The Man Who Saved Tel Aviv

(JTA) Tom Tugend - Ex-U.S. Marine and Israel Air Force fighter pilot Lou Lenart, 89, arrived in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., as Layos Lenovitz, a 10-year-old farmboy from a small Hungarian village. Lenart joined the U.S. Marines in 1940 at the age of 18, and after a year-and-a-half of infantry training he talked his way into flight school. Lenart flew an F4U Corsair in the battle of Okinawa and took part in numerous attacks on the Japanese mainland. After World War II Lenart learned that 14 relatives in Hungary had been killed in Auschwitz, so it took little added incentive for the ex-captain to clandestinely join the effort to smuggle war planes into prestate Israel. But when Lenart landed at a makeshift airfield in May 1948, the State of Israel was a week old and invading Egyptian forces were moving up the coast to Tel Aviv. On May 29, 10,000 Egyptians with tanks and artillery were 16 miles south of Tel Aviv, and in a desperate move Israel unleashed its entire air force: four Czech-made planes. The Egyptian troops, who had been assured that the Israelis had no aircraft, were so surprised and unnerved by the attack that they halted their advance on Tel Aviv. Among the four pilots manning the planes were Ezer Weizman, later president of the state, and Lenart, the only living survivor among the four. After the war, Lenart participated in the airlift of Iraqi Jews to Israel, flew for El Al Airlines, and became a movie producer, dividing his time between Tel Aviv and Los Angeles.

2010-07-02 10:10:20

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