Fifty years ago I began my military service, a service to my people and to my nation. My cousin, my mother’s first cousin Yakov Springer along with ten other Israeli Olympians had recently been murdered by Black September murderers in Munich Germany.
I volunteered for frontline combat service and after half a year of basic training I was accepted as a Golani Warrior in the 13th Battalion and for a brief while Uri was my Battalion commander. He must have been curious about me. I had returned to Israel after living in Austria and Canada and I was certainly a little older than the average inductee. My file must have stated that I had been the “outstanding trainee” and that carried with it a recommendation to continue on to further training.
I had to serve just one year because of my age, but after the war, after Yom Kippur 1973, after October 6th, all bets were off and along with so many others, our future was very uncertain. Mounted on World War II half-tracks, we B Company warriors wound our way through small Syrian villages and found ourselves entrenched on Tel Shams, a fortified and bunker-filled mound some twenty kilometers south of Damascus.
It was there that our medic, Amir, was killed. It was there that during a chance meeting with an officer from my kibbutz I found out that Uzi and Avinoam were killed.
On my first 24-hour leave I learned that Danny and Dudu, also from my kibbutz, had been killed in action.
An encounter with Yoni, my commanding officer during basic training, informed me that Nachshon and Moshe were killed.
Two of my friends were badly wounded but fortunately survived the physical wounds. I’m not so sure about the psychological ones.
In previous blogposts for this publication, I have written extensively about Yom HaZikaron, our Memorial Day, and about loss and about sorrow.
From Golani Warrior to tank commander, countless deployments on Israel’s southern front and in the Gaza Strip, I managed to spend my last three years in the IDF as a Liaison Officer opposite the Egyptian Liaison and the Multinational Force and Observers.
In April of 1991, I left Israel for very personal reasons. A year and two months later tragedy struck again. My two wonderful friends, Beno and Ami were murdered by Hamas murderers. Sometime later, Amatzia, also from my (former) kibbutz, was murdered while installing a computerized irrigation system for an Israeli farmer in the Gush Katif area of the Gaza strip.
This year, as in years past, I will light a memorial candle. Whenever I return to Israel and to our apartment in Zichron Yaakov I connect with Beno’s widow and his son. I travel to Ashkelon to meet up with Itzik, my tank crew’s driver. He saved my life.
I travel north to the Golani Intersection and I visit the Golani museum and I open the memorial books of my Golani brothers-in-arms and read the testimonials therein.
I call my friend David, my Golani lieutenant, who along with me shot down a Syrian MIG fighter jet during the first few days of the Yom Kippur War.
Something is different this year though. There is another terrible war going on and it comes home every evening and every morning on our television thanks to fearless reporters and our cable news networks. The hardware is eerily familiar as well. The T-55 and T-72 tanks, the Soviet-era weaponry, the BTR troop carriers…the RPGs and the AK-47s…and a determined people fighting for their very existence. It is all too familiar.
My PTSD is a little better thanks to these blogs that allow me to release the pressures of the many memories here, anonymously sharing some of them with you, the reader. But, some of it remains. A door is slammed open or shut, and I jump. A loud thunderclap at four in the morning jolts me awake. A driver following too close. My inability to tolerate getting stuck in traffic.
Next year will be fifty years since my brothers-in-arms and I fought for the very existence of our people, our Israel. I have by some miracle managed to live this long and to share some of my memories, and to remember. Yom HaZikaron. A day to remember. To miss my friends. To promise them again and yet again that I will never forget them.