Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A True Friend

Charlie Winters “was old school that way.” He spent 18 months in prison after having plead guilty to violating the Neutrality Act in 1949, yet his children didn’t even know he spent time in jail until after his death. Winters wasn’t that kind of guy. In 1948, when Israel declared independence, many Americans were ambivalent on whether the US should help the tiny new country defend itself. But Winters, a Boston born Protestant, felt unconditionally sympathetic towards Israel.

Winters, along with two others (Al Schwimmer and Herman Greenspun), sold decommissioned B-17 bombers to the Haganah that are credited with having turned the war in Israel’s favor. Not only that, but Winters himself flew one of the planes from Miami to Czechoslovakia where it and others were retrofitted for Israel’s use. Winters help came as a favor to his Jewish friends, and he received no monetary compensation for his time. Greenspun, a former Army flight engineer, was pardoned in 1961 by President Kennedy, while Schwimmer, a radio personality and publisher, was pardoned 2001 by President Clinton. Winters received his pardon yesterday from President Bush.

Charlie Winters died in 1984 at the age of 71 as a hero of Israel and Jews. The Miami Herald reports that his ashes are scattered in Israel while The Washington Post reports that his body is buried in a Christian cemetery in Jerusalem. Either way his resting place is an appropriate one. Unable to serve in World War II because of polio in one leg, he worked from the government as a purchasing agent during the war. His pardon received support from Democrats and Republicans alike. Even Steven Spielberg made a personal plea to President Bush on Winters’ behalf. Jimmy Winters, his son, said that he saw his father as quiet man who worked in shipping until his funeral, which drew Israeli dignitaries.

At the pardon, the Winters family lawyer said, “He did a heroic thing and, at the time, the law didn’t reflect our values. The pardon is a way of the law catching up with the history.” Winters’ son commented, “This is a present for my father…This was a monumental challenge, but my dad’s favorite saying was ‘keep the faith,’ and we did.” Winters was one of many who helped Israel stand up, and it continues to stand, because many believe what Winters did, that Israel deserved a place in this world. As much today as ever must must keep this faith.

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