American heroism is legendary across the globe, with tales of unmatched bravery and unselfish sacrifice reaching the farthest corners. And sometimes, so too do the American heroes themselves—fighting bravely and sacrificing everything for their ancestral homeland.
This is the Forgotten History of the Lone Soldier.
Mikey knew early on what he wanted to be when he grew up. Not a baseball star or a firefighter like his friends, but a soldier. An Israeli soldier. A member of the IDF. This was a noble dream to be sure, but it was somewhat unusual, since Mikey didn’t live in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
But he was as proud of his Jewish heritage as any native Israeli, and his grandparents, Holocaust survivors, instilled in him a deep love of his people and a fierce desire to protect them. “Never again” meant something even more to young Mikey. It was a call to arms.
Mikey spent his summers at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, a Jewish summer camp, and more fully realized his connection with Israel. As the years passed and Mikey grew into Michael, he decided that as soon as he turned 18, he would move there.
For a year, he studied Hebrew and Israeli culture and history in an ulpan—an institute of learning for foreign Jewish immigrants who make Aliyah and begin living in Israel. From there, Michael planned to join the Israeli Defense Forces. He would finally realize his dream of being an IDF soldier—a special type of one known as a “lone soldier”—a foreigner with no family ties in Israel who nonetheless joins the IDF to defend Israel.
Michael was ready to fight, but he was small—barely 125 pounds—and looked far more like a young boy than a hardened man ready for war. His commanding officers were skeptical, but Michael outworked everyone in his unit during basic training, running faster and longer carrying 120 pounds of gear that very nearly outweighed him.
He fast became a legend in his platoon; the smiling American who wouldn’t stop talking about the Philadelphia Phillies who was also the best, most serious soldier any of them had ever seen. No matter what was asked of him, Michael would do it. No matter how hard the challenge, Michael would meet it.
And he soon set his sights on a new goal—becoming an elite paratrooper. Only a handful of Americans had ever done so before, and none were as small as he was. But none had his passion and drive, either. On his very first jump, though, he was so light that the wind blew him well off course of the landing zone and he was forced to add weights to his pack for his next jumps. He would not be deterred and would not accept failure. He rose through the ranks quicker than any of his commanding officers had ever seen and became a first sergeant within two years.
He was ready to fight, he was ready for anything. And in 2006, while back home in Pennsylvania on leave for a friend’s wedding, the fight came to him. Hezbollah fighters ambushed Israeli soldiers, killing three and taking two others hostage into Lebanon.
Michael flew back to Israel immediately, ending his leave early and preparing to join what became known as the Second Lebanon War. Almost immediately, his unit was deployed deep behind enemy lines in Aita al-Shaab, and they came under heavy fire.
They retreated into an abandoned store and prepared for a counter-attack in a back room. But before they could, a Hezbollah fighter advanced and shot through the door.
Michael Levin, the Lone Soldier, the boy who dreamed of joining IDF, was dead. He was just 22. Two weeks later, the Second Lebanon War ended, but Israel never forgot his sacrifice. More than 2,000 people attended Michael’s funeral on Mount Herzl, the country’s national cemetery.
His story spread across Israel and became legend—a symbol of the love of the homeland that Jewish people across the world feel and the lengths that one small kid from Pennsylvania would go to defend it. Jewish people from all over began following Michael’s example and joining the IDF as lone soldiers. There were about 2,300 when Michael enlisted, but suddenly that number ballooned to more than 7,000.
He was a national hero, an inspiration to countless millions. The Israeli government erected a monument to him in Jerusalem, and then another, making Michael the first soldier ever to have two monuments in Israel.
The government then built the Lone Soldier Center in memory of Michael Levin, which provides support for those who, inspired by his sacrifice, come from all over the world to defend Israel. To this day, the name Michael Levin is spoken with reverence, and his story is shared widely to keep alive forever the heroism and sacrifice of a skinny kid from Pennsylvania who gave everything to become Israel’s Lone Soldier.