WASHINGTON — In a gesture of forgiveness for an American considered a hero in Israel, President Bush granted a pardon posthumously on Tuesday to a man who broke the law to supply aircraft to Jews fighting in Israel's 1948 war for 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 lawbreakers were on the list.
In 1948, Winters, a non-Jewish Miami businessman who 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. Counterattacks with the bombers helped turn the war in Israel's favor, reports said. In March 1961, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir issued a letter of commendation to Winters to recognize his contributions to Israel's survival as an independent state.
Over the years, Winters, a Protestant from Boston who settled in the Miami area, told his family little of his conviction in 1949 for violating the Neutrality Act for conspiring to export aircraft to a foreign country. He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Two others, Herman Greenspun and Al Schwimmer, 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.
Winters died on Oct. 30, 1984, at the age of 71. At his request, a Christian cemetery near the Jewish cemetery of the Knights Templar in Jerusalem was made his final resting place.
Bush has granted 190 pardons and nine commutations, fewer than half as many as Clinton or President Ronald Reagan issued during their two terms. The latest batch includes forgiveness for convictions ranging from gun and drug violations to bank and mail fraud.
In addition to Winters, Bush granted pardons to two Floridians: Steve Doyle Cavender, 65, of the Villages on a 1973 marijuana conviction; and Richard Harold Miller of Tallahassee, conspiracy to defraud the United States.