In one of the obituaries to Aharon Davidi who passed away last weekend, I read that during battle, he used to remain standing upright rather than take cover. According to the story, Davidi explained that remaining on his feet helped him to think better under fire. I never met Aharon Davidi – he left the IDF on the same year I joined it. But I did meet the man who used to be his commander during the 50s, Mordechai Gur, and as far as standing upright or taking cover under fire, it seems that they both shared the same ideas, or perhaps had the same upbringing.
The year was 1976 and I happened to watch a live fire exercise of an armoured brigade near Bir Temade in the Sinai. During the exercise the brigade broke through an elongated valley bordered on both sides by huge sand dunes. The exercise was viewed from the top of one of these dunes and the helicopter bringing the then chief of staff Morderchai Gur, who came to see the action in person, landed there. The tanks raced forward up the valley firing, as they moved, from their guns and machine guns at the old chassis of armoured vehicles that were scattered in the area and were used as targets.
Somewhere in the commotion, the noise, the dust and the smoke, one of the tank crews mistakenly identified the silhouette of the chief of staff’s parked helicopter as a target and opened fire from a 0.5 machine gun towards the top of the dune on which we were standing. Salvos of bullets whistled around and sprayed sand from nearly under the feet of those present. Everyone, without exception, dropped to the ground and covered their heads with their hands. Everyone – except Mota Gur. He remained standing upright with his feet apart and his hands behind his back, turned his head back and said quietly to the radio operator who was lying on the ground near him trembling with fear: “Tell them to cease fire.” The order was passed on and the guns and machine guns went silent. “Describe to them exactly where we are positioned.” said Gur to the radio operator. After the information was radioed and the commanders of the exercising force confirmed they had positively identified us, Gur ordered the resumption of the live fire exercise. There was no media festival – everyone involved understood immediately what had happened, took corrective action and moved on.
They say that there are people who, unlike most of us, have something in their physiology that prevents them from feeling fear even in extreme circumstances. I don’t know if Mota Gur was one of them. What I did learn years later was that when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he bravely decided for himself when and how to end his life – by firing a bullet from his pistol in the garden of his own home.