United States Representative Charlie Wilson dies at 76

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Friday, February 12, 2010

File photo of former Congressman Charlie Wilson
Image: United States Congress.

Charles Nesbitt Wilson, a former United States naval officer and twelve-term Democratic Representative from the 2nd congressional district in Texas, died on Wednesday in Lufkin, Texas. He was 76 with a history of heart ailments, receiving a transplant in 2007.

Memorial Medical Center, Lufkin said the preliminary cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest. Jack Gorden Jr., the mayor of Lufkin, confirmed the death.

He was best known for initiating Operation Cyclone, the largest CIA covert operation, which supplied military equipment, anti-aircraft missiles, and paramilitary officers to the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. His campaign was the subject of the non-fiction book Charlie Wilson's War and the film 'Charlie Wilson's War'.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wilson's "efforts and exploits helped repel an invader, liberate a people, and bring the Cold War to a close. [...] After the Soviets left, Charlie kept fighting for the Afghan people and warned against abandoning that traumatized country to its fate — a warning we should have heeded then, and should remember today".

Born in Trinity, Texas, Wilson graduated from Trinity High School in 1951. While a student at Sam Houston State University, he was appointed to the United States Naval Academy. Between 1956 and 1960, Wilson served in the Navy, attaining the rank of lieutenant. After four years as a surface fleet officer, he was assigned to the Pentagon as part of an intelligence unit that evaluated the Soviet Union's nuclear capabilities.