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Charlie Wilson remembered at memorial

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2010

LUFKIN, Texas | The late Rep. Charlie Wilson was a dedicated public servant who took his work but never himself seriously, friends recalled during a memorial service in his Texas hometown.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is challenging Texas Gov. Rick Perry in next month's Republican primary, was among those honoring the fun-loving Texas congressman at Angelina College in Lufkin on Sunday.

Mr. Wilson, 76, died Wednesday of cardiopulmonary arrest.

The flamboyant lawmaker funneled millions of dollars in weapons to Afghanistan through backroom dealmaking, allowing the country's underdog mujahedeen rebels to beat back the mighty Soviet Red Army in the 1980s.

The 12-term member of the U.S. House from 1973 to 1996 was known in Washington as "Good Time Charlie" for his reputation for drinking and womanizing.

The Dallas Morning News reported that former state Rep. Buddy Temple remembered the baptism of his 43-year-old daughter, Whitney, when Mr. Wilson became her godfather.

"We've got a problem," Mr. Temple quoted Mr. Wilson as saying. "I just talked to the preacher and he said I have to renounce the devil and all of his works. Would it be OK if I renounced the devil and some of his works?

"It was typical Charlie trying to convince us that he was a rogue and a scoundrel and a bad boy," said Mr. Temple. "But we weren't fooled. He was exposed by his good works."

Mr. Wilson, a Democrat, was considered both a progressive and a defense hawk. While his effort to arm the Afghan insurgents in the 1980s was a success - spurring a victory that helped speed the downfall of the Soviet Union - he was unable to keep the money flowing after the Soviets left. Afghanistan plunged into chaos, creating an opening eventually filled by the Islamist Taliban movement, who harbored terrorists linked to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

His efforts to help the Afghan rebels - as well as his partying ways - were portrayed in the movie and book "Charlie Wilson's War." In an interview with the Associated Press after the book was published in 2003, he said he wasn't worried about details of his wild side being portrayed.

A six-piece jazz band punctuated each eulogy with Wilson favorites, including "As Time Goes By," "My Way," and, in honor of his years as a naval intelligence officer, "Anchors Aweigh" and "The Navy Hymn."

"He took his work seriously but he never took himself seriously," said his close friend Joe Christie, who served with Mr. Wilson in the Texas state Legislature. "He changed the course of history, but he was not self-important. That's why he was so ... fun to be with."

A volunteer for John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign, Mr. Wilson entered the Texas Legislature in 1961 as "the liberal from Lufkin." Elected to the House of Representatives in 1972, he was an east Texas Democrat whose uncompromising positions on national security and anti-communism won the respect of Ronald Reagan.

The congressman will be buried with full military honors Feb. 23 at Arlington National Cemetery.