2 missing soldiers identified from War of Independence

JERUSALEM — His whole life was a search to find his father and pass on the message of his sacrifice. The quest of Yehuda Duvdevani, a retired brigadier-general and war hero, culminated on Tuesday, 50 years after his father died leading Holocaust survivors on a charge of the Latrun fortress in the War of Independence.

At last, the bodies of his father and a second Israel Defense Force soldier killed in the 1948 battle were found. On Tuesday, the IDF Unit for Missing Soldiers announced that through cross-examination of records and testimony, they were able to identify two soldiers buried anonymously as Capt. Moshe Duvdevani and Pvt. Aharon Tikotzky, both from Petah Tikva, who died on May 25, 1948.

The news came the day Yehuda Duvdevani, who is in charge of instilling motivation and Zionism among Israeli youth, had organized 10,000 youngsters to march to Latrun and hear stories of Israeli heroism.

"My whole life revolved around the events of Latrun," said Duvdevani, scanning the hills around the bullet-riddled fort. "My dad was out there someplace and I had to find him."

His father was in the Haganah when he was called to lead immigrants, many of them Holocaust survivors, in the battle for Latrun.

"The refugees had only gotten off the boat a week before and were given a crash course in fighting," Duvdevani said. "It was a hot and windy day. The fields were all burning. It was a vicious battle and they were in retreat. My dad was wounded at the outset, but he commanded the entire retreat.

"At one point, when he understood they were cut off, he ordered his soldiers to run for their lives. They insisted on trying to carry him, but he threatened them with his loaded weapon to let him be, so he could give covering fire to the other wounded. And he was never seen again."

The second soldier, Tikotzky, also displayed courage in the May 25 battle, the army said. According to the IDF, Tikotzky, a member of the Alexandroni Brigade, was carrying a wounded man under fire for treatment, but by the time he arrived, the position in the Arab village of Beit Gizo had been captured and he was killed as he approached.

The IDF discovered that Duvdevani and Tikotzky were not buried in the surrounding fields after all, but that their bodies had been picked up by Israeli troops a few days later and buried in anonymous graves at Tel Aviv's Nahalat Yitzhak Military Cemetery. The bodies are to be exhumed so that DNA testing can determine which is which.

The battle at Chinese Farm on the Egyptian front during the 1973 Yom Kippur War found young Duvdevani as deputy to then-battalion commander Yitzhak Mordechai, who's now Israel defense minister.

As with his father, he insisted on remaining in the field until the last of his wounded paratroopers were evacuated, before running for cover and diving into a trench where Mordechai lay. Duvdevani was wounded several times and received the medal of valor.

Mordechai has ordered that the story of Capt. Moshe Duvdevani's battle of Latrun be told to IDF soldiers.

"The message in the 50th year of Israel is that the youth today must understand that the nation was bought with blood," Duvdevani said. "We have values and we need to know that we have to give. And only this way will we have in the future the kind of state that all those who fell showing us the way had prayed for."