October 7, 2015
Minneapolis, MN — Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), issued the following statement in response to the passing of Leon Frankel, z''l:
"The board of directors and staff of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) deeply mourn the loss of Leon Frankel, z''l and extend our sympathies to his family and friends. At the age of 92, Leon passed away peacefully on October 7th. May his memory be for a blessing.
"Leon was a hero of two nations. He was the personification of the unbreakable friendship and alliance of the United States and Israel having fought for the freedom and democracy of both countries. Leon was also a wonderful storyteller blessed with a great sense of humor and a profoundly humble person whose remarkable contribution to history he saw as 'just another guy from St. Paul serving his country.'
"Leon's impact on this community will truly be missed. Frankel, a native of St. Paul, served as a pilot during World War II flying 25 missions as a carrier-based naval aviator in a torpedo bomber in the South Pacific. Leon was awarded the Navy Cross and Distinguished Flying Cross for his aerial bravery in sinking a Japanese cruiser and for engaging in a running battle with Japanese Zeros protecting his squadron commander who was flying a damaged plane.
"In 1948, Frankel joined a group of World War II pilots, mostly from the U.S., to form Israel's first air squadron - the 101 - and protect the newborn state against almost impossible odds in its War of Independence. As members of Machal - volunteers from abroad - this ragtag band of brothers not only turned the tide of the war, but also prevented the possible annihilation of Israel at the very moment of its birth. Frankel, who bravely flew 25 missions for Israel before returning to the United States, is prominently featured in Nancy Spielberg's documentary, "Above and Beyond," which tells the story of the 101 Squadron and the birth of Israel's Air Force.
"In 2014, the JCRC and the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival honored Leon Frankel at the Minneapolis premiere of "Above and Beyond" at the Riverview Theater. Also in 2014, Frankel wrote a courageous commentary for the Star Tribune about his service in the U.S. Navy and Israel's Air Force. In 2011, I sat down with Leon and interviewed him about his remarkable experiences.
"Leon was married to Ruth Kozberg for 64 years and they have two children, Robbi (Bob Walin) Frankel and Mark (Karen) Frankel, and two grandchildren, Jacob and Rebecca. Leon adored and cherished his family as well as his wide circle of friends which included his beloved fellow aviators from Torpedo Squadron 9 of the United States Navy and the 101 Squadron of the Israel Air Force."
Funeral services will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 8th, at Minneapolis Jewish Cemetery (7032 Penn Avenue South, Richfield, MN 55423). Shiva will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 8th, at Sholom Home West (3620 Phillips Parkway, St. Louis Park, MN 55426).
As the public affairs voice of the Jewish community, the JCRC fights anti-Semitism and prejudice, advocates for Israel, provides Holocaust education, promotes tolerance and social justice, and builds bridges across the Jewish and broader communities.