Christian volunteers honored for defending newborn Israel in ’48.
Christian IAF airman Glenn E. King 311.
(photo credit:Jerry Klinger)
It took awhile to find the gravesite of Glenn E. King. A few weeks back, I first
discovered his name while reading details of the history of the nascent Israel
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations approved a plan to
partition Mandate Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. Hostilities
immediately broke out in the land, and a week later the United States declared
an arms embargo on the belligerents. In reality, only one side was impacted by
the embargo – the Jews. The local Arabs were fully backed by five surrounding
Arab armies, some trained and equipped by the British, among others. The
decisive moment in the struggle came as Israel declared its independence on May
Glenn King died three weeks earlier in a tragic air crash. As
his C-46 lumbered down a runway outside Mexico City, one engine began spitting
and smoking as the plane strained to get off the ground.
The aircraft was
overloaded with a cargo of weapons bound for Israel before FBI agents could stop
them. Its engines strained for power in the thin air. The C- 46 rose briefly and
then crashed in a violent, fiery orange ball of death. Glenn King, the flight
engineer, was killed instantly. The pilot, Bill Gerson, died a few hours
Glenn happened to be an American Christian. Ironically, a
Christian was thus the first casualty of the Israel Air Force.
Schwimmer, the legendary scrounger who helped assemble the rudiments of an air
force, flew to Mexico City to claim the bodies and bring them back to America.
Glenn was 31. He left behind a widow and several children.
buried in a cemetery at the end of a runway in Burbank, California.
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a four-hour layover in Burbank recently and felt it was my duty to find his
grave and pay my respects to this forgotten hero.
The Pierce Brothers’
Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery is the resting place for many famous early
aviation pioneers. It became Glenn’s resting place not because he was a renowned
It was chosen because the Jewish underground, the Hagana, used
the isolated airfield to smuggle weapons out of the United States to
When I found the gravesite, it was a simple flush-to-the-ground
stone which read: “Glenn E. King, A Cobber, 1917- 1931.”
A Cobber? What
is a Cobber? Some quick research showed it is an Australian word from the World
War II era which simply means “friend.” They would say to each other “Good day,
cobber!” Curiously, it is pronounced similarly to the Hebrew word for friend –
haver. Whoever placed the stone for Glenn King recognized him as a
Days later, I was invited by the American Veterans of Israel to
come to West Point in New York for an annual memorial service for Col. Mickey
Marcus. He was a Jewish graduate of West Point who served America with honor in
World War II. When the struggle for Israel’s young life was at stake in 1948, he
volunteered to serve with the Israel Defense Forces.
reorganized and led the tattered Jewish recruits coming fresh from the
post-Holocaust detention camps in Europe. He created a disciplined fighting
force to help stop the five Arab armies who had invaded Israel.
was a brilliant tactician but tragically fell to “friendly fire.” One night he
went outside of his lines to reconnoiter. Not speaking Hebrew, he was stopped by
a sentry who demanded a password and misunderstood his English answer. The guard
opened fire and Marcus died just before the liberation of Jerusalem. His body
was repatriated to the United States, and he was interred at West Point.
The American Veterans of Israel hold an
annual service to remember Marcus.
This year was no different, yet it was
very different. The service to remember Marcus was also dedicated to honoring
the non-Jewish friends of Israel who had served as foreign volunteers in the IDF
during the 1948 War of Independence.
The Jewish volunteers came for clear
enough reasons. The world had stood largely silent while Hitler and his
accomplices murdered over six million Jews. But the Christian volunteers were
more of an enigma. They were fewer in number, but they came just the same and
for their own varied reasons.
Some Christians came for adventure, some
came as mercenaries, some came for religious reasons, but almost every one of
them came because they knew it was the right thing to do. The Holocaust was not
some vaguely distant horror; it was a freshly uncovered abyss of human depravity
that these Christians could not permit to happen again.
They all knew
that choosing to fight for Israel was a risky proposition with scant odds for
success. They came just the same. Some never left. Some of them rest to this day
in the soil of Israel as respected heroes.
As time and history have
marched on, the memory of these Christian figures has faded. But not on this
Sunday at West Point.
The ceremony on May 1, 2011 turned into quite a
remarkable day. America was marking its own Holocaust Remembrance Day. Hitler
was confirmed dead on May 1. It was also the day that a team of US Navy seals
finally caught up with arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden.
So it was that
Jews and Christians gathered that same day to remember their common effort to
prevent another Holocaust.
Old vets, young cadets, children,
grandchildren and friends assembled in the Jewish chapel at West Point,
overlooking the Hudson River Valley.
The memorial program was called to
order by AVI director Rafi Marom. His reading of a quote from the Cadet Prayer
set the tone: “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong,
and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.”
flags were presented, followed by the US and Israeli national
Maj. Shmuel Felsenberg, the Jewish chaplain of West Point,
delivered the invocation. Six memorial candles were lit.
General to New York, Ido Aharoni, noted that “the Mahal oversea volunteers –
both Jews and Christians – played an integral part in Israel’s victory in the
War of Independence. Brothers in arms, yesterday and today... It is because of
this brotherhood that Israel has withstood the threat of
Among the assembled were aging Christian veterans and
families of those who had gone to help Israel in her time of
Augustine Labaczewski, or “Duke” as he preferred to be known, sat
in the front row. He is a Polish Catholic from Philadelphia who learned to speak
Yiddish better than most Jews when he worked in a Jewish bakery. After WWII, his
friend Mike Pearlstein invited him to join in smuggling desperate Holocaust
survivors into Palestine. Duke served on two Hagana ships, the Hatikva and the
Trade Winds, before going ashore to join the Palmah and fight in the Galilee
Duke was asked to speak – but all he could say was, “You
have to continue doing the right thing, just do the right thing.”
quieter moment, he explained his motivations more clearly. “I think that when
you see six million [Jews] are killed, how can you not go?... The only thing I
could feel was that we had to win, there was no losing there.”
Beurling, the brother of Canada’s finest World War II fighter ace, came to
represent his sibling. Some said Buzz volunteered for the excitement, but the
reality was he came because of his deep personal faith. Buzz died in a crash in
Italy and was buried in Haifa with full military honors.
As the memorial
service for Col. Mickey Marcus concluded, I left convinced more than ever that
Israel exists because Jews and Christians stood together in that day with one
ideal and hope before them – securing the Jewish homeland. • Jerry Klinger is
president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation;