Charlie Wilson did more than influence the Cold War - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Charlie Wilson did more than influence the Cold War

By Taylor Hemness - bio | email

Oscar winner Tom Hanks played Charlie Wilson in Charlie Wilson's War. When the movie came out, Hanks had a chance to describe the man he portrayed.

"I think Charlie Wilson is a fascinating example of how things can get done from the oddest quarters," Hanks said. "A no-good, do-nothing guy from a little section of Texas that doesn't mean anything. And in fact, a guy like that can change the world."

Early in his career, Wilson probably wasn't considered a congressman that could change the world.

He was widely regarded as a playboy, and that's how he was portrayed in the movie. But in the 1980s, he spear-headed a largely covert operation to supply the people of Afghanistan with weapons so they could fight the Russian army.

With his help, ten years after invading Afghanistan, the Russians retreated.

"We never claimed that we broke the back of the Soviet Union, or that we broke the back of the Red Army, but we broke their heart," Wilson said in a 2007 interview.

But that wasn't the role Wilson was proudest of.

Serving Texas' 2nd congressional district from 1972 to 1996, he introduced legislation that added more than 10 thousand acres to the Big Thicket National Preserve, and he changed an earmark that moved a veteran's clinic from its planned location, Tyler, to the city of Lufkin.

The new clinic, bearing his name, opened just last year. When he retired in 1996, he said he was going out exactly the way he wanted to.

"There are three ways to leave Congress, and only three," Wilson said. "You can be carried out feet first, and that doesn't really appeal to me. You can be defeated. I haven't had that experience yet, and I don't much want it. Or you can just decide that it's time, and get on with a new life."

Wilson was at a meeting Wednesday morning, when friends say he collapsed. Memorial Hospital in Lufkin, says he died of heart failure. He had a heart transplant in 2007.

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