other deaths of note


November 17, 2006

LEE GORDON, 84 Escaped Nazi prison

Lee "Shorty" Gordon, believed to be the first American prisoner of war to escape from a German prison camp during World War II, died Tuesday at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Menlo Park, Calif., of complications from recent stomach and kidney surgery.

Mr. Gordon had made two failed escape attempts from Stalag VIIA, including one on a bicycle while yelling the only German he knew, "Heil, Hitler."

He succeeded Oct. 13, 1943, according to historian Robert C. Doyle.

The Southern California native was serving as a ball turret gunner with the Army Air Corps' 305th Bomb Group when his B-17 was shot down over Wilhelmshaven, Germany, on Feb. 26, 1943. He survived the parachute landing, but was quickly captured by German troops, said his daughter, Cherie Gordon.

Mr. Gordon escaped after trading identification tags with an Australian prisoner of war to gain access to the outdoor work area of the Moosburg camp.

There he bribed guards with coffee and cigarettes and hid in a bathroom stall until dark. He then hopped a fence when a guard's back was turned and walked out of the camp, according to Doyle.

He rode freight trains to France, where he made contact with a Resistance group that helped him reunite with the Allied forces. More than a year later, on Feb. 27, 1944, Mr. Gordon arrived safely in England.

When Mr. Gordon returned to the United States, he became a minor celebrity, was awarded the Silver Star and sent around the country on a lecture circuit to boost morale and sell war bonds, his daughter said.

JOHN GILBERT, 67 Seattle actor, socialist

John Gilbert, an actor who was a presence in Seattle theater since the 1960s, died Nov. 7 from a combination of cancer and emphysema.

The son of a Unitarian minister, he was born in Bloomington, Ind. He studied drama at the University of Washington and, as soon as he graduated in 1963, became a regular at the newly formed Seattle Repertory Theater.

Mr. Gilbert was best known for his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in ACT Theatre's annual productions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

He played the role hundreds of times between 1976 and 1995, eloquently expressing the character's transformation from hostile miser to compassionate being, with terror, sorrow and confusion along the way.

Mr. Gilbert appeared on most Seattle stages during his career, and helped promote local theater.

A staunch socialist, he was rarely seen in public without political buttons and often performed with the Seattle Labor Chorus. In the 1980s, he focused on opposition to U.S. interventions in Central America.

He was arrested during a 1985 sit-in at the Federal Building in Seattle, where he and others were protesting a $1 billion appropriation for military aid to Central America. They received deferred sentences.

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