Is it possible to mourn a man you don’t know?
A wave of sadness hit me and, with a sigh, I sat down next to the grave of Lt. Col M., tears welling up in my eyes.
The fresh grave was piled with flower wreaths, bright and beautiful, a silent testament of the grief of those who truly understood the enormity of the loss. To them he was not anonymous – a son, husband, father, friend, colleague, and mentor who touched countless lives, influenced organizations and helped shape the country we have today.
This man, who must remain anonymous for national security reasons and for the safety of his own family, dedicated his life to our country, knowing that he would never get public credit or glory. Heroism, unsung.
On Nov 11th, we learned of a special operation happening inside Gaza that developed into a gunfight between IDF soldiers and Hamas terrorists. The reporting that night ended with the information that 7 Hamas terrorists were killed, including one of their regional military leaders. We were told that all the IDF soldiers returned to Israeli territory.
No one reported what condition they were in.
The next day we learned that M. had been killed and another soldier had been injured. Later the media released some details of the heroism of that night – how M drew fire to himself, giving the other soldiers the time needed to react to the threat. How the injured soldier tried to save M. How the IAF pilot rescued the soldiers from the midst of a full-blown firefight.
Hollywood creates blockbuster films from the stories of lesser deeds.
During my years in Israel, I learned that real heroes don’t like to be given that label. In their minds, they just did what needed to be done. Often, their focus will be on what was not accomplished, feeling uncomfortable and upset that they did not do more.
Lt. Col M. was an Israeli hero. He died heroically but more than that, he lived heroically. He was an example and an inspiration to those who knew him, a friend who listened more than he spoke, always there, always ready to help.
The results of his unsung deeds (and those of others like him) are living Israelis, people who would otherwise be dead.
I am glad I had the opportunity to speak with his parents and wife. It is such a small thing… there is no real way to repay such an enormous debt or to provide solace for such depths of grief.
To his parents, I said: “The people of Israel know that we owe him so much but we can’t thank him so I came to thank you for raising your son to become who he was.”
His father’s response was: “We all owe so much to this country. We need to do everything possible for each other.” His mother thanked me and expressed what many bereaved parents before her have said: “I hope that he will be the last one. That no other mother will have to feel this.” How many mothers have said that before her? How many will say that after?
When I saw his wife, my heart cracked. Straight and small, she had tissues balled up in her hands. She cried, almost silently. I gave her a hug. Relatives and friends surrounded her, supporting her, strained to hear what we were saying.
What could I say?
Nothing can really comfort when your foundation is suddenly shattered, ripped out from underneath you. How do you reconcile the fact that your husband had two loves, your family and your country, and that his dedication to one resulted in him being taken from the other?
I told her: “I know this doesn’t help but maybe it will make things a little less terrible to know that there are people all over the country and even around the world who don’t know your name but know about your sorrow and are praying for you, that you will have strength and comfort. That your children will be ok. That knowing that their daddy was a hero will help. Please hug them knowing this. Knowing that many, many people care.”
Softly she responded: “Thank you. I will hug them a lot. Give them many, many hugs.”
True heroism isn’t in glory. It is modest and quiet. Unsung.
May 15th, 2022 the IDF lifted the censorship on the details of Lieutenant Colonel Mahmoud Kheir El-Din. This is a picture of him with his wife Nahed. This young couple should have had many years of happiness together. Their sons should have had a father. Instead we all have the memory of a hero.