How does one tell a story that in retrospect seems like fiction? How does one shake the strange feeling that, if this story is true, then why am I here to tell it?
I wrote these words a few weeks ago, and I still have no explanation. Perhaps it is something that is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and if so, and if I have some part of that disorder, I consider myself very fortunate.
We got off the road leading from Mazrat Beit Jan in order to take up night positions on the two ridges that flanked the road. Any time we were stopped for more than a few moments we would get off the road. Taking up positions next to our halftracks, Syrian MiG-21 aircraft came in low above the darkening horizon. I had the distinct impression that the closer we moved towards Damascus, the more severe the fire and the shelling from the retreating Syrian forces.
We unleashed blistering gunfire from every weapon on both sides of the road towards the Syrian jets. As they retreated and the noise of their engines subsided, we heard an anguished scream from the far ridge. Someone yelled that H., one of our platoon’s medics had been hit, and as we ran towards him we could hear him yelling, “my [scrotum], I’ve been hit in my [scrotum]!!” A knife came out of nowhere, and someone tore H.’s pant leg open, where his flesh wound could be ministered to more easily. Another of our platoon medics, A., administered a pressure bandage to H.’s thigh and almost in unison we yelled out, “…it’s not your [scrotum]! It’s just your thigh!”
War does have its moments of levity. Were it not for the fact that H. had been hit by “friendly fire” this would really have been quite funny. H. was evacuated to the rear of the action. He would make a complete recovery.
Our orders were to move towards a heavily fortified Syrian position at Tel Shams, a few kilometers to the south-west of Sassa. Reservists hoping to link up to their units used our platoon as a means to join the fight. A rumor spread that one such reservist was Meir Har-Zion, a legendary fighter who passed away this past March. Moshe Dayan had described him as “the finest of our commando soldiers, the best soldier ever to emerge in the IDF”, and there he was, next to me, in the flesh.
It seemed that many of our units were on their way to Tel Shams. At the Sassa intersection I received news of another Golani unit that had been given the task of re-taking the Mount Hermon fortress captured by Syrian commandos on the first day of the war. I met with Y., who had been my mentor and my lieutenant for my six months of Golani’s basic training school. Y. was wounded, and bandaged, and when I asked him about it, he stated, simply, that he did not have time to be wounded. He had ordered a medic to patch him up and he went right back into the fight. “Many of our friends from basic did not fare well.” was all he said.
I saw a familiar face, a paratroop officer from my kibbutz. M. took me aside and told me that U. had been killed in the fighting in the Sinai peninsula. B., a “lone soldier” from British Columbia, Canada, had been wounded during the battle of the “Chinese Farm” in the Sinai. There was no time for grieving, and we bade each other farewell, with the hope that we would somehow live and see each other again.
It was near the Sassa intersection that we received orders to join forces with the tank brigades who were about to face the Iraqi Armored Divisions who had joined Syria in its efforts to destroy Israel. Our platoon, spread out on the ground behind and between our tanks, watched them turn night into day as more than eighty Iraqi tanks and their entire mechanized support units were destroyed.
With complete radio silence on the Israeli side, and as rumor had it, using the Iraqi radio frequencies, our soldiers, some of whom were fluent in Arabic, had lured the Iraqi Brigade into this trap. I recall how the ground shook and reverberated with the roar of gunfire from our tanks, and how each Iraqi tank hit by Israeli shells would set the night ablaze with light and fire.
Under the heaviest of artillery barrages we arrived at Tel Shams. We had sent the Syrian forces into a heavy retreat and their revenge would be furious, as we were about to find out.