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Danny Pearl
Photo: IDF
Special forces veteran recounts past, inspires future
Lt. Col. (Res.) Danny Pearl recalls past battles and traumas, friends lost and stories kept, as he, together with some 40 of his comrades, meets the soldiers of today and entrusts them with the long and courageous legacy of protecting the State of Israel.

The sequence of the last few holidays, and Yom Kippur in particular, brought back many memories and stories. Lt. Col. (Res.) Danny Pearl, now 65, a father of two and a grandfather of three, served in the Yom Kippur War as an officer in Israeli Special Forces unit Sayeret Shaked (reconnaissance unit 'almond') of the Givati Brigade. Today he is one of the leaders of a special project called "Veterans of Sayeret Shaked."

 

 

In the last few years between the days of Yom Kippur and Sukkot, Pearl made sure to bring out his personal diaries and to remember his comrades, fighters and commanders who fell before his eyes. This year he shared them with the parents of Omri Atzmon, who fell in one of the battles documented in the diary.

 

Pearl (in the white hat) and the other volunteers, with of the Givati Brigade soldiers (Photo: Nimrod Arkelis)
Pearl (in the white hat) and the other volunteers, with of the Givati Brigade soldiers (Photo: Nimrod Arkelis)

 

Diaries documenting the inferno

"Company D, my company commanded by the late Eli Sagi, was the spearhead in the breakthrough of the Sharon Division, Division 143, towards the Suez Canal," Pearl recounted. "The night of October 15 was a critical stage in the war, and a night I will not forget.

 

"The Egyptians recognized the crossing of the forces and opened hellfire on us. An Egyptian shell hit the company's half-track, the half-track caught fire and nine fighters were killed on the spot, among them Eli Sagi, the company commander and Omri Atzmon, the company sergeant major.

 

"From my half-track, half-track number 2, we saw a red and blue flame that rose to the sky as ammunition and bullets whistled around us. We saw our comrades burned without being able to approach them and rescue them. The pillar of fire was burning all night long and served as a landmark for Egypt to massively bombard the junction."

 

Pearl (L) and the parents of Omri Atzmon (Photo: IDF)
Pearl (L) and the parents of Omri Atzmon (Photo: IDF)

 

"In the morning, the Sayeret fighters met at a gathering point to equip themselves with ammunition and fuel. There I saw Omri's brother, Itai Atzmon, who was then a young soldier. Itai fought at the same time that night and saw the burning pillar of fire all night," said Pearl. "He did not guess what happened."

 

"Itai went around that morning among the fighters and asked if anyone saw his brother, but no one wanted to tell him," Perl recalled. "I went up to him, hugged him and told him that Omri was in the burning half-track.

 

"I advised him to go home. Itai set out from Sinai and arrived at his parents' home at 2:00 am, where he informed them that Omri was killed."

 

Moving on from pain

"I visit them often," Perel said, dislodging himself for a moment from his memories. "I come regularly to Omri's parents. They opened their home to me. I listen to them, they listen to me. They are among the founders of the Palmach. They tell me about the establishment of the land and the settlements. Together we talk about Omri, revive memories."

 

On Yom Kippur he shared with them his personal diaries from the war.

 

Pearl's personal diaries from the war (Photo: IDF)
Pearl's personal diaries from the war (Photo: IDF)

 

In recent years Danny and Itai have been taking part together in the "Veterans of Sayeret Shaked" group; an active group of some 40 past fighters and commanders who maintained contact in order to continue and pass on their heritage.

 

"Our vision is for this unique project to continue," said pearl. "We would like the soldiers to know that they are continuing a long legacy."

 

Volunteers at age 65  

"Veterans of Sayeret Shaked," the former fighters of what is also known as Unit 424, were a small volunteer unit that included Jews, Bedouins and Druze, and took part in a variety of operations.

 

For 15 years, the volunteers of the unique project have been accompanying the new recruits from basic training, through their inauguration and field training. They meet with bereaved families, conduct joint tours, take part in field trips and more.

 

"Our friendship and close encounters help us cope with the memories of our military service, the operations and the wars that we fought side by side," said Pearl.

 

Inspiring 

The unique project of Pearl and his friends succeeds in connecting the younger generation to the heritage of the past.

 

"Before they came to talk to us, I was sure that this was going to be another lecture like other lectures I had heard before," said Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Shali, an officer in the Shaked Battalion of the Givati Brigade.

 

"As a combat soldier, to hear war stories of people who were here before me, it did something to me," he added. "I realized that I was part of something really bigger, and that was the purpose for which I enlisted and the reason I gave it my best. To defend the State of Israel, as many have defended it before me."

 

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