The Israeli Defense Force has just had to bury one of its own. A member of the legendary Golani Brigade was killed in the West Bank when someone threw a stone and hit him in the head. His name was Sgt. Amit Ben-Yagl, and he was due to finish his mandatory service in the IDF in a month. His funeral was typical of what happens in Israel when they lose a soldier: residents from one end to the other of the tiny country which is the size of New Jersey line the streets as the funeral procession rolls through. A country that is surrounded by nations who make no attempt to mask their desire to destroy them takes the death of one of its soldiers very seriously, and they turn out as if they have lost one of their own sons, literally.
I contrast that with the way things came to be during the end of the Vietnam War; the evidence having been painstakingly researched by Lisa Worthey Smith in her book, Unsung Heroes: The Casualties Of The Vietnam War And The Stories We Forgot To Remember. Her article is on the front cover, and the saddest thing is that 50 years ago, because of people who were the way I used to be, there would not have been streets lined to honor our fallen anywhere in America. This is because Americans had been tricked into being ashamed of the very people who had sworn to protect them, even if it meant that soldiers had to pay the ultimate price.
Add to that the strangeness of a funeral where everyone is in a mask to prevent COVID, and you see that people instinctively move closer than six feet when they are in extreme pain. I tried to imagine what it would be like to deal with the grief of the violent death of a young soldier whose whole life was ahead of him, being totally surrounded by hostile nations who think you are the lesser Satan, and doing so in the middle of a pandemic that no one seems to really understand.
One thing that is clear is the cost of freedom for fathers and mothers, whether or not it is in the era of Corona. In Israel, if you are an only child, you have to get special permission from your parents to join one of the elite teams, and the Golani Brigade is named after a legendary IDF general who made history during the Yom Kippur war. Golani pulled off a stunt that closely resembled that of Gideon in Old Testament times, and Amit’s father gave the needed permission to walk in that honor.
At the funeral, Baruch Ben-Ygal said the following: “Amit isn’t an only child. He has millions of other siblings who are sad, who admire and who know our lives in the Land of Israel depend on the courage of Amit and his friends,” Baruch Ben-Ygal said.
I am glad that at least for now, the youth of Israel know that freedom’s cost at times is paid in blood, and my prayer is that they never lose sight of that. For our part, with Memorial Day in a few weeks, may we find a way to solemnly remember, even if we need to stay six feet apart and wear masks to do so.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner