Saturday, November 9, 2002

Wounded soldier tells his story



By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Israeli soldier Lt. Shay Buchachy was wounded in March when he confronted a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
BLUE ASH - Millions of people bear the pain of the terror and violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their hearts, but some, like Lt. Shay Buchachy of the Israeli Defense Forces, carry it on their bodies as well.

He is a tall and muscled 23-year-old. But today he walks haltingly, carrying at his side a next-to-useless left arm, a body marked with scars, senses dulled by eyes and ears damaged almost irreparably.

Eight months ago, in the West Bank Village of Nablus, about 50 miles north of Jerusalem, Lt. Buchachy and a fellow soldier cornered a suspected suicide bomber in a hotel lobby - a terrorist with 11 canisters of explosives strapped to his mid-section.

Lt. Buchachy stood directly facing the well-dressed, teenaged Palestinian - so close that the barrel of the Israeli soldier's automatic weapon touched the terrorist's chest - when the young man squeezed a device in his left hand and exploded, sending the Israeli soldier flying more than 20 feet across the hotel lobby, his body covered with blood and riddled with shrapnel.

This week he has been in Cincinnati as the guest of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, telling his story at Jewish synagogues, schools and youth groups.

"I do not see myself as a hero," Lt. Buchachy said Friday at the Jewish Federation's Blue Ash headquarters. "I did what I did because it was my duty. Because I love my country and am sworn to protect it."

In doing what he did on March 7 in Nablus, Lt. Buchachy and his fellow soldier, who was severely burned by the blast, saved the lives of dozens of tourists from all over Europe who were about to leave the hotel for a bus tour. Israeli intelligence operatives pieced together the story of the suicide bomber Lt. Buchachy thwarted and found that the plan was to board the bus and blow it up.

His story gained some attention in Israel, but Israeli defense officials were reluctant to release the details.

Elliott Karp of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati was traveling in Israel this summer and, by chance, met the young lieutenant.

"I asked him to come to Cincinnati when he could and tell his story to the Jewish community here, because, of course, we all care very deeply about our religious homeland," Mr. Karp said.

"Shay seemed to be amazed that there would be people in America interested in his story," Mr. Karp said. "He is very grateful for the support he has seen from people here."

While in Cincinnati, Lt. Buchachy has been staying at the Blue Ash home of Steve and Robin Miller.

"They have been very good to me; it is very difficult for them because of my condition, but they have become my very good friends," Lt. Buchachy said.

From March to September, Lt. Buchachy was hospitalized, undergoing one operation after another and many hours of grueling rehabilitation. Now, he tires easily and takes multiple medications each day to control the pain.

When he returns to Israel later this month, he faces another operation, and six more after that.

"I will never be completely recovered, not like I was," he said. "The bones of my hand were crushed. My eyes and ears will never be the same.

"But I would like to go back to active duty; there must be some way I can help - in intelligence work, something," Lt. Buchachy said. "I am not yet done serving Israel."

E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com




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