Veterans Affairs

It takes a lot more than a bumper sticker to support the troops, says a crusty ex-Marine and best-selling author


Today, Winer's home sits on the New River, close enough to the Seventh Avenue drawbridge that the tenor sigh of tires on mesh wafts to his property. In the corner of the yard sits what appears to be a small shed; Winer says it is in fact Broward's first realty office, built in 1914, rescued from demolition. Near that is parked a red train caboose that Winer uses as a hurricane shelter, figuring that with 20 of the car's 25 tons situated beneath its floor, wind stands little chance of dislodging it. Beside the caboose is the house itself, a stout slab of a home that looks like a three-story pink birthday cake. He purchased the two-thirds-acre lot in 1972 for $18,000; the county's latest assessment values it at more than $1 million. Call him from the street and he answers his phone: "Hold on. I'll be down in as long as it takes for me to hobble down."

It takes the better part of ten minutes, as he takes short steps with his left leg and forces his fake right leg forward.

For all of Winer's adventures, daring death and courting calamity, he lost the leg in the service of Sailboat Bend. Soon after he moved to the neighborhood, he ran for City Council, finishing sixth, one place out of a seat. In those days, it was a citywide election, instead of by district, and he had the disadvantage of coming from an area without a great voting history, he says. As a charter member of the Sailboat Bend neighborhood association and its original president, he made no secret of his loathing of the pimps he says would use drugs to lure girls into prostitution.

"There was drugs and prostitution and all kinds of negative things happening with the running down of the neighborhood," says Chuck Willard, an 80-year-old Sailboat Bend resident. "It is combative when you're trying to displace the drug dealers who stand as close as a dance partner and say, 'I own your neighborhood, and you can't do anything about it. '"

One apartment building and a bar called the Rusty Anchor, on the grounds now home to the Broward County Performing Arts Center and the Symphony House condo, were particularly nefarious. "That bar was the wildest, nastiest bar in the city," says Smith, the former commissioner. "Constant dope deals, heroin addicts lying around the perimeter. People getting shot in there every other week. Winer just decided, one-man show, he wasn't going to take it any more.

"Before you know it, they put a bomb in his car."

Soon after leading what Winer says was an army of angry little old ladies from the neighborhood in demonstrations against the unsavory elements, in July of 1980, Winer clambered into his pickup truck, started the engine — and blew up. At the Broward General Medical Center, police read him his last rites. Winer decided this would be a lousy time and place to die; he just implored the doctors to keep his knee. They couldn't. He figures it was a pipe bomb stuck in the skid plate, beneath the transmission. No arrests were made.

Thus was christened Winer's third act, which so far has covered the past third of his life. A man whose leg has been forcibly removed in the service of his city need take no more guff than before; if anything, he is entitled to take less. "If I saved just one young woman from a life of prostitution...," he says today, trailing off. Though he had a more traditional prosthetic leg, he would, when feeling saucy, wear a wooden peg leg, like a pirate's, and keep the company of a dog named Tripod, who also was minus one leg.

He had earned enough from his documentary work and books to collect a few classic autos and railroad cars. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle recalls this peg-legged raconteur's going before the county commissioners over an ice cream parlor in downtown Fort Lauderdale that he had fashioned out of a railroad car. To comply with county codes, he fitted ramps on the car to make it wheelchair-accessible. Problem was, the car's doorways were so narrow that they wouldn't fit a regular wheelchair. Undeterred, Winer found a small, antique wheelchair that the bulkhead could accommodate. "One of the county commissioners challenged him on it: 'Well what if someone can't fit in the wheelchair?'" Naugle recalls, practically guffawing. "He said, 'Madam if someone can't fit into my wheelchair, they shouldn't be eating my ice cream. '" He ran the parlor until the county sold the land where he had it stationed.

Other clashes with elected officials were starker. In 1992, with his efforts for the Nininger statue seemingly stalled, Winer invited a retired brigadier general named Joseph McCarthy, a resident of Delray Beach, to address the City Commission in February. The man who had won a Congressional Medal of Honor for assembling and leading a demolitions and flamethrower team into enemy fortifications at the battle of Iwo Jima told the commission that he would have been proud to have had Nininger fighting beside him that day. As tears flowed around the room, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the statue. Winer spent the next 15 months drumming up donations for the project, mostly from elderly women who had lost a son or husband in the war. The dedication, on Memorial Day, featured a parade, a flyover by WWII bombers, the whole nine.

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