“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:8 (37a)
LT Miroslav “Steve” Zilberman, call sign “Abrek,” saved the world three times over when he stayed at the controls of his failing E-2C Hawkeye, keeping it steady enough to allow the other members of the crew to bail out. He was not able to follow them to safety. Rescuers quickly plucked the three survivors from the water, but three days of search efforts did not succeed in recovering the man to whom those three owe their lives — their worlds.
When he was declared dead, the Hawkeye-Greyhound community knew it had lost one of its noblest members. A wife had lost her husband. Two young children had lost their father. They were wrenched from the world in which they once lived, and I cannot imagine how much it hurts to try to make a home in their new one.
We all know that naval aviation is a dangerous business. Flight is not a forgiving environment. We know it, we really do… but it is not something we dwell on every minute of every day. I do not want to live my life under the weight of constant fear that the Swiss cheese will line up in exactly the wrong way and my husband will be hurt or killed because of it. The worry is there, of course, but on most days, I think most of us spouses are able to keep it on the periphery. We can see our husbands off to work, saying, “Have a good flight, love you, call when you’re on deck so I can preheat the oven for dinner.” It doesn’t even register that the vast majority of people in this country would find it very strange indeed to send their spouses off to strap on multiple tons of steel and fuel to go zooming around the atmosphere.
It is amazing what begins to feel “normal” after a while, isn’t it?
I didn’t feel very normal when I first read news of the E-2 mishap. I was in my parents’ home, visiting for a week over Passover. My husband had been able to come up for the Seder, but he was already back to work for his final check flight with the FRS before he had to head out to San Diego for a few days of training. My heart sank when I saw the headline, and immediately leaped into my throat when I read the name of the ship and squadron. I had to read it again before it registered that a good friend of ours, an E-2 pilot, was deployed on the Ike with the Bluetails. The feeling of disconnect was surreal as I sat in the recliner in my childhood den and wondered if my friend was dead. My parents were sympathetic, but I wished I had my husband there. I felt very isolated from my military community just then.
Our friend was eventually allowed to give us word that he was safe; we were, of course, relieved to hear that he was alive and unharmed. We were glad to learn that three people had survived the mishap when it could have easily resulted in the deaths of all members of the crew. None of that changed the fact that one family had received the worst possible news, the realization of all the darkest worries that we military spouses are able so often to shove aside in our bids to believe that our loved ones’ jobs are perfectly normal and routine.
Now, just a few days ago, we have suffered the loss of another airplane, this time with all its crew. Four people died in the T-39N Sabreliner mishap in Georgia. Four more worlds ended.
I did not know LT Zilberman personally, but everything I have heard about him since his death makes me think he must have been a stalwart friend and squadronmate. His wife and children, whom I have also never met, are nonetheless frequently in my thoughts. I did not know any of those killed in the T-39 mishap, but my heart breaks for their loved ones.
I pray they can eventually find some brightness and joy in this alien world they now must walk.