Before he became known as the father of artificial Christmas trees, Si Spiegel was a valiant Army aviator. In the closing days of World War II, he was piloting his B-17 Flying Fortress in an armada of 1,500 Allied bombers that pummeled Berlin. Struck by antiaircraft flak, two of the plane’s four engines lost power as Mr. Spiegel reversed course to return to England.
Rather than bail out over Germany and risk being captured as a prisoner of war — especially given that he was Jewish — Mr. Spiegel managed to crash-land in Soviet-occupied Poland. After being stuck there for weeks, he improvised a daring escape, using parts of his own plane to jury-rig another B-17 that had crashed nearby, then flying to an American base in Italy.