In 1948, the American World War II veteran, Robert Maguire Jr. was working for Alaska Airlines when the airliner was contracted by the American Distribution Joint Committee to help airlift 40,000 Yemenite Jewish refugees to Israel. Upon request, Maguire agreed to be the chief pilot of Operation Magic Carpet.
After Alaska Airlines withdrew from the deal a few months later, Maguire established the Near East Air Transport to continue the program. Independently, he purchased and chartered several small airplanes. The operation finally took place in 1949. At any one time, nearly 28 pilots were executing the airlift.
Although, the Imam of Yemen granted Israel permission to airlift the Jews, the operation was kept secret for fear of surrounding Arab nations shooting down the planes. In roughly 380 flights, no planes were downed and no lives were lost.
Maguire was an Episcopalian, a native of Portland, Oregon, and a descendent of British and Irish lineage. He was nicknamed the “Irish Moses” by David Ben-Gurion for leading the dangerous operation. A few years before Operation Magic Carpet, Maguire helped airlift Jewish refugees from China to Israel. Following the operation, Maguire led another operation, Ali Baba, which airlifted thousands of Jews from Iraq and Iran to Israel.
In 2004, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles awarded Maguire a medal of valor. On June 10, 2005, Robert Maguire Jr. died, at the age of 94.
Sources: The Mercury News