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Marine Vignettes 94-97

By "Sully"
November 27, 1999
This ain't gonna be another "Where I was when JFK was assassinated story."  I promise you, although that is the way it's going to start because some rather interesting things happened right out of the box.  And there ain't many times when a very little guy like me gets a chance to see what would become the hottest documents relating to the Kennedy assassination before any other person in Washington got to see them.  That's right.  Before LBJ and even RFK.  And you, the readers, are going to have to pay attention because at the very end I'm going to have a question for you.  In spite of all the jillions of investigations, and the millions of pages written about the
assassination, I'm going to put a slant on one little tiny angle of the puzzle that I don't know that anyone has ever illuminated before.

The 22nd of January, 1963 began benignly enough.  I hadn't gotten home until 0100 of that morning and slept in while my two teen age daughters got off to their high school, and my wife, Mary Jane, to her job as Director of Guidance and Counseling at Cooper Junior High School, just down the hill from Hickory Hill, the residence of RFK
and his brood.  I used to kid her, because the Kennedy's dog sometimes followed children to school.  Of course they weren't RFK's kids.  Rich liberals don't send their kids to public schools.  RFK's kids were enrolled elsewhere. But anyway on occasion Mary Jane would get stuck with the job of bringing the Kennedy's dog home, with her
car, and on her gas money.  On occasion she would even be invited in for a cup of tea, usually in the kitchen, but she did meet Ethel on one occasion.  Rubbing elbows with the rich and famous yet....but....

I really don't recall when I woke up that morning.  It was and would be for another few hours, just another day.  But my routine was to have breakfast and then apply myself to whatever project we had going around the house.  I had to leave to get back on the job by 3:15 in the afternoon.  Pretty weird hours, you say?  Standing the 4 to 12 wasn't the half of it.

In June of '61 I had been ordered to Headquarters Marine Corps from The George Washington University where I had spent the previous year earning my AB degree on the Bootstrap Program.  The Marine Corps had the largest pool of officers without college degrees of any of the services, and was having a hard time filling staff billets that
had the prerequisite for a college degree.  So I had scraped three years of credit together and was admitted to Bootstrap and obtained my degree.  One academic year off, with full pay, and all you had to do was figure how to pay the tuition and buy your books.

Should mention that also in June of '61 the Pentagon and HQMC, where I was a new arrival, were still shaking from the fallout from the Bay of Pigs.  One of the first people I met is the Colonel that all the books on the Bay of Pigs refer to this day as "the shadowy Marine Logistics Colonel."  So I know who he is and I ain't gonna tell you.
So don't ask.  I will tell you that he sure enjoyed being considered "shadowy."  Matter of fact, he rejoiced in it.

So when I arrived in Headquarters I was assigned to AO4J, Plans & Operations Department, G-4 Division.  Hell, I wasn't any G-4 type.  I was an operator and had spent all my time as a troop commander or in operations billets. My billet title was "Joint Strategic Plans Officer," and "Top Secret Control Officer" for the G-4 Division.  I couldn't
hardly say "Joint Strategic Plans Officer" with a straight face, and here I was one.  Oh well.  My Assignment Officer insisted it would broaden my career.

During this same period it was necessary to create a new staff function.  This was caused by CMC's role with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Now you see, contrary to popular belief, CMC isn't a member of the JCS.  He has his picture taken with them once a year and the caption always says "The Joint Chiefs of Staff" but that's pure baloney and is what leads to the confusion.  He does have co-equal status with the other Chiefs on any matter of direct concern to the Marine Corps.  And the Marine Corps, and only the Marine Corps determines when that is.  (Heh-Heh.  Sure snuck that one past 'em.)  Anyway CMC's role mandated that he hold certain publications, and these are so
classified that if I were to tell you what they were I'd have to track you down and kill you.

Anyway, this new staff function began with the moniker "Emergency Actions Center."  Like all new agencies in Headquarters they had to scrounge equipment and furniture where they could get it and for the first year of their existence their spaces looked like a cross between Salvation Army East and the Ten Worst Garage Sales You Ever
Attended.  But they did have safes with you know what in them.  Actually, you'd better not know what.  I done warned you once, and you know the story about the mule and the bride....

In my role as TS Control Officer for the G-4 Division I had a certain amount of business with the EAC, and got to know the Director and Staff quite well.  About that point, for personal reasons, I decided to extend my tour in HQMC by one year.  My extension was approved, and I was transferred to the EAC for duty.  Except it was no longer the EAC.  They now had brand new quarters next to 2209, the Commandant's Conference Room.  I want you to know this cost megabucks, and looked as though designed by the same dude who did the command module for Star Trek.   All we needed was some of them there Space Kaydets of the feminine persuasion flitting about.  How did the Marine Corps ever come up with that kind of money you may well ask?  The only thing we could figure is that Dave Shoup, our Commandant, sat next to Curt Le May, Air Force Chief of Staff, in the "Tank" where the JCS met, and Dave must have picked Curt's pocket.  Those Air Force types had lots of money, always buying billion
dollar airplanes and getting flight pay, etc.  We always used to say that we didn't question aviators getting flight pay, they earned it.  But what in the heck did they do to earn their base pay?

And we even had ourselves a new name:  The Marine Corps Command Center.  Now doesn't that sound precious? Of course, if you're really in on the know, you realize that CMC commands very few Marines directly.  All the fighting forces are assigned OpCon to the CINCs and the Unified or Specified Commanders.  But let that go.

My job in the MCCC was strictly entry level  slave labor.  I was to head a Watch Team.  These teams consisted of an officer as Team Head, usually a Captain or a Major, a SSgt Team Chief, and a Sergeant clerk.  The Major's chief job was to read every incoming message and JCS document and decide whether any demanded action before the
beginning of the next working day.  If so he'd rout out the personnel necessary to deal with the problem.  He also wrote written briefs certain messages of wide Marine Corps interest that came in during his watch, and the 0001-0800 Watch Team put these into a MCCC Daily SitRep, which back in '63 seldom was anything more than Secret in classification.  Actually, the front page of the Washington Post had more classified stuff than our SitReps.  The MCCC was a beehive during the day when HQMC was working, although it took a special pass to enter because we had certain Status of Forces information always on display, and well as DEFCON conditions worldwide.  We also had our "Go To War Teletype" installed in one corner, and I ain't gonna tell you nothin' more 'bout that because.... you know....

Normally there were five watch teams.  You began your cycle with two 0800-1600 watches, which meant that the oncoming Watch Officer hit the office at 0600 and made the Pentagon Run where he visited the National Military Command Center, Navy Flag Plot, and the Air Force and the Army War Rooms, respectively.  We'd bring over
information on Marine Corps troop movements that they had requested, exchange the daily SitReps, and acquire the latest on what everyone else was up to, and be back in HQMC by 0800 to relieve the watch.  After standing two day watches you got a 24 hour break and your next watch began at 1600 the day after you'd finished your second day watch.  Then two afternoon (1600-2400) watches, and another 24 hour period off.  Then back on for two days of the mid watch (0001-0800).  Then you crawled home and if you were lucky you slept for 24 hours, which was fine because you had three days off before you went back on cycle.  The MCCC, as were all the other
Command Centers, was a suspended steel box, which had more air conditioners than a dog has fleas because of the heat generated by the various types of electronic gear, and with no visual reference to whether it was night or day.  We did everything by GMT (Zulu) time and adjusting back to a normal world was enough to make a paranoid schizophrenic out of the most stable person in the world.  You could tell new Watch Team Members easily since they had all the outward manifestations of being a Zombie with a terminal head cold because of the air conditioning that turned the MCCC into an arctic wind tunnel.

Ok, ok.  I know that this is supposed to be about JFK.  I'm just settin' the stage.  I'm getting to it.  Dong e dong, as we used to say in North China or Chote matte, wo kudasai, dozo, as the Japanese would have it.

Anyway, there I was on November 22, '63 working on my project of the moment.  This happened to be a bar that I was building in our downstairs rec room.  The top was about the size of a jeep carrier, and I was thinking of registering it with the Navy in case of a National Emergency.  All it would have needed was a catapult and arresting gear.  I always had the radio turned on and at about 1330 Washington time I caught someone saying something about Kennedy being shot.  OK, you've been patient.  Now listen to this.  I picked up the telephone and called Carl Youngquist, the officer I'd be relieving in a couple of hours and told him what I'd heard and he sounded puzzled but said to hold and he'd check with the National Military Command Center.  In the meantime I could hear more gibberish from the radio talking about the president having been shot.  Carl came back on the phone and told me that the NMCC had no information, and I held the phone up to the radio so he could hear what was going on, and he quickly signed off.  [Note:  I do a lot of kidding around in this piece, but the foregoing is not a part of the joke.]

The question before the house is this:  Who had their finger on the nuclear trigger during the some thirty minutes between the time JFK was head shot, and the time he was declared clinically dead.  The NMCC didn't know, at least at the time I called, that there was a problem.  Had the assassination actually been a Russian plot, and they were to launch at the moment of assassination, their missiles would have been impacting prior to anyone putting their finger on the nuclear button.  And of course, we know that when LBJ left Parkland and a Warrant Officer trotted up to him and told him that he had the "football" that LBJ had never ever been briefed on SIOP or the codes that would activate certain targeting alternatives.  The contents of that "football" were the same contained in the safes I referenced above.  Every Watch Officer in every major headquarters in the entire cotton picking blue-eyed world inventoried that material every time he went on watch.  Every Watch Team had to correctly respond with the
correctly coded materials several times per week when the SIOP warning system was exercised.  And LBJ, the Vice President of the US had never even been briefed as to what the "football" contained or the implications thereof and he was one heartbeat from being President.  Boggles the mind and you've got to wonder if anyone was
running that railroad.

To get back to my narrative and abandon the doomsday scenario,  I then called my Ever-Loving at her school, and told her what I'd heard.  About a minute into the conversation the line went dead.  You may have heard that the thousands of telephone calls that were made in the first few minutes after the initial announcement that JFK had
been shot knocked out the Washington telephone system.  I'm here to tell you that is the God's truth.  Whatever.

For once our kids came home before I went to work, and they were all upset because of the assassination.  All the schools it seemed were closing early, although by the time I left home at 1515 my Goodwife had not yet returned. The MCCC appeared totally normal when I entered to relieve the watch.   I asked Carl if there was anything uch
new, and he answered in the negative.  So I grinned and asked if we had a new Commander in Chief, and he grinned back and acknowledged that we did.

Sometime just about the time I was making the relief there was a radio bulletin saying that someone named Oswald had been captured after he had shot and killed a policeman in Dallas.  The initial reports indicated that this was an isolated incident with no connection to the Kennedy assassination.  Most of the staff of HQMC by that time were
gathered around various radios in the building, and the name Oswald meant nothing to 99.9% of them.  But there were people in the Personnel Department to whom that name meant a bunch.  And here's where you really have to pay attention.

There were officers in Personnel to whom the name "Oswald" was synonymous to "Pain in the Rectum."  They had written over the years tens of letters and answered questions by the score about that dude.  Oswald was bad news in spades.  I'm sure they thought oh, no, not that bad penny again.  Whatever.  There was no hint in the initial
reportage of the policeman's shooting that Oswald was connected with the JFK assassination, if you'll recall. Anyway, one of the officers in Personnel, just about quitting time at 1630 picked up the phone and got the Kansas City Records Depository on the line and asked that they work a few minutes extra to pull Lee Harvey Oswald's file and forward it to HQMC.  He was assured it would be done.  The Personnel officer's  reasoning was that the records would arrive at HQMC by Monday morning, and should anyone want access to them because of the policeman thing the Personnel Department would not be found wanting.  And that was how it was at quitting time
for HQMC on that Friday, 22 November, 1963.

About an hour later there was a bulletin that made a possible tie in between the shooting of the policeman, Oswald, and the assassination of the president.  The boys in the various intel agencies and the FBI pricked up their ears and suddenly the records, all the records, and more particularly the Marine Corps' records on Lee Harvey Oswald became the hottest property on the planet.

Well, because of the foresight of that blessed Personnel Officer it would be no problem to produce those records. Right?  Wrong!  Why?  Because those records were now safely ensconced in the hands of those faithful carriers who in spite of the gloom of night and heat of day delivered the mail.  Put another way, the records were in an envelope somewhere in the bowels of the Kansas City Post Office.  What to do, What to do?

Easy.  Get every employee of the Kansas City Postal Department down in those bowels and root around until they had by God found that needle in the haystack.  And that's what they did.  Concurrently someone in the Marine Corps had arranged for a jet aircraft to fly from Anacostia to the Kansas City Airport and stand by until that blessed envelope was found.  Now don't get technical on me, I don't know what kind of jet aircraft.  They all look the same to me.  Damn it, I'm an infantryman and don't know one bloody thing about no airplanes except that I told Wilbur and Orville both they
wouldn't work.  Look at CNN any time of the day or night and you'll see pictures of airplanes Not Working.

As I understand it sometime earlier than you would think possible one of the proctologists in the bowels of the Kansas City Post Office shouted Eureka! and the envelope was turned over to the office that had placed it the Postal Department to begin with, and rushed out to the airport and onto the waiting jet.

Now, up until this time the MCCC had been kept completely out of the picture, which is just as I would have it be. But our time in the spotlight, our fifteen minutes of fame that Andy Warhol talked about, was upon us.  The Marine Personnel People who met the jet at Anacostia were tasked to deliver it to the Watch Officer, and only the
Watch Officer of the MCCC.  Hey!  That was me!  My orders were to open the envelope, extract the contents, and make a copy for CMC.  Then call a certain number at the White House and deliver the envelope to a courier who would be sent over to pick it up.

In the meantime I was to keep the Command Center clear of any and all visitors, and even if J. Edgar Hoover showed up as Mary, in a red dress, not admit him/her/it under any conditions.  At that point I activated two of our Sergeants who were unmarried and were billeted in the nearby barracks at Henderson Hall.  Only in the daytime did we keep a watch on the entry door and secure space adjacent to it that secured the actual entrance to the MCCC.
The Sergeants arrived, and I armed them with 45s and gave them their marching orders.  No one, and that meant absolutely no one, was to be admitted to the MCCC with the single exception of the White House Courier, and I would personally check his credentials prior to admittance.  Anyone else was to be terminated, with prejudice, by letting the air out of them.

In the meantime the telephone calls began.  The FBI demanded the records.  The CIA demanded the records....and it went on and on.  The Naval Intelligence folks were particularly insistent and plead on the basis that since we were all naval officers and all that they deserved first crack.  I told him the last time a squid officer had done me a favor was in 1950, and I'd think it over for thirteen years and let him know.  It was great fun telling all of them to not pass go, not collect $50.00, but instead go directly to Hell.  Of course, since all were my seniors, I had to say ".....Hell, Sir."  A once in a lifetime opportunity.  About 2100 the envelope arrived.  I signed a receipt for it, sat down at the Assistant Director's desk and opened it.  Now I bet you think I'm gonna tell you what was in it.

Of course I am.  You've been patient this long, and that's the least I could do for a good audience.  The folder was not all that thick, maybe three-quarters of an inch.  Most of the contents were letters from Oswald to the Secretary of the Navy pleading for an upgrading of his discharge, and the Secretary of the Navy writing back telling why he wouldn't upgrade it.  There were letters from the State Department having to do with Oswald's return from the USSR.  There was also Oswald's Service Record Book.  Lots of Article 15 Non Judicial Punishments, a copy of an investigation having to do with possession of an illegal weapon of some sort, and other assorted trivia.  One thing stood out loud and clear.  Oswald was a bum.  There was nothing really interesting.  But, by God, only I in all the world knew that there was not much of interest there.  Let the rest of mankind wait and wonder.  Andy Warhol, where were you when I needed you?

By that time Dan Blather and the other media types were talking about Oswald being trained by the Marine Corps as a sharpshooter, and other such trash, but when I took a look at his range scores there must have been a typhoon that came through every time he fired for record because the scores were quite unexceptional.  In
accordance with my orders, I made a copy of everything for the Commandant.  In violation of my orders I also made a copy for the Director of the Command Center.  Charity does begin at home.  And there ain't nothin' ya can do 'bout it 'cause the statute of limitations has done run.  So there!  At or before 2200 the Courier from the White
House arrived and after I had exchanged certain means of identifying him over the telephone, I delivered the envelope to him, got a signature, and escorted him past the various cloak and dagger types lurking in the hallways and gnashing their teeth and back to his limousine waiting for him at the entrance.  And that's pretty much the size of it.  The alarm clock rang, and my 15 minutes of fame were over.  Sigh.

Now, let's see if you've been paying attention.  Who was the Secretary of the Navy whom Oswald had written to so often and been turned down so often by?  Oh?  You know?  Good for you!  You're quite right, it was John Connolly.  Now, a tougher question:  Who was Oswald aiming at?  And how can you prove it, since he hit both
men in the vehicle, killing one and damned near killing the other.  Let me ask you a question:  in all the stuff that I've read on the assassination I have never heard the question above raised before--Have you?  Is it possible that Oswald was taking out his old adversary on the discharge issue, and JFK just happened to get in the sight picture?

As a strictly personal aside, I do believe in the Warren Report conclusion of the single assassin theory, although I don't think they got it quite right about which bullet hit whom.   But that's a minor flaw IMHO.  Only one thing that bothers me a bit.  I don't believe that any trained rifleman would have used a scope with a bolt action rifle.  And especially not with the angles that Oswald had to contend with.  Each time Oswald fired and cranked the bolt he would have had to reacquire the sight picture, and that is much more difficult with a scope than over iron, open sights.  And Oswald did belong to a rifle team while living in Russia....and the beat goes on.

You've heard the old saw that if 10,000 monkeys sat down at 10,000 typewriters that in 10,000 years they might produce a perfect copy of Quo Vadis?  Could it be that monkey perched in the 5th story window of the Texas Book Depository got it right the first time?  It's statistically possible, you know....

I thank you for your attention.
Semper Fidelis,

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