By TOVAH LAZAROFF
In the wet cemetery outside of Tel Aviv on Tuesday, raindrops splattered across a photograph of Uri Dan, smiling and holding a copy of his recently published book on Ariel Sharon.
A friend of Dan's placed the almost life-size poster-board photo across the fresh mound of brown earth as mourners left the funeral of the veteran war correspondent and author.
Dan had hoped he would one day see the former prime minister wake up from the coma he slipped into close to a year ago and from which he has not yet regained consciousness. On Sunday, however, Dan himself died at 71 following a brief battle with lung cancer.
In an interview he gave The Jerusalem Post in October, Dan noted the irony of how it had turned out that after all their experiences together on the military and political battlefields, the two old friends both found themselves fighting different but very serious diseases.
It was a tribute to Sharon and to their relationship that completing the book, Ariel Sharon: An Intimate Portrait, became Dan's final mission, Dan's only son, Oron, told the Post following the funeral.
The photograph that adorned Dan's grave was taken in Paris following the October release of the book in English and French, said Oron.
As his father worked on the book, he knew that something was wrong with him, but he waited until the manuscript was completed to focus on his own illness, Oron added.
Dan himself told the Post during an interview in October, "I would have died from sorrow if I had not written this book."
During the funeral, friends described Dan's many accomplishments, the more than 20 books that he authored, his dedication as a journalist to pursuing a story at all costs and the bond between himself and Sharon, which began when Dan was a 19-year-old military journalist in 1954.
One relative described how Dan was the kind of journalist who believed one had to be at the scene to report on a story, so he overcame his fears and as a military correspondent went into battle with the soldiers, she said.
In particular, she mentioned how he parachuted with Sharon into the Mitla Pass in the Sinai Desert in 1956.
During his tenure as a journalist, he worked for numerous publications including The Jerusalem Post, The New York Post,/i> and the Hebrew daily Ma'ariv.
Friends have described Dan as one who was willing to stand up for his ideals and beliefs even when they made him unpopular, and that was true particularly in Sharon's case. He wrote about Sharon both as a journalist and an author and even spent time as his spokesman in 1982, when Sharon was defense minister.
Even at the low point in Sharon's career, when almost everyone else had given up on him politically, Dan predicted that Sharon would one day become prime minister. He remained Sharon's confidant and friend, a move that at times made him unpopular.
Dan told the Post in October that he was proud of the role he played in advising Sharon to make his famous visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000. It was a controversial move that many contend was one of the sparks for the second intifada and that Dan believed helped push Sharon into the Prime Minister's Office.
Speaking at his funeral, one of the eulogizers said that in spite of Dan's busy role in recording Israel's military and political history, he was above all a loyal friend and devoted to his family.
Looking out at the mourners as the rain fell on the ceiling of the chapel where they gathered before the burial, Oron, 42, said he and his mother, Varda, were recipients of that love.
"I can testify that no matter how busy he was, he always found the time to be there for me," said Oron.
"Many people spoke of my father as a friend, a colleague, a professional and a citizen of Israel, among other things. They can speak of his love for his country, his heritage and cigarettes. But only I can speak of the love of a father for his son," said Oron.
As his father's son, Oron said, he was able to be present at the best meals, meet fascinating people and hear great stories. Sometimes, he said, even he tired of hearing his father's tales as an observer and participant in the history of the state, and he recalled telling him, "enough already."
Oron paused, looked out at the mourners and then added, "Now I just want to hear more."
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