Louis Lenart (April 24, 1921 – July 20, 2015) was an American-Israeli fighter pilot.[1] His exploits during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War were documented in the 2015 film A Wing and a Prayer.[2]

Lou Lenart
Lou Lenart.jpg
BornLajos Lenovitz
(1921-04-24)April 24, 1921
Sátoraljaújhely, Hungary
DiedJuly 20, 2015(2015-07-20) (aged 94)
Ra'anana, Israel
LanguageEnglish and Hebrew
SpouseRachel Nir (? – July 20, 2015) (his death)

Early lifeEdit

Lenart was born in Hungary as Lajos Lenovitz to a Jewish family in 1921, in the village of Sátoraljaújhely, near the Czech border. His parents were farmers. When he was ten, the family immigrated to the United States, settling in the Pennsylvania mining town of Wilkes-Barre, where his parents ran a small store. As a boy, he endured antisemitic taunts and beatings.[3][4][5]

Marine serviceEdit

After finishing high school and taking a bodybuilding course, Lenart enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. After 18 months of infantry training, he was accepted into flight school. During flight training, he was severely injured in a mid-air collision. He saw action in the Pacific Theater of World War II as an F4U Corsair pilot, serving in the Battle of Okinawa and in bombing missions over Japan. He was discharged from the Marines at the end of the war with the rank of captain.[4][6]

Israeli Air ForceEdit

Israeli Avia S-199, 1948

After learning that 14 relatives including his grandmother had been murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp and attending a lecture on Zionism, Lenart decided to volunteer for Sherut Avir, the precursor to the Israeli Air Force. He took part in the clandestine smuggling of salvaged Czech-supplied warplanes to Palestine shortly before Israeli independence, flying them past the British blockade. He became a fighter pilot following the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the outbreak of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, flying the Avia S-199 fighter plane.

On May 29, 1948, Lenart took part in Operation Pleshet, when the Israeli Air Force launched its entire fleet of four fighter aircraft in a desperate attempt to halt an Egyptian advance on Tel Aviv, in coordination with a ground counterattack. This was the first use of Israeli fighter planes in combat, and Lenart, the most experienced of the pilots, commanded the mission. Although the attack was highly disorganized and did minimal damage, it had a profound psychological effect on the Egyptians, who had been assured that the Israelis had no aircraft. Egyptian forces subsequently halted their advance and retreated.[7][8][9]

Later lifeEdit

After the war, Lenart participated in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, the airlift of Iraqi Jews to Israel in the early 1950s, served as a pilot for El Al, and flew aerial mapping missions over the jungles of Central America. He produced six feature films, and was the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers in the early 1980s. He maintained homes in Israel and Los Angeles, and upon his retirement, settled permanently in Israel.[6]

Lenart died on July 20, 2015, at his home in Ra'anana, Israel, of congestive heart failure, at the age of 94. He was survived by his wife Rachel, his daughter Michal (who had also served in the Israeli Air Force) and a grandson.[6][7]


Lenart received the following awards during his service with the U.S. Marine Corps:[10][11]

   Naval Aviator Badge
Air Medal with one 5/16 inch star
Navy Presidential Unit Citation with one star
  Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal
American Defense Service Medal with one service star
  American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three bronze service stars
  World War II Victory Medal

Lenart received the following decoration for his service in the Israeli Air Force:

  War of Independence Ribbon


  1. ^ "Lou Lenart dies at 94; war hero was 'the man who saved Tel Aviv'". Los Angeles Times. 22 July 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-10.
  2. ^ "Israeli Air Force, particularly its scrappy beginnings, inspires 3 films". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 12 May 2015. Retrieved 2015-11-13.
  3. ^ Los Angeles Times (July 22, 2015). "Lou Lenart dies at 94; war hero was 'the man who saved Tel Aviv'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 10, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "'The Man Who Saved Tel Aviv' to get his due in D.C." Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 28 June 2010. Retrieved February 10, 2016.
  5. ^ Dvir, Boaz: Saving Israel: The Unknown Story of Smuggling Weapons and Winning a Nation’s Independence, p. 31
  6. ^ a b c "Louis "Lou" Lenart". Retrieved February 10, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Lou Lenart, US pilot ‘who saved Tel Aviv,’ dies at 94
  8. ^ How I saved Tel Aviv, and made a movie about it
  9. ^ Wallach, Jehuda; Lorch, Netanel; Yitzhaki, Aryeh (1978). Evyatar Nur (ed.). Carta's Atlas of Israel (in Hebrew). Jerusalem, Israel: Carta. Volume 2 – The First Years 1948–1961
  10. ^ "Lou Lenart, US pilot 'who saved Tel Aviv,' dies at 94". The Times of Israel.
  11. ^ "Louis "Lou" Lenart".

External linksEdit