James Schlesinger, U.S. defense secretary during 1973 Yom Kippur War

by | Apr 7, 2014 | Obituaries

James Schlesinger, the Jewish-born U.S. defense secretary who played a role in the emergency shipment of arms to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur war, has died.

Schlesinger, 85, of Arlington, Va., died March 27 of complications from pneumonia. He was born and raised in a Jewish home in New York, but converted to Lutheranism after a visit to Germany in 1950.

Schlesinger rose through the Nixon administration to become CIA director and then defense secretary, a role he had just assumed when the Yom Kippur War erupted. Egypt and Syria launched the war on Oct. 6, 1973, Yom Kippur, with surprise attacks. The United States airlifted arms a week later.

Some media reports at the time blamed Schlesinger for the delay, suggesting he was bowing to the oil lobby, but he vehemently denied it in an interview with JTA, saying he relayed the order as soon as he got the go-ahead from the White House.