Israeli Society

Operation On Wings of Eagles remembered

Understandably, the graves of soldiers who fell in the 1948 War of Independence at the Haifa Military Cemetery do not receive many visitors. Their parents are no longer alive and the second and third generations rarely visit the graves of their grandfathers or uncles. But the Mahal (foreign volunteers to the IDF) graves receive even less visitors.

On Friday, the cemetery received a special visitor: Elgen Long, 91, from Reno, Nevada, was a young navigator with Alaska Airlines when he found himself in the midst of Operation On Wings of Eagles as a volunteer who lent a hand to the nascent Israeli Air Force in airlifting the Yemenite Jewish community to the newly founded Jewish state.

Long asked to be taken to the grave of his friend, captain and fellow Mahal volunteer Wayne Pick, who was buried alongside his friends at the Haifa military cemetery.

He recounted, “I was a navigator with Alaska Airlines and Captain Curry was the captain of a DC-4,” said Long. “We were in Tel Aviv and we had just brought a load of refugees from China, they were all stateless we found a way to get them to Israel. And when we got there, we got to the hotel and didn’t know what to do next.

“The company sent us a cable and it said: ‘Go to Aden and the commander there will meet you there.’ We landed and he told us of the plight of the Yemenite Jews who had found their way to Aden after crossing the desert, on foot. They were in dire straits, no facilities for them, it was hard to protect them. They were dying of diseases and they had to get to Israel and get out of there as soon as possible.”

He continued: “They asked us how many we could carry, so we figured they only weighed about 80 pounds each. They had no luggage and we could carry about 150 (of them) with enough fuel to get to Tel Aviv, then known as Lydda. We carried about 2,000 of them; we were the only airplane and crew there. Because it was a matter of life and death, we flew on the Sabbath, we did not stop, back and forth.

“Twelve flights, 1,800 people, that was before Operation Magic Carpet (had officially begun), a few months earlier… Actually Magic Carpet was with benches and seats, they could carry about 107 passengers and rarely did they fit in 120. But that continued for over a year after we left. I was one of a crew of about six men. I just did my job as a navigator; we could not land in an Arab country because of the war, which was just ending. We did not file any flight plan, it was all secret, nothing was in the papers or the radio. We just flew up the middle of the Red Sea and up the Gulf of Aqaba until Um Rushrush (now Eilat), then turned towards Be’er Sheva, then to Lydda. Stand With Us brought us to Israel and sponsored and arranged for me to come here today,” Long explained.

Read More: Y Net