Seven Days in November 1963 tells how Lee Harvey Oswald, the president’s assassin, and Jack Ruby, the man who would kill Oswald two days later on live national television, both have their own twisted, delusional motives for committing acts of violence. It also explores how the investigation into the assassination was compromised by American intelligence agencies that omitted vital information to protect themselves from responsibility or blame for the president’s death, Thus leading to decades of confusion and conspiracy theories about what actually happened.
The prisoners in the fifth-floor holding cell at the county jail on Houston Street had a perfect view of the president’s motorcade as it passed directly beneath them. They twisted their necks and pressed their faces against the bars of the holding cell’s two windows to get a better view of the president’s limousine as it rounded the corner and slowly headed west onto Elm Street. The president himself was less than a hundred yards away. The prisoners had a clear view of him and the first lady as they waved to the thousands of cheering Dallas citizens who had lined the streets around Dealey Plaza to greet them when the first shot rang out.
“Damn, what was that?” the prisoner with the best view said to his cellmates as hundreds of startled pigeons scattered from their perches on top of the downtown buildings.
“That was a rifle, man,” said another prisoner. As they pushed their faces against the bars even harder to see where the shooting was coming from, they heard the crack of a second shot and recognized the unmistakable sound of a high-powered rifle.
“Look, look up there, across the street!” screamed another prisoner, who could see a rifle protruding from the open upstairs window of the warehouse on the corner at Elm Street. Just then, a third and final shot pierced the air.
“Jesus Christ!” shouted some of the prisoners who had their eyes on the president in his limousine.
“What the hell is going on?”
“His head exploded just like a watermelon!” yelled another prisoner.
“Did you guys see that? Damn!”
The prisoners screamed for the guards and banged on the jail bars and windows as they pointed across to the large warehouse on Elm Street. Down on the street, the city’s celebratory mood had turned to one of confusion, hysteria, and fear. The boyishly handsome president, who had been smiling just moments before, now lay dying in the arms of his stunned wife.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, has remained a tragic mystery to the majority of Americans for the past five decades. The assassination itself was not born of any conspiracy, but the characters and events leading up to that dreadful day during the height of Cold War tensions were very complex and confusing. Adding to the complexity and confusion were our own US intelligence agencies, which omitted vital information, either out of self-interested concern with protecting their sources and methods and avoiding blame for the president’s assassination or from genuine fear of creating another confrontation with Cuba and the Soviet Union on the heels of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. The answer probably lies somewhere between the two.
Nonetheless, in the end, there were definite motivating factors that tell the story of the assassination of the president and of the murder of his assassin just two days later. A few of the most relevant facts and events immediately before and after the assassination are as follows.
On Wednesday, September 25, 1963, two months before the assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald boarded a Continental Trailways bus in New Orleans. Two days later, on Friday morning, September 27, he arrived in Mexico City aboard a Flecha Roja bus with a Mexican tourist visa and a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver in his pocket. The purpose of his trip was to secure a transit visa at the Cuban consulate in Mexico City and defect to Cuba to work and fight for his hero, Fidel Castro. Travel to Cuba from the United States by US citizens had been prohibited earlier in 1963, only a few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Oswald had no intention of returning to the United States once he was in Cuba.
Seven days later, on Thursday, October 3, Oswald, bitterly disappointed and frustrated, arrived back in Dallas a beaten man. He had failed to achieve his dream of defecting to Cuba and joining Castro’s Marxist revolution. But during his seven days in Mexico City, the former marine and defector to the Soviet Union had been busy. He had visited the Cuban consulate and Soviet embassy on numerous occasions in his frantic attempt to secure a Cuban visa. Then, trying a different approach, he fell in with a group of Mexican Marxists in hopes of finding a Cuban sponsor for his visa so he could bypass the Soviet embassy altogether. Oswald also found the time to have an extramarital affair with a married Mexican national, Sylvia Duran, who was employed by the Cuban consulate and who shared his love of Cuba and Marxism. Duran was sympathetic to Oswald’s desire to get to Cuba and, in her capacity as a consulate employee, tried to help him find a sponsor and secure a Cuban visa. Without question, Oswald’s failure in Mexico City had a profound effect on his future actions when he returned to the United States, and his activities while he was there would have a chilling effect on US government decisions after the assassination.1
It is the author’s belief that Oswald was kept under constant surveillance in Mexico City by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Mexican Intelligence (Gobernacion), or Cuban intelligence services—or perhaps by all three. After all, Oswald was an ex-marine who already had a CIA 201 personality file based on his earlier defection to the Soviet Union. The existence of intelligence dossiers on Oswald’s movements and activities, including photographs, in Mexico City has never been acknowledged or revealed by any of these governments and in all likelihood never will be. They may have even been destroyed. The most plausible explanation for burying or destroying these files was to protect CIA intelligence sources and methods, and it is highly probable that the woman with whom Oswald had an affair was at one time a CIA source, or informer, and in all likelihood was still considered a CIA asset when she met him. Thus, his relationship with this woman, Sylvia Duran, compromised the CIA’s ability to tell all it knew about his stay in Mexico City.2
On Tuesday, November 12, 1963, less than six weeks after his return from Mexico City, Lee Harvey Oswald, extremely upset and agitated, walked into the downtown offices of the Dallas Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and asked to see one of its agents. Upon being told that the agent was at lunch, Oswald angrily threw a handwritten, signed note addressed to the agent onto the desk. The note warned the agent to stop harassing his wife, Marina, a Russian citizen, and threatened the FBI that he would take action against them if they persisted. Oswald’s visit to the FBI and his threatening, signed note only ten days before the assassination were not publicly revealed by a compromised FBI for twelve years. More important, they demonstrate that Oswald had no plans to assassinate the president before November 12.3
As frustrated as Oswald may have been when he returned to the United States in early October, he had not completely given up hope of defecting to Cuba. On or about Tuesday, November 12, the same day he visited the FBI offices in Dallas, Oswald sent a letter to the Soviet embassy in Washington, DC, asking for help in speeding up his request for a Soviet visa so that he could acquire a Cuban transit visa. In the letter, he informed them of his frustrated attempts at their embassy in Mexico City only weeks before and described his anger with both the FBI for harassing his wife and the Cuban consulate in Mexico City for denying his transit visa. In all probability, had Oswald been granted a Soviet visa, he would have returned to Mexico City and tried to complete his defection to Cuba. However, the Soviet Union had dealt with him before and was not about to issue a visa to a man whom they considered mentally unstable.
Six days later, on Monday, November 18, President John F. Kennedy gave a fateful speech in Miami. He spoke to a large gathering of Cuban exiles and delegates of the Latin-American Press Association, which represented newspapers throughout Latin America. The topic of the president’s speech concerned Cuba’s role in Latin America, but in reality, it was a fiery anti-Castro political speech that encouraged the internal overthrow of the Cuban regime with the promise of American support. Kennedy was attempting to appease the exiles after their bitter disappointment with the Bay of Pigs fiasco.4
The next day, Tuesday, November 19, the conservative Dallas Times Herald ran a front-page story of the president’s Miami speech under the bold headline: “Kennedy Virtually Invites Cuban Coup.” Oswald, who was a voracious reader of newspapers and anything to do with Cuba, most certainly saw this headline and read the article with intense interest. In the same newspaper that day was an article about President Kennedy’s upcoming campaign visit to Dallas on Friday; it was accompanied by a detailed map of the route his motorcade would take through downtown Dallas. The map showed that the president would pass directly in front of the Texas School Book Depository, where Oswald had been hired only a month before as a clerk filling book orders.
Three days later, on Friday, November 22, 1963, in downtown Dallas, Oswald, while perched in a sixth-floor window of the book depository, assassinated President John F. Kennedy using a high-powered rifle.
On Saturday, November 23, the day after the assassination and eleven days after Oswald’s visit to the Dallas FBI offices, Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby walked into the same FBI office and also asked to see one of its agents. Ruby, a police and FBI informant, had an irrational theory about the president’s assassination and was seeking information as well as offering information he had collected regarding the assassination.5
The following morning, Sunday, November 24, a distraught and delusional Ruby intentionally sneaked into the basement of the Dallas city jail where he shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald in cold blood before a live national television audience.
The above litany of dates and events spanning the two months before Kennedy’s assassination and Oswald’s death are important for understanding the complexities of the assassination and how the subsequent investigation was compromised. Had either Oswald’s probable CIA surveillance in Mexico City and his later contact with the FBI or Ruby’s relationship with the FBI and his likely visit to their offices been fully revealed by either intelligence agency in the aftermath of the president’s assassination, both the CIA and the FBI would have faced a political nightmare and been accused of gross incompetence. But, had this information been revealed, the American public would have been closer to the truth of what probably happened and, more important, why it happened.
The omission of important facts and the placing of the intelligence agencies’ sources and methods above the truth resulted in the absence of any reasonable non-conspiracy-based interpretation of the assassination being offered to the public. Gerald Posner’s 1993 Case Closed,6 which debunks many, if not all, of the conspiracy theories, remains the best and most credible study ever written on the assassination. However, it does not attempt to tell the story of why the president and Oswald were killed during that tragic week in Dallas.
Seven Days in November 1963 attempts to present a plausible story of the assassination of the president and the killing of his assassin by focusing on the motives of the killers, Oswald and Ruby. The story begins on November 18 and concludes seven days later on November 24. It argues that Lee Harvey Oswald, frustrated and angry—but rational—acted entirely on his own as a de facto agent of Castro and Marxist Cuba. He was not acting as an official agent of any government, nor was he a patsy for a complicated conspiracy. And two days after the assassination, a confused and delusional Dallas nightclub owner, Jack Ruby, irrationally acting on his own misguided beliefs and assumptions and not part of any conspiratorial cover-up, shot and killed Oswald.
By mid-November 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald was an embittered, twenty-four-year-old man who believed he was smarter and more deserving than other people—a man who desperately wanted recognition but got none. He was separated from his wife and their two young daughters and lived alone in a small room in a rooming house a few miles south of downtown Dallas. He felt trapped. He was a mean, abusive husband in an unhappy marriage, unable to provide for his young family with a series of menial, dead-end jobs; he had failed to find happiness or the recognition he thought he deserved in the Soviet Union and had been rebuffed in his last ditch attempt to defect to Cuba and fight for his Marxist hero, Fidel Castro; he had been given an “undesirable” discharge by the Marine Corps because he had renounced his American citizenship when he defected to the Soviet Union; and he now believed the FBI was following and harassing him and his family and that they would never stop.
Oswald was a sociopath, a friendless man devoid of empathy, who thought nothing of killing another human being if it helped him achieve his own ends. So, on Tuesday, November 19, 1963, Oswald realized he would be given an opportunity to commit an unconscionable act of violence that would free him from his miserable, delusional life, and he took it.
Chapter 1: Monday, November 18, 1963
On a chilly, wet Monday morning in the quiet residential neighborhood of Oak Cliff, a few miles southwest of downtown Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald arose early as usual. He opened the French doors of his small room, which was no bigger than a large closet, and stumbled barefoot down the cold hallway floor of the rooming house. Oswald was rather small in build, barely five foot nine inches and less than 150 pounds, but he was wiry and deceptively strong. His deep-blue eyes set off his ordinary looks, and although he was only twenty-four years old, his light-brown hair was already thinning.
Now he had to call his wife, Marina, from the telephone he shared with the other tenants of the rooming house. The Oswalds were living apart; their marriage had been a difficult, sometimes even violent one ever since they arrived in the United States the year before. Oswald was ashamed that he had been unable to provide a decent living for his wife and their two young daughters, two-year-old June and one-month-old Rachel, who lived with their mother six miles away in Irving, Texas. There, they shared a house with Marina’s only real friend, Ruth Paine, who was also separated from her husband, and her own two young children.
When Marina finally answered the phone, she was sleepy but already upset and angry with her husband. “Where were you last night, Lee?” she demanded in her native Russian. “I called the number you gave me for emergencies, and a lady told me there was no Lee Oswald living there. What’s going on? Where are you?”
“I’m at the rooming house, and I was here last night,” said Lee in his broken Russian, the only language he used when speaking to his wife and children. “That was Mrs. Roberts you talked to, my landlady. I told you never to call me here, only in emergencies. Why did you call? Is there something wrong?”
“No, nothing’s wrong. I just wanted to talk to you. I felt bad because you didn’t come by this past weekend to see me and the girls.”
Marina only included herself to be polite. She did not really love Lee anymore, and he didn’t love her either. They had both come from broken homes and were so lonely that they needed each other; she needed him because she was a foreigner and he was the father of her children, and he needed her because she was the only one left who could tolerate him.
“I know you were upset, Lee, but why did your landlady tell me you didn’t live there?”
“Because I used another name,” Lee confessed.
Marina paused. “What name?”
“O. H. Lee.”
Marina became incensed again. “But why did you do that? How was I to know? Why do you need another name?”
Now Oswald’s anger began to rise. He did not like explaining himself. “I didn’t want the FBI to know where I lived, that’s why. Don’t you understand?”
“No, no. I don’t understand. That’s crazy. The FBI isn’t looking for you, Lee. When will all your foolishness end? First, it’s one thing, then another, and now it’s this fictitious name. Please stop all this, please. You’re a father of two small children. This has to stop,” demanded Marina.
But Oswald was not listening. The last thing he wanted now was to fight with his wife. Their relationship had improved slightly since his return from Mexico City in early October when he had attempted to defect to Cuba, but his improved attitude toward Seven Days in November 1963 3 his wife and their marriage was a mask; it was not because he had decided to be a better husband and father but because of the guilt he felt for his recent affair with a woman he met while he was in Mexico City. Their affair was brief, but it had made a significant impact on Oswald. It was not surprising then that before long he again became distracted and indifferent to Marina and their marriage, and they began to live apart when he went to work in Dallas. And now he was angry that Marina had found out about his alias.
“You’re wrong,” Lee insisted. “The FBI is interested in where I am. I know they keep track of me. They visited you twice a few weeks ago and asked you about me, didn’t they?”
“Yes, but you know I didn’t tell them anything because I don’t know where you live or what your address is. All I had was this telephone number, and I didn’t give it to them,” said Marina.
“Well, that’s good,” said Lee, “because I don’t want them bothering me or Mrs. Roberts and asking questions. If she knows the FBI is interested in me, she’ll tell me to leave. You know what the FBI is like. It’s like the gestapo.”
“No, I don’t know. The men who came here just asked questions and left. The FBI is not interested in you anymore, and they’re not following you now. You’re just imagining all this. They interviewed you twice before because you defected and then returned; that’s all,” Marina pleaded with her husband.
“No. You’re wrong,” Lee said. “If they knew I lived here, they would come here, too, and only make trouble for me.”
“Lee, please stop thinking like that. They told me they would not bother you.”
“Marina, I don’t want to argue with you. Just promise me that if they come to see you again, you won’t tell them anything. I want to be left alone. Promise me, okay?”
“Yes, of course, I promise. You know I wouldn’t tell them anything. But when are you going to stop all this craziness? You’re scaring me,” said Marina.
Her husband did not want to talk anymore. “Marina, everything will be better soon, but don’t call here again unless it’s an emergency. And if you do, ask for ‘O. H. Lee,’ all right?”
Marina agreed reluctantly, and they said good-bye.
Oswald was not imagining things. The FBI was still interested in him. Two days after he returned to the United States from the Soviet Union with Marina and little June in July 1962, the FBI, as was their custom for a returned defector, contacted him and requested that he come to their office in downtown Dallas for an interview. Oswald was extremely defensive during the interview, and it did not go well. Two months later, the FBI interviewed him again outside a small bungalow that he and Marina were renting in Irving, Texas. Oswald was less defensive and agreed to inform the FBI if any Soviet agents tried to contact him. After this second meeting, the FBI saw no potential danger from Oswald and recommended that his file be closed.
Then, in early November 1963, FBI agents stopped by Ruth Paine’s home on West Fifth Street in Irving, Texas, twice looking for him. Oswald’s FBI file had been reopened, and they wanted to know Oswald’s current whereabouts. The agents found only Mrs. Paine and Marina at home, and after brief, chilly interviews, neither woman could tell the agents where Oswald lived in Dallas.
Oswald walked down the empty hallway of the quiet rooming house and returned to his small bedroom to dress for work. The small five-by-fourteen-foot room consisted of a single bed with a thin mattress; a large, paint-chipped dresser; and a nightstand with a lamp next to the bed. Neatly stacked on top of the dresser were a few library books, some local newspapers, issues of the Socialist newspapers the Militant and the Worker, and his Time magazines. The walls were bare, and the room was sparse, but it was neat and cost him only eight dollars a week. Its location at 1026 North Beckley Street was near a city bus stop from which it took only fifteen minutes to get him to his job at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.
After dressing, he followed his morning routine of a simple breakfast of buttered toast and a small glass of milk. He put a few Seven Days in November 1963 5 pieces of fruit into a brown paper bag for his lunch and headed for the front door. Lee Oswald was a man of few pleasures. With eyes downcast, he made no effort to notice or say hello to any of the other tenants who passed him in the narrow hallway. A few minutes later, he was on the bus heading to work in downtown Dallas.
The president awoke Monday morning in West Palm Beach, Florida, to prepare for a busy day of campaigning and speeches. After finishing a late breakfast, he and his aides departed West Palm Beach aboard Air Force One bound for Tampa. Upon his arrival at Madill Air Force Base, Tampa’s mayor and an assortment of US Army generals greeted him and an army band played “Hail to the Chief.” A briefing from his generals at US Strike Command Headquarters was followed by a luncheon at the Officers’ Club with the base’s top military and civilian personnel. An hour later, the president and his party left by helicopter for Tampa’s Al Lopez Stadium where he gave his first speech of what would be a very long day.
President Kennedy genuinely loved giving speeches and the travel that went with political campaigning. He enjoyed getting out of Washington, DC, and seeing the enthusiasm of the audiences that greeted him. He was a young, handsome, articulate man, who, in two short yet harrowing years, had grown into his role as president. The proof of his growing popularity was in the public opinion polls that showed him and his administration with a 65 percent approval rating, even though he had been elected by the slimmest of margins three years before.
During those three years, President Kennedy had had failures and successes in his attempts to guide the United States through the tense times of Cold War drama. The Bay of Pigs CIA-led invasion of Cuba in early 1961 to topple Castro’s Marxist government was an embarrassing failure for Kennedy. The Berlin Wall crisis in 1961 and especially the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 were instances in which the United States and the Soviet Union came perilously close to confrontation, even nuclear war. Ultimately, Kennedy’s World War II experience as a heroic naval officer and his personal conviction that a nuclear war was a last, horrible resort made him an effective partner in managing and reducing Soviet-American Cold War tensions around the world.
After finishing his short speech at Al Lopez Stadium, the president left by motorcade and traveled to Tampa’s Fort Homer Hesterly Armory where he delivered another well-received speech to the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Afterward, he was asked about the hottest and most controversial political topic facing Florida’s voters—Cuba.
“There is a great deal of unfinished business in Cuba,” the president said. “We have not been successful in removing Mr. Castro. He still remains a major danger to the United States. But we are successfully isolating the country. Cuba’s trade with the United States and its allies is down 80 percent, and Cuba’s gross domestic product is down 25 percent since Castro took power. As a symbol of revolt in this hemisphere, Castro and his policies have faded badly.”
Despite Kennedy’s words, Castro was extremely popular with the Cuban people and in firm control of his country. This was especially true after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In April 1961, CIA-trained Cuban exiles had attempted a land invasion on the Cuban coast but were quickly defeated by Castro’s troops, and those who were not killed were captured and held for ransom. And in October 1962, the United States discovered that the Soviet Union had secretly installed nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles on Cuban soil, sixty miles off US shores, in an effort to protect Castro’s government from any further US military invasions. But under Kennedy’s cool leadership, the Soviets backed down and removed the missiles, avoiding the real possibility of a nuclear showdown. The agreement to remove the missiles without informing Castro first infuriated him, but he was able to secure a commitment from Kennedy that the United States would not invade Cuba.
After Kennedy finished his speech and answered reporters’ questions, mostly about Cuba and Castro, his motorcade traveled to Tampa’s International Inn where he gave a short speech in the Inn’s Crystal Ballroom to another group of Florida businessmen. Afterward, the president’s motorcade returned to Madill Air Force Base where he boarded Air Force One for the brief half-hour return flight to Miami.
Approximately three thousand political supporters greeted him upon his arrival at Miami International Airport. Later that evening, 1,200 delegates to the Inter-American Press Association convention attended a dinner at Miami’s American Hotel, where the president would give what would be his last, and most fateful, foreign policy speech.
Oswald spent his workday at the book depository on Monday as he had every day since being hired as an “order filler.” He gathered orders for schoolbooks from the main office on the second floor, took one of the two freight elevators up to the sixth floor of the seven-floor building, found the correct books for each order, and brought them back down on the elevator to the shipping room on the first floor where shipping clerks would package them and prepare them for shipment. The work was repetitive and unchallenging, but it suited his reclusive and secretive nature and gave him time to be alone and to think about where his life had taken him.
Oswald had been born into a lower-middle-class family in a poor section of New Orleans and had a poor, unhappy childhood. His father died two months before his birth, and his cold, domineering mother, Marguerite, later sent Oswald and his older brother, Robert, and older half-brother, John Pic, to live in an orphanage for two years until she could properly care for them. Because of his unstable childhood, Oswald became severely withdrawn and temperamental and had few, if any, friends. In his self-imposed isolation, he became fascinated with books and reading. When he was not in school, he would spend most of his time poring over books in the quiet of the local library or at home reading alone in his room. After his mother and her third husband divorced, she continued her struggles alone as a single mother of three boys, trying to make ends meet. Oswald hated how little his family had and despised the unfairness he perceived all around him while he lived in New Orleans.
In 1953, when he was fourteen years old, Oswald and his mother were facing hard times and went to New York City to live with his brother, John Pic, who served in the US Coast Guard. Oswald was bitterly unhappy during this stay in New York City, refusing to attend school because his classmates constantly made fun of his slight southern accent and called him a hick.
One day while roaming the streets of the city alone, he came upon a large group of demonstrators. An older woman approached him and handed him a pamphlet entitled, Why the Rosenbergs Should Not Die.
Curious, Oswald asked the woman, “Who are the Rosenbergs?”
“Take it home and read it, dear,” said the woman, “then you’ll understand. They are heroes.”
“Who are they?” Oswald asked again.
“Julius and Ethel are husband and wife,” replied the woman.
“But if you say they are heroes, why are they going to die?” persisted Oswald.
“Because, young man, they have been falsely convicted,” said the woman.
“Why are they heroes?” asked Oswald. “They were trying to bring peace to the world, but, because of all the hysteria, they were sentenced to die instead of going to prison,” said the woman.
“I don’t understand,” said Oswald, beginning to become emotional.
“Take the pamphlet home and read it, young man. Then you will understand,” she said.
The woman turned and continued about her business as Oswald hurried home with the pamphlet. He read it many times, horrified that a husband and wife would be executed, and began to follow their case intensely in the daily newspapers and on television.
A few months later, while Oswald and his mother were still in New York City, the Rosenbergs were executed by electric chair. When he heard the news on television, Oswald was heartbroken and upset. But what had really fascinated him the most about the Rosenbergs’ case was the fact that they were Socialists, or Marxists. As he read more and more about Socialist philosophy, it struck a deep chord in him—so deep that by the time he reached the age of fifteen, he had become a serious reader, not of literature or poetry, but of politics and current affairs, particularly Socialism and the Communist/Marxist world of the Soviet Union, where he naively believed that an ordinary person was treated better and life was fairer. And the more he read, the more he wanted to escape from the injustice and poverty he saw all around him.
So less than two years later, before his seventeenth birthday and his graduation from high school, Oswald got his wish; he followed in the footsteps of his other brother, Robert, and joined the Marine Corps. During his marine training, he scored slightly below average in his aptitude tests but learned to shoot an M-1 rifle and qualified as a marine sharpshooter—the second highest qualification in the Marine Corps. He also received extensive technical training as a radar operator at several training bases where he earned above-average exam scores and was given several low-security clearances. At the end of his radar electronics training, he was deployed overseas to the US airbase in Atsugi, Japan, for fourteen months, where he monitored US planes flying in and around the Japanese-American security zone, including secret US U-2 surveillance flights over the Soviet Union.
While Oswald was stationed in Japan, he got involved with a group of Japanese Communists he met through a Japanese girlfriend. These Communists had a social philosophy Oswald had been searching for—one of not only promoting workers’ rights but also of helping the poor.
But as his fascination with his newfound Communist friends grew, so did his disenchantment with the regimen of the marines, and before long, his Japanese comrades, sensing his unhappiness, began to extol upon him the virtues of a better life under Soviet Communism and urged him to leave the Marine Corps. Six months later, after he falsely claimed a family hardship and was granted an early hardship discharge from the Marine Corps, he secretly defected to the Soviet Union where he could put his beliefs into practice.
Oswald spent his lunchtime on Monday sitting by himself at one of the small tables in the second-floor lunchroom reading the local newspapers, the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald. He still read mostly serious political news and anything to do with foreign affairs, particularly anything to do with Cuba and its ongoing battles with the United States.
On this day, the Dallas Morning News reported that President Kennedy would be in Miami, Florida, on the first leg of a campaign swing through several southern states to shore up his poll numbers. The president’s popularity had fallen in the South because of his decision to promote civil rights legislation, which most southern Democratic legislators opposed.
“Isn’t that the way things are around here?” muttered Oswald to himself under his breath so no one could hear him in the small lunchroom. “It all comes down to keeping people in their place, especially the blacks.” Oswald believed that civil rights were an important issue and thought the president was courageous in trying to promote them. He had seen plenty of impoverished southern blacks, and because of his own poor upbringing, he felt he understood their struggle. But although he agreed with the president on civil rights, he completely disagreed with his administration’s policies toward Cuba, especially when Kennedy declared a ban on all travel to Cuba by US citizens in 1962.
Oswald’s admiration for Castro had begun growing into an obsession soon after he and Marina had returned from the Soviet Union. He knew how Castro’s Twenty-Sixth of July Movement in 1959 had succeeded in taking back control of Cuba for the Cuban people. After decades of economic dominance by the American corporations that controlled Cuba’s sugar cane industry and the American organized crime syndicates that had taken over Havana’s gambling casinos, Castro’s revolution was to affirm Cuban sovereignty by seizing the American corporations and the private property of wealthy landowners in order to promote an economy based on Marxist principles that he believed would be a fairer system for the majority of his people. Although Castro had become a national hero to most Cubans for his efforts, his Socialist policies had not met with much success; he had imprisoned and executed many of his political opponents, and he had become an enemy of the United States.
However, Oswald simply ignored Castro’s faults, and his growing fixation with him and Cuba’s struggles was a constant source of irritation to his wife that was rapidly eating away at their already unstable marriage. Although Marina had known her husband was an idealist and a dreamer, once they were in the United States, his radical Socialist ideas angered her. She would constantly argue with him about their lack of money and the cheap apartments they were forced to rent, and she complained to him endlessly that she could not afford many of the things other young mothers were buying for their children. But mostly, whenever she could, she would ridicule him about his new hero, Fidel Castro.
“All you talk about is Fidel this and Fidel that. He doesn’t care about you, but we do,” Marina would tell her husband.
“It’s different in Cuba, Marina,” he would argue back. “He’s a hero to his people; he’s a great man, and they love him for what he’s done for them.”
“And what has he done for you, for us? Nothing,” Marina would scold him. “He only makes you neglect your family.”
“You don’t understand, Marina,” he would say defensively. “Things aren’t fair in this world. Why should some people have so much more than others? Are they better people, or are they just luckier? Look at Kennedy. He is the president only because his family has money; that’s all. Is that fair?”
“Lee, you are just a regular man, nothing more. You have a wife and two daughters. Isn’t that enough for you to be happy? Don’t worry about Castro; there’s nothing you can do for him.”
“That’s not true. Just be quiet, Marina, and leave me alone. You don’t understand anything.” With that, Oswald would always angrily storm off.
But no matter how many times Marina chided her husband to try to make him understand what he had and to be a better husband and father, he believed that what he had with Marina and his family would never be enough for him. While she understood why he had hated the rigidity of their former life in the Soviet Union, once they were in the United States, it was difficult for her to comprehend the depth of his newfound conviction with Cuba—to her, the Soviet Union and Cuba were one and the same.
Marina had met Oswald only a few years earlier in 1959 at a factory dance in Minsk when she was a pretty nineteen-year-old pharmacology student working at a local hospital. She had been born out of wedlock in Leningrad, unsure of her father’s identity. Her mother had died when she was fifteen, and, unable to endure an emotionally abusive relationship with her stepfather, Marina had moved to Minsk to live with her maternal aunt and uncle. By the time she met Oswald, he had been in the Soviet Union for eighteen months and had become so thoroughly disenchanted with the Soviet system he was trying to return to the United States.
Nevertheless, six weeks after she first met Oswald, they were married and were soon expecting their first child.
But as much as Oswald knew he was never going to be happy with his life with Marina in the United States, where he would always be a failure, he also knew that there really was something that he could do for Castro and Cuba.
A few months after they had settled in the United States, Oswald read a number of articles in his Socialist newsletters, the Worker, the Communist Party newspaper, and the Militant, the Socialist Workers’ Party paper, and in Time magazine about Cuba that had excited him and given him hope. All of the articles described how Castro was desperate to find qualified radar and electronics technicians to help Soviet technicians set up their Soviet-made radar equipment at radar installations they were constructing throughout Cuba—equipment that had begun to pour into Cuba by late 1962.
The articles had been music to Oswald’s ears. His marine training had instructed him in the most classified and up-to-date surveillance radar in the world, precisely the type of classified radar work he had been doing when he was stationed in Japan. And he believed the fact that he also spoke passable Russian would make him even more valuable to both Cuba and their Russian counterparts. In Oswald’s view, he was a perfect candidate to help Castro defend his country—if he could somehow figure out a way to circumvent the travel ban and get to Cuba.
Oswald returned to the sixth floor of the depository to fill book orders for the rest of the afternoon and kept to himself as usual. At the five o’clock quitting time, he took one of the freight elevators down to the first floor of the depository and walked through the large main office area and out the front door onto Elm Street. The sidewalks were busy with people getting off work as he walked easily eastward a few blocks and caught the Beckley Street bus going south that took him to his rooming house in Oak Cliff.
When he arrived home, he went straight to the kitchen without speaking to the few tenants who were in the living room watching television. His landlady, Mrs. Roberts, who found Oswald cold and aloof, was in the kitchen and greeted him when he walked in. Oswald mumbled a rude hello as he quickly made himself a sandwich and poured a glass of milk. He returned to the living room and sat alone in the back, eating and watching the evening news in silence. When he was finished, he walked down the hallway to his small bedroom and closed the French doors, glad to be alone to read and think.
Most evenings before going to bed, Oswald would call his wife to talk and ask about her and their two daughters. But because of their argument that morning, he decided to wait until tomorrow to call her, not knowing it would be three days before he would speak to her again under entirely different circumstances.
Late in the afternoon, President Kennedy deplaned at Miami International Airport as “Hail to the Chief” was played and then traveled in the presidential motorcade through downtown Miami to American Hotel. The president’s last speech of the day would be his third and most controversial. More than a thousand delegates of the Inter-American Press Association, along with many Cuban exiles, had anxiously gathered together to hear the president before he headed back to Washington, DC. The main thrust of the president’s speech would be about his administration’s efforts at containing Cuba and its Marxist aspirations.
Upon his arrival at the hotel, the president was greeted by the editor of the Miami Herald and the president of the Inter-American Press Association. He was quickly escorted to the speaker’s stand, where he was greeted by an assortment of Florida legislators, congressmen, and senators. Florida’s Governor Bryant introduced him, and he approached the podium to loud applause.
“I am very proud to be here tonight,” the president began. “This association and its members carry a very large responsibility for the defense of freedom in the hemisphere. Through the press, you create the vital public awareness of our responsibility and our appreciation of our dangers. Your work to fulfill this responsibility and the courageous fight of your association for freedom of the press and the liberty of the citizens make me very proud to come to this meeting.
“Our hope is for a hemisphere where every man has enough to eat and a chance to work, where every child can learn, and every family can find decent shelter. We hope for a hemisphere of nations, each confident in the strength of its own independence, devoted to the liberty of its citizens, and joined with all nations of the West in an association based on national strength and a common dedication to freedom.
“The fulfillment of these hopes is not an easy task. It is important that the people of the United States, on whom much responsibility rests, realize how enormous that task is.
“These problems, the hard reality of life in much of Latin America, will not be solved simply by complaining about Castro. The task we have set ourselves is a far greater task than any we have ever undertaken in our history.”
President Kennedy then began to speak to the issue that all the gathered delegates and exiles wanted to hear about: how he planned to deal with Castro.
“But just as we have friends abroad, we also have enemies. Communism is struggling to subvert and destroy the process of democratic development in our hemisphere. It is trying to extend its rule to other nations of our hemisphere. We must continue to support measures to halt Communist infiltration and subversion and to assist governments menaced from abroad. The United States must be ready to come to the aid of any government requesting help to prevent a takeover. My own country is prepared to do this. We must use every resource at our command to prevent the establishment of another Cuba in this hemisphere. We have ultimately won battles against every threat in the past, and we will continue to wage and win this one. Castroism, which a few years ago commanded the allegiance of thousands in almost every Latin country, today has far fewer followers. Cuba itself has revealed that the promises of abundance under tyranny are false. It is a fact that a small band of conspirators has stripped the Cuban people of their freedom.
“But no Cuban need feel trapped. For once Cuban sovereignty has been restored, we will be there to assist Cuban political and economic goals.”
Kennedy concluded his fiery speech, “Robert Frost wrote fifty years ago, ‘Nothing is true except what a man or men adhere to, to live for it, to spend themselves on it, to die for it.’ We need this spirit more than ever where twenty strong nations live in peace, their people in hope and liberty, and believing strongly in a free future. Thank you.”
The delegates and Cuban exiles leaped to their feet in thunderous applause. The president had, in “diplomatic” speech, said what they all hoped he would say; he had called for the overthrow of Castro’s regime with the promise of American support.
The president left the speaker’s stand and graciously shook hands with many of the delegates and exiles as they gathered around him. He thanked his guests and then quickly made his way to his waiting limousine, which took him back to Miami International Airport and Air Force One. In less than five minutes, the president and his party were airborne and a few hours later were met at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, DC, by a waiting helicopter, which flew him directly on to the White House. It was almost midnight when the exhausted president greeted his wife, Jackie, and looked in on their two sleeping children, John and Caroline. It had been a tiring, but successful, day on the campaign trail. Everything had gone according to schedule, and now, it was good to be back home.
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