Mickey Marcus

David Daniel Marcus (1902 - 1948), commonly known as Mickey Marcus, was a Jewish United States Army colonel who assisted Israel during the 1948 War of Independence and who became Israel's first Brigadier General.

Col. Micky Marcus in Israel
Col. Micky Marcus in Israel

Marcus is the best known Israeli Machal (the Hebrew acronym for "volunteers from outside Israel") soldier, glorified in a 1966 Hollywood movie with Kirk Douglas as Marcus in Cast a Giant Shadow.


Early life

Marcus's parents came from Eastern Europe. Born in Brooklyn, USA, Marcus was extremely bright and athletic, and was accepted at West Point in 1920 and graduated with the class of 1924. In the military he went on to become a lawyer by training, and spent most of the 1930s as a United States Attorney in New York, prosecuting gangsters such as Lucky Luciano. New York City Mayor LaGuardia named Marcus Commissioner of Corrections for New York City in 1940.

World War II years

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he served as executive officer to the military governor of Hawaii. In 1942, he was named commandant of the United States Army's new U.S. Army Rangers school, which developed innovative tactics in unconventional warfare. He actively participated in the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

Marcus helped draw up the surrender terms for Italy and Germany and became part of the occupation government in Berlin after 1945. During that time, Marcus was put in charge of planning how to sustain the starving millions in areas liberated by the Allies, and clearing out the Nazi concentration camps.

He was subsequently named chief of the War Crimes Division, planning legal and security procedures for the Nuremberg trials.

Israeli military career

In 1947 David ben Gurion asked Marcus to recruit "an American officer" to serve as key strategic military advisor to the nascent Jewish army, the Haganah, "Defense Force". As he could not recruit anyone suitable, Marcus decided to "volunteer" himself and in 1948, the United States War Department granted leave to Colonel Marcus, who was a reservist, provided Marcus disguised his name and rank to avoid problems with the British Mandate of Palestine.

Under the name "Michael Stone" in keeping with the understanding of the U.S. government, he arrived in Israel in January 1948, four months prior to the official Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, May 14, 1948, facing the Arab armies surrounding the soon-to-be State of Israel.

He designed a command and control structure for the nascent Israel Defense Force adapting his war experiences at Ranger school to its special needs. He identified Israel's weakest points in the Negev south, and Jerusalem.

Marcus was appointed as Commander of the Jerusalem front, and given the rank of aluf, brigadier general. He was in command of operations of the breakthrough to Jerusalem when the Jewish section of Jerusalem was about to fall. To lift the siege, Marcus ordered the construction of an ingenious innovative road, a make-shift winding road through the difficult mountains to Jerusalem, known as the "Burma Road" for its namesake built by the Allies from Burma to China during World War II, bringing in additional men and equipment to break the Arab siege just days before the United Nations negotiated a cease fire on June 9th, 1948.

When Ben Gurion promoted Marcus to Brigadier General he became the first general in a Jewish army in the Land of Israel in two millennia.


As a mostly assimilated English-speaking American Jew, Marcus knew very little Hebrew. A few hours before the cessation of hostilities on June 11, 1948 he left his position late at night near Jerusalem, and was confronted by a nervous young Israeli soldier who spoke no English who demanded that Marcus reveal his identity. In the confusion, the sentry shot Marcus and killed him.

Marcus was returned to the USA for burial. His is the only grave at the United States Military Academy at West Point for an American killed fighting beneath the flag of another country.

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