Seventy-five years ago, on November 27, 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 to partition the British mandate in Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. While the new Israelis were celebrating, the leaders of the Yishuv – the organized Jewish community – were scratching their heads. The neighboring Arab states of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan wanted to smother the newborn Jewish State in its cradle.
In their new book Fighting Back: Stan Andrew and the Birth of the Israeli Air Force (Wicked Son), authors Jeffrey and Craig Weiss write, “It became clear that a Jewish homeland would only be established by armed force. To defeat the Arabs, the Jews would need to build an army.”
Easier said than done. “On May 14, 1948, the day the government [of Israel] declared independence, Israel did not have a single combat aircraft, and all its fighter pilots were in Europe.” With ingenuity and determination, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his team set upon the gigantic task of equipping their soldiers, notably against a U.S. embargo on weapons sales to the Middle East. At the same time, London presumably continued furnishing Egypt and Jordan.
“At the beginning of the War of Independence, the IAF (Israeli Air Force) was content to rely on the only [model of] fighter plane it could find, the highly unreliable Czech Messerschmitt.” This is quite an ironic twist of fate, given that this plane served the Nazis just a few years back. Jerusalem was also in dire need of pilots to fly them. That’s where the story put forward by the authors comes alive. Stan Anekstein was born to a Jewish couple who fled Russia and emigrated to the United States. Stan changed his family name to Andrews in 1942. “Instead of waiting to be drafted, [Stan] decided to volunteer for the Army Air Corps.” Like many, his dream was to fly fighters. Even though he served in the Pacific flying bombers, his initial desire was to be unfulfilled by the war’s end.
Stan could have enjoyed the benefits of post-war life for Veterans. As an artist at heart – “everything from pencil sketches to oil paintings” on top of writing – his full potential could have blossomed on the West Coast, but he chose otherwise. Out of the 550 000 Jews who fought under the Stars and Stripes, he was one of the few who heeded the Haganah’s call – even at the risk of losing his U.S. citizenship. This meant he could finally pilot a fighter plane. Washington was not keen to see its former soldiers fighting under another star. Even though President Harry S. Truman would row against the current of his administration when he officially supported the creation of the Jewish State on May 18, 1948, Jeffrey and Craig Weiss evoke the roadblocks placed on Israel’s path by the United States at the beginning.
Apart from flying combat missions, he also safeguarded Israel in another significant way. The United Nations appointed Count Folke Bernadotte as a mediator to calm down and bring the parties to the table to end the conflict. Based on his actions and decisions, Israelis distrusted him. Stan stood up to one of Bernadotte’s observers and ensured that “Israeli air bases would remain off-limits to U.N. observers.” He would also work with legendary figures like Ezer Weizman, Yigael Yadin, Yitzhak Rabin and Reuven Shiloah. By safeguarding Israel’s airspace and pushing back the enemy, these pilots who battled against all odds in makeshift conditions ensured Israel would not be confined to a chronicle of defeat.
Before his tragic death during a combat operation over the Negev in October of that same year, Stan Andrews contributed in other ways to foster the sense of belonging within the nascent IAF. He designed its logo with his friend and fellow pilot Bob Vickman, which still adorns the Israeli fighter jets of the 101st Squadron today.
His legacy is still vibrant, and I was captivated by the story of this young American Jew who had never shown a particular attachment to Judaism and yet left everything behind – telling his parents he was going to write a book – to fight anti-Semitism in a very tangible and fateful way. I have always been fascinated to hear and read the stories of those veterans of the class of 1948. In 2008, I travelled to Israel on the 60th anniversary of the independence, and I was privileged to be invited to a luncheon where the two guest speakers served as infantrymen during the War of Independence. I vividly remember them talking about urban warfare, being outnumbered and the ultimate sacrifice of some of their comrades.
Stan Andrew’s reckless and artistic life might have been cut short when his plane crashed in the desert after being shot by Egyptian troops. Still, the defining moment of his life occurred at one of the main crossroads of history, a crossroad that was crucial in the life of Israel. Jeffrey and Craig Weiss’ book inevitably offers a riveting account of the birth of the Israeli Air Force, which is now considered one of the best in the world. It all started with men like Stan Andrews.
In an age when people wonder how and if they can make a difference for a cause larger than themselves, men and women like these two veterans and Stan Andrews are powerful testimony. To paraphrase the great Winston Churchill, on few occasions in the history of Israel, so much has been owed by so many to so few. The courageous ethos of the men and women currently serving in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and the IAF is no different than what animated Stan Andrews’ generation, for they are ready to consent to the ultimate sacrifice for their country, a country that is also a noble cause.
Fighting Back is a powerful and beautiful book published by a young publishing house. In that regard, I’m thrilled I discovered Wicked Son.
Jeffrey Weiss and Craig Weiss, Fighting Back: Stan Andrew and the Birth of the Israeli Air Force, Nashville, Wicked Son, 2022, 272 pages.
I want to express my enormous gratitude to Adria Iwasutiak, Director of Publicity at Simon & Schuster Canada, and Melissa Smith of Wicked Son for their exceptional and generous assistance.