Three days after he passed away at the age of 101, close to his 102nd birthday, tributes continue to pour in for Harold “Smoky” Simon on Thursday, one of the legendary founders of the Israeli Air Force.

The Israeli Air Force said on its official website that Simon left behind an enormous legacy containing “endless, heroic stories.”

On May 14, 1948, one week after arriving in Israel from South Africa, he took off in a Bonanza aircraft, making it “the first Hebrew flight that he took part in,” the IAF recalled.

Harold “Smoky” Simon, one of the IAF’s founders next to IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin. Credit: IAF.

“The plane flew towards Lebanon and left the borders of [Mandatory] Palestine, while at the same time, David Ben Gurion prepared to give a statement at Dizengoff House in Tel Aviv. When the aircrew returned from their mission, they already arrived in a land that turned into the State of Israel,” it stated. “His pioneering influence has been etched into the origins of the state.”

Born in 1920, he enlisted into the South African air force at the age of 21 after studying accountancy. He fought against the Nazis for the allies in the Second World War, gaining experience as a navigator on-board a bomber.

At the end of the war, after setting up an accountancy firm, storm clouds of war gathered in the Middle East, and Simon took the decision to move to Israel and fight for it.

After the War of Independence, Simon was asked to remain and set up air force infrastructure, the IAF said. “He served as head of the first operational squadron of the force, and worked to set up and promote many squadrons,” the IAF added.

In 1950, Simon returned to South Africa, but in 1962 he returned to Israel for good.

“What characterized Smoky was empathy and love for the other, alongside courage that knew no bounds,” his son, Maj. (res.) Saul Simon, said, according to the IAF’s website. “But what most characterized him was his refusal to be cynical, he was sincere. That is one of the most beautiful traits that a person can have, and he was like that.”

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