buried our faces, our bodies, into the soft dirt of our foxhole. The shriek of the incoming round would give us but a mere split second of warning before the explosion that rocked the ground. Dirt and shrapnel scattered everywhere.
One of our Golani brothers, high above us in another post, managed to get the coordinates of the artillery pieces that were pounding us down below. He must have communicated that information to our IAF and artillery units, because in a matter of a few moments more, K. and I heard the roar of our Phantoms and Skyhawks above, and the completely different sound of our artillery’s response.
A while later the only sound I could hear was the severe ringing in my ears. K. and I checked each other out, but other than being covered in dirt we were fine. K. retrieved a small piece of shrapnel that had lodged itself in my helmet. Along with the jacket that I wore, that jacket soaked with the blood of another Israeli soldier, that jacket that I had found when first we had mounted up from Rosh Pina to climb back up to fortress 104, in what seemed like years ago, I decided to keep that piece of shrapnel and I put it into one of the pouches of my military webbing.
At 3 a.m. the next morning K. and I were relieved of our post, and I crawled into the bunker, collapsed on top of my sleeping bag, too tired to even remove my boots. In what seemed only a moment later, I awoke to the cries and shouts of several brothers from my squad.
I thought at first that I had slept through my next shift, but no. With the greatest grief and sadness we learned that our platoon’s medic, A. had been at his post early that morning. It would have been my turn to relieve him, as he slept in the space right next to mine. It was perhaps 5:30 or 6 a.m. when another Syrian artillery barrage took his life.
A. was very tall. A piece of shrapnel from one of the Syrian shells ended his life in a brief moment, a moment during which he may have tried to make himself smaller, a moment that will remain with me forever.
As I write these lines, tears streaming down my face, I want to stop for a moment, compose myself, and thank you, dear readers, for allowing me to tell you a story that might seem stranger than fiction. I wish you, dear reader, a joy-filled New Year.
With your permission, I will continue the story during the days between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. חג שמח!