Machal pilot teaches first IAF fighters, 1948

In 1948, the new nation of Israel was on the brink of annihilation. They were facing certain death when the United Nations had just given them life. The Egyptian Air Force was dropping bombs indiscriminately on Jewish settlements and cities (including Tel Aviv) and the Arab world was promising to finish the job that Hitler had started. Further, the Jews, many of whom were Holocaust survivors) were outnumbered by the millions and were attacked by the combined armies of five Arab states: Egypt, Jordan (Transjordan), Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Additional contingents came from Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

An impossible war without an air force
Israel had no air force to speak of — only a few tiny planes unable to shoot or drop bombs except for those that could be tossed out over the sides. It was a desperate hour, but something exceptional occurred that would turn the tide of the war. Thousands of men and women from all over the world volunteered to give Israel a hand. These people were called machalniks, or foreign volunteers and they came from South Africa, North and South America, England and elsewhere. Many were WWII combatants. Among them was George Lichter, a decorated American combat fighter pilot who had flown an astounding 88 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe.

About George Lichter
George was a Brooklyn boy who had battled antisemitism since childhood. When he heard about Israel’s predicament he said, “I thought it would be over in a few months and there was no way the Jews could win. But I knew we had to try.” George put his business on hold, said goodbye to his family, contacted the Israelis and was recruited for what was perhaps the most important job in Israel’s infancy. He was chosen to become the chief instructor of the first Israeli fighter pilots.

Hidden away in Czechoslovakia
Based out of secreted air bases in Czechoslovakia, George instructed young pilots on how to fly combat, using his own combat experience and gift in handling difficult aircraft. In less than a year, George Lichter had helped the Israelis become the masters of their skies and the masters of their own destiny. He laid the blueprints for the greatest air force the world has ever known.

Remarkable students, superior fighter pilots
Now age 91, George is the subject of a new biography marking the years between his birth in Brooklyn in 1921 through his service as a machal flight instructor and test pilot for the Israeli Air Force. Some of Israel’s most prominent and notable pilots were his students in Czechoslovakia, including Dani Shapira whom George rescued mid-air when the young flyer became lost on a dangerous mission to bring Spitfires (British WWII war planes) over Yugoslavian air space to Israel in 1948. Shapira went on to become Israel’s greatest test pilot and flew in every war the nation has known. Another of George’s students was Mordechai “Modi” Alon who one day became commander of the IAF.

More about the book
Ups and Downs, written by Vic Shayne, follows George’s life through his growing up years in Brooklyn where he was first smitten with dreams of flying while standing transfixed on the beach at Gravesend Bay watching a tourist plane take off from the surf. By age six, George knew he wanted to become a pilot, and when he saw the silent WWI movie Wings in 1927, he realized that flying combat would be the ultimate thrill. George’s dream came true in December, 1941 when the United States entered World War II. Pearl Harbor was attacked on Sunday, December 7, and George lined up to join the Army Air Force the next day. After the war, George contacted the Israelis and was sent to a Medieval village in Czechoslovakia called Ceske Budjovice (cheshkee bud-joh-veech) where the Israelis had set up a covert training base for its novice pilots.

Ups and Downs is all about George, an athletic kid whose idea of fun always meant pushing his luck, taking crazy risks, and looking to try something new. These traits made him an ideal candidate for pilot training and air combat. In fact, his daring nature nearly got him killed on more than one occasion, including the time in 1943 when he and a fellow pilot decided to buzz New York Harbor and flew under the nose of the Statue of Liberty.

Capt. George Lichter, second from left, sits with his students at barracks of Ceske Budjovice air base.

Though he had crashed, had plenty of near misses and had his plane shot full of bullets, daring George emerged from the war unscathed but highly decorated with the European Theatre Ribbon and four battle stars, battle stars for air war service and battle stars for flying combat during the invasion of Normandy (D-Day).

Nancy Spielberg features George in her documentary
Nancy Spielberg (Steven’s sister) is currently in production filming a feature documentary on the exploits and service of the machal fighters, featuring George Lichter among the living pilots involved in Israel’s War of Independence, 1948.

Ups and Downs With No Regrets features the favorable reviews of two celebrities — actor Jerry Stiller and television personality/author Dr. Ruth Westheimer, both of whom are personal friends of George Lichter. Dr. Ruth served as a sniper during Israel’s War of Independence. The book is not only about George’s war service, but also about his personal life, sexual exploits, stints as a trumpet player in college and in the Catskill Mountain resorts, battle with antisemitism, and world travels.

Ups and Downs With No Regrets is the personal story of George Lichter written by Vic Shayne and available on amazon.com. Published 2013. Shayne is also the author of Remember Us: From my shtetl through the Holocaust, a first-person memoir of survivor Martin Small, 2009, Sky Horse Publishing.

Nancy Spielberg’s documentary offers a boost

Nancy Spielberg (Steven’s sister) is working on a documentary about the machalniks (foreign volunteers) who fought for Israel’s independence in 1948. The film’s release is perfect timing to coincide with my book on Capt. George Lichter, WWII fighter pilot who was called upon to train Israel’s first combat flyers. The book is called Ups and Downs With No Regrets and is available on amazon.com.

Here is a wonderful video clip of Spielberg’s documentary. George Lichter is one of the main subjects, and the first photo in this clip is of George as a kid in Brooklyn.

Sample Reel for ‘Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force’ – Playmount Productions from Katahdin Productions on Vimeo.

WWII Fighter Pilot has a story to tell

Just released: the biography of WWII fighter pilot, Capt. George Lichter, an 91-year-old marvel.

George Lichter’s story is fascinating, owing to more than just bravery. He is a risk-taker extraordinaire who joined up to fly in the Army Air Force the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941.

George Lichter was born in Brooklyn in December, 1921, to an immigrant family, became an athlete, signed up for duty at the beginning of the US involvement in WWII and went on to fly 88 combat missions over the skies of occupied Europe. He was stationed in Bottisham, England, with 361 Fighter Group and went home a decorated war hero at the end of 1944.

But George Lichter’s story doesn’t end there.

When every Arab neighbor decided to wage war against the new nation of Israel, 1948, George signed up for war again. He said he knew the Jews were outnumbered a million to one, and that the Arabs were promising to “finish what Hitler began,” but he just had to try to help.

George was sent by the Israelis to Czechoslovakia to train the first Israeli Air Force cadets. Within months, the Israelis gained air superiority, ruled the skies over Israel, and won the war. George came away from the experience an Israeli national hero as a member of a few thousand Machal (foreign volunteer) fighters hailing from around the world.

Entitled Ups, Downs and No Regrets,  the amazing story of George Lichter is available through amazon.com by clicking HERE.

Latest writing projects & publications

 

Stressing Out Over Happiness

— exploring the effects of stress, meditation and happiness

BOOK RELEASE

screen shot of stressing out over happiness cover. pngStressing Out Over Happiness is a new self-help book that merges the wisdom of ancient sages, neuroscientists, psychologists, philosophers and quantum physicists to explore the nature of happiness, the physiological and mental aspects of stress, and how the mind works. This book also delves into the two forms of Buddhist meditation that have been shown in university studies to lessen the effects of stress and lead to greater happiness.

If you are stressed out (who isn’t), anxious, depressed or wandering in a daze, this book should prove very helpful to you. If you are a natural health practitioner, nurse, or therapist, you should read what this work has to say because there is definitely a missing link in today’s health care picture — a holistic paradigm.

The mind is very complicated instrument. Or is it an instrument at all? The truth is that, despite our scientific effort, we are no closer to understanding the mind in terms of its shape, form or existence. We know it by its actions, but we cannot measure it or observe it except by means of its effect on the brain. To study the mind, we have to look into the nature of consciousness, and that is a big undertaking. In this book, though, we do just that. My hope is that this book will compel you to ask your own questions and explore the workings and nature of your own mind and your own existence. In the end, this should not only bring down stress levels, but it should also make you much happier.

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Ups and Downs With No Regrets: George Lichter’s story amazing adventures.

BOOK RELEASE

World War II veteran combat pilot Captain George Lichter who passed away at age 91, is the subject of a new biography called Ups and Downs With No Regrets.

Ups and Downs, written by Vic Shayne, follows George’s life through his growing up years in Brooklyn where he was first smitten with dreams of flying while standing transfixed on the beach at Gravesend Bay watching a tourist plane take off from the surf. By age six, George knew he wanted to become a pilot, and when he saw the silent WWI movie Wings in 1927, he realized that flying combat would be the ultimate thrill. George’s dream came true in December, 1941 when the United States entered World War II. Pearl Harbor was attacked on Sunday, December 7, and George lined up to join the Army Air Force the next day.

Ups and Downs is all about George, an athletic kid whose idea of fun always meant pushing his luck, taking crazy risks, and looking to try something new. These traits made him an ideal candidate for pilot training and air combat. In fact, his daring nature nearly got him killed on more than one occasion, including the time in 1943 when he and a fellow pilot decided to buzz New York Harbor and flew under the nose of the Statue of Liberty.

By the end of the war, George had flown more than 88 combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe. Though he crashed and had his plane shot full of bullets, George emerged from the war unscathed but highly decorated with the European Theatre Ribbon and four battle stars, battle stars for air war service and battle stars for flying combat during the invasion of Normandy (D-Day). Only a couple of years after WWII had ended, and trying to settle down in the business world, George discovered that the new nation of Israel was about to be attacked by its Arab neighbors on the even of being granted its independence by the United Nations.

“I knew I couldn’t just sit by and do nothing,” George recalls. “I thought it was going to be a slaughter, but we had to try to fight back.”

George contacted the Israelis and joined their war effort. But instead of sending him to fly combat, the Israelis had more important plans for him, not to mention that the Israelis had no fighter planes in service. They sent him to Czechoslovakia where the new Israeli pilots were to be quickly trained for aerial combat as an air force was being centered around remnants and spare parts from used WWII planes. Ironically, the Israelis’ first aircraft were reconfigured German Messerschmitts made in Czechoslovakia.

Given his war record and exceptional piloting skills, George was chosen to be Israel’s chief trainer. Within months, the Israelis had put together an air force and took control over of their territorial skies to answer the bombing strikes of the Egyptian Air Force. During his tenure as chief instructor, George led a group of new fighter pilots through dangerous skies on a mission to bring Spitfires into Israel. For this perilous flight, rescuing a novice pilot lost in the fog near Yugoslavia and for his dedication, the nation of Israel recognized him as the one of the most treasured of their machal (foreign volunteer) military experts.

Nancy Spielberg (Steven’s sister) is currently finishing a feature documentary on the exploits and service of the machal fighters, featuring George Lichter among the living pilots involved in Israel’s War of Independence, 1948.

Ups and Downs With No Regrets features the favorable reviews of two celebrities — actor Jerry Stiller and television personality/author Dr. Ruth Westheimer, both of whom are personal friends of George Lichter. Dr. Ruth served as a sniper during Israel’s War of Independence. The book is not only about George’s war service, but also about his personal life, sexual exploits, stints as a trumpet player in college and in the Catskill Mountain resorts, battle with antisemitism, and world travels.

Ups and Downs With No Regrets is the personal story of George Lichter written by Vic Shayne and available on amazon.com. Published 2013. Shayne is also the author ofRemember Us: From my shtetl through the Holocaust, a first-person memoir of survivor Martin Small, 2009, Sky Horse Publishing.

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new remember us coverRemember Us: the amazing Holocaust survival story of Martin Small

Remember Us is now available in book stores across the country. It has reached the amazon.com and Wall Street Journal best seller lists and has received wide acclaim. You can also order it online by clicking here for amazon.com.

This book is the remarkable true story that begins in a world of Yiddish culture, bucolic countryside life in pre-war Poland and family relationships that were once the foundation of Jewish life. Living an idyllic life with family, friends and community, Martin Small was steeped in tradition, learning and culture only to be swept away in the storm of the Holocaust. His unchosen journey took him into a slave labor camp, into the forests as a partisan, into Mauthausen concentration camp, through displaced persons camps and further, all of which presented tests of body and soul.

I spent an intensive three and a half years interviewing and talking with Martin Small, going through his documents and photos, and listening to him address audiences with his message of loss and redemption. The result of these years is this book, Remember Us, in which I wrote Martin’s life story in the first person.

I invite you to read this book that has been heralded by Nobel Prize recipient Eli Wiesel, actor Jerry Stiller, actor/producer Ed Asner and many others, including veterans of World War II.

Remember Us is available in bookstores nationwide, as well as online.