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The Tentacle


February 17, 2010

Charlie Wilsonís Legacy

Kevin E. Dayhoff

On Sunday, Charlie Wilson, the former 12-term Democrat who represented the 2nd District in East Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 through 1996, was remembered in a memorial service in Texas.

 

The Dallas Morning News said: “Former Rep. Charlie Wilson was remembered Sunday as a man who helped change history in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union invaded, but at the same time didn't take himself too seriously…

 

“The memorial service brought dignitaries from around the state to Angelina College for a service that celebrated the one-of-a-kind congressman…”

 

Congressman Wilson died February 10 at Lufkin Memorial Hospital in Lufkin, Texas after collapsing from a cardio-pulmonary arrest.

 

U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Robert Gates observed: “America has lost an extraordinary patriot whose life showed that one brave and determined person can alter the course of history.”

 

“He'll be missed from the Golan Heights to the Khyber Pass, from the Caspian to the Suez and in the halls of Congress, for his civility, his willingness to listen and help and not posture,” said John Wing, founder and chairman of Wing Aviation; who traveled with Congressman Wilson on his journeys to Pakistan and Afghanistan; according to the Dallas newspaper article.

 

For those who follow the convoluted and arcane public – and non-public – to intricacies of Congress, the intelligence agencies, and foreign policy, Congressman Wilson left a legendary heritage for many reasons.

 

He was made a household name in the movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War,” released in December 2007.

 

The movie was based on the book “Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History,” published in 2003 by George Crile III.

 

Congressman Wilson was also featured in “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001,” published in 2004 by Steve Coll, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

 

In December 2007, Congressman Wilson told the Annapolis newspaper, The Capital, “that the new movie about him accurately portrays his boozing and skirt chasing, as well as his efforts to fund a covert war in the 1980s aimed at expelling the Soviets from Afghanistan…

 

“One of the outlandish – and true – scenes in the movie is where then-Congressman Charlie Wilson, while recruiting allies in his private war, took his personal belly dancer with him to Cairo to entertain the Egyptian president.”

 

History will look back and reflect that Congressman Wilson was an extraordinary accomplished man who profoundly altered history, but was enigmatically conflicted.

 

In the article which appeared December 30, 2007, in The Capital, written By Earl Kelly, it was duly noted that Congressman Wilson was a “Man of contradictions…”

 

An academy company mate, retired Navy Capt. Dick Walsh, of Annapolis, said “his old classmate was a man of contradictions, a liberal Democrat who could stay elected in a conservative Texas district, and a compassionate person who never blinked at killing Soviet soldiers.

 

“‘He was a male chauvinist pig of the first order, but when it came to working for women's rights, he gave 100 percent,’ said Captain Walsh, who noted that Mr. Wilson supported civil rights and women's rights.”

 

A life of service to our nation

 

Mr. Kelly, in the Capital story,  noted that Mr. Wilson, “the tall, lanky former congressman from East Texas who looks like the Marlboro Man, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1956…

 

“Mr. Wilson said he isn't sure who holds the academy's record for most demerits, him or (Arizona Republican) Sen. John McCain…

 

“Mr. Wilson recalled that when he and Mr. McCain served on the academy's civilian oversight board, the Board of Visitors, they often joked about which one was the worst midshipman.

 

“Mr. Wilson finished eighth from the bottom of his class…”

 

After he graduated, he served 38 months at sea aboard a destroyer before being transferred to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, according to The Dallas Morning News.

 

When he left the Navy, he served six terms in the Texas legislature.  The Morning News explained: “A volunteer for John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign, Wilson entered the Texas Legislature in 1961 as ‘the liberal from Lufkin.’

 

“Elected to the U.S. House in 1972, he was an East Texas Democrat whose uncompromising positions on national security and anti-communism won the respect of Ronald Reagan.”

 

Mr. Kelly introduced us to Congressman Wilson’s exploits, which have left an indelible mark on history: “Mr. Wilson, while a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, got involved in Afghanistan after the Soviets invaded in 1979. The Soviets were using rockets, machine guns and deadly Hind attack helicopters, while the Afghans were using World War I-era bolt-action rifles.”

 

Beginning around 1980, Congressman Wilson began working with other congressional leaders to increase the CIA’s non-public funding to funnel arms and support to the Afghan Mujahedeen in their struggle against the Russians.

 

This culminated with Congressman Wilson working with CIA ‘operative Gust Avrakotos in “Operation Cyclone,” which, during the administration of President Reagan, supplied anti-aircraft weapons and other military materiel and the expertise of the CIA’s “Special Activities Division” to the anti-Soviet forces.

 

An article in The Houston Chronicle further explained: “His partner in the effort was Joanne King Herring, a Houston socialite, crusader and staunch anti-communist. During their brief love affair, they lived and breathed the Afghanistan conflict, and the Soviets found themselves outmanned, outgunned and outsmarted…

 

“Wilson and Herring's relationship died a natural death, but they got back in touch when George Crile wrote a hard-to-believe-but-nonetheless-true account of their adventures, Charlie Wilson's War.”

 

He will be buried with full military honors on February 23 at Arlington National Cemetery; however his colorful one-of-a-kind legacy will continue to be seriously celebrated by history for generations to come.

 

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com

 



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