Queen Esther. Golda Meir. Gal Gadot. All strong and wonderful Israeli women. And as we celebrate the strong and wonderful women in our own lives this International Women's Day, we'd also like to introduce you to the story of the only female recipient of the Medal of Distinguished Service, Esther Arditi:
The night of the 29th of November, 1954 was dark and rainy. The lights of the takeoff runway at Hatzor Airbase had shut off as a result of the turbulent weather, and the combat pilot Yaakov Salomon and navigator Shlomo Hertzman realized that there was no other choice--they would have to land the plane without seeing the runway underneath them.
Within a short while, young paramedic Esther Arditi--who had become certified only a week prior--was called to tend to the fallen plane that had burst into flames. The rain, inexperience and stress didn't stop her. Even when the ambulance that she was steering (without a license) had sunk in mud, Esther continued toward the burning plane. The desperate calls of the rescue crew members, who instructed her to steer clear of the area, did nothing to instill fear in her. Out of the flames of plane remnants she rescued Hertzman, who was badly injured. He told her that the pilot, Yaakov, was lying unconscious in the cockpit.
Arditi ran back to the plane and rescued him as well. Moments after, the fire reached the fuel tanks of the plane and it exploded. Fortunately, Arditi managed to get the injured pilot and navigator into a canal in the area and they were evacuated to a hospital. Navigator Hertzman succumbed to his wounds, and pilot Salomon eventually recovered. For her heroic actions that night Private Esther Arditi received an honorary citation from the Chief of Staff of the IDF, Moshe Dayan, which was subsequently converted into a Medal of Distinguished Service.
[O]n February 20th 2003, Esther passed away while visiting relatives in Italy. She left a legacy of a life in which she moved to Israel at 16, enlisted in the IDF, received the Medal of Distinguished Service, accompanied the Paratroopers division to the Western Wall in the Six Day War and raised a family in Israel.
And The Jerusalem Post's Anna Ahronheim tells us a bit more about Esther, including the recent discovery of a letter she once sent to Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion:
In addition, the archive has revealed a letter written by Esther Arditi, nicknamed the “Angel in White” for her work as a paramedic, rescuing and treating injured IDF pilots and soldiers on the battlefield...
During the Six Day War, Arditi volunteered to serve as a medic at the casualty unit of the Paratroop Brigade in Jerusalem, and later accompanied the paratroopers as a combat medic during the conquest of the Western Wall. A few years later, during the Yom Kippur War, she volunteered to serve as a medic in a field hospital near the Suez Canal. In 1975, she received a special letter of gratitude for her volunteerism from president Ephraim Katzir.
After completing her military service, she studied nursing at the Carmel Hospital in Haifa.
Fifteen years later, Arditi, who had become a tour guide, asked to bring her family to meet Ben-Gurion. In a modest letter, Arditi wrote to the prime minister, telling him a bit about herself and her family’s wish: “A family with Italian citizenship, whose greatest dream is to shake hands with the honorable Mr. David Ben-Gurion! I, too, would be very happy to shake hands with Mr. Ben-Gurion,” she wrote...
A street in the Givat Hananya neighborhood of Jerusalem was named “The Angel in White” in her honor.