Veterans of Israel’s first war share stories of victory and pain


Israel’s first soldiers from the 1948 War of Independence are passing on their memories to a new generation of combat officers.

During a meeting with Leah Feldman, a signals operator in 1948, Capt. Ayelet Zion, a 25-year-old Israel Defense Force Company Commander in the Home Front Command Search and Rescue Battalion, heard about the bloody battle to clear the road from the coastal plain to Jerusalem.

“She recalled a battle that left many casualties and many in the field who could not be evacuated,” said Zion. After the battle, members of the battalion gathered together, and Leah described “a silence.”

“No one talked about who made it and who did not,” she said. “They did not even have time to go to the funerals. Instead, they headed out to their next missions. They did not have the time to deal with the pain.”

Feldman did say, however, that the soldiers who survived those difficult hours were “thinking about Jerusalem.”

“That isn’t something that necessarily burns in the minds of modern soldiers. Hearing that helps us understand the wider picture,” she explained. Remembering the historical importance of Jerusalem “is something we want to continue in our generation.”

During the meetings, the officers presented the veterans with a certificate and a pin to appreciate their service 70 years ago.

“Every story is moving,” Zion continued. “I met two other veterans — one 95, and a second, 80 — and each had their own story to tell.”

Prior to a meeting with one veteran, Zion called his home to arrange the event and began explaining to the man’s wife that the military would be visiting.

“He grabbed the phone and said, ‘Listen, I lost my war citations, and I very much wanted to pass them down to my grandchildren.’ Now, he could have something to give them,” said Zion. “He remembers his personal military number. It all came back to him.”

The man, who suffered shellshock from his experiences in the War of Independence, had not shared any of his stories with his grandchildren until then. His grandchildren were with him during Zion’s visit and for the first time heard about his participation in the war.

“It was the first time he talked about it with them,” said Zion.

That veteran still calls Zion once a week since their encounter to hear what soldiers say about the mutual experience and his memories specifically.

Zion’s unit, the Home Front Command’s Search and Rescue Battalion, doubles up as both a combat force that conducts security missions in the West Bank and on borders, and as a first-responder unit at wreckage zones, where they are trained to deal with missile strikes or natural disasters.

Hearing such stories from her own grandparents was one of the reasons she was motivated to become a combat soldier in the first place, related Zion. “It’s something that is, in my opinion, very important.”