High School Graduation Interrupted By “Six-Day Arab-Israeli War”

photo by chicagotribune.com

Flashback | June 5, 1967

The beginning of the “Six-Day War” between the Israelis and the Arabs would have a profound effect on my life. But, on that day I wasn’t even aware of the situation in the Middle East. I had one thing on my mind—to graduate from high school and enjoy our Disneyland grad party…

Day One | Monday, the first day of the last week of school

Classes had already ended for seniors. We were at school to practice for the graduation and meet with counselors who would ask guys like me, “Now what are you going to do?” Since I didn’t have a keen interest in SAT tests and GPA I was in the pipeline to attend El Camino College, in Gardena, a few miles away. El Camino could have been renamed “El Avoido the Viet Nam War College.” By keeping a full load of classes there, guys became exempt from the army draft for the Viet Nam War.

The senior class lined up in in alphabetical order on the football field. The hot sun beat down amid calls of, “Let’s go to the beach.” I heard that cool song, “Groovin’” by the Young Rascals play out of someone’s transistor radio.

The quiet German girl in front of me named Dagmar had been a school conversation piece at the beginning of the year (her story was in the Daily Breeze newspaper, but I didn’t read it.). Her family had escaped over the Berlin Wall and migrated to Southern California, of all places. I had heard stories that they had pole vaulted over the Berlin Wall although Dagmar didn’t look that athletic. The “tunnel under the wall” story sounded more likely.

She turned to me and said, “Did you hear the news?”

Stunned that she had addressed me, I said, “What news?”

“The Israelis and the Arabs are at war.”

“Ah, no, I didn’t read the newspaper today.”

“You don’t even care,” she said, and jerked her head as the school administrator started barking instructions over the P.A.

Day Two | Tuesday I bailed from school due to lack of interest

I picked up an L.A. Times newspaper on the way to the beach. My buddies chided me for bringing the newspaper. The articles stated that an Egyptian army, greater than any force ever assembled in history in the Sinai, had amassed against Israel’s southern frontier. The Israeli Air Force had pulled a successful surprise attack earlier against the Egyptian airfields on the Sinai Peninsula. But, the Egyptian leader Nasser misled King Hussein of Jordan. Believing that the Israelis had failed, King Hussein was compelled to launch an attack on nearby Jerusalem.

Day Three | Wednesday afternoon we had the final grad practice

This time the administrator showed up on time. Before we began I said, “Hi Dagmar,” to the girl in front of me. When she turned I added, “This morning, the Israel Defense Forces defeated the Jordanians and liberated Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel… A ceasefire was agreed upon.”

“Yes, but it’s not over,” she replied, surprised at my statement. “The Syrians, with Russian support, are trying to retake the Golan Heights.”

The newspaper didn’t mention the Russians. While I paused, the Pomp & Circumstance music began.

Day Five | Friday evening we were all dressed in cap and gowns

The buses waited in the parking lot to take us to Disneyland, afterwards. We stood in line on the football field below the field lights. Dagmar, in front of me, waved to her family. They must be proud of her.

“Hi Dagmar,” I said, when she turned my way. “The Israeli air force is bombing the Syrian troops in Golan. The L.A. Times newspaper reported that the war might end soon.”

She gave me a sad look and replied, “Yes, it should be over. Why are you so interested in the Middle East all of a sudden?”

“Because of you and your family. You didn’t give up… You made it over the Berlin Wall.”

She smiled and said, “Vielen Dank, thank you very much,” as the Pomp & Circumstance music began for real.

Later that night, I had a great time at Disneyland with my buddies. I thought I saw Dagmar with girlfriends waiting in line for the Matterhorn ride, across from Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. It must have been an incredible journey from East Berlin to Disneyland. It was the last time I would ever see her.

Day Six | The fighting subsided on the Golan Heights. The Six Day War ended on Saturday, June 10, 1967

Saturday, I slept till noon. When I woke up I wondered, Now what are you going to do? Deep inside I knew that college wasn’t the answer for me, but right now I had no other options. I had a feeling though that I would find a way to where my intuition pointed me.

#   #   #

That summer I read volumes about world events. I learned that the Arab-Israeli conflict had begun before I was born, in 1948. When the state of Israel was formed, it included Palestine within its borders. The neighboring Arab states of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan then invaded the “Zionist” Israel, claiming that Palestine should be a free state. The conflict never stopped.

History would call the Six Day Arab-Israeli War the dawn of INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM. It spurred me to explore what was going on in the world, but reading about it wasn’t enough. I wanted to live the adventure. Little did I know that in a few years time I would travel throughout the Middle East and become directly involved in the protection of King Hussein of Jordan (more to come on this subject).

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