He had served his country already twice, the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and now, with the onset of war in Lebanon, Morris (Moshe) Ayun once again took leave of his wife and children. But this time, he never came back.
On June 6, 1982, after years of unsuccessfully stemming the tide of terrorism from across the border, Israel invaded Southern Lebanon.
Dubbed “Operation Peace for Galilee,” the invasion, led by Gen. Ariel Sharon, sought to cripple the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that had bunkered down just north of the Israeli border. Since 1968, a 15,000 strong force directed by Yasser Arafat had battered Israeli border towns with mortar fire and executed over 270 terrorist actions.
The war ended in a military victory for the Israel Defense Forces on 7 May 1983, but had claimed 675 soldier’s lives, one of them, 34 year-old Morris Ayun.
On 20 June 1982, while transferring food and water to a nearby unit in Southern Lebanon, Ayun’s tank rolled over a land mine. The explosion propelled the tank slightly off the ground and it fell down a short cliff face.
Ayun left behind his pregnant wife and five children. Four months later, in Novemeber 1982, a daughter was born to his widowed wife, and she was named Morin after him.
“My name was unusual in Israeli culture,” Morin Stegall (nee Ayun) tells the Algemeiner on the phone, “and I grew up explaining where it came from.”
“I only know my dad through seeing photographs and hearing stories, but I am always proud of him.”
Born in Tunisia in 1948, Morris Ayun moved to Israel as a young boy and his family settled in Ofakim, a small city in the Negev desert region.
In 1965, at age 18, he was conscripted into the Israeli army, and, when he turned twenty, he married and moved to Beersheba while continuing his national service, serving in several units.
Morin describes him to me while looking through family photographs.
“He was tall and handsome, and had blue eyes and dark blond hair.”
And then she trails off in a sense of acquired nostalgia.
“My oldest brother was ten at the time, and there were three more boys and a girl,” she says. And almost as an afterthought she adds, “And then me.”
“My mother never remarried, instead preferring her late husband retain the father role in our lives.
“From what I’m told, he was a real family man, very devoted to his wife and children. When he was off-duty, he would take the children hiking and to zoos and museums, and there are many pictures of their outings.
“It didn’t matter how much money he had, he would always make sure the family had everything they needed, whether it was toys or even nice clothes.”
Each year on June 6, the anniversary of the Lebanon war, the family commemorates his life and his legacy, sharing stories and memories. This year marks 30 years since his death, and, for the family, 30 years of pride and heartache.
“The pain never leaves, even after thirty years,” she says, her proud voice tinged with sadness.
“When your dad dies, all the happy moments in your life become mixed and intertwined with the sadness. It’s something that becomes a part of you.”
Morin, who now lives in the United States, was herself a soldier in the IDF.
“For my mom, it was kind of ‘come full circle’ watching me graduate as an officer after losing her husband to the same uniform.”
Our phone call has already lasted a while, but she shares one last thought.
“One time, when I was stationed near the Israel-Lebanon border, I stood on a hill overlooking the area. I just stood there and looked, wondering how far from here my father died.”
“I didn’t look at my neighbors and say, ‘oh they killed my dad’. I just wanted peace. The kind of peace that is real, without any hate, for Israel and her neighbors.”