Sunday, October 09, 2005

When Your Father is Also Your Hero.

An acquaintance recently mentioned that his dad had come upon the website below and was delighted at the possibility of renewing friendships with his old battle field comrades. The renewal that counts here, to me, is the renewal of respect for his dad. Maybe my friend grew tired of his dad's war stories, if they were even told. Maybe, his dad was like many and didn't want to recount his war experiences. Maybe the son saw his father as just 'dad'.
I don't know what my friend is thinking about his dad. But, I believe that I know what he feels about his father. Once, when the father was as young as the son, he was called upon to defend his country. He answered the call, valiantly. His unit, the 87th Armored Reconnaissance Battlion, may well deserve the credit for stopping the advance of the Egyptian Army into Israel, during the 1973 war.
Egypt and Israel both claim victory. I leave the final decision on that to the historians and scholars. What can be said is, that there were brave men on both sides, as there are in every conflict. It can also be said that, this is the story of a hero. If anyone disagrees, maybe, they should ask his son.
The 87th armored reconnaissance battalion was formed urgently when the winds of war started blowing, five months before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. Its personnel was a combination of young warriors from elite units and seasoned recon veterans. On the third day of the war it was the 87th that alone held the front line in a critical area against superior enemy forces, on the night between the fourth and fifth day it was the 87th that went on a scouting mission behind enemy lines and located the weak border area between the two Egyptian armies. And in the great operation "Knights of Hearts" – the crossing of the Suez Canal, that finally turned the tides of war, it was the 87th that spearheaded the attack and lead General Sharon's division ("Pillar of Fire") to the brink of the Canal. And there, in the terrible night battle, the 87th ceased to exist as a coherent fighting unit. But its valiant warriors had had a great impact on the battle on the Egyptian front, and the survivors would go on fighting within other units until the end of the war.
Because of its short life span, and the large number of casualties (112, including 45 killed in action) that included unit and subunit commanders, the unit's legacy evaporated and was left to oblivion for many years. The warriors were assigned to other reserve units and lost contact with each other and with the bereaved families of the fallen. But lately, a group of 87th veterans "Legacy of the 87th." has taken up the challenge of restoring the units legacy to its deserved place in IDF's history. A veterans' convention is to be held at the IDF Armored Corps Memorial Site in May 2005.

The 87th Armored Reconnaissance Battalion was formed in May 1973 as a reserve unit of the 143rd Armored Division ("Pillar of Fire"). Most crewmen and officers were from tank and reconnaissance units; young soldiers that just had completed their regular military service, and for whom this training was their first reserve call. The battalion CO was Lieutenant-Colonel Ben-Zion (Bentzi) Carmeli, a veteran of the six day war (see "The Tanks of Tammuz" by Shabtai Tevet). Company commanders were: "A" company - Captain Rafael (Rafi) Mitzafon, "B" company - Captain Rafael (Rafi) Bar-Lev, and "C" company - Captain Yigal Abiri. Captain Israel Zohar commanded the jeep company, "D". The battalion consisted of 24 tanks - Patton M60A1 - and 36 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers. The unit underwent several weeks of rigorous training at "Ze'elim", the main army training facility, and participated three months later in a large divisional exercise. The former division CO, Major-General Shemuel Gonen (Gorodish) had been assigned GOC Southern Command and the new division CO was the former GOC Southern Command, Major-General (Res.) Ariel (Arik) Sharon.

Home page of the 87th Armored Recon Battalion

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