Yona Baumel died on Friday. He was 81, a father, grandfather and great-grandfather; he'd had a successful career; until some weeks ago he came daily to the early minyan at our synagogue, and then stuck around for the 6:30 Talmud session in the Shabbat tractate. Yet for all this, his identity was as the father of Zachariya Baumel, a tank crewman missing in action since June 1982.
Zachariya went missing during the Sultan Yaakob battle on June 10th 1982, a night-long battle in which a Syrian division ambushed a battalion-plus IDF tank unit. The Syrians were on the hilltops surrounding the Lebanese village of Sultan Yaakob, which lies in a valley; it ended only the next morning, when backup IDF units took over the hills. Two IDF tank crews were missing, including Baumel's. The Syrians claimed to know nothing about this, but a year or so later they suddenly admitted they'd been holding Arik Lieberman, one of the missing, all along, and exchanged him for some Syrian PoWs; this gave credence to the possibility they were still holding additional Israelis.
Yona Baumel spearheaded decades of efforts to force his government (Israel) to insist on the Syrian's divulging everything they knew. The Syrians never obliged, but Baumel felt the Israelis hadn't been trying hard enough, and the story was never laid to rest.
Israel's enemies being the callous and inhumane bastards they are, it's hard to know what the truth really was, and Israel's various leaders have certainly proven repeatedly less competent than one would like. The very ambush at Sultan Yaakob was probably the result of horribly mistaken IDF decisions in the first place - not to mention that the whole war was largely stupid. Personally, I have thought for a long time that Zachariya and his friends were killed that night, not captured. None of which was of any help to his parents. Yona has now taken his unresloved pain with him to his grave. The story is part of our national fabric, to the extent that his death is noted in the media, and we all know who he is.