IAF Messerschmitt, 1948
IAF Messerschmitt, 1948 IAF website

Next week in Washington D.C, generals, precision drill teams and marching bands will honor a former Israel Air Force pilot and ex-U.S. Marine who flew for both the United States and the fledgling State of Israel.

Brigadier-General Michael Brogan, commander of the Marine Corps Systems Command, will kick off the celebration on July 6 by briefly telling participants the story of Lou Lenart, today age 89.

The hour-long Sunset Parade will then step off from the 32-foot high bronze statue of five Marines and a Navy man raising the flag of victory on Iwo Jima in World War II, next to Arlington National Cemetery.

Lenart, who came with his family in 1932 to the Pennsylvania town of Wilkes-Barre as 10-year-old Hungarian Jewish farm boy Layos Lenovitz, eventually grew up to fly missions in Okinawa and on the Japanese mainland during World War II.

Tom Tugend, writing in the LA Jewish Journal, explains that as the target of merciless anti-Semitism as a youth, Lenart dedicated his life to defending his adopted homeland of Israel, and after the Second World War was won, he joined the clandestine effort to smuggle war planes to the emerging State of Israel as it prepared to fight for its right to exist.

Lenart flew salvaged World War II fighter planes to Tel Aviv while evading a British blockade. Having discovered that 14 of his relatives were murdered by the Nazis in the Auschwitz death camp, it took little persuasion for him to become one of the first four lone pilots in Israel's first air force (Another was Ezer Weizman, who eventually became the president of the Jewish State). The four pilots attacked a 10,000-man Egyptian column that was advancing on Tel Aviv, causing it to stop in its tracks.

“I think it was for this precise moment in history that I was born,” Lenart later told an interviewer. His daughter, Michal, also followed in her father's footsteps, and served in the IAF as well, according to the LA Jewish Journal.

The transplanted ex-Marine later participated in the airlift of Iraqi Jews to Israel, and became a pilot for El Al Airlines. In later years Lenart became a movie producer (“Iron Eagle” and “Iron Eagle II”) and recently completed a screenplay with Hollywood writer Dan Gordon, “On Eagles' Wings,” on the birth of Israel's air force. Today he splits his time between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv.