Charlie Winters “The G-dfather of the Israeli Air Force”

By the Grace of G-d, The State of Israel will celebrate its 65th anniversary on Tuesday, 16 April 2013*.

Yesterday morning, 10 April 2013, I heard the roar of low-flying planes. Planes don’t fly low over Jerusalem without a reason; in a panic I called out “Sima!” From the backroom our Israeli-born housekeeper responded: “There are three old prop planes and one more with a newer engine trailing them. Calm down they are probably just practicing for the Independence Day flyover next week. Let’s go out on the balcony and I’ll show you where to look.”

Out on the balcony, we were treated to three different Israel Air Force formations – everything from old prop planes to IAF fighter jets. Sure enough, just as Sima had said, there was one newer light plane trailing each of the formations. “That’s the one taking the photographs we’ll see in the newspapers next week.”

As we looked up in wonder at the second formation of our planes, Sima quietly commented “If we’d had those old fighter planes, surely we would have prevented the murder of The Six Million in World War II.”

At that point, I asked Sima if she knew about Charlie Winters. Still looking up into the sky she asked, “Nu? What does Charlie Winters have to do with our planes?”

Charles (Charlie) Thompson Winters, son of a proud Scotch-Canadian-Irish Protestant family, was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on 10 February 1913; he passed away in Miami, Florida on 30 October 1984. Some of his ashes were scattered over Mount Tabor (which according to Christian tradition is the location of the Transfiguration of Jesus) and the reminder of his ashes are buried in The Alliance Church International Cemetery located at 41 Emek Refaim Street, Jerusalem. I first learned about him a few years back when, finding the gate open, Jay and I wandered into the cemetery. Among the many gravestones we found this one:

Charlie Winters Grave Marker

Jay and I were struck by the phrase “…Loyal friend he at personal risk supported Israel in her hour of need…” Once home we both started researching and learned that in the spring of 1948, at the request of his friend, Al Shwimmer, Charlie Winters purchased three B-17 Flying Fortresses. The story was that Charlie was helping to build the Panamanian national airlines and the planes were needed to ferry cattle to Europe. Charlie and his team flew the planes from Miami to Puerto Rico were they refueled, then onward to The Azores and Czechoslovakia finally landing in Israel on 16 July 1948. These three B-17 Flying Fortress bombers known collectively as “The Hammers” formed the 69 Squadron of the Israel Air Force (IAF). The planes that Charlie smuggled into Israel were the ONLY HEAVY BOMBERS in the IAF during the Israeli War of Independence. WITHOUT THEM ISRAEL COULD NOT HAVE TURNED THE TIDE OF WAR IN HER FAVOR.

And what did our loyal friend receive for his mighty efforts on behalf of the State of Israel? He didn’t receive money from Israel because Charlie refused payment. Instead Charlie was charged with violating the United States Neutrality Act (1939) which expressly prohibited American citizens from exporting weaponry without the authorization of the American government. He was convicted, fined $5000 and served 18 months in a USA Federal Prison! For the rest of his life Charlie didn’t speak about his past, not even to share with his children how he’d helped the State of Israel. But Israel didn’t forget Charlie. In 1961 Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir sent Charlie a letter acknowledging his contribution and inviting him to a memorial event for the State’s fallen.

Only after Charlie passed away, during his funeral, did his children, particularly his then 19-year-old son Jimmy, begin to learn about Charlie’s activities. Charlie’s children didn’t understand why there were so many Israeli flags and blue and white bouquets of flowers at the funeral. Nor did they understand why Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Meir Rosenne, attended the memorial service and why Israeli government officials escorted Mrs. Winters to Israel in order to bury Charlie in Jerusalem. As time went by Jimmy spoke with Charlie’s Jewish and Israeli friends and learned about Charlie’s contribution to the IAF. Despite all of the honors that Israel bestowed upon Charlie, in the United States he was still a convicted felon. It took 24 years of efforts, lead by his son Jimmy Winters with the support of Charlie’s friends, for Charlie to finally receive a full posthumous pardon from US President Mr. George W. Bush.

I think that it would please Charlie to know that he was remembered on the day of the rehearsal for the Independence Day flyover Jerusalem. Jay and I have an appointment to go to the Alliance Church International Cemetery on Israeli Memorial Day and place an Israeli flag on Charlie’s grave. After all, as Charlie always said “Keep the faith!”

Israeli Flag on Charlie Winters Grave

 ******

(*The State of Israel was created on 14th May 1948 upon the termination of the British Mandate. The Gregorian date, 14th May 1948 corresponds to the Hebrew date “Hay B’Iyar” on the Jewish lunar calendar. The State of Israel uses the Jewish lunar calendar as its official calendar. Therefore all official dates are adjusted to correspond to a Gregorian sun calendar date. This year “Hay B’Iyar” corresponds to 16 April 2013.)

 

For more information about Charlie Winters please visit these sites:

http://charlestwinters.blogspot.co.il/ (this site was created by Charlie’s son James Winters)

 http://www.palyam.org/OniyotRekhesh/Charles_Winters

 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7799170.stm

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