Joe Benezra

Headstone Joe Benezra

Joseph Albert Benezra died peacefully at home on July 10th. Joe was born January 18, 1918, in Hartford, Connecticut, to Kadun (Louise) Morhaime Benezra and Albert Benezra, Sephardic Jews who had immigrated from Turkey. The family moved to Seattle where Joe attended Washington Elementary School and Garfield High School, Class of 1937.

Fascinated with airplanes at an early age, Joe learned to fly when he was just ten, and joined a flight club at Boeing Field while in high school. In 1940, Joe joined the Army Air Corps where he served as a flight instructor, and later a transport pilot. During WWII, Joe flew "The Hump" over the Himalayas between India and China in support of American and Chinese forces, including the famed Flying Tigers. In 1948-49, at the onset of the Cold War, Joe flew the Berlin Airlift. Both of these historic air operations were extremely dangerous but crucially important.

In 1950, Joe fell in love and married Frances Paola, an Air Force nurse. Joe and Franny had many interesting assignments in the Air Force, including at Keesler AFB (Mississippi), Kirtland AFB (New Mexico), and Hickam AFB (Hawaii), where Joe flew Air/Sea Rescue. During his long Air Force career, Joe flew many types of aircraft, of which he was justly proud. Joe was a pilot's pilot! He retired from the USAF in 1966, after which he worked at the Pearl Harbor Navy Shipyard until he and Franny both retired to their condo in beautiful Waikiki, Honolulu, Hawaii. A few years after Franny's death in 1996, he returned to live in Bellevue. In 2002, Joe met and fell for Nancy Leavitt, his last love, and they shared their lives together until Joe's death.

Joe was charming and charis-matic, and will be missed.

Joe is survived by Nancy Leavitt and by his sister Mary's children, Lawrence Israel (Sandy), Allen Israel (Nettie), Arthur Israel (Glenda) and Vicky Morgan (Don). Joe had no children, but many nieces and nephews on both his and Franny's side, as well as from the Leavitt family. He was preceded in death by Franny, his older brother Leo, and his beloved sister Mary Louise Israel and her husband Max. The family is very grateful to his caregivers, Raymond, Reza and Ali.

Funeral Services will be held at 1:00 PM on Sunday at the Seattle Sephardic Brotherhood Cemetery, 1230 N. 167th Street, Shoreline.

Remembrances may be made to Jewish Family Service of Seattle, Bellevue Medic One or the USO.

Published in The Seattle Times from July 11 to July 12, 2014

Military Funeral with Honors at Seattle Sephardic Brotherhood Cemetery

By Eugene Normand

Joseph Albert Benezra, Major, USAF (Retired), was laid to rest in the Seattle Sephardic Brotherhood Cemetery on July 13, 2014. The service was unique in that it combined the traditional Jewish funeral following Sephardic custom, which was conducted by Rabbi Simon Benzaquen, with a military funeral with full honors.

Mr. Benezra had been a veteran of the US Air Force, having joined the US Army Air Corps in 1940, served for twenty six years and then retired from the US Air Force as Major in 1966. During WWII, Benezra flew transports over "The Hump” between India and China in support of American and Chinese forces, including the famed Flying Tigers. The infamous route over the Himalayas was so dangerous and so many allied aircraft were lost that it was called “The Aluminum Trail.” In 1948-49, at the onset of the Cold War, Benezra flew in the Berlin Airlift to supply food, medicines and fuel to the people of Berlin, which broke the Soviet blockade. Both of these historic air operations were extremely dangerous but crucially important. During his long Air Force career, Benezra piloted many types of aircraft, including fighters, bombers and transports.

Six members of the US Air Force attended to carry out the honor guard duties for the military funeral with honors. The coffin was draped with an American flag as it was escorted to the burial site by members of the family and friends, and two members of the honor guard. The honor guardsmen removed the flag, before the casket was lowered into the ground. They folded it into a triangle pattern, following strict protocol, and after it was completed, the folded flag was presented to Mr. Benezra’s family. The presenting officer recited “On behalf of the President of the United States, the Department of the Air Force, and a grateful nation, we offer this flag for the faithful and dedicated service of Major Joseph Albert Benezra” and followed with a formal slow-motion salute.

At this time, a rifle party of three Air Force members who were located about thirty feet away from the grave, gave a three-volley salute, firing blank cartridges three consecutive times. A fourth member of the guard handled the playing of Taps. Following this salute, the honor guardsmen collected all of the spent shell casings, and presented them to the family. The casket was then lowered into the ground and the service continued following standard Jewish custom.