Photo Credit: IDF
IDF Sgt. 1st Class Zachary Baumel, z'l

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

Baruch Dayan Emet

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.