JERUSALEM, Israel -- Like most Israelis just before the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Effie Eitam didn't expect an Arab attack on the holiest day of the Jewish year.
Eitam was leading a routine reconnaissance patrol on the Golan Heights. Moments later, he was facing the might of the Syrian army.
"I saw hundreds of Syrian tanks moving forward, and they were painted in a camouflage of green and yellow," the former Israel Defense Forces commander told CBN News. "And I remember, I thought to myself that they're kind of prehistoric lizards, you know, who just came out of a cave because they came out of nowhere. I didn't see them before."
For days, the surprise attacks dealt a serious -- nearly fatal -- blow to Israel. The men on the front lines bore the brunt of the battle.
"The first three days were hell, you know," Eitam continued. "We didn't have any anti-tank weapons, and we had to shoot them with American World War II-made bazookas, you know, a very primitive anti-tank rocket launcher, and we had to shoot them from distances of 50-60 meters [yards]. People just got killed. Some of them were smashed by the tanks, you know, from such a short distance."
During the first few days of the war, the Israelis paid a high price in lives lost. But they held on and contained one of the most fearsome attacks ever made against the nation.
When Israel counter-attacked, Eitam received orders for a daring mission: Go behind enemy lines and take the Syrian Division headquarters. Like many commando raids, this assault meant close quarters and face-to-face, sometimes hand-to-hand, combat.
Eitam was a highly trained soldier, but he wasn't prepared for what faced him when he went around a corner in the Syrian bunker.
"We came there and we started to 'clean'-- in other words, to kill -- the generals who were there and their guards. I was throwing hand grenades, shooting, you know, in the broad concrete corridors," he said.
"And then when I turned, behind one of the corners of the corridors, which was full of smoke and dust, I saw a silhouette -- a kind of something coming out of the dust and smoke toward me," he recalled. "I was very sure it's a Syrian soldier, and I took my rifle and I was aiming the rifle and was ready to pull the trigger, and then I saw a bird coming out of the smoke. She just flew behind my head and she stood on my right shoulder."
At first, Eitam thought the bird was actually a bat, living in the cool, dark corridors of the bunker. So in the midst of an intense firefight, he found himself trying to shoo away a bird.
"So I just whipped her out, and she turned again and stood on my left shoulder," he explained. "I didn't have time to have all kinds of arguments with a bird: 'What are you doing here, who are you?' It was in the middle of a shooting battle."
"So I completed the assault and hand grenades and everything. And when I went out of the corridor of the bunker, I saw a dove, a pigeon, standing on my left shoulder. I just tried to let her out of my shoulder. She turned and was very determined not to leave me. I put my hand just like that and she stood on my hand."
Despite Eitan's attempt to get rid of the dove, she stayed with him and his unit for the next 10 days in some of the most intense battles of the Yom Kippur War. During that time, Eitam's unit appeared to have supernatural protection.
"Since we had that angel protecting us, none of my company's soldiers was killed or wounded, and we were involved in very intensive battles," he said. "It's not that we stood in the rear or we sat there. We were involved in the middle of the most bitter battles, but she was there."
"What was unnatural and very interesting was that even in the night, when we had night operations and night battles, where usually these birds, pigeons, do not move at night -- they don't have a very good night sight -- she was with us patrolling, a little bit forward, looking (at) what's going on around (us), sitting here," he said, pointing to his shoulder.
Finally, after nearly two weeks of frontline conflict, Eitam and his unit were sent to the rear for a rest.
"And when I put my feet down in the vehicle that brought us from the front to the territory of the State of Israel, she flew away and disappeared," he said. "You know, you could have a little bit of questions whether it happened or not. But it didn't happen to me in the middle of a desert or me being alone in the middle of a jungle. It was in front of the eyes of thousands of soldiers."
Since that experience, through many commando operations, the sense of the miraculous and God's protection has never left Eitam -- the same protection promised in the 23rd Psalm.
"I trained myself to see miracles around me, around the operations that I conducted. It's as we know he said, quoting Psalm 23 in Hebrew: "Even when I am in the valley of death and evil, I'm not afraid because God is with me…."