It’s not often in life you meet people like Leon Frankel. Simply put, he was an amazing human being. A man that we should all strive to reflect in our own potential. He was also incredibly humble, but behind that was the heart of a lion. Leon was a young man from St. Paul, Minnesota when “The War to End all Wars” called him to action. He joined the US Navy and became a hero in the Pacific theater during the battle of Okinawa. The letter from his award tells the story of his bravery.
-The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Leon Frankel, United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Torpedo Plane in Torpedo Squadron NINE (VT-9), attached to the U.S.S. YORKTOWN (CV-10), in action against major units of the Japanese Fleet off Kyushu, Japan, on 7 April 1945. Flying by instruments through a heavy overcast in a daring attack against an enemy light cruiser and a screening destroyer, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Frankel broke through the clouds and pressed home his attack to point-blank range in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire to score a direct hit and contribute materially to the sinking of the hostile cruiser a minute later. Subjected to a cross-fire of intense anti-aircraft fire from the cruiser and destroyer during his retirement from the strike, he brought his plane and crew through unscathed. By his superior airmanship and gallant fighting spirit, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Frankel upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
General Orders: Commander 1st Carrier Task Force Pacific: Serial 0308 (June 28, 1945)
Action Date: April 7, 1945
Leon not only distinguished himself in WW2, He went on to help form the Israeli Air Force. The was featured in the Netflix film “Above and Beyond”
In 1948, with the Jewish state about to declare its independence, Frankel traveled clandestinely to Israel. He joined the country’s first fighter squadron and flew 25 missions, ironically in the Czech version of Nazi Germany’s famed Messerschmidt-109.
He explained his motivation to fight for Israel in a letter last year to the Minneapolis StarTribune, responding to an Op-Ed column that labeled Frankel and his fellow volunteers as “American jihadists.”
“I could not stand idly by, with my experience, while a second Holocaust loomed, with the Arab nations telling the world they were going to destroy the Jewish state,” Frankel wrote.
In a 2012 article in the Minnesota Legionnaire, Frankel looked back at his time serving in Israel and its importance:
“One day during the war, I was in Tel Aviv, and planes were coming in from Europe, transport planes. I went over and the planes were full of refugees from the death camps. They were so happy to be in Israel. They were bewildered and bedraggled, and all they had were the clothes on their back when they got out of that plane. And you know what they did, they got down on their knees and kissed the ground.
“But at that moment, I knew why I had come to Israel. The Talmud teaches that if you save one life, it’s the same as if you had saved the entire world. That has always stood with me,” he told the Legionnaire.
Leon lived 92 amazing years. 92 years that he spent making life better for others.