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Six decades later, fibbing ex-flying ace really sees the London Olympics

Mitchell Flint standing in front of his P51 Mustang fighter plane in Israel in 1948. (Courtesy Tom Tugend)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — After a 64-year detour, Mitchell Flint, a former fighter pilot for the United States and Israel, has finally landed for the London Olympic Games.

In the summer of 1948, Flint, with a four-year wartime stint as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot in the Pacific under his belt, graduated as an industrial engineer from 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.

“I’m Jewish, Israel desperately needed trained fighter pilots, so I thought I could perhaps do something to sustain the state,” Flint recalls.

Applying for a passport in San Francisco, Flint was asked by an official about the purpose of 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 in 1939.  Flint’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.

In reality, 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, and 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 to become 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 they raised two sons.

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 make up for lost time by flying there for the 2012 Games.

Speaking from a hotel last week in London, the elder Flint described attending the spectacular opening ceremonies and said he planned to attend various competitions, as well as the closing ceremonies.

On Tuesday, a television crew from NBC’s Los Angeles affiliate 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 “Angels 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 already has composed a theme song for the film, Mike Flint said. He is aiming for a 2013 release to mark the 65th anniversary of the State of Israel’s birth.