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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives



DATE:                       DECEMBER 22, 2015


SPONSORED BY:     Taylor Family Fund

CITATION:                William Sanchez Garey, December 22, 2015, OHC10900, p. xx from the Herbert and Esther Taylor Oral History Collection, Cuba Family Archives for Southern Jewish History at the Breman Museum, Atlanta, Georgia

Transcript (PDF)


William Garey was born on August 20, 1924 to a Jewish father, Harry Gottheimer, and Roman Catholic mother, Emily Sanchez. Garey’s mother left the Catholic Church upon marrying his father, but remained a Christian, eventually joining the Church of Christ, Scientist. Garey’s father kept his Jewish faith and attended Atlanta’s Hebrew Benevolent Society, better known as The Temple, mostly on the High Holidays. He worked as a traveling salesman for Montag Brothers Paper Company, a Jewish-owned business in Atlanta, and was also a member of the Standard Club, the city’s German Jewish social club. Despite their mixed heritage, the Garey family was subjected to anti-Semitism, which shaped his worldview and was a motivating factor to fight for Israel. When Garey’s older sister, Mavis, was getting ready to apply to Harvard University, the family decided to change the family name from the German Jewish name Gottheimer to Garey in order to hide their Jewish ancestry. Mavis excelled in classes and wanted to apply to Ivy League schools, but at the time a quota system existed at many institutions of higher education that only allowed a certain number of Jews to be admitted every year. The name change, along with the persistent anti-Semitic slurs uttered towards him in both the North and the South, likely played a role in Garey’s motivations to fight for Israel’s independence. Many other volunteers also wanted to defy stereotypes and provide a place where Jews were no longer a discriminated minority.

Garey graduated from The Pennington School in 1940 and attended Georgia Technical Institute the following year, majoring in electrical engineering. When America entered World War II, Garey left Georgia Tech and joined the United States Army Air Force because he wanted to be an aircraft gunner and shoot down Nazi planes over Europe. After conducting basic training in New Mexico, Garey found himself as a radio operator in a transport crew on DC-3s, B-29s, C-130s, and C-46s based in Marrakesh and later Egypt. As part of the Air Transport Command, he flew in cargo and passengers to the American and British forces that were pushing the Axis powers out of North Africa, Sicily, and eventually Italy. When Garey was stationed in Egypt, he would often use his leave to visit neighboring Palestine to relax. Garey’s experience in Arab countries and British-mandated Palestine would be a major factor in his decision to join the early Israeli Air Force (IAF). It is clear that Garey felt a connection to Palestine and the work the Jewish people were doing to build it into a modern, westernized state.

After World War II, Garey returned home and continued his studies at Georgia Tech. Once again, he disliked school and did not think he had the motivation for a higher education. He contacted a former pilot he flew with during World War II, Lieutenant Joseph Greenbaum, who told him about the fighting between Jews, Arabs, and British in Palestine, as well as the arms embargo placed on the region by the United States Government, aimed at stopping efforts to send war material to the unstable region. Although the Truman administration was in favor of a Jewish State, the state department believed Israel would be overrun by the Arab states and made it clear that any U.S. citizens who took up arms for Israel would lose their citizenship. Garey got involved and eventually received an airline ticket to New York where he worked with Al Schwimmer and Hyman Schectman (Shamir), two of the main figure heads and master organizers of the early IAF. Eventually, Garey was sent to Israel by way of Europe in Fall 1947. While in Europe, Garey worked with Xiel Federman to acquire leftover military supplies from World War II.

Although the war did not officially start until May 1948, it was clear that the Arab states would not allow a Jewish state to exist. The efforts of Federman and his agents, like Garey, helped secure the materials the forming Israeli Army and Air Force needed to defend the burgeoning state from an imminent attack from all sides by Arab nations. Garey arrived in Israel in April 1948 by way of Rhodes, which turned into a sixteen-hour flight since their illegal, clandestine trip had to evade British radar on Cyprus. Once in Israel, Garey was stationed mostly in Tel Aviv, establishing radio bases for the impending war. Garey was in Jerusalem when Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948 and endured bombing raids from the Egyptians.

In addition to scouring downed airplanes for equipment, Garey was stationed in the radio command bunkers near Tel Aviv during many battles of the war. By the time Garey was honorably discharged from the Israeli Air Force in November 1948, Israel had gained the advantage in the war and was advancing in the Golan Heights and the Negev. The official armistice would not come until the following year, but many volunteers felt comfortable leaving once Israel’s victory was assured and reinforcements arrived in the form of other volunteers and newly trained Israelis.

Although some of the volunteers stayed in Israel indefinitely after the war, such as Al Schwimmer and Garey’s own recruit, Harry Axelrod, the former having created Israel Aerospace Industries and the latter having worked for the company, Garey returned back home to the United States, even sharing a plane with Menachem Begin along the way. Garey would have stayed in Israel had Israel Aerospace Industries formed while he was still there and had there not been so much work to do in Israel to build a modern state. Getting back home proved to be difficult. The federal agents let Garey go, but kept his passport because he could not explain having only entry stamps and no exit stamps. He eventually acquired a new passport from Congressman John Davis of Georgia. Therefore, Garey not only risked his life fighting for Israeli independence, but also his citizenship as well. Al Schwimmer was not as fortunate as Garey and was only able to regain his citizenship in 2001 after intense lobbying by the son of another convicted smuggler for Israel, Hank Greenspun, resulted in a pardon from President Bill Clinton.

Garey visited his sister in New York, but soon returned to Atlanta where he worked as a TV repairman for Rich’s, a Jewish-owned department store that grew into the largest in the Southeast. He later worked at Lockheed as a flight electronic engineer for twenty-six years, working on B-29s, B-47s, and C-130s. He never finished his degree at Georgia Tech. He married Myrtle Walker in 1950 and had three children. Ironically, Garey became a Christian after the war. Garey’s short-lived involvement in the Jewish community essentially ended when he left Israel.



Garey discusses his childhood and upbringing in an interfaith household in Atlanta, Georgia, and the anti-Semitism his family experienced. He discusses his family genealogy and how they settled in Georgia. Garey talks about his primary education in Atlanta and the Pennington School in New Jersey, as well as his secondary education at Georgia Tech. Of special note is Garey’s discussion of his experience in World War II and Israel’s War of Independence. Garey served as a radio operator in both conflicts. He discusses his influences for participating in both wars.

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