46 years later: Saba (Grandpa) Yitzchak the tankist gave his black beret from the Yom Kippur War to his grandson, a combat soldier.
The difficult battles of the Yom Kippur War are etched in many of our memories to this day, with many stories of the massive shelling and fighting of the Israeli forces. A moment before the start of the Yom Kippur holiday, we sat down for a talk with Saba Yitzchak the tankist who took part in that war, and his grandson Raphael, who is now accepting the “torch,” or more accurately, the beret.
Last July, dozens of new Armored Corps recruits finished their final trek, one after another, on their way to receiving the long-awaited beret. Private Raphael Roskind was surprised to discover that when his turn came, his grandfather, Yitzchak Reichenberg, who had fought in the Yom Kippur War in the 7th brigade, came out of the audience to give him the vintage beret that had been in his possession for more than four decades.
“It was a complete surprise,” stated Private Roskind emotionally. “They didn’t tell me it was going to happen and I was in shock, I didn’t even know how to respond. My friends told me afterwards that I wasn’t even aware of what was happening, it was an incredible way to finish my basic training.”
When Roskind was 16, he joined his grandfather at a veterans event for the 7th brigade, which he remembers as a life-changing moment: “When I was younger, I tried asking him about the war, and he always avoided speaking about it or going into any detail about that time in his life. At the veterans event, he suddenly opened up and started talking about it, and I was fascinated. Since then, the thought of going into the Armored Corps was stuck in my head.”
Private Roskind followed in the footsteps of his grandfather Yitzchak Reichenberg, who had come to Israel from the United States in 1972. “I was supposed to be conscripted into the US army to go fight in Vietnam,” says Reichenberg, “and I said to myself, ‘I have nothing to do with Vietnam, what would I do over there? I would rather come to Israel and fight for the land I was born on.’”
When Reichenberg got to Israel, he was conscripted into the Armored Corps, and he served in the 77th battalion of the 7th brigade. “My first three months of basic training were spent in Rafah and then we moved up to Tzamap (company platoon training). On the eve of Rosh Hashana 1973, the entire brigade went up to the Golan Heights, we got our tanks, adjusted our sights, and waited there until Yom Kippur,” he recounts.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, war broke out, and Yitzchak and the rest of his crew members - Eitan, Yaakov, and Ilan got in their tank and went on their way. “We suffered severe artillery shelling, and our platoon started moving towards a ridge north of Quneitra and we started shooting. During the fighting, in the initial battles, our tank commander Eitan Ziman was injured by a bullet to the palm of his hand and our tank was vacated from the front. After rearming and refueling our tank, we were connected with a new tank commander - Yaakov Widenfeld (of blessed memory).”
During one of the battles, in the afternoon, their tank suffered a direct hit. The tank commander, Yaakov, was killed on impact and their gunner, Ilan, suffered an injury to his eyes. The tank was immediately extracted and the wounded evacuated to the hospital. “The reality is that while I was physically in the tank, my head was someplace else,” Reichenberg remembers. “There was a lot of fear in those days. On the first night of shelling, we heard non-stop booms throughout the field, and I just tried to divert my mind and pretend I was somewhere else. I knew that something could happen at any moment.”
“Forty-six years after that difficult war, seeing my grandson joining the Armored Corps, I was very emotional. It was clear to me that I would give him the same black beret that I myself wore,” says Reichenberg, with his grandson adding to his emotional words.
“Putting on that beret and knowing that my grandfather fought for this land, and now, forty-six years later, I am wearing that same beret with great pride is a feeling of coming full circle,” Roskind said.
“Before I joined the army, my grandfather told me a lot about ‘prisat zachal’ (fixing the treads), and I never knew what he was talking about until last week during one of our training sessions, we had to do one and replace some parts, and in that moment, Saba came to mind,” Roskind added with a smile.
As Saba Yitzchak watches his grandson, who is due to finish advanced training in a month and become an official tankist, he has one final message.
“I want to dedicate this article to those who didn’t come back from the war, to my commander Yaakov Widenfeld (of blessed memory) - he was a true hero of Israel. And the rest of you soldiers - take care of yourselves. Without you, where would we be?” he concludes, with great emotion in his eyes.