Post 46: The death of a lone soldier

Unfortunately, I had my first military funeral last week. The funeral was for Ben, a lone soldier from France, whom I had trained with before the army and ran into on numerous occasions in Tel Aviv. While I had seen military funerals on television and read about them before, nothing could prepare me for the experience of being at one. It’s one thing to study Israeli literature, and read the words of Saul Tchernichovsky, “Take you the best of our sons, youth’s vision of purest worth, Pure of heart, clean of hands, not soiled with filth of earth, The fabric of their lives still weaving, with hopes of a day more fair. We have none that are better than these.” But it’s another to train alongside a man, a boy, really, 21 years of age, with a life of opportunity and promise in front of him, “the best of our youth,” and see that life be cut tragically short. Ben left his life of comfort behind him in France, like his brother did before him, and came to Israel to defend his country. He felt alone here, not because he was a lonely person, but because it’s hard to be a lone soldier. To move half way across to the world and undergo the hardest physical and mental training there is without the warmth of family to come home to on weekends. To those that have never been lone soldiers, the feelings of loneliness that overcome you sometimes (no matter how great your support network is) are impossible to verbalize.

There is nothing sadder than the looks of grief on the faces of a family that has lost their son; there are no poems, no songs, and no words that can do it justice. And there is nothing sadder and more solemn than a military funeral. The comrades of the fallen soldier carry the casket with the flag of our country draped over it, which is ultimately presented to the soldier’s mother. The soldiers march the casket to the site of the burial, with the family and friends following close behind, and there, the fallen soldier is placed in the ground, his final resting place. A 21-gun salute is fired, each explosion tearing at the hearts of those in attendance. While the bullets fired are blanks, they are still deadly. For they pierce the very souls of those who must hear them. As soldiers, we live by the gun and die by the gun. And ironically, while we hope and pray for the day when there will be no more military funerals, we pay our final respects to the fallen by firing 21 rounds. 21 volleys shatter the silence during the final moments before the fallen soldier is placed into the cold earth. And during moments like that, we are forced to remember that Israel isn’t free. We must pay a price for her.

We paid for her in ’48, ’67, ’73, ’82, ’87, 2000, 2006, and 2008. She is not given upon a silver platter. She takes from us the best of our youths. She takes our youngest, our strongest, and our most promising. But she is all we have, and so to defend her we must give all that we have. Ben was not the first to fall in Israel’s service, and sadly he will not be the last. We pray for peace, for an end to 21 gun salutes, but we recognize the need for soldiers to defend Israel, soldiers, “by whose Glory our lives our free.”

Rest in peace Ben.


One Response to “Post 46: The death of a lone soldier”

  1. Amnon Zaidenberg (Switzerland) Says:

    Amnon Zaidenberg (Switzerland) Says:

    November 26, 2011 at 11:16 am | Reply
    Hi Corey, if you are free next weekend we wanted to invite you for dinner in Tel Aviv, Friday 12/2 or Saturday 12/3, whatever suits you. Maybe Yochai (Itay’s cousin whom you met) and Amit (Itay’s brother currently a lone soldier in paratroopers) will join. You may contact Roy at 0547 8711958 or email me to let me know your mobile. Shabbat Shalom! Amnon Zaidenberg

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