Grandson of downed pilot honored with Memorial Day flyover

Israel Air Force pilot whose grandfather was shot down and killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War flew his F-16 jet in the ceremonial flyover.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

An Israeli F-16 fighter pilot got to close the circle of a family tragedy when he flew his jet in formation over the annual Memorial Day ceremony held at the military cemetery in Jerusalem on Tuesday.

In the traditional flyby of four fighter jets, one of the planes peels away from the formation signifying a missing comrade-in-arms.

The pilot, Capt. Shelah, is a third-generation pilot in Israel’s air force. His grandfather, Col. Ehud Shelah, was killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur war when his fighter plane was shot down near the Suez Canal as Israeli and Egyptian forces waged fierce battles.

His father and an uncle are also fighter pilots and his grandmother, Tami, is the head of the organization of Israel Defense Forces widows and orphans.

“I am very excited, it is not a regular flight,” the young pilot told Israel Hayom.

Capt. Shelah, whose first name is not published for security reasons, said he grew up with stories of his grandfather who fell in battle when his father was only seven years old.

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“When the word came that they chose my unit to carry out the [Memorial Day] flight, I said of course I will be happy to be part of it,” Shelah said.

“In my eyes it is an honor and a real closing of the circle, both for my entire family but especially for Grandma, who will be watching me from below.”

Shelah said his thoughts will be with those who would have been at the cemetery, where more than 2,800 who fell in Israel’s wars and in acts of terror are buried.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the government ordered cemeteries closed on Memorial Day, when crowds of mourners traditionally pay graveside respects.

Thousands of people would normally be at Mount Herzl, but health authorities ordered the military cemetery closed, calling the decision one of their most painful.

“When I’m flying over I will be thinking that we have the right and the obligation. The right that the IDF fallen have sacrificed everything so that we can live in this country, and our obligation to look forward and be optimistic,” Shelah said.