Saving Paratrooper Perlos — Part 4

“B. Incident report:-
“On Thursday 14.12.50 an Air Force airplane dropped paratroopers over a training base of new recruits. Once the first stick jumped out First-Sergeant Shmuel Refael looked outside in order to ascertain that the paratroopers floated away from the airplane and called: ‘Dispatcher No. 2! A man got caught on the wheel, tell the pilot to shut the engines off and turn towards the sea!’ Simultaneously while issuing this order First-Sergeant Shmuel Refael threw out of the airplane door a cable with an anchor and started directing it from the airplane door towards the soldier whose parachute got caught on the airplane’s rear wheel.
“By using the airstreem from the engine the anchor was directed into the parachute’s lines. The cable was pulled towards the airplane and the paratrooper (Corporal Perlos George) was lifted to the airplane door while 7 of the parachute’s lines were torn and the paratrooper was pushed away from the airplane by the strong airstreem.
“First-Sergeant Shmuel Refael hung-out most of his body out of the airplane and succeeded in connecting again the anchor to the parachute lines and after an additional pulling operation which lasted some 10 minutes Corporal Perlos George was brought into the airplane.
“The pilot, Captain Oded Abarbanell, who had very great difficulty flying with an additional weight tied to the rear wheel of the airplane remained composed, daring and showed esprit-de-corps by gaining altitude and shutting-off one of the engines so as to reduce the air pressure and thus enable to pull the paratrooper back into the airplane.
“C. This Citation of Merit and the Incident Report will be brought to the knowledge of all military ranks.”

This Incident Report, as detailed above, was a stupid fairytale full of lies such as the tale of First-Sergeant Shmuel Refael ordering me to shut-off the engines which is a total absurdity as well as a total lie. I personally did not consider this fairytale as an insult or humiliation but I actually shrunk with shame reading such nonsense in the orders of the General Headquarters signed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Israel Army, Navy and Air Force. I wrote him a personal letter in which I reported the incident professionally and complained about the lies. I never received an answer and I doubt that he ever received it or read it although it was directed to him personally.

I found out many years later why Air Force Headquarters did nothing about this incident and why the head of the General Staff of the IDF issued such a shameful report and citation. On the day this incident happened the Commanding Officer of the IAF went to Lieutenant-General Yigal Yadin’s office at the IDF’s General Headquarters and resigned from his post as CO of the IAF. As soon as this became known in IAF Headquarters the place turned into unbelievable chaos. There were several possible candidates for this duty and everybody else within headquarters saw himself being promoted soon. On such a day who would spend any time dealing with a C-47 pilot who managed to save the life of a paratrooper who got hitched on the towing-hook of the airplane. Therefore when Manpower Division in GHQ turned to both Air Force HQ and the Paratroopers Regiment and asked for details they never received an answer from the AF. In contrast – Major Yehuda Harari, CO of the Paratroopers Regiment ordered Shmuel (Sami) Refael to write and send the report and Rafael reported as if he was the inventor of the anchor, the initiator of the entire rescue operation as well as the way and technique by which the pilot flew the airplane. This report was confirmed by Harari who naturally wished that the Paratropers benefit the most from this incident.

Shortly afterwards an Officers Course parade was held at the Herzeliah Airfield. I was ordered to attend. George Perlos, Shmuel Refael, I and Yehuda Harari were placed in line opposite the course of new Officers. The Prime-Minister and Defence Minister David Ben-Gurion and the IDF Chief-of-Staff Yigal Yadin awarded the new Officers with their rank and then came over to us, shook our hands and spoke with us. Ben-Gurion remembered me from both his two first flights to Eilat which I Captained and spoke to me very intimately. Although Yehuda Harari found it necessary to join us there was not even a single Officer or man from the IAF at this parade except myself. This was real bad-taste. I still cannot understand it.

Several days later First-Sergeant Shmuel Rafael was promoted to Second-Lieutenant. Shortly afterwrds Corporal George Perlos was promoted to Sergeant. I remained a Captain. The Air Force had more important tasks at the time: Yigal Yadin did not like the Air Force at all and wanted to disintegrate the Air Force into Wings which make part of the several Infantry Divisions: One wing to each Division. This was the reason for Major-General Aharon Remez resigning his command of the AF. Yigal Yadin was indeed a great Archaeologist but knew absolutely nothing about war in the air.

One month later I was surprised to receive a certificate of registration in the Golden-Book of Keren-Hakayemet-Leisrael. Before the State of Israel was founded it was considered the highest Civilian Honour to be Registered in this Golden-Book. I found out that while I was dropping paratroopers over Tsrifin our Transport Minister, Mr David Remez (father of the AF CO) was being driven from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem and while passing near Tsrifin he saw the whole incident of Perlos getting caught on the towing-hook. When he arrived in Jerusalem he asked and was told how this incident ended. Several days later Remez attended a meeting of the El-Al board-of-directors and told the board about the incident he saw. They were all very moved and decided to have it registered in the Golden-Book of Keren Hakayemet Leisrael as follows:
“The pilot Captain Oded Abarbanell and the instructor Second-Lieutenant Shmuel Refael—for saving the life of Corporal Yeshayahu Perlos, during para-drop exercises, while he demonstrated perfect soldierly demeanor and bravery, are hereby cited for Merit and so registered by the Board-of-Directors and Management of El-Al Israel Airlines Ltd. with esteem, 14.12.50.

The Citation of Merit which I received from the CIC of the IDF was the first Citation issued in the Israeli Army and the Israel Air Force.

In January 1970 the Law relating to Military Decorations was passed. Up to this date the IDF was against issuing Medals and Decorations as is the custom in all armed forces around the world. At the head of this opposition stood David Ben-Gurion who was at that time Prime-Minister and Minister of Defence. And yet Ben-Gurion issued 12 Bravery Medals at the end of the War of Independence and later allowed the CIC of the IDF, the CO of the Israel Navy and the CO of the Israel Air force as well as COs of Divisions to issue Citations. The Law enacted 3 decorations. The third is the Order of Merit and is bestowed by the CIC of the IDF for an action which was performed with bravery and deserves merit. Towards the end of March 1973 I received a letter from the Head of Manpower in the IDF Headquarters advising me that the CIC of the IDF has awarded me the Order of Merit for my action with the paratrooper who got caught on the tail-hook of the airplane and that I am invited to attend in April 1973 the ceremony which will be held in Jerusalem and during which all these orders will be awarded.

Nothing was coordinated with El-Al and I, having been flying already for El-Al for the last 21 years, found myself scheduled to fly a nonstop flight to NY on the very day of the ceremony. I gave it some thought and decided to fly as scheduled. I was not interested in being awarded an order which cites Shmuel Rafael’s fairy-tale. As a matter of fact: I did not think that either Perlos or Rafael or I should get the Order of Merit. And so the Order remained in the safe of Manpower of the IDF Headquarters and I never received it but I was advised that I remain decorated with it and may wear its light-blue ribbon above all my other ribbons.

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