In 1969 Giora Romm, now retired Major General, then Captain, a pilot in the Israel Air-Force spent three months as a POW in Egypt.
In 2008 Romm, a tall and impressive looking man, published his captivity and recovery story in a book in the Hebrew language, which he named Tulip Four (Tzivoni Arbah – simania.co.il/bookdetails.php?item_id=556414). He wanted to tell what was in his heart. Within a year the entire story was on paper. In June 2014, his book, Solitary: The Crash, Captivity and Comeback of an Ace Fighter Pilot, in the English language, was published.
These days Giora is visiting Southern California as a guest and under the auspices of UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), his Alma Mater, and Israel Consulate, Los Angeles. At their home in Los Angeles, Batya and Dr. Uri Elkayam hosted a magnificent book signing evening for him.
The story of Giora Romm is available to all if one does a Google search. He is a former deputy commander of the Israel Air-Force (IAF) and currently he is the Director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel, comparable to the FAA in the USA. Romm is the first Israeli jet ace pilot in the IAF (Rudy Augarten is first Israeli Air-Force ace pilot) who shot down five enemy planes during air combat in the 1967 Six Day War.
On September 11th, 1969, one day before Rosh Hashanah, during the War of Attrition, he was shot down and spent three months in Egypt’s captivity. Later on, through the intensive fighting of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he commanded the IAF’s 115 Squadron and participated in Operation Wooden Leg, the 1985 raid against PLO headquarters in Tunisia and many other operations.
What made me write this article is not Romm’s capture, rather his after captivity process of healing and returning to service. That is what I call determination against all odds, patriotism, military and national pride, all blended into heroism.
Soft spoken, Romm immediately captures your attention. “What am I doing here, you may ask?” He opens his book presentation. “I was invited by UCLA, where I received my MBA degree, to speak to the university Board of Governors.”
The book covers about four years of Romm’s life, from September 11th, 1969, the day when his plane was shot over the Nile Delta and ends with his last flight during the Yom Kippur War, in 1973.
The book is made of three parts.
The first part, his story as a POW; Romm ejected out of his plane above the speed of sound, at 18,000 feet elevation, giving him 20 minutes of parachuting time above the Nile Delta. While he saw the Egyptian villagers waiting for him to land, he had time to reflect on his life that, as he thought then, may come to an end at landing. Luckily and thankfully, he survived to tell the story.
It is worth mentioning three, of many, interesting aspects in this part of the book. When Romm was undressed of his pilot gear, his captors did not address him a Jew or Israeli, rather Sayuni, meaning Zionist. Second, his captors allowed him to have one book and the book he chose was a siddur, the Jewish prayer book, in which there is a tremendous wisdom from which he could gather knowledge and strength. Third, while in captivity Romm demanded that the Egyptian captors treated him according to his officer’s rank and he gained their respect. They addressed him accordingly and never called him by his name only.
The second part of the book tells the story of his healing; Romm’s two legs and arm were badly injured and he spent most of his captivity time covered in a plaster cast. Upon returning to Israel, in exchange for 72 Egyptian POWs, he spent four months in recovery in the hospital demanding to put his body back in shape so he will be able to fly again. His goal was to return to his previous life as a fighter pilot.
The third part of the book tells the story of returning to duty and to flying. Romm decided that upon his return from captivity he would not let the Egyptians ruin his life, they would not get the better of him. Unlike most POWs, who never recover from the ordeal and never return to normalcy of life, he did. His cure was to FLY an aircraft again.
“To be a POW is a traumatic experience. It is the lowest point in one’s life. You go from the prime of life, a proud combat pilot, in one of the best air force in the world, who not only controls a millions of dollars aircraft but also was trained to handle the most difficult life situation possible, to a solitary confinement status in which you have no control of a moment of your life. You either control your trauma or the trauma controls you,” Romm appears to be reliving the past while telling his story. “The book is about your life’s plan, about a trauma that you will not allow to change the course of your life’s plan” he explains. “I had a plan and I had to decide, do I let the Egyptians write my ticket and ruin my dream of being a pilot, which I had since my high school days? Your source of survival power is within yourself and your faith. If you have roots, if you believe in yourself you will overcome your trauma,” he speaks form his own experience.
“Everyone lives through a trauma,” he explains. “Israel’s Bengal Tiger is the Holocaust.” He then uses a metaphor. In the book Life of Pi, Pi spent 250 days on a small boat with a Bengal Tiger after they survived their ship’s wreck. Romm sees the Bengal Tiger as Pi’s trauma. It was a question of who will take control of whom, whether the tiger will eat Pi or not. Pi overcame the Bengal Tiger; Romm was determined to take control of his Bengal Tiger, which was his traumatic captivity. And so he did.
And so, Giora Romm recovered and returned to flying. At the age of 32 he was a Squadron Commanders under his command 32 pilots flew. He overcame the POW trauma, he won against the Egyptians, and he won not only Israel’s war but his war too.
Interested in knowing more about IAF? Here is one for the road: The Israeli Air-Force: Dogfights of the Middle East – Military/War/History (documentary)
Buy the book and learn how to navigate in life from the lowest point to any ultimate point your heart desires: Solitary: The Crash, Captivity and Comeback of an Ace Fighter Pilot by Giora Romm (Author).