It is a day that transcends time. Always.
A day that transcends my physical reality, bringing me back to the sounds, the smells, the visuals.
Plumes of dark smoke rise from the horizon. A roar above. The Phantom II F-4, deafening, making my heart race with joy, while Skyhawk after Skyhawk shot down by Soviet Surface to Air Missiles (SAM’s) tear me apart.
I see David running along the concrete just above the fortified trenches of Fortress 104, and as he heads for the 50 caliber machine gun position I spot the MiG also and run with him. I’m in the trench. I unload a clip of my Belgian FN, set to automatic, as David unleashes the deadly armor piercing rounds of the machine gun. The MiG, intent on dropping a massive payload of death upon our fortress attempts to veer, banking radically and just beyond the horizon a huge fireball. David and I continue as if nothing had happened.
No sleep. 48 hours. 72 hours. No sleep. The huge pot of coffee in the fortress kitchen has turned to a tar-like sludge. Delicious.
We mount up. World War II halftracks. Loaded for bear. Ammunition. Boxes of MRE’s (meals ready to eat, Israeli version). Batteries for the communication sets. Grenades. Backpacks with basic personal items. We travel along a road strewn with corpses. Dead Syrian soldiers, like the Pompeians of old, turned to stone-like statues next to their burned vehicles. Kilometer after kilometer of death and destruction. They dared defile Israel’s holiest day.
Hader; Jubatta-al-Hasheb, Khan Arnabah…villages deserted, homes to simple people, and yet we come upon cache after cache of RPG (rocket propelled grenade) ammunition, and I get myself one along with a pack of rockets. Enter a house and end up with lots of shrapnel in my hands. Keep clearing village after village with my platoon.
We head towards Tel Shams. Syrian MiG tries to strafe our convoy of halftracks and we all open fire towards it. Our platoon medic is shot, screaming that he got shot in the balls, but we cut his pants open and assure him that his balls are fine, really, they’re fine, you got shot in the thigh and it’s just a flesh wound. Just a flesh wound. In retrospect, likely friendly fire.
Next to us, a crew working a 120mm mortar blew itself up, they were working so fast that they forgot to wait for the shell to exit the tube, dropped a new one as the one in the tube started its way out. No survivors.
Paratroopers capture Tel Shams and we take over from there. Nothing but bunkers and the Syrians know every stone, every rock, every opening. We sleep two hour shifts, fully dressed, head to toe. Next to me our squad’s medic, Amir, takes his turn to guard our position. Moments later, after a barrage of Syrian artillery, shock. Amir is killed.
At the base of Tel Shams, I dig myself deeper and deeper into the ground as the Syrian artillery shells fall all around. They scream as they come in, just prior to exploding next to me. Another memory etched in my brain forever, coming out just in time for the annual Yom Kippur revue. I still taste the dirt.
We leave Tel Shams. We move on and our platoon is tasked with guarding a platoon of our Centurion tanks. Somehow, I guess with radio communication, their commanders have “invited” an Iraqi tank platoon for a party. As we lie there, the Iraqis run the gauntlet, and the Centurions light them up. They turn the night into day, fires burning bright.
A task is given to Eitan, the platoon commander. Intel has it that a Syrian informer is to rendezvous with IDF troops and we are going on a long hike. We travel light. Lots of ammunition. No coats or jackets, just shirts. Grenades and extra clips of ammunition in every pocket. We jump up and down to make sure we are silent. Nothing is visible as we march silently all night, and spread out and wait. We freeze with anticipation and excitement.
On the way back, a long single file column of Golani Brigade brothers return when a fireball explodes directly behind me. Rosenthal opens up first with his MAG machine gun, playing his melodies, and everyone joins in firing towards the source of the RPG fire. Syrian commandos surrender, and are blindfolded and marched back to be handed over to the military intel guys.
Commandos my ass! They were expecting us to do what they did to our brothers on the Hermon, but all they got was water and cigarettes. Crying like babies.
We are close to Damascus. We take over another bunker, buried in the ground, and set up camp. We have grown indifferent to the incoming artillery. The news comes across the wire. Cease fire brokered by the US and we find out that the Soviets had threatened nuclear war because we had captured so much of their latest weaponry.
Expectations run high, maybe we get to go home, but no, we remain in Syria until late spring 1974.
This movie plays every year on Yom Kippur. Different scenes long forgotten suddenly emerge. The smells and the sounds and the taste all remain the same, however, no matter the passage of 45 years now.
On a recent visit to Israel, back in March 2018, I went to the Golani Brigade museum at Tzomet Golani. I visited with some of my brothers-in-arms who did not make it. Nahshon; Moshe; Amir…others I knew by name only. They will not be forgotten. יהיה זכרם ברוך