US fighter pilot who made history for Israel’s fledgling Air Force to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery

by | Sep 4, 2018 | Obituaries

Gideon Lichtman, an American fighter pilot who as a volunteer during Israel’s War of Independence scored its nascent air force’s first aerial kill of an enemy fighter, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Lichtman, who died in March at 94 and was buried in Hollywood, Florida, was interred at the cemetery in suburban Washington, D.C. He fought for the United States in the Pacific during World War II .

He was a member of the Machal 101 squadron, a unit of American volunteers— many of them non-Jewish—who came to fight for the fledgling Jewish state in 1948 and helped stop the Egyptian army’s advance on Tel Aviv. He was the unit’s last surviving member.

After the war he returned to the U.S. and subsequently fought in Korea. In the 1960s he again returned to Israel, spending a stint there as a test pilot.

“I was risking my citizenship and possibly jail time,” he said in Above and Beyond, a 2015 documentary by Nancy Spielberg. “I didn’t give a s**t. I was gonna help the Jews out. I was going to help my people out.”

According to the Miami Herald, Lichtman, a high school teacher, spent more than 30 years working under an assumed name because, according to his son Bruce, “he was told by Ezer Weizman, 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.” (JTA)