Leo Nomis

Los Angeles, California

Combat Record

WWII: with 71 Sqn, 1/2 Ju 88 killed, 1 damaged; with 92 Sqn, 1 109G killed, 1 probable


In the autumn of 1941, Nomis joined 71 "Eagle" Squadron, a RAF unit composed of American volunteer pilots. He flew the Spitfire Mk Vb, flying his first operational sortie on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, December 7, 1941. By April, Nomis had acquired a personal aircraft, designated XR@C (BL287), and decorated it with an Indian head in honor of his Sioux ancestry (Nomis's father was half-Sioux).

In July 1942, Nomis took part in a convoy of Spitfire Mk Vs to Malta and upon landing was sent to 229 Squadron, which shared an airfield with 249 Squadron and George Beurling. After borrowing a Spitfire for an unauthorized, lone-wolf, nighttime sweep of Sicily, Nomis was punished with a transfer to the Western Desert in North Africa and assignment to 92 "East India" Squadron. In both Malta and Africa, Nomis flew the tropicalized Mk Vc.

While in his Spitfire in February 1943, Nomis received a head wound from a fragment of 20mm cannon shell from an unseen Me 109. He suffered some damage to the nerves leading to his right eye and spent a month in the hospital. Upon discharge, he transferred from the RAF to the USAAF. Meant for the P-40s of the 57th FG, Nomis never flew combat in WWII again and instead headed back to the US as a trainer.

After WWII ended, Nomis earned a living as a cropduster and barnstormer. In the spring of 1948, Nomis became aware of the situation in Israel and signed up as a non-Jewish volunteer with the Jewish Agency in New York on May 30.

Sometime between June 17-19, Nomis arrived in Israel. July 1 found him on his way to Ceske Budejovice to train on the S-199 and he discovered first-hand the unpleasant nature of the aircraft over the next few weeks. Nomis and Mitchell Flint learned the aircraft under the tutelage of Machal trainer George Lichter and a Czechoslovakian named Bilek (with the occasional help of a Czechoslovakian named Prokopec).

Not even the experienced Nomis was immune to the S-199's lack of charm:

Flint is having problems with the two-seater. He and Bilek take off ahead of me and when I am halfway down the run (my) fighter begins to swerve 45 degrees off course. The north boundary is looming closer and I push the rudder hard, like Bilek said, and the nose of the aircraft jolts back to center. In the air I stay below cloud base near the field and when I come in to land some raindrops bounce off the windscreen. I swerve again when I get on the ground but I catch it in time and then a crosswind carries the plane close to the students' line. (Nomis and Cull 1998)

Once comfortable with the S-199 - at least, as comfortable as possible - Nomis engaged Lichter in mock dogfights.

A few yards to the right Lichter starts his engine and the noise is loud. I switch the radio on and the sound dims amid the crackling of the static in the helmet earphones. I work the fuel primer pump and the Messerschmitt rocks gently as the mechanics wind the inertia. The engine starts and the rhythmic rumbling creates a relaxing effect. I look over at Lichter and he moves forward from the line with rudder fishtailing. I turn out behind himand we take off into the bright air.

Lichter handles his machine deftly. We have a simulated dogfight at 10,000 feet and I watch as the patchwork of the earth below tilts diagonally. Then the wings of the aircraft in front flash upward and the windscreen is filled with the blue above. Lichter rolls while climbing, tightens the roll into a turn and drops out behind me. I smile to myself. It is two years since I have flown fighters. (Nomis and Cull 1998)

By the end of July, Nomis returned to Israel to begin duty in 101 Squadron. July 31, he reported to Modi Alon at Herzliya although all the aircraft are at Netanya.

Mordecai Alon is alone in the hut and he is writing at a desk that has scars in the dark wood. His bush shirt is clean and well ironed. To one side of the room is a leather-covered couch and behind a semi-curtained partition is a smaller room with a cot in it. Flies buzz sporadically through the doorless entrance. The sound is curiously restful. The CO doesn't ask any questions....

I follow the CO outside and one of the jeeps is coming down the dirt road from Herzliya.... The jeep stops near the command hut. All of the occupants are either talking or laughing. A few have on light cotton flying suits but others are wearing tropical shorts and some are stripped to the waist. They are casual with the CO. He is addressed simply as Moddy. No rank, no salutes, no military stance. Laughter and curses, yet one gets the immediate impression that they know their job. The driver of the jeep is an imposing South African Jew and he gets out of the seat and comes over to where we are standing. Moddy says that the South African is the commander of B Flight. It is Sid Cohen. (Nomis and Cull 1998)

Nomis had met Cohen previously, at a party in the Western Desert during the fall of 1942. The others in the jeep were Syd Antin, Aaron Finkel, Sandy Jacobs, and Giddy Lichtman.

The next day, August 1, Nomis made his first 25-minute dawn truck ride to Netanya. Syd Cohen assigned Nomis to fly with Lichtman, Weizman, and Jacobs on a patrol of Israeli airspace. Nomis took up D-114 that hot morning:

I climb onto the wing and the metal on the side of the cockpit burns my hand when I grasp the running edge for support. I stand on the wingand put on the helmet and fasten the parachute buckles....

We wait in the heat at the end of the field beyond the Ops tent. We wait with propellers turning idly for Sandy to pull into line. The inside of the cockpit becomes a furnace and perspiration drips onto the safety harness. The coolant temperature climbs to a dangerous point and Giddy comes on the radio and says we better get off the ground. Sandy swings around behind and when Giddy turns down field to take off, a hazy mist of dark smoke begins to come from Ezer's engine. It indicates an oil leak and he turns in a wide circle and heads back to the maintenance area. Giddy signals with his hand that he is opening the throttle and I follow closely to his right so I won't be engulfed in the dust from his propwash. Sandy disappears behind us. We lift off near the south border and Giddy stays in a constant turn to the left. We come around low and parallel to the strip and then cut across so Sandy can catch up. The gear indicator light flickers and I check the handle. Everything seems all right and in a few seconds the light remains steady. When Sandy is in position on the port side, Giddy climbs to 9,000 feet and we can see scattered white clouds way off to the north. The cockpit is tolerable now as the cool upper air passes through vents.





Leo Nomis had a little trouble with alcohol, as Syd Antin relates:

Let me tell you, the laws they passed, years back, making it illegal to give an Indian whiskey alcohol was certainly justified judging by the way this guy handled it. I tell ya, he was the nicest guy in the world. We all loved him. But when he got drunk, he was a terror. Man, I tell you, he would fight anybody, break up the goddamned place - he was absolutely impossible.... It turned out that I was about the only guy that handle him. Of course, I was known as the "shtarker" (tough guy) in the outfit. And when Leo got drunk and acted up like that, my physical condition paid off. Boy, I'd climb up his back and beat the shit out of him. A couple of times of times I had to beat him bloody - not because I had any hate for him or anything like that, I just couldn't control him. It was impossible, without trying to knock him out, to get him to stop.

There were times we'd go into town to the Park Hotel... and we'd have a party that occupied maybe two tables or something like that. We'd get high as a kite, we'd rip each other's shirts off, we'd do a hizizzazumba dance around the dance floor, and we would have one hell of a time. But we didn't damage the place - nothing serious. We might have broken a few glasses or something like that. Leo Nomis - that was different. He would smash furniture. He'd do anything. That was usually the situation when he went out of control. (Antin, pers. comm.)




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