35 Years after the “Entebbe” operation in Uganda, one of the Operation’s pilots receives a prestigious American decoration
The American “Gathering of Eagles” decoration is awarded to pilots all over the world for outstanding aerial achievements. The esteemed list of recipients includes Neil Armstrong, Chuck Yeager and George Bush Sr. among others. Four Israelis are also included in the list: Lou Lenard, one of the first pilots of the IAF, Brigadier General (res.) Yehoshua (Shiki) Shani, who lead the plane formation in operation “Entebbe” in Uganda back in July 1976, Colonel (res.) Giora Even (Epstein), Flying Ace of the IAF and Brigadier General (res.) Amir Nachumi, who participated in the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor.
In the past weeks, a fifth Israeli pilot joined the ranks: Lieutenant Colonel (res.) Arie Oz, who was one of the Hercules pilots in operation “Entebbe” 35 years ago and received the prestigious decoration in an U.S Air Force base in Maxville, Alabama.
“The Americans can appreciate the flying difficulties we faced in the operation, the heavy take-offs and the dangerous landing at night”, says Oz. “It’s a tremendous honor and the decoration symbolizes to me a recognition of aerial professionalism and adherence to a goal”.
Regardless of his praises for Americans, Oz-who was born in Germany in 1936-is angered by the fact that in the past, the decoration was also granted to pilots who served in Nazi Germany’s Air Force.
“We asked them why they gave them the decoration, and they responded that they choose people only based upon their aerial accomplishments, and not based upon their belonging to certain countries or political organizations”, he says.
In his childhood, during World War II, Oz was hidden together with his family in the home of Christian farmers in Holland. In 1946 the family immigrated to mandatory Palestine and 10 years later he completed the IAF Pilot Training Course as a transport pilot.
He was the first commander of the “Kings of the Air” squadron and flew the first Boeing 707 plane that landed in Ethiopia in Operation “Solomon”. For many years he served as a pilot and captain in the Israeli flight company El-Al and these days he lives in Ramat HaSharon, is a father of three and a grandfather of seven.