The graphic and emotionally compelling account of the character in Grossman’s book brought back memories of my pilot neighbor on the air base at which I served. He was a Phantom F4 pilot and his co-pilot and navigator/weapons control person was, like all of the airman on the base, one of my patients who in keeping with their love of flying would do anything humanly possible to avoid my grounding them because of, for example, an upper respiratory condition which for them could be very dangerous with the sudden changes in air pressure but which they nevertheless tended to minimize. He was a very handsome and likeable young man with deep blue eyes and fair hair, the kind of person about whom, those who do not understand the Israeli/Jewish mosaic of appearance might say, “He does not look Jewish with his blond hair and blue eyes.”
IAF F4 Phantom
One day on the radio I heard that a Phantom had been shot down and the two crew members had been observed ejecting from the plane and parachuting to land. I was driving at the time and like anyone in my position I felt a pang even without knowing if the crew was from my base but knew that it could be the case as we were one of the bases with Phantom squadrons. When I returned to the base I discovered that not only were they from my base but indeed they were my neighbor and his co-pilot. I was devastated but immediately took on my professional role as the base doctor and visited the pilot’s wife who lived next door. She, like the wives of most pilots, had her way of dealing with this potentially impending tragedy and was receiving, as best she could all the base staff, pilots and their wives who visited to give her moral support – “after all he had parachuted out and there were international rules of war and prisoners”, even though many knew that the practice by Egyptians towards military prisoners was not always what it was supposed to be.
A few days later the news came that the two crew members were both alive but that one was “very severely injured” and the other had a fractured leg. Then weeks of quiet until I received a call at the base medical office that the co-pilot had “died” from his wounds and was being returned to Israel in exchange for some Egyptian prisoners. I heard quietly a few days later that there was evidence that his death had been due to or aggravated by electric shocks to his body. There was no new word about my neighbor.
One early evening while driving back to the base from one of my stints of working on the local kibbutzim or moshavim (communal farms) as a locum, while their doctor was often doing their reserve duty, I