‘Please Send Help’
Ariel Sharon was a hero to Israeli soldiers. David Landau, a longtime Israeli journalist, has captured the strong bond between general and troops in Arik: The Life of Ariel Sharon (Knopf), to be released in January 2014. Early in the October War, Sharon, commander of the 143rd Reserve Armored Division, pleaded with Israeli commanders to rescue the more than 450 reservists trapped in Bar-Lev forts overrun by the Egyptians. He was ignored.
As soon as he arrived on the front, Sharon began pressing to get the beleaguered men out. This quickly became an early flash point of tension between the 143rd Division and Southern Command. Making matters worse—and unforgettably poignant for everyone who heard these radio exchanges and lived through the war—the men in the strongpoints began addressing their increasingly desperate appeals to Sharon personally. “We recognize your voice, ‘40’ ”—this was Sharon’s designation on the divisional network—“we know who you are. We know you will get us out of here. Please come to us. Please send help.” One soldier in Purkan, the strongpoint opposite the Egyptian city of Ismailia, recalled “a moment of exultation when we heard Sharon had arrived. If we’d had champagne we’d have opened it. Just his voice on the radio was like salvation.” Sharon promised them, for all to hear, that he would help them get out.
Sharon said later that it had taken the IDF years to establish “the norm that we don’t leave the wounded on the battlefield and we don’t leave men to fall into the enemy’s hands. To me, this matter is of cardinal importance.”