In a nation that has seen more than its fair share of combat worn veterans, Ran Ronen stood out as among the most renowned. He was not merely one of the greatest combat pilots of all time. In the words of fellow veteran Menachem Shmul (who served under him), Ran Ronen was "the greatest squadron commander ever."
Ran epitomized the ethos of the Israeli commanding officer, demanding excellence from his men, and leading them into battle by personal example. As commander of the "Bat" squadron, Ran chose to personally fly the most dangerous of missions in the years leading up to the Six Day War: flying the reconnaissance sorties deep into Egyptian territory that paved the way for Israel's stunning aerial victory in the Six Day War. As the commanding officer of the "Bats," he developed the demanding aerial gunnery standards that were essential to preparing a generation of Israeli pilots for future war. His example as a leader and pilot set the standard by which Israeli squadron commanders would be judged for decades to come.
During the War of Attrition, Ran Ronen was tasked to personally rebuild Israel's first F-4 Phantom squadron, after its morale had been shattered by the tragic death of their beloved squadron leader, Shmuel Hetz. And during the Yom Kippur War, as the commanding officer of Israel's largest air base, Ran Ronen continued to fly operational missions deep into enemy air space, during some of the darkest days in the history of Israel's air force.
It is not only Israel's air force that lost a legend this past week. Rather, it was a piece of Israel's collective memory that has passed away. The dark clouds of those decades, when Israel's very existence was an open question mark on the world stage, have often been lost on succeeding generations. Too few, it seems, recognize the personal sacrifice that a generation of pioneers, and their children after them, were called upon to make to secure the survival of the Jewish people.
Ran Ronen was laid to rest in Kfar Vitkin this past week, the moshav where he and his future wife, Heruta had once been raised. He was 80 years old, finally falling victim to cancer. To him, and many like him, succeeding generations are all alike indebted.