Stories of heroism are timeless. Forty years after the Yom Kippur War, we remember the bravery of Maj. (res.) Moshe Levy, who charged an Egyptian commando post to save his soldiers’ lives. He received the prestigious Medal of Valor for his heroic actions during the Yom Kippur War.
Israel is filled with stories of heroism – from civilians saving lives to IDF (Zahal) soldiers fighting to protect the lives of many. Major (res.) Moshe Levy’s heroic story may sound like the plot of a war movie, but nothing about his experience is fictional. Today, Maj. (res.) Levy is missing his right hand – an injury he suffered while saving his soldiers’ lives during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
During the Yom Kippur War, Major (res.) Levy was 28 years old and a corporal in the IDF (Zahal) – married with two young children. He had recently broken his kneecap in a car accident and was exempt from active duty. One month before the start of the war, while his leg was still in a cast, Levy’s unit was called up from reserve duty.
As the war broke out on October 6th, 1973, Levy was not called up due to his prolonged injury, but he was determined to fight. “I got up, left my wife and children, and said ‘I’m going,’” he explained. “My wife said, ‘but they didn’t call you up,’ to which I responded, ‘They don’t need to call me, I’m still going.’”
Arriving in the battlefield
Levy’s commander gave him command over an armored vehicle used to carry troops. That evening, the soldiers began making their way to Sinai. By October 8, Levy’s company was positioned in the region of Al Qantarah El Sharqiyya, east of the Suez Canal, and ordered to track down Egyptian commandos.
On the morning of October 15, while stationed in the Bluza outpost, the soldiers received a call to help free IDF (Zahal) soldiers trapped by an ambush of 20 Egyptian soldiers. Levy’s company arrived to discover that the Egyptian force was much larger than they were led to believe. “They had 120 tanks to our 98 soldiers,” Levy said.
Along with other troops in the region, the company was the only thing standing between the Egyptian forces and Tel Aviv. Levy was sure that he and his company were destined for death.
Fighting in the face of death
When the Egyptians arrived, they did not immediately open fire. Instead, they waited for the Israeli armored vehicles to huddle together behind a hill and then began firing rockets and missiles. “Our biggest damage resulted from that first round of fire,” explained Levy, referring to numerous killed and injured soldiers, as well as damaged equipment.
Before the second round of fire began, Levy ordered his soldiers to shoot. “As I got up to begin firing, I saw a missile heading towards us. I heard a ‘boom’, I felt a hit, and [the lower half of] my arm simply fell off,” Levy said. “I looked down and I saw no hand below the elbow. It was my right, dominant hand, and suddenly, it was no longer there. My soldiers went into shock, seeing their commander with no arm. I looked at them and said: ‘Soldiers, one missile went above us and one missile didn’t reach our vehicle. In about a minute another missile will fire directly at us. We must jump outside the vehicle. As I jumped, my soldiers jumped after me, except for four. A minute later, the four who stayed in the vehicle were killed by a missile.”
Levy glanced back at his shattered vehicle, forced to confront death with the haunting images of wounded soldiers before him. “I figured I had no chance of getting out alive,” Levy explained . “I looked at the soldiers around me and said: ‘Gentlemen, I am going to attack the Egyptian post; I have no chance, but I hope it will save you.’”
At first, Levy tried to cock the Uzi gun but was severely limited without the lower half of his right arm. He took out a hand grenade and removed the pin with his teeth. He was wobbling toward one of their military posts, stumbling in and out of consciousness from the blood loss. The Egyptians did not shoot at him while he was making his way towards them, as they were so distracted by the loss of his right arm that they did not see the grenade he had hidden in his left hand. It seems the Egyptians thought that he was coming to surrender.
Just ten meters from the Egyptians, Levy threw the grenade at the military post, hitting it directly and killing the Egyptian forces stationed there. The fragments and shrapnel from the grenade hit Levy as well, striking him in the face and chest.
He lay on the ground and thought to himself: “If I stay here, I’m dead.” He managed to pull himself up and join his fellow soldiers.
Dedication beyond the battlefield
Shortly thereafter, IDF (Zahal) paratroopers arrived to move the soldiers to safety. Levy would not leave until the rest of his soldiers were evacuated. He even refused to be treated by a paramedic until all others had been treated.
When the doctor arrived, he could not look at Levy without cringing in shock at the image in front of him: a soldier at the end of ten days in battle, covered in blood and with no right arm. “Doctor, will I live?” Levy asked. The doctor was evasive and did not respond. He simply led Levy onto a helicopter, which brought him to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Levy spent two short months in the hospital. When he was released after the war, he insisted on returning to his unit. One doctor agreed to let him go back to the Sinai on the condition that she would join Levy and look after him.
His military uniform was delivered to the hospital, and just like that, Levy joined his fellow soldiers. “I was back,” Levy said, recalling the moment that he claims brought balance back to his life. “I had no hand, but I felt I was myself again.”