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Fighter pilot Flint gets to Olympics—64 years later

by  Tom Tugend

August 1, 2012 | 3:13 am

Mitchell Flint with a 'Israeli' North American P51 Mustang in 1948

It took 64 years, with a detour to Israel’s War of Independence, but Mitchell Flint is finally getting to see the London Olympic Games, live and in person.

In the summer of 1948, Flint looked back on a four-year stint as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II and had just earned his degree as an industrial engineer at the Berkeley campus of the University of California.

At the same time, the newly declared State of Israel was struggling to defend itself from six invading Arab armies and, Flint recalls, “I’m Jewish, Israel desperately needed trained fighter pilots, so I thought I could perhaps do something to sustain the state.”

Applying for a passport in San Francisco, Flint was asked by an official about the purpose for his trip. It was illegal for an American citizen to fight for a foreign nation, so Flint, on the spur of the moment, said, “I’m going to London to see the Olympics.”

The Olympic Games had been suspended during the war years after the 1936 Nazi-staged competitions in Berlin. The 1948 resumption in London was dubbed the Austerity Olympics in Britain, where rationing was still in force, and visiting teams were asked to bring their own food.

Flint’s father, himself an American naval aviator in World War I, had died and Mitchell’s widowed mother was determined that her son, having survived one war, would not risk his neck in another conflict.

So falling back on his earlier fabrication, Flint assured his mother that he was just going over to watch the Olympics as a graduation present to himself.

He stayed in London just long enough to convince some distant British relatives to send pre-written postcards to his mother at given intervals, assuring her that he was fine and extending his travels to other European countries.

Actually his Israeli undercover contact sent Flint to Czechoslovakia to train in some rebuilt Messerschmitts, Germany’s main fighter plane during World War II, and then on to Israel to join the country’s fledgling air force.

Alongside a couple of Israeli pilots, who had served in Britain’s Royal Air Force, augmented by volunteers from the United States, Canada and South Africa, Flint got to fly – and crash – in unreliably reconfigured Messerschmitts, as well as Mustangs and Spitfires.

He remembers most vividly leading a strafing and bombing run on the Fallujah Pocket in the Negev, where encircled Egyptian troops, commanded by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser (later Egypt’s president), were holding out against Israeli forces.

Returning to the United States, Flint settled in Los Angeles, switched professions to become a lawyer, married his wife Joyce, and welcomed two sons into the world.

Now 89, Flint, always a sports buff, mentioned occasionally how sorry he was not to have seen any of the events at the 1948 London Olympics. His son, Mike, listened and proposed that the two of them make up for lost time by flying to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Speaking from a hotel in the British capital, the elder Flint described attending the spectacular opening ceremonies, and plans to be on hand for the tennis and equestrian competitions, as well as the closing ceremonies.

On Tuesday (7/31), a television crew from NBC’s affiliate in Los Angeles broadcast an interview with the senior Flint, but son Mike, a movie producer, has more ambitious plans in mind.

Inspired by his father’s deeds and reminiscences, Mike has been lining up money and talent for a full-scale documentary feature on the birth of the Israeli air force, titled “Angeles in the Sky.”

The project’s website lists as director three-time Oscar winner Mark Jonathan Harris, writer Jack Epps Jr. (“Top Gun” “Dick Tracy”), composers Allan Jay Friedman and Jonathan Tunick, executive producer Mark Lansky and producer Mike Flint.

Oscar and Emmy nominee Carol Connors, who co-wrote the theme song for “Rocky,” was so taken by the “Angels” story that she has already composed a theme song for the film, Mike Flint said.

He is aiming for the film’s release in 2013 to mark the 65th anniversary of Israel’s rebirth.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Tom is a contributing editor for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and the West Coast correspondent for the Jerusalem Post in Israel, Jewish Chronicle in Britain, and...

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