OLD BETHPAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Thursday was the anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel suffered a surprise attack from its neighbors.
An Israeli tank commander at the time, one New Yorker observed the somber anniversary by climbing back into the very tank he used to help defend Israel.
As TV 10/55’s Long Island Bureau Chief, Richard Rose explained, 64-year-old Yuval Neria is a professor at Columbia University, but he looked right at home atop the U.S. made M48 tank that he commanded when Egypt launched a surprise attack during Yom Kippur.
Most Israeli soldiers were observing the high holy day of atonement, but Dr. Neria found himself on the front lines when Egyptian cannons and tanks opened fire.
“My company was almost destroyed completely, my battalion was almost destroyed completely,” he said.
Dr. Neria suffered severe burns and a leg injury. As he recovered, he never expected to see the tank again, a tank with a long history that predated the Yom Kippur War.
The U.S. had first sold it to Jordan, but it was eventually captured by the Israelis during the Six Day War in 1967.
Last year, the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage acquired the tank. Museum directors then contacted Dr. Neria.
“He said, can I see it? We said, you can do more than see it, you can drive it,” Gary Lewi said.
That’s exactly what Dr. Neria did on Thursday, when he commanded the tank just as he did 43 years ago, with great confidence and skill.
“Rides very smoothly, a great cannon, we really enjoyed this time to do this,” Dr. Neria said.
Dr. Neria’s family joined him for the thrilling ride, and left even more impressed that he endured fierce combat for 12 days inside such cramped quarters.
“Supposed to be somewhat large men in there, and for me it was even tight. It must have been very scary with everything going on,” Neria’s daughter Michal said.
Dr. Neria now helps war veterans deal with the post traumatic stress disorder that he himself had to overcome. But on Thursday, he found joy in sharing with his family what it was like as a young man to defend his country against the terror of war.
For his bravery in successfully defending Israel, Dr. Neria was awarded the Medal of Valor — Israel’s highest military decoration.