Lou Lenart led the first fighter mission of one of the world’s most respected and successful air forces! Lenart was born in Hungary in 1921 and, at age 10, he immigrated with his immediate family to the United States. As a youth, he watched the rising tide of anti-Semitic forces in Germany. Soon after the National Socialist Democratic Party took power, they began their systematic harassment and imprisonment of Jews. When Germany attacked its neighbors in 1939, Lenart knew that he wanted to fight the ” Nazis” and, in 1940, joined the United States Marine Corps.
He completed basic training, served in the infantry for 18 months, and later entered flight school. In 1943, he received wings and reported to a squadron headed to the Pacific. In training, Lenart was nearly killed when another aircraft collided with his. He flew the Chance Vought F4U Corsair during the Battle for Okinawa, made numerous attacks on mainland Japan, and remained in the Pacific until the surrender of Japan in September 1945. After he was released from the Marines, he soon learned that his relatives, who had remained in Hungary, had been murdered at Auschwitz. In 1948, as a combat veteran, he volunteered to fly for the Jewish underground then seeking a free Jewish state in Palestine.
Lenart, and other pilots, went to Czechoslovakia to learn to fly the Avia S-199 Mezec (Mule), a Czech-built version of the WWII Messerschmitt Me 109. On 14 May 1948, Israel declared independence and was immediately besieged by neighboring nations. The Mules were quickly taken apart, airlifted to Israel, and then reassembled. On 29 May, Lenart, and three other pilots, each with less than two hours in the fighter, launched at dusk to attack an Egyptian force of 10,000 troops supported by tanks and artillery at Ashdod, only 16 miles south of Tel Aviv.
The Israeli’s untested aircraft, armed only with 20-millimeter cannons and 70 kilogram bombs, made history when the Egyptians, confused by the “secret air force,” halted their offensive, dug in, and later retreated. One Mezec was lost in the attack and another was damaged beyond repair. Although Lenart flew other missions, he used his WWII experience and served on the southern front as an “air controller.” After the war, he participated in an operation to rescue Iraqi Jews and bring them to Israel. A man of many talents, he flew for EL AL, Israel’s national airline, conducted aerial mapping missions over the jungles of Central America, and produced the major motion pictures, Iron Eagle I and Iron Eagle II. Lenart was General Manager of the San Diego Clippers of the National Basketball Association in the early 1980s. He later returned to live in Israel. He resides in Tel Aviv, and has two daughters. Lenart is now active as a lecturer.