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Israel Says Goodbye to Astronaut Ilan Ramon - 2003-02-10

A state memorial service has been held in Israel for astronaut Ilan Ramon, shortly after his remains were brought back from the United States. Colonel Ramon was one of seven crewmembers killed when the space shuttle Columbia broke-up upon re-entry on February 1.

An Israeli airman performed an Israeli song, which includes the words "do you hear my voice calling you from afar." The song was beamed up to Colonel Ramon during his flight as a wake-up call.

In the ceremony for Israel's fallen astronaut, citizens formally said goodbye to the man they had hailed as of one of their greatest heroes.

President Moshe Katsav opened the eulogies, saying that Colonel Ramon represented the best the country has to offer.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon then gave a short address, saying Colonel Ramon captured the hearts of the nation with "his boyish charm and happy eyes" and had "become an image of Israel," as every Jew in the world would want to see it. The prime minister said Colonel Ramon had, "on his last mission, realized his life's dream" and would be a "model" for generations of Israelis, who he predicted would also travel into space. Members of the government and other dignitaries also attended the ceremony, alongside Colonel Ramon's widow Rona, their four children, his brother and father.

To the bereaved family, Mr. Sharon said: "Your pain is the pain of the whole nation."

After his address, the prime minister stood at attention before the astronaut's coffin, which was draped in the blue and white Israeli flag.

Colonel Ramon, the son of a Holocaust survivor, served in several wars for the Israeli Air Force. He also took part in the 1981 bombing of a nuclear reactor in Iraq, which many now believe set back Baghdad's plans to build atomic weapons.

He is to be buried Tuesday in a private ceremony attended by relatives and friends.