October 1973, the Eve of Sukkot, Continued…

We had managed to rejoin our platoon brothers on October 8th 1973. Those very few that had remained on duty during Yom Kippur had faced the worst, and now that we were once again a united platoon we were there to share the burden of defending fortress 104.  We did not sleep, nor would we for another 24 hours into the next day.  E. our platoon commander set about establishing shifts so that late afternoon October 9th we began a two hour sleep – four hour watch rotation.

During a severe Syrian artillery barrage that pounded the entrance road to our position I saw something that at first seemed unreal.  There, after alighting from a jeep, walking towards the gated entrance of the fortress, were several ultra-orthodox Jewish men, and they seemed to be carrying palm fronds and other items in their hands.  They gained entry and descended to the kitchen and dining room of the fortress.  How they managed to reach us was never made clear, but why they did so would change my feelings towards them forever.  “We need to make sure that even in war, all Jews can celebrate Sukkot,” they said.  The next day, October 10th 1973, would be the eve of Sukkot, the actual holiday on the 11th of October.  They had brought the Lulav, a bundle of palm, myrtle and willow branches, kept in place by dried palm fronds woven into a basket-like handle.  They brought us citrons, known as Etrogim.

Risking their lives, under enemy fire, these orthodox men who did not serve in the IDF, managed to bring the meaning and the celebration of a major holiday to the very front lines of the battle against the invading Syrians.  They left soon thereafter, likely on their way to the next outpost.

All throughout October 9th and 10th we witnessed numerous “dog fights” where our IAF pilots showed their superiority again and again.  Once they had learned how to divert the Soviet SAM’s our pilots set about destroying the surface-to-air missile batteries, one after the other.  Any Soviet Mig-21 aircraft that came up against them was sent tumbling from the skies.

We soon learned to recognize the sounds of the jet engines of our wonderful aircraft, and the amazing men who piloted them.  Out of nowhere, however, there came the sound of a jet engine that we did not recognize.

Somehow a Syrian Mig-21 had eluded the IAF hunters, and was headed directly towards our fortress.  I shall never forget the moments that happened next.  I was in one of the machine gun posts facing the Syrian side of the fortress.  Each post was connected by well protected trenches that although not more than one and a half meters in height, did offer protection from the shrapnel of the exploding Syrian artillery shells.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my squad’s lieutenant D. running, not inside the trench, but atop the walls of the trench, towards the .50 cal machine gun that was in the next post to my right.  Grabbing the weapon with both of his hands, he began firing towards the Mig-21, and I right along with him opened fire with my machine gun.  The aircraft came so close that I could make out the helmet of the pilot in the cockpit.  The pilot never managed to drop his payload upon us.  In his attempt to evade the blistering shower of bullets the pilot swerved in the other direction and we heard the screaming of his jet engines.  As he dropped behind a ridge, lieutenant D. and I saw a huge fireball from the same direction and seconds later heard the sounds of the explosion of the Mig-21 we had shot down.

Orders came that we would soon carry the fight to the Syrians, and we made arrangements to load our halftracks with as much equipment as we could stow.  Our trek would take us into Syria, to Khan Arnaba, Jubat-el Hashab, Hader, and Harfa and on to Mazrat Beit Jan, below the majestic Mount Hermon.  As we entered Syria we witnessed the work that our pilots had done.  Hundreds of burnt out vehicle hulls, tanks, trucks, BTR’s and artillery pieces still on their trailers stretched along the road that led to the first village.  The stench of death and doom was everywhere, as our platoon, along with others of the 13th Battalion of the Golani Brigade began to mount a counter-offensive that would eventually bring me to 20 kilometers south west of Damascus.

Click to read the next installment in Yuval Krausz’s serialized memoir.

About the Author
Born in Israel, Yuval emigrated as a baby to Austria and then Canada. He returned to live in Israel in '71 until '91. His military service was in Golani Brigade's 13th Battalion (including Yom Kippur War) with reserve duty as a tank commander and later a liaison officer in the IDF Liaison Unit. He now resides in Pennsylvania, USA.
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