I am now looking back an incredible 40 years after the Six Day War. I am aware that every one of my comrades in arms has somewhat different memories of the events. I will not try to convince anyone that my memories are the only correct ones. We all lived through these events and I am only putting forth my own personal memories of those momentous events that happened so long ago, and still reverberate today.
I returned to Israel from my studies in the United States in November of 1966. My wife Rivka was to give birth to our first daughter, Orly, some time in December. She had returned earlier and moved in with her parents. When I too returned home, we moved into the little out-building that was in her parents' back yard. It was a one room building with a bathroom and two small windows. I set out to see what I could do to support my young but growing family. I had some sculpture that I had made in the US and thought that I could have a show and maybe sell some of my work and earn some money. I went to Tel Aviv and went from gallery to gallery until I found the Casa Peppe Gallery. We agreed to set up my first one man show in Tel Aviv. It was set for April 1967.
During my regular army service, I had served with the Golani brigade reconnaissance unit. We were considered an elite unit at the time. As a reservist, I knew that I would not be accepted back because the unit at the time had no reservists attached to it. I knew that my military, skills such as they were, had to do with reconnaissance, even though I had not trained for the 5 years that I was in the US studying, I thought that I would be able to get back to reconnaissance. I was aware that I would be drafted back into the army soon after my return. I knew a general who lived in the Kibbutz where I had grown up, and I asked to be drafted into the recon unit in his brigade which was an armored brigade. After he warned me that it would be a tough unit to serve with, I told him that I was aware of that, and that I had served with the Golani recon unit and knew the difficulties that I would face. So I was able to choose where I would go, instead of being sent to a place where I did not want to serve. At the time I had no idea how soon I would be called upon to serve with my new unit.
On the last day of December 1966 our daughter Orly was born, and the last thing on my mind was to go to war. I had a young family that I had to support and I am a sculptor. I looked forward to my first one man show hoping that I would be able to sell my work and support my family with my sculpture. The exhibition was in April, and I did make some sales, I was thinking about opening a bronze foundry in Israel after seeing the poor quality of the bronze castings that were available to me at the time.
All of my plans were rudely interrupted early one morning in early in the month of May. At around 5:00 AM we heard a loud knock on the door and a voice called me by my military rank and name. I answered and was told that I had to be at the Hedera bus station (the town that we were living in) within a short time. I picked up my small military knapsack, with a change or two of underwear, and my toothbrush, kissed my unhappy wife and daughter good-bye, and off I went into a place I had not been in about five years, serving as a soldier. It was a cool morning and as I walked to the bus station I saw more and more young men coming out of their homes and walking towards the bus station. I was 29 years old at the time and off to the unknown.
In that period, we were being attacked by terrorists coming over from across the border, mostly from what is now called the West bank (so much for those who say that if Israel only gave back the land captured in the Six Day War everything would be peaceful in the Mideast). The Arab countries were loudly preparing to attack Israel, and in their words to “throw the Jews into the sea.” Nasser had declared that he was blockading Eilat by closing the straits of Tiran. He was marching his army through the streets of Cairo and into the Sinai desert in preparation for an attack on Israel and he united the armies of Jordan, and Syria under Egyptian command. Our government under Levi Eshkol did not know what to do. They asked all the great powers of the time to help in quieting down the Arab countries and in persuading them to not attack Israel. No one wanted a war, but the reality was that the Arab side was looking to destroy the state of Israel and we, the young men of Israel, were all that stood between them and achieving their goal. With no help from abroad, Israel was on its own to live or die.
I reached the military camp and was introduced to my new comrades in arms. I had not had military training for five years and no training with tanks. I had not used a gun of any kind for the five years that I had been away and here I had to quickly get back in military shape, since I could be in a shooting war at any time. While I did not have training with tanks, I did have a very good background in the kind of reconnaissance work that my former elite unit did, and even though I was rusty, I was able to shape up quickly.
I was given a jeep to command with a driver and a soldier who took care of communications. He took the back seat. This group was your closest group of buddies that you had to trust with your life. If you were in command, their lives depended to some extent on your combat smarts. The jeep commanders were very picky about whom they took into their jeep. There was one guy who looked like a tough scrappy guy from Tel Aviv that no one wanted in their jeep. I took a look at him and said that I would take him. I was not intimidated by him, and hoped that he would be tough in combat if and when the time came. A commander in any army at any level needs to win the loyalty of his soldiers, and the best way to do that is to show leadership under fire.
Now that we were set up as a fighting unit, we began the long wait for the government to decide what to do. We were reading the newspapers and were aware of what was going on in the world around us. The constant declarations coming out of Egypt and other Arab nations about what how were going destroy us, instead of frightening us, had the opposite effect of uniting and making us want to go after the Arab armies and to destroy them. We knew that we were defending our homes and families. I had my wife and first of my three daughters at home and I intended to defend them come what may. It was clear to us that we would have to take the fight to them. We did some training and I worked on reviving my map reading skills which were much needed in the desert, which is the most difficult of all places in which to find one’s way. The government became a unity government, taking in the opposition parties, and Moshe Dayan became Defense Minister. From where we were, it looked like now we would have someone that would unleash us with our pent up energy, to go after the Egyptian army (we were posted under Brig-General Abraham Yoffe’s command on the Egyptian front)
We were ordered to move from one location to another in the western Israeli Negev desert. While we were on one of these maneuvers, my jeep was traveling through deep desert with our partner jeep (we usually traveled in pairs). I had my machine gun locked in an upright position on the Jeep and I was reading the map, when my driver hit a hole, the jeep came to an abrupt stop and (this was before seatbelts) and I was thrown onto my machine gun hitting it with my face. My nose started to bleed profusely and I was dazed. The guys stopped and all five from both jeeps joined me standing next to my jeep looking to see what we could do. I think that I had a handkerchief and was holding it to my nose trying to stop the bleeding but it was not working. One of the guys saw a tent in the distance so they drove me there, and lo and behold it was a hospital tent right there in the middle of nowhere.
We went in and found a doctor there whose specialty was ears nose and throat. How lucky can I get…Well the doctor fixed me up and stuck a huge cotton string up my nose and stopped the bleeding. When he finished, he told me where he works which was the hospital closest to my home. He told me that my nose was broken and that if I survived the war I could come to him after to straighten it up again. He then asked if I was married. When I said "Yes," he responded that in that case I did not need to straighten my nose back like it was. We continued our maneuvers for about two weeks. All the time I feared that I would have to go to war before I had healed. The night before we went on the attack, I finally pulled the string out of my nose. There was a lot of string.
We finally received our orders on the evening of June 4: Tomorrow at 10:00 AM we were to cross the international border into the Egyptian Sinai desert.
This material is copyright by Michael Shacham, 2007, and protected by intellectual property law. All rights reserved. Any commercial use requires written permission of the author.
Michael Shacham is a well known American-Israel sculptor. A brief biography and summary of Michael Shacham's philosophy of art are given at the conclusion of this series.
His Six Day War Diary is presented in parts:
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