Sunday, April 25, 2004

Jewish war veterans gathered at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday to celebrate the life of British Maj. Gen. Orde Charles Wingate.

Representatives from five nations participated in the annual ceremony to honor Gen. Wingate, an ardent supporter of Israel and a military pioneer of unconventional warfare during World War II.

After nearly four hours of prayers, songs and speeches, the veterans proceeded to a large tombstone engraved with the names of Gen. Wingate, another British officer, two British civilians and five U.S. Army soldiers. The veterans sprinkled some soil they had collected in Israel on the grave and held a memorial service.

Gen. Wingate was 41 years old when he and the others were killed March 14, 1944, when their U.S. Army Air Corps plane crashed in India.

Despite British protests, the bodies could not be identified and were moved to Arlington National Cemetery on Nov. 10, 1950, because there were more Americans than British among the dead.

“We are not here to commemorate his death,” U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Magnus, the highest-ranking Jew in the U.S. military, said during the service. “We are here to commemorate his life.”

Jewish War Veterans of the United States celebrates the life of Gen. Wingate although he was a Christian, born of missionaries. Many Jews think that he played a big role in creating Israel.

“He gave Israel the tactics to fight five Arabian nations at once,” said Paul Bernstein, national commander of the organization.

“He was a visionary” whose inspiration led to the creation of Israel, said another of more than 40 speakers.

Gen. Wingate always carried a Bible in his pocket and said more than once, “You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” a person who believed and sought to re-establish the Jewish national state of Israel, the speakers said.

Gen. Wingate was credited with devising unusual and effective tactics such as “jungle warfare.” He created the Special Night Forces and helped organize the military force that became the Israel Defense Forces in the late 1930s.

During World War II, Gen. Wingate led the British-Ethiopian Gideon Force in the liberation of Ethiopia. However, he contracted malaria and attempted to commit suicide. An officer in the next room heard some unfamiliar sounds and saved the general’s life. Gen. Wingate recovered and soon returned to duty.

Finally, he organized and led the famed British-Indian “Chindits” in Burma against the Japanese forces.

“It lifts my spirits because we are fighting for democracy and freedom today in Burma,” said Crown Prince Shwebomin of Burma.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called Gen. Wingate “a man of genius, who might well have become also a man of destiny.”

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