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The American Pilot Who Made History for Israeli Air Force

David Ben-Gurion with Gideon Lichtman and first IAF fighter squadron (Photo: wikicommons)

A while back, Rabbi Eckstein told us about a documentary by Nancy Spielberg (Steven's sister) about the Americans who helped form the Israeli Air Force and fight for the Jewish state's independence. One of the brave pilots featured was Gideon Lichtman, who also scored Israel's first aerial kill. Now, our friends at JNS tell us that Mr. Lichtman will be laid to rest among many other war heroes, at Arlington National Cemetery:

An American pilot who scored Israel’s then-budding air force’s initial aerial kill of an adversarial fighter is expected to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, where troops from the Civil War through today are buried.

Gideon Lichtman, who fought for the U.S. in the Pacific during World War II, was 94 years old when he died in March. He was buried in Florida.

The last surviving member of the mostly American non-Jewish squadron “Machal 101,” Lichtman helped stop the advance of the Egyptian army on Tel Aviv.

After the 1948 War of Independence, Lichtman returned to the United States and eventually fought in the Korean War. In the 1960s, he went back to Israel, serving as a test pilot...

And The Miami Herald's Howard Cohen tells us more about this plucky and pioneering pilot:

The afternoon of June 8, 1948, was hot, hazy and windy. Egyptian Spitfires were shooting up Tel Aviv. Lichtman, in a comparatively rickety Messerschmitt with no radio or oxygen, took out the enemy aircraft. His action, along with his fellow men, helped secure Israel’s victory in its war for independence...

For more than 30 years, Lichtman, the son of educators, taught history, business and work experience classes at Southwest Miami Senior High. But his students would have known him as Mr. Rimon.

“He was told by Ezer Weizman, [the seventh] president of Israel and former minister of defense, that Israel had intercepted Arab intelligence that they were intent on targeting foreign pilots who served in Israel,” his son said.

Weizman, Lichtman’s roommate in 1948, told his pal, “Your life is in danger.” The Israeli leader’s suggested pseudonym: Rimon. The etymological link is based on the Latin-based words for the pomegranate fruit and the grenade. In Jewish tradition, the rimon, depicted atop the Torah, represents abundance and the divine commandments.

“So it’s a pomegranate but also a grenade and the reason Ezer Weizman picked that pseudonym for my dad is that he had an explosive temper,” Bruce Lichtman said, with a chuckle...

Tags: US-Israel Relations , History , IDF

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