There were several things about our most recent Thanksgiving that were memorable, but for me, as a kid who grew up during the Cold War, one of them was the chance to learn about a hero from nearly 60 years ago that until recently, was nearly completely unknown. His name was Jim Dawson, and he was an insurance lawyer.
Mr. Dawson is portrayed by Academy Award winner Tom Hanks in the Steven Spielberg film Bridge of Spies, and while most folks who know me are aware that I am always in the corner of the ground pounder (Army soldier), or any member of our armed services that gives of themselves to keep us safe, there is another war that is sometimes fought through words that can be just as impressive, and deserves just as much gratitude.
Such was the case in 1960 when a U-2 spy plane was shot down at 70,000 feet over Russia, and Gary Powers was taken prisoner. I was just a little girl, but I remember it well. Germany had been divided, Berlin had a wall that would stay up until the Reagan administration, and we lived under the continual threat of a mushroom shaped cloud.
Backing up, Jim Dawson was involved in prosecuting the Nazi command at the Nuremburg trials. It was his idea to make the harrowing footage of the kinds of things that went on in the concentration camp available as part of his prosecutorial strategy, and it sealed the doom of 12 of them for war crimes. It is said that up until the showing of the film of bulldozers pushing bodies into ditches, Goring was confident he would skate on the case. No such luck, thanks to Jim Dawson.
Jim was the brilliant, low-key negotiator who was asked to defend the top KGB agent in America, Rudolph Abel, who was arrested for espionage. He even argued a part of his case before the Supreme Court of the United States, and Mr. Dawson paid a big price for it. His family was threatened, and as a Naval Commander, he had to endure being called a Commie, which, back in that day, was like being called a pedophile or a member of ISIS.
However, Jim had a hunch that someday an exchange of spies was going to be needed, and this would then insure that we would have leverage. It was actually to our advantage that the spy avoid the electric chair, because it gave us a bargaining chip should we need it, and we most certainly did. He then secured the exchange of Abel for Gary Powers, as well as another US spy. There was also an innocent econ student named Pryor, who was arrested by the East Germans for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Jim negotiated his release, too.
In fact, Jim was responsible for the rescue of close to 10,000 people in Cuba, managed to negotiate with Fidel Castro, and be an insurance lawyer (at least, that was his cover) while he worked for the CIA.
But, as amazing as all of that was, the guy was a genuine family man, who was able to maintain deep relationships with his kids, and who loved his wife. Jim never fired a shot, but he was a warrior. He managed to command the respect of Fidel Castro, John F Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy. As for me, in this season of gratitude, giving, and light, I am glad to be reminded once again of the prices that have been paid for my freedom, and the right to worship according to the dictates of my conscience is because of people like Jim Dawson.