Day 1 - Monday, June 5, 1967
In this part of the desert there is no difference in the landscape on either side of the border. It is partially strewn with small rocks and much of it is sand dunes. Early in the morning we started to move into place. At 10:00 AM after the sappers blew a hole in the fence and cleared the mine field, we crossed into Egypt with the recon force in the lead. As I remember we were seven jeeps first crossing and after us were the tanks of our regiment under General Shadmi, the man from my former kibbutz, who got me into this unit at my request. As we were sitting in our open jeeps waiting for the order to move I had, as I am sure that every soldier has before moving into battle, some trepidation: "What will happen?" "How will I act under fire?" I hoped that I would be able to function and fight and lead my small group well. But one does not know how he will act until one is actually in the fight. I was sure that the moment we crossed the barbed wire that marked the border, all hell would break loose.
We crossed the border and… quiet, nothing happened. "Wow," I breathed a quite sigh of relief at least for now. We had crossed in a sandy desert area where the Egyptians were sure that tanks could not pass and would get stuck in the sand dunes and there was no one from the other side to greet us. The plan was for us to go deep behind Egyptian lines to a place called Bir Lachfan where there was a crossroad and to block reinforcements to the Egyptian front, which was under attack from other Israeli forces. We started to move quickly through Wadi Haridin, a sandy valley towards our objective.
As we moved, we were at times moving spread out so far ahead of our main force that we could not see them and we were ourselves separated and alone in the desert although we were in radio contact with everyone. At one of these times we heard fire coming at us from somewhere but we could not see from where it was coming. I ordered the radio man in the back to cover our back and I with our machine gun would cover the front as we moved forward. Suddenly the ratio man called out” here he is!” and stood up in the jeep which had stopped and opened fire with his semi-automatic rifle emptying his magazine of 20 rounds and not hitting him once. I turned to see an Egyptian solider frozen in fear standing not 50 yards away with his rifle in hand, but held upright not aiming at us or anyone for that matter. My tough guy too, was scared enough to shoot a whole magazine at a target so close that I could have hit him with a stone, and not come close to him. I ordered him to stop shooting and ordered the driver and him both to cover me as I walked over to the Egyptian. I took his gun in one hand and told him as best I could with the few words that I knew in Arabic that the war was over for him and I would take him captive and would not hurt him. His hand was frozen on his gun and I had to pry it loose finger by finger but he himself did not offer any resistance. So it was that we took our first of many prisoners of that war.
We continued on our way with our prisoner on our jeep. The day was a warm and clear day in the desert. As we moved through the desert we began to notice that we had a water leak in our jeep. That is a problem. In the desert, water is a scarce commodity and we did not want to waste it on our jeep. But as we were on the move, we could not take care of the problem until we stopped moving for the night. We hooked up with the rest of our unit and continued together towards our destination. We had met up with others of our forces and handed over our prisoner to people who took care of prisoners. As it got dark, the tank units caught up with us and we had our evening encampment. I sought out the mechanics to have the water leak repaired; the mechanic opened the motor and took out the water pump telling me that the leak was in the pump and that he was taking my jeep out of action. I thought "What?" What was I supposed to do in the middle of Egyptian territory without a jeep in the middle of a war? I had never seen a water pump before so I asked him to show it to me. He handed it to me and showed me where the leak was coming from. It looked to me like a rubber accordion that had a fold that was cracked and had what looked like a cut. I asked him if he had a tire repair kit. (At that time tires still had rubber inner tubes). He said that he did, and I told him to repair the cut with a rubber repair patch. He did and the repair was good it lasted through to the end of the war. I think that being an artist is very helpful, because I always borrow techniques from different fields and apply them to areas that they may not have been intended but work well anyway.
Soon enough we had our first serious firefight. That night at Bir Lachfan, our tank force engaged an Egyptian force of equal size, one armored regiment, and the firefight went on through the whole night. As a recon unit we did not have the heavy guns to fight the tanks on the other side. Our job was to lead our tanks and get current information to our command sometimes direct tank fire and take on smaller targets or infantry and to find our way in this trackless desert. So in this engagement I had little to do but be on standby for whatever may be needed of me. The sight was like fireworks with the fire going and coming and tracers flying in both directions with many explosions lighting up the clear sky. At some point during the night, I was ordered to bring someone to General Shadmi’s armored halftrack. To do so we had to drive into what looked like fire coming to our jeep. In reality it was aimed in our general direction, but I was not visible to them, so I knew that I was not the target. Still, we could see the tracers’ coming right at us as we drove, seemingly into the fire, to pick up our man. We finished the trip safely. The Egyptians had reinforcements of a second regiment come during the night and we fought until morning when our air force finished what was left of the Egyptian force and we had control of the Bir Lachfan crossroads.
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:
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.
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