Leon Frankel was a U.S.Navy pilot during World War II and flew for Israel in 1948. His heroic efforts during World War II culminated in the sinking of the Japanese cruiser, the Yahagi. He was a volunteer pilot for the new Israeli Air Force, flying during the War for Independence.
Frankel was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1923, and graduated High School in 1940. As a young child he was fascinated with the thought of flying. In September 1942, he achieved that dream when he was accepted into the V-5 Naval Aviation Program. Frankel went on to earn his aviation wings on 16 November 1943. Upon graduation, he went to Fort Lauderdale for advanced training on the TBM Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber. He was assigned to Air Group 9 which was re-forming in the state of Washington. As a pilot in Torpedo Squadron 9, he flew 25 combined missions while assigned aboard the USS Lexington and later, the USS Yorktown. On February 16, 1945, while assigned to the Lexington, he took part in the first Navy raid on Tokyo. The plan was to take out as many Japanese airplanes and airplane plants as possible prior to landing at Iwo Jima. Frankel’s flight was met head on with Japanese opposition high above Tokyo. Flying through intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire, then Ensign Frankel attacked an important Japanese aircraft factory. When two planes in his formation suffered crippling damage over the target, he fought a running battle with enemy fighter aircraft across eighty miles of the Japanese homeland at a reduced speed in order to protect the impaired planes. While attached to the USS Yorktown, Frankel’s earlier experience in the Avenger torpedo bomber proved invaluable. On 7 April 1945, his unit joined a robust wave of over 400 airplanes sent to intercept a Japanese task force led by the battleship Yamato. While flying by instruments through a heavy overcast, Lieutenant Junior Grade Frankel broke through the clouds and pressed home his attack at point-blank range. Despite facing intense anti-aircraft fire, he scored a direct hit and contributed materially to the sinking of the hostile cruiser, Yahagi.
With the war now over, Frankel returned to Minnesota and became a member of the Navy reserve unit. In May 1948, he was recruited by the Nascent State of Israel to become part of the first Israeli Fighter Squadron, the 101. He flew 25 missions in Czechoslovakian-built ME-109s during the battle for Israel’s independence in 1948. He returned to the United States in October 1948 where he rejoined his Navy Reserve squadron, remaining with the unit until he was honorably discharged in December 1959. For his exemplary service to his country, Frankel was awarded many prestigious decorations, to include: the Navy Cross, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Air Medals and two Presidential Citations. Lieutenant Frankel and Ruth, his wife of over sixty years, reside in Minnetonka, Minnesota..