Above and Beyond

LEON FRANKEL

A bomber pilot in the Pacific in World War II, Frankel received the Navy Cross for his heroism in the Battle of Okinawa. “I just made up my mind that I was going to do it,” he says of his decision to volunteer for Israel. “I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do it.” Frankel flew 25 missions for the Israeli Air Force as a member of the 101 Squadron before returning to Minnesota.

LOU LENART

After serving in the Marines in the Pacific Theater, Lenart volunteered to fly for Israel and led the Air Force’s first combat mission on May 29, 1948, stopping the Egyptians less than 30 miles from Tel Aviv. “I was born to be there at that moment in history,” he says. “It’s the most important thing I did in my life.” Lenart later helped airlift Iraqi Jews to Israel and became a pilot for El Al Airlines, as well as a film producer.

GIDEON LICHTMAN

A former U.S. Army Air Force pilot, Lichtman shot down an Egyptian Spitfire on June 8, 1948, during one of the Israeli Air Force's first missions. “I was risking my citizenship and possibly jail time,” he says of fighting for Israel. “I didn’t give a s**t. I was gonna help the Jews out. I was going to help my people out.” Lichtman flew more than 30 missions for the 101 Squadron. He returned to the U.S. after the war and lives in Florida.

AL SCHWIMMER

Regarded by many as the father of the Israeli Air Force, Schwimmer worked for TWA and was a flight engineer for the U.S. Air Transport Command in World War II. Upon learning of the need for aircraft for the new nation of Israel, Schwimmer smuggled about thirty surplus planes to Israel in 1948. He also recruited pilots and crew from the U.S. After the war, Schwimmer was indicted for violating the U.S. Neutrality Act and lost his citizenship. He stayed in Israel and founded Israel Aircraft Industries. In 2001, he was pardoned by President Clinton.

SMOKY SIMON

A navigator-bombardier with the South African Air Force, Simon flew missions over North Africa and Sicily in World War II. He and his wife Myra Weinberg pushed their wedding date earlier in 1948 so they could both volunteer for Israel. Simon flew more than 20 missions during the war, in a range of aircraft including B-17 bombers. He became Chief of Air Operations for the IAF and is currently chairman of World Machal.

COLEMAN GOLDSTEIN

A U.S. Army Air Force pilot, Goldstein’s plane disappeared over France in 1943 and he was declared “missing in action.” He crossed over to Spain and was eventually rescued. For this reason, Goldstein kept secret from his family his decision to fight for Israel. After flying in the IAF’s 101 Squadron, Goldstein stayed in Israel for 32 years and became a pilot for El Al Airlines. He died in 2014.

GEORGE LICHTER

The former U.S. Army Air Force pilot flew 88 missions over Europe in World War II. After Lichter volunteered for Israel, he was singled out for his expertise as a flight instructor and trained the first wave of Israeli pilots. He became Israel’s chief flight instructor. “I really did get a lot of satisfaction training those pilots,” Lichter says. “That was the beginning of the Israeli Air Force.” Lichter passed away in 2013 at the age of 92.

HAROLD LIVINGSTON

Part of the U.S. Army Air Corps’ transport squadron in World War II, Livingston joined Israel’s Air Transport Command and flew critical supplies, weapons and airplanes between Czechoslovakia and Israel during the war. “The idea that Jews were going to fight back I found exciting,” he says of his service for Israel. “It’s about time.” Livingston became a novelist and Hollywood screenwriter, penning the script for Star Trek.

MILTON RUBENFELD

A former stunt pilot who flew for the Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Force, Rubenfeld was one of the first volunteer pilots in Israel, narrowly missing out on the IAF’s first combat mission when there were five pilots but only four planes to fly. He flew the next day, May 30, 1948, on a critical mission that stopped the Iraqi Army. After volunteering, Rubenfeld returned to the U.S. His son Paul Reubens became famous as the character Pee-wee Herman.

STAN ANDREWS AND BOB VICKMAN

Art students at UCLA in 1948, Stan Andrews and Bob Vickman had both been stationed in the Pacific in the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II. They arrived in Israel in June 1948. In a Tel Aviv bar, they created the logo for the 101 Squadron, scribbling the Angel of Death on a cocktail napkin. Their design is still on Israeli F-16s today. Tragically, both men were killed when their planes were shot down in separate incidents in July and October 1948.

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