Dan Shapiro
Dan Shapiro Mati Stern, American Embassy, Flash 90

In a personal column published in Israel Hayom in time for Israeli Memorial Day, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro wrote about the special day of remembrance Wednesday which leads into Israeli Independence Day. His column reads as follows:

If anything has left an imprint on me from my years as a student here and the five years that I have served as American Ambassador in Israel, it is the unique Israeli combination of Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day - ed.) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Independence Day - ed.).

With so many reasons to celebrate 68 years of a free and strong Jewish state - the nation in Israel devotes time to mourn its dead and contemplate the price with which its freedom was obtained.

Today I too feel the bitterness and the sweetness. With the sounding of the siren I will join the Israeli Air Force as the American representative in the Yom Hazikaron ceremony at Har Hatayasim. There they will sit together and mourn the dear pilots shot down in the wars that took place dozens of years ago, and those who fell in the battles of recent years - all in the struggle for the security and freedom of Israel. We will sit and mourn together, encircled in the embrace of the Air Force family.

Taking part in this event is an honor and a sobering experience, which I consider one of my most sacred obligations: to join with our Israeli allies at a time of mourning and remembrance.

Later in the day I will go on to travel to another mountainous memorial site not far from there. At a small and forested park in Sha'ar Hagai stands a memorial to the fallen Foreign Volunteers, which honors more than 100 fighters - all of whom were foreign volunteers who fell in Israel's War of Independence - for their heroism and self-sacrifice.

Foreign Volunteer soldiers arrived from foreign lands all around the world. Most of those who fell, 30 in number, arrived from the US, out of more than 800 American volunteers.

At a time when I join the Israelis recalling the memory of the thousands who fell to defend their homeland and its values, including the many wounded by acts of hostility and fighters representing the unshakable alliance of my country with Israel, I feel that I must visit this site and ponder our joint battles which cost us in victims, as well as those that bore joint victories.

The memorial sits at a site where 'sadness and glory live together,' to quote Haim Gouri's immortal song 'Bab al-Wad.' Like these two words, which are so different from each other, the Foreign Volunteer fighters represent the sadness and the glory, the bitter and the sweet.

As those who served with distinction in all the corps of the young IDF, and particularly in the Air Force, they filled an important role in the survival of Israel, which was reborn exactly at a moment when its fate was hanging by a thread.

The stones of the memorial tell us about the heavy price paid in this service, but the thriving state of our days tells us about the deep obligations to the safety and security of the state of the Jews, which those volunteers provided with their comrades in arms who fought alongside them, which they passed along together to the coming generations, and which enabled Israel to thrive and get this far.

An unprecedented alliance

A direct line connects Colonel David 'Mickey' Marcus, who fell in the War of Independence in 1948 and was buried at the US Army military cemetery in West Point, and Lou Lenart, 'the man who saved Tel Aviv' in the same war and passed away last year, and Sergeant Max Steinberg, who fell in Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and was buried among the IDF heroes at Har Herzl in Jerusalem. These are both American and Israeli heroes.

And at a time when the Israelis experience the sadness of Yom Hazikaron and the glory of Yom Ha'atzmaut, the families of the Foreign Volunteer soldiers who fell and their comrades in their countries of origin remember the bitterness of their loss and are comforted by the sweetness of knowing that the lives and contribution of their dear ones strengthened the state, and also the alliance between America and Israel. Their heritage commemorates the combination of individual lives and personal decisiveness, which together create the essence: a tight and unprecedented alliance between the countries.

On Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut this year, when I think about the lofty contribution of the Foreign Volunteers, I do that while knowing that our common values are the most effective weapon in our struggle against enemies near and far, and our greatest strength in building a society that we can leave with pride to the coming generations.

Today we mourn, tomorrow we will celebrate and rejoice.