WASHINGTON - In a gesture of forgiveness for an American considered a hero in Israel, President Bush yesterday granted a pardon posthumously to a man who broke U.S. law to supply war planes to Jews fighting in Israel's 1948 war of independence.
Charles Winters was listed in a batch of 19 pardons and one commutation that Bush issued before leaving for Camp David to spend the holidays. No high-profile or Philadelphia-area lawbreakers were on the list.
In 1948, Winters, a Protestant from Boston who settled in the Miami area and exported produce, worked with others to transfer two converted B-17 "Flying Fortresses" to Israel's defense forces.
He flew one of the aircraft from Miami to Czechoslovakia, where that plane and a third B-17 were retrofitted for use as bombers.
The three B-17s were the only heavy bombers in the Israeli Air Force then. Counterattacks with the bombers reportedly helped turn the war in Israel's favor.
In 1961, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir commended Winters for his contribution to Israel's survival as a state.
Over the years, Winters told his family little of his 1949 conviction for violating the Neutrality Act for conspiring to export aircraft. He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Two others, Herman Greenspun and Al Schwimmer, also were convicted of violating the act, but they did not serve time. President John F. Kennedy pardoned Greenspun in 1961. President Bill Clinton pardoned Schwimmer in 2000.
"It happened 16 years before I was born. He went to jail and he didn't want his kids to know. He was old-school," Winters' son Jim Winters said.
Reginald Brown, a lawyer who worked on the Winters pardon, said Bush's action "rights a historical wrong and honors Charlie's belief that the creation of the Jewish state was a moral imperative of his time."
Steven Spielberg, director of
, an Oscar-winning movie on the Holocaust, wrote to Bush appealing for a pardon for Winters, calling him an unsung hero.
After Winters died on Oct. 30, 1984, some of his ashes were buried in a Christian cemetery near the Jewish cemetery of the Knights Templar in Jerusalem and the rest scattered from the top of Mount Tabor in Israel.
With this latest batch, which includes forgiveness for convictions for gun and drug violations and bank and mail fraud, Bush has so far granted 190 pardons and nine commutations - fewer than half as many as Presidents Clinton or Ronald Reagan issued during their two terms.