Lou Lenart, a U.S. Marine Corps pilot during World War II who later helped thwart an Egyptian advance on Tel Aviv in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, died Monday at age 94.
Lenart was born Layos Lenovitz to Jewish farmers in Hungary. His family moved to America when he was 10 years old and settled in Pennsylvania. He later enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17 and became a pilot, seeing action during the Battle of Okinawa and elsewhere in the Pacific.
Following World War II, Lenart joined Israel’s nascent air force, which consisted of just four Czech-built German Messerschmitt fighter planes. During the 1948 war, when Egyptian forces were closing in Tel Aviv, Israeli commanders decided to risk their entire fleet of planes and attack the Egyptian advance. Lenart, who was the most experienced pilot in the group, led the charge. Surprised by the Israeli aerial attack, Egyptian forces eventually retreated.
“It was the most important event in my life,” Lenart told an Israeli Air Force magazine, Yedioth Ahronoth reported. “I survived World War II so I could lead this mission.”
Following the war, Lenart participated in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah to bring Iraqi Jews to Israel, and also worked as a pilot for the El Al airline.
Lenart is survived by his wife, daughter, and grandson. He will be buried Ra’anana on Wednesday.