Zachary Baumel Israel, returned home for proper burial.
Israel announced Wednesday the body of Brooklyn-born IDF Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Baumel, a tank commander who went missing in action in the 1982 First Lebanon War after having been captured during the Battle of Sultan Yacoub in the Bekaa Valley, has been returned home for proper burial.
IDF Spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said the body was returned through a “secret intelligence operation” but declined to provide details on how his remains were retrieved.
“Zachary’s bones which were brought to Israel were positively identified,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement Wednesday evening. “With them were also found his tank jump-suit and his tzitzit. Soon Zachary will be brought to his eternal resting place with a Jewish burial.
“A short time ago we informed Zachary’s family, his mother, his brothers and his sister that we had brought him back home. They and the entire people of Israel will escort Zachary to his eternal resting place, his final rest in the soil of the land of Israel,” Netanyahu said.
Zachary Baumel was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 17, 1960. He is the youngest son of Yona and Miriam Baumel. Zachary (known as Zak), has two older siblings — brother Shimon, and sister Osna. In a strange twist of fate, Zak’s “godfather”– an uncle — was also a POW, the last American prisoner of war to be repatriated to the U.S. after the First World War.
Until the age of ten, Zachary attended the Hebrew Institute of Boro Park (also known as Yeshivat Etz Chaim). Then in 1970, Zachary and his family immigrated to Israel, moving to the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin. Zak was enrolled at the nearby State Religious School, and later attended Midreshiat No’am High School in Pardess Hannah. After graduating high school, Zak chose to do his military service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Hesder framework, which combines religious studies and army service. Zak split his time between religious studies at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut, and the IDF Armored Corps, where he eventually became a tank commander.
“Zachary … learned at a yeshiva for IDF soldiers and joined the Armored Corps. He was infused with fervent Zionism, an abiding flame, an endless flame that led him to the land, to the IDF and to the battle in which he fell,” Netanyahu said.
The IDF announced that Baumel’s body was recovered as part of Operation Bittersweet Song: 37 years of ceaseless searching for the MIAs of the First Lebanon War by Israeli military intelligence, research and operational personnel.
“The operation to bring Zachary Baumel back to Israel is a supreme expression of the mutual guarantee and the soldierly’ brotherhood that characterizes us as a people, an army and a state. It is the redemption of a moral debt to the fallen IDF soldiers and to their families,” said Netanyahu.
“I promise that we will continue to invest every effort in order to also bring back home our other missing and fallen, including Zachary’s comrades – Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz — [as well as] Eli Cohen, Ron Arad, Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and other missing. We will not cease from this sacred mission.”
During the Battle of Sultan Yacoub, in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, 20 IDF soldiers died and five went missing. Three of the five remained missing in action to this day: Yehuda Katz, Zvi Feldman, and until today, Zachary Baumel.
According to the Al Arabiya news outlet, Baumel’s remains were returned to Israel from Lebanon “with the help of a third country. . . the tank of the missing crew in Lebanon [was returned] through a Russian mediation.”
Netanyahu thanked “the entire intelligence community – the Mossad, ISA, IDF Intelligence and the IDF” for their work in bringing Zachary Baumel back to Israel. “This effort entailed wide-ranging diplomatic activity that will yet be told of,” he said.
Zachary had nearly completed his military service, when he was called up to serve in the Lebanon War. He has been accepted for the coming semester at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and was planning to study psychology. During that fateful summer of 1982, he had also secured a job working with youth from abroad as part of a Jewish Agency program. On June 11, 1982, just hours before the declaration of a ceasefire, Zak and his colleagues were sent into battle near the Lebanese village of Sultan Yacoub.
“Citizens of Israel, the bringing of a fallen IDF soldier to a Jewish burial is always a wound in heart of the family and of the people but in this case, the pain of bereavement is accompanied by the removal of doubt,” Netanyahu said.
“Today we remove the uncertainty that surrounded Zachary’s fate. Today we close the circle. The prophet Zechariah wrote (1:17): ‘And the Lord shall yet comfort Zion and shall yet choose Jerusalem’. From here, from Jerusalem, may the memory of Zachary Baumel be blessed forever.”
Zak’s last message to his parents, delivered on a postcard shortly before the battle, asked for a few personal items and concluded with a brief note of assurance to his worried parents: ” Don’t worry, everything is okay, but it looks like I won’t be home for a while.”