The Korean War

Linkedin Long-form Post #13

James Francis Smith

The Korean Conflict may have been forgotten, but let us never forget the men who served there. One such veteran, Al Masek. passed away in August 2014. Several years ago, Al agreed to be interviewed for my narrative history, Rory O’Donnell and the Kennedys. Because I couldn’t figure a way to bring Rory to the West Coast, therefore, I brought Al east. Rory, the story’s fictional reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin, interviewed him in Mulvey’s Tavern on Wayne Avenue. Al was a recipient of the Korean Service Medal and the Purple Heart.

The interview is presented verbatim. Al’s roguish humor is evident, despite

this segment being stripped of the activities of the two beer consumers.

“Why don’t you talk, and I’ll just listen. Do you mind if I record it?”

Masek agreed, giving Rory a grin as though he thought the whole interview process was funny. “I joined up just as WWII was ending. After surviving boot camp, the duty was easy. I was stationed in Hawaii. When my tour ended, I joined the inactive reserves because I didn’t want to become a weekend warrior.

“To be honest, I forgot all about the reserves until the Korean War started, and I was recalled. When my mom handed me the packet, I said, ‘Mom, that looks just like a set of orders.’ Since I had expected to be reassigned to Hawaii, I wasn’t too upset.

“Six of us were given a refresher course then mixed with recruits fresh out of boot camp.” Al smiled again. “The reserves were ordered not to tell war stories because the recruits were already talking about hardship discharges; something they shouldn’t have known about.”

“We were shipped to Japan then to Korea, on a contract victory ship. Two meals a day, both bad,” he said with a laugh. “We had beans and cornbread for breakfast. I wonder who brought that tradition to the navy. My first night in Korea was spent sleeping in the head at the University of Pusan. The smell would make you sick. Then we transferred to pyramid tents, straw on the floor and open flame for heat. Surprisingly, none ever caught fire.

The only thing we had in abundance was shortages. Our WWII vintage guns and trucks broke down—often. Trained personnel were so scarce they made me a platoon leader.”

“What outfit were you with?”

“First Marine Division, Seventh Regiment, First Battalion, Baker Company,” he answered with pride.

“The first night out of Pusan, we bivouacked on a dry river bed. I knew from Boy Scout training, ‘Never pitch a tent in a dry river bed.’ A buddy and I put up our pup tent on the top of a levee. We woke to the sound of a waterlogged-tent being dragged from the roaring creek. Several soaked Marines slept under a truck that night.” he grinned, probably picturing the scene in his mind.

“The next day, our truck crossed the creek several times. On the second pass somebody spotted a wallet. I told him he would be foolish to jump in the water and get soaking wet. But he ignored my advice, which made me very happy. The wallet was mine.” Al laughed as he finished.

“Were you ever wounded?”

“A gook was huddled against the near wall of the next foxhole. I couldn’t get a clear shot until I remembered that an M-1 would fire through five-inches of dirt. I stood up and shot into the ground next to the foxhole. That got the little bugger. But that’s also when I got hit, but at least no bones were broken. I stayed on the line. We lost fifteen to twenty men every month. Things would’ve been deadly, if the old man, General O. P. Smith, hadn’t defied orders and built an airstrip at Yudam-ni. His superior, Army General Almond, asked why he needed it. ‘To take out the casualties,’ Smith answered. ‘What casualties?’ Almond asked. That goes to show you the attitude at H.Q.”

Al, like many returning veterans, didn’t mention how it felt to kill another person or to watch a friend die, and Rory didn’t press the issue.

“Our captain shot himself in the foot getting out of his sleeping bag. There are no such things as accidental shootings in the Marines. He was relieved of duty. Johnson, our new commander, had a bum knee, but still carried the biggest pack. There was a continual shortage of lieutenants. In fifty-one, Lieutenant Seaman lasted from January through May. He was shot, climbing up a hill. Before he was carried away, he briefed me on the locations of the first and third squads. Then he recommended that two corporals receive medals. Johnson refused to pass on the recommendations, stating, ‘That’s their jobs.’ We went a month an’ a half without a replacement. Finally, Eddie LeBaron showed up.”

“That name’s familiar,” Rory said. “Wasn’t he a football star?”

“That’s the guy. He played for Pacific, a small West Coast college. Eddie placed sixth for the Heisman. He stayed with us about a year.”

“That’s where I heard the name,” Rory said. “It was in forty-nine, when Notre Dame’s Leon Hart won. A couple of other N.D. guys were in the running, Bob Williams and Emil Stiko. That was one hell of a Notre Dame team,” he said, returning the conversation back to Korea, less they get onto sports and waste what little time he had. “What was the fighting like?”

“We traveled along narrow two-lane roads, with the enemy holding the high ground. To get at them, we had to climb up to the ridge line—tanks were useless. One tank, on patrol along a narrow road, turned, knocking the roof off a peasant’s hut … then the tank got stuck. My unit had to remain for eighteen hours until a tank retriever arrived. Another time, we took a tank to flush out the enemy. I always wanted to fire the fifty-caliber machine gun on the turret. I grabbed the antenna while climbing up, snapping it off. I got down quickly.” Al laughed once again, likely picturing himself scrambling down the back of the tank and sheepishly returning to his platoon.

“Another time we captured a Chinese vehicle, a Russian knock-off of a Studebaker, probably copied from a lend-lease truck. Everything was in Chinese except for a sign in English that read ‘safety first.’ We used that truck for a month before it ran over a mine.”

Just getting warmed up, Al continued, “Our outfit had a B.A.R., a Browning Automatic Rifle, which the smallest guy carried. Because being small, he’d be the hardest to hit. One night while on patrol, we encountered six gooks filling their canteens from a stream. A John Wayne-type missed when he fired our 75-millimeter recoilless-rifle. The gooks returned a mortar round. That took out the recoilless.”

“Another time when the Chinese were attacking, we had a 60-millimeter mortar tube, but no base plate. Another John Wayne-type tried to use a helmet as a base. He dropped a white phosphorous shell into the tube, then lost control. The spray hit two guys in our unit, who took off running with flames consuming their gear. Later, we went looking for the missing guys, but never found them.”

“How effective were our weapons?”

“Some good, some not very good; naval gunfire was potent, even from thirty-miles away. It made a whooosh noise, like a boxcar going end over end. I called them, ‘God’s rototiller.’ When their barrage finished, the ground was clear—not a stump left. Proximity fuses were very efficient, except they’d explode in heavy air, sometimes right over our heads.”

“Planes were useful … sometimes. Once when the Chinese were on the far side of a hill, a sabre jet made three passes, using a twenty-millimeter cannon. On the third pass, a burp gun, a Soviet submachine gun, knocked off the plane. Another time, an Indian Air Force P51 fired from ten-thousand feet—way too high. The fifty-caliber shells lost their velocity and just fell to earth. If they were going to fire from that altitude, there was no sense making the run.”

“It was bitter at Frozen Chosin (the Chosin Reservoir.) The temperature would hover around twenty-below. Our boots were our biggest enemies. Their leather tops and rubber soles accumulated sweat, melting our skin. We couldn’t take our boots off at night because they’d freeze, making them impossible to get back on. There was a story going around about a medic, who after hearing a series of clumps behind him, ordered the Marine to take off his boots. ‘They are off, Sir,’ the Marine replied.”

“We tried to keep three pairs of socks; one on our feet, one in our packs, and one drying under our armpits. Once we got lucky; we stopped an Army truck driven by a scared young draftee. He tossed out 18 pairs of socks and took off. We had hoped to get food, but were delighted with the socks.”

“There was this kid from Baltimore who had never been to boot camp. We could only use him as a runner. One time, he bought a Thompson machine gun from a tanker and wanted to use it instead of his M-1. I made him carry both. The guns weighed nine and half-pounds each. In addition, the Thompson took forty-five caliber while the M-1 took thirty. This meant he carried eighteen extra pounds. A couple of days later, we got into a skirmish. The Thompson fired two rounds before freezing up. The kid ditched it.

“Another time in early March, I crossed a pristine stream and filled my canteen without using a purification pill. I rounded a bend and found a dead horse in the middle of the stream. I dumped the water.”

“What’s your last memory of Korea?”

“Getting out,” he said with a sly smile. “I hitched a ride on a mail truck which had drawn fire the previous two days, but fortunately not on the day I left. Then I jumped a DC3 back to Pusan. There, they took away my M-1 and deloused me. Sometimes at night, I find myself reaching for my gun.”

If Not Oswald, Then Who?

I recently met a woman born on the very day of Kennedy’s assassination, Erica fervently desires to learn who really killed him. Proving that even with the passage of 50-years, the conspiracy of a single shooter will never die.

Humes Dwg

The Warren Commission may have gotten off to an ill advised beginning. During Naval pathologist Doctor Humes’ testimony, they were shown exhibit 385, a hand drawing of a bowed head with a penetrating dart to illustrate the trajectory of the Kill Shot. The illustration, drawn without access to autopsy photos or x-rays, by Corpsman Rydberg in collaboration with Commanders Humes and Boswell, has the character’s eyes looking straight down toward Kennedy’s feet. If his head had been in this position when the Kill Shot was fired, it had to have come from high and behind. Likely from the 6th floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository Building, where Lee Harvey Oswald had his sniper’s nest.

313 without blur

However, the cleared-up frame 313 of Zapuder’s film shows Kennedy’s head raised with him staring diagonally forward.

 According to Doctor Humes, “The Kill Shot entered “the right posterior portion of the scalp…situated approximately 2.5 centimeters to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance, which is a bony prominence situated in the posterior portion of everyone’s skull. The third obvious wound at the time of the examination was a huge defect over the right side of the skull…. However, the skull was intact completely past this defect…. …multiple minute fragments of radio opaque material transversing a line from the wound in the occiput to just above the right eye. …more likely moving in a direct line.

The Kill shot trajectory was almost level. Therefore, it could not have come from the height of any 6th floor. Experts have proven that it was possible for Oswald to have gotten off three shots in eight seconds. It was impossible, however, for him to get off the almost simultaneous final two shots in less…than two seconds.

We have Colin McLaren to thank for his detailed analysis in JFK The Smoking Gun. He asserted that Oswald could not have fired the Kill Shot.  Among his revelations based on numerous eyewitness accounts were:

  • Oswald withdrew his rifle from the window after firing only two 6.6mm bullets. McLaren explained that one spent shell, found separate from the other two on the 6th floor of the Depository, likely came from a prior use of the weapon. This practice, to leave a spent shell in their weapon, is followed by most hunters.
  • Gun smoke, which could not have drifted down from a tall building, was visible to sight and smell. Therefore a weapon was discharged at or near ground level. According to McLaren, the Kill Shot came from the AR-15 handled by Secret Service Agent George Hickey from his position behind the driver in the follow up car.
  • Based on his decades of experience as an Australian homicide detective, he declared that different type bullets struck Kennedy’s neck and head. The neck shot came from the 6.6mm shells used by Oswald, which passed through cleanly and perhaps wounded Governor Connally. Whereas the head shot came from a .223 (5.6mm) frangible shell, a type used by Hickey, which fragmented after penetrating Kennedys’ skull, causing a huge exit wound above his right eye.
  • A 6.6mm bullet would have made a wider entry wound than the 6.0mm Kill Shot wound measured by both Doctors Perry in Dallas and Hume at Bethesda.

 

If not Oswald then who?

When you have eliminated all which is impossible,

then whatever remains, however improbable,

must be the truth.

Arthur Conan Doyle

 

I part company with McLaren, regarding his remote possibility, that the brand new addition to the presidential protection team, inexperienced Secret Service Agent George Hickey accidently fired the shot that killed Kennedy. I don’t, however, contest the strong possibility that Hickey accidently fired the AR-15, a weapon in use for the very first and last time by the Secret Service. Based on one of his early statements, Hickey probably didn’t realize his weapon was prepared for eminent use. As Agent Kellerman affirmed, “This is a rifle, and it was on all movements … it is out of its case, she is ready to go.”

But, what are the odds? Kennedy was seated in the third seat of a limousine moving at 8- to 10-miles an hour. Hickey, surrounded by five passengers plus four Secret Service Agents standing on running boards, had to pull out a loaded rifle and get off a wild shot. A shot that squarely hit the head of the very person he was assigned to protect with his life.

Even though Hickey had the perfect trajectory, I would attribute his errant shot to be the unexplained ricochet that wounded James Tague. Tague was standing over the length of a football field distant at the bridge abutment of the Elm Street triple underpass.

In a city where schoolchildren booed whenever Kennedy’s name was mentioned, where according to Bill O’Reilly in Killing Kennedy, “30% of the population hated…hated the President,” there was no lack of potential assassins.  My gut tells me that a trained killer fired from either the fire escape or from a lower floor of the Dal-Tex Building. A high rise situated at the corner of Elm and Houston, directly in line with Kennedy’s moving limo.

 It’s long past time we give Oswald his place in history, and move on to identifying the real killer.

A Tale of Two Books—Plus

In 2013, the 50th anniversary year of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s assassination, two books were published by reputable authors, Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard’s Killing Kennedy, and Colin McLaren’s The Smoking Gun.

Killing kennedyAfter reading both, I felt an honest comparison had to be made, Smoking Gunthus “The Tale of Two Books—Plus.” Killing Kennedy covers Kennedy’s and Oswald’s lives, activities, and assassinations. The Smoking Gun focuses only on Kennedy’s assassination, as will this comparative book review.

 Being one of the 62% of Americans who do not believe Oswald acted alone, I purchased Killing Kennedy to understand why the authors deduced that Oswald alone killed Kennedy. Regarding McLaren’s book, when I first saw it advertised that a Secret Service Agent accidently killed Kennedy, I thought, Here they come out of the woodwork.’

            Killing Kennedy’s premise is based on Oswald’s Marine Corps sharpshooter qualifications for being a crack shot. “He knows how to clean, maintain, load, aim, and accurately fire the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle.” At one point, they stated, “Oswald can shoot extremely well, ‘when he wants to.’” This most likely refers to Oswald’s reputation among his fellow Marines for not caring about his numerous “Maggie’s Drawers”—the waving of a red flag indicating a complete miss. Oswald was later observed by 13-year-old Sterling Woods at a firing range, “… ensuring his rifle and the scope were accurate.” Woods recalled, “Oswald fired eight to ten shots, retrieving the empty shells, truly great, firing several shots through the silhouette of a man’s head.”

The Smoking Gun has a different take. McLaren contends Oswald was mediocre in the serious world of military weaponry. He noted that Oswald practiced at Love Field, nursed his rifle, peered through the telescope viewfinder for hours, toyed with the bolt-action, cleaned it regularly, and would lovingly drape it with a coat.

            According to Killing Kennedy, “Oswald has a well concealed shooting nest. Stacks of Books near the window will form a natural hiding place allowing Oswald to poke his rifle outside and sight the motorcade as it makes the deliberate turn at Elm and Houston. Oswald knows he’ll have time for two shots maybe even three. …with the butt of the Carcano against his right shoulder, the scratched wooden stock of the butt is against his cheek, just as it was for so many hours at the rifle range with the M-1 rifle from his Marine Corps days. Oswald peers into his 4-power telescopic sight, the one that makes Kennedy’s head look as if it is 2-feet away. … At approximately 8.4 seconds after firing his first shot, Oswald pulls the trigger on the third. …drops his now-unnecessary carbine and steps from the tower of book boxes behind which he’s been hiding.”

            Killing Kennedy quotes four witnesses who observed Oswald positioned to fire, and that “Eye Witnesses will later confirm that three shots were fired from the Depository.”

            The Smoking Gun relies on the observations of 26-eyewitnesses, including the four referred to in Killing Kennedy. Some heard three and even four shots.  Secret Service Agent Kellerman used the phrase, “… a flurry of shells came in altogether….”

Most noteworthy, however, were those having seen Oswald withdraw his rifle from the window after firing the second shot. In photographs of the Depository taken by Tom Dillard, traveling in the open press car, neither Oswald nor his rifle was protruding at the time of the third shot. Dillard’s negatives were destroyed in an effort to enhance them.

            O’Reilly’s Killing Kennedy tells of Abraham Lincoln’s police protection drinking beer in a nearby tavern when Lincoln was assassinated, but it does not mention a similar situation involving Agents protecting Kennedy. McLaren has Secret Service agents socializing and drinking with Fort Worth reporters. Some of the 11-agents stayed out until 5:10 A.M.on the morning Kennedy was assassinated.

Nor did Killing Kennedy discuss the possibility of different type bullets. McLaren’s The Smoking Gun stated, “…the Warren Commission believed Oswald fired three rounds of full metal jacket copper castings, the type of rounds designed to stay intact and pass cleanly through the body of the victim. …in compliance with the 19-Century Hague Convention and the 1923 Geneva Convention.” “… the last and fatal round to hit the President, clearly evident when viewing the Zapruder and Nix films, had resulted in the right side of JFK’s skull being blown violently into the air, an impossible outcome with a full metal jacket round.”

            McLaren’s Smoking Gun cited 15-witnesses who saw or smelled gunpowder residue. These included patrolmen, a Secret Service agent, a Senator, and the Mayor of Dallas. To quote McLaren, “If the gunpowder from Oswald’s weapon was able to waft or drift it would either have been contained within the building or, if it drifted through Oswald’s window, would have dissipated in the opposite direction to the traveling motorcade into the atmosphere. According to motorcycle Officer Martin, ‘Gunshot residue will linger within a two-three meter radius of the weapon. Wafting’s known as a plume of residue. A gusty and noticeable breeze was blowing from southwest to northeast at 13 knots.’ This can only mean a weapon was discharged in the immediate vicinity of the motorcade.”

            In discussing the AR-15, The Smoking Gun informs us that Agent Kellerman stated, “This is a rifle and it was on all movements … it is out of its case, she is ready to go.”

“The only person with a long rifle was Agent George Hickey seated high on the left rear seat, his backside elevated toward the rear head seat, on sniper duty with a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic weapon.”

 

Hickey, normally a chauffeur and the newest member of the detail, was assigned a weapon used for the first time by the Secret Service. The AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapon … stored easily and prepared for use without fuss with its simple rotating lock bolt. Rounds issued were .223 frangible bullets designed to fragment upon impact.

“Sam Hill, a railroad signalman, was on the Elm Street overpass. ‘After the first shot, saw a Secret Service Agent raise up from his seat waving a machinegun then drop back down in the seat when the car immediately sped off.’” Numerous others saw Hickey waving the rifle before falling backward, one is quoted as saying, ‘swinging wildly.’

Hickey had the perfect line of sight to the back of the President’s head.

Plus

Observations by James Francis Smith

When you have eliminated all which is impossible,then whatever remains, however improbable must be the truth.

Arthur Conan Doyle

 Writing in a narrative-history style, O’Reilly & Dugard included Oswald’s likely thoughts. The authors established the possibility that Oswald made use of the scope. Because Oswald’s rifle had deteriorated, marksmen utilized similar Mannlicher-Carcano rifles during ensuing tests. Those who fired accurately within the time limit used the rifle’s iron sight not the side mounted telescopic sight.

In the ’50s, Marines qualified once a year. In the Corps, you’re a rifleman first. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a general or a cook. During Oswald’s first test on the rifle line in 1956, he attained a “Sharpshooter” degree with a 212-score, two points over the minimum required. In 1959, Oswald shot a 191-score—one point over the minimum to qualify for the lower level of “Marksman”.

 

Facts cited by McLaren prove conclusively that Oswald could not have fired the Kill Shot:

 

1)      The sight and smell of gunpowder at street level, which could not have come from the 6th floor; therefore, there had to have been another weapon fired.

2)      Regarding the bullets, the Neck Shot exited clean whereas the Kill Shot fragmented into tiny pieces, collectively doing far more damage.

3)      Eyewitnesses stated that Oswald’s rifle was withdrawn from the window following the second shot. Testimony by witnesses hearing multiple shots was shrugged off by the Warren Commission as sounds that reverberated from the tall buildings and the overpass.

4)      Wounds by bullets expand slightly upon entry. Both Doctors Boswell and Humes concurred, “… that the entry wound in Kennedy’s skull was six millimeters wide.” Meaning it would have been more likely caused by a missile the size of a .223 bullet (5.56mm), not the 6.6mm used by Oswald.

5)      It is common practice for hunters to leave a spent shell in their rifle after its use. The spent shell ejects when firing is resumed. This provides a reasonable explanation for the existence of three spent shells on the Depository’s 6th floor, one of which was separated from the other two.

6)      In earlier testimony, Hickey stated, which he later retracted, “… that he retrieved and loaded the AR-15 as they went under the railroad overpass.” This is hundreds of yards distant from the testimony given by eyewitnesses.

7)      I’m adding a seventh consideration. One neither author cited:

 

The Trajectory of the Bullets

 

            The Neck and Kill Shot bullets struck Kennedy within approximately 5-seconds of each other. Therefore, the trajectories ought to have been the same—they weren’t.

 Killing kennedy reduced 1

According to the nurses at Parkland Hospital, the Neck Shot entered the rear of Kennedy’s neck above the collar line and exited cleanly above his tie.

According to the certified pathologist Doctor Humes: “The Kill Shot entered “the right posterior portion of the scalp…situated approximately 2.5 centimeters to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance, which is a bony prominence situated in the posterior portion of everyone’s skull. The third obvious wound at the time of the examination was a huge defect over the right side of the skull…. However, the skull was intact completely past this defect…. …multiple minute fragments of radio opaque material transversing a line from the wound in the occiput to just above the right eye. …more likely moving in a direct line.

Therefore, the kill shot acted more akin to a soft-nosed shell, which is designed to fragment following penetration. Perhaps it’s time we move on and forget about naming Oswald as Kennedy’s only assassin.

 “A Tale of Two Books—Plus” will be added to James Francis Smith’s book, Rory O’Donnell and the Kennedys, available on Kindle and in softcover from Amazon’s Bookstore. James Francis Smith, can be contacted at 236sulis@gmail.com or on his blog www.theirish-americanstory.com

Was President Kennedy murdered or was it an accident?

On November 3rd, 2013, the world will have the opportunity to see another TV docudrama on Kennedy’s assassination, “JFK: The Smoking Gun.

This one suggests that Secret Service Agent George Hickey accidently fired one of the bullets that hit Kennedy. This accusation is not new because Hickey (now deceased) had sued St. Martin’s Press over similar claims made in the movie, Mortal Error.

Hickey who had been seated in the left rear seat of the following vehicle in his testimony to the Warren Commission, said, “At the end of the last report, I reached to the bottom of the car and picked up the AR 15 rifle, cocked and loaded it, and turned to the rear. At this point the cars were passing under the over-pass….” It had been claimed that Hickey and other Secret Service Agents were out partying the night before the assassination.

I have not seen veteran police detective Colin McLaren’s documentary, however, I’m anxiously awaiting his new forensic and scientific evidence that’ll add credibility to the theory that Hickey accidently shot the man he was supposed to guard with his life.

Regarding the assassination, my thoughts leap back and forth like a nervous toad in a lily pond. In my “Open letter to Bill O’Reilly,” I satisfied myself that Oswald could not have fired the “Kill Shot.” Why? Because I find it hard to believe that an object rapidly descending 24-25 degrees would suddenly slant upward.

A non-scientific visualization confirmed my findings. During a recent religious service, I sat behind a biker with a shaved head. His “external occipital protuberance” was clearly visible. This is the bony prominence situated in the posterior portion of everyone’s skull … approximately 2.5 centimeters to the left of the point from where the “Kill Shot” penetrated the President’s skull. Each time the biker nodded or shifted his head, I made a visual trace, questioning how a bullet, entering at a 25-degree angle, could have caused a huge defect over the right side of his skull. At no position of the biker’s head did such an accomplishment seem feasible.

Now we ask, could a bullet from a car traveling about five feet behind the one carrying the President, who was on a raised seat, pass such an objective test? It seems likely to this inexperienced observer that such a feat was within the realm of possibility.

We’ll just have to wait until November 3rd to see if Mr. McLaren’s re-creation of that tragic scene provides sufficient evidence to support his claim.

Would a positive answer leave me satisfied or unsatisfied?

Frankly, its implications would scare the Hell out of me. Not because a Secret Service Agent misrepresented the facts but because so many want to put guns in schools.

Think about it!

If an experienced Secret Service agent could inadvertently shoot the President, do we really want inexperienced school employees to be armed?

1954 – Dien Bien Phu – “A Prayer for Pierre”

French commanders decided to establish their presence in northwest Vietnam at an abandoned WWII Japanese airbase.   They assumed a fortified base at the bottom of a valley would prevent the Vietminh from supplying their forces in Laos. With their modern air force, advanced technology, and professional soldiers they could easily defeat General Giap in a pitched battle.

        Believing our side was in the right, I recall the sickness in my gut when 8,000 Frenchmen were marched off as prisoners.

        That’s why I included “A Prayer for Pierre” in Rory O’Donnell and the Kennedys.

 

A Different Outlook, by Rory O’Donnell, July, 1954, Evening Bulletin

 

For the remainder of my life, I’ll wonder about my brother Liam’s last thoughts when in 1945 his plane plunged into the Sea of Japan.  So too, will I wonder about the last thoughts of those valiant defenders of Dien Bien Phu.  To understand their frustration, we need to put

ourselves in their place.  Imagine yourself as Pierre, a fictional officer—veteran paratrooper, small of frame, as Frenchmen tend to be.

The light fog lifted and the Dakota readied in position over the drop zone, deep in communist-held territory.  Pierre faced his squad of foreign legionnaires, repeating the dream of General Navarre, “We secure the borders of Laos, engaging the Vietminh on our terms, cutting their supply and communication lines, defeating them in a battle that’ll be remembered by Frenchmen for generations.”  Taking his place at the front of the line, gazing downward at the dense jungle whizzing past, Pierre swallowed to calm his anxiety.  With a silent prayer on his lips, he jumped into the void.

The young officer’s spirit exhilarated over the near perfect drop and the minimal casualties from a short-lived firefight.  “Operation Castor will be celebrated at Hanoi headquarters tonight,” he proclaimed loud and often.  Little did Pierre know or care that the assault to retake Dien Bien Phu occurred without Paris’ approval.  Rather, he appreciated General Castries’ French humor when he named the satellite defensive lines, protecting the main fort, after seven of his former girlfriends.  Day after day as more troops poured in, Pierre’s feeling of confidence rose.  He knew the ten-mile long, bowl-shaped valley could easily provide space for two airfields.  With the nearby major roads, their superior training, technology, and air power, his troops would radiate forth, driving the insurgents from Northwest Vietnam.  He wasn’t bothered in the least that the surrounding heavily-wooded landscape hadn’t been secured because construction within the fortified areas continued unabated.  None knew that 50,000 Vietminh had secretly disassembled heavy-weapons, moving them with mountains of supplies and ammunition into position.

Months elapsed before an astonished Pierre dove for cover when the hidden foe shelled the encampments from the surrounding ridgelines.  A sick feeling in his stomach made him aware the siege had begun, and their efforts to deter a foe, unworthy of a Frenchman’s steel, were in vain.  Six weeks of cat and mouse engagements occurred before Pierre and his compatriots realized they were surrounded by thousands of highly-trained Vietminh.  The long awaited set-piece melee would soon commence.  As the Ides of March approached, French intelligence warned the fortress to expect an attack because settlers were being evacuated from the valley.  On March 13th, strong points Beatrice and Gabrielle were the first to endure the enemy’s offensive under an unrelenting bombardment of 9,000 shells.  After bitter hand-to-hand fighting, redoubt Beatrice fell.

Dumfounded that his opponents could maintain such a continuous barrage, Pierre had his confidence shattered when shortly thereafter, the 5/7 Algerian Rifles evacuated Gabrielle.  Next, the airfield came under constant fire making daytime landings hopeless.  Then the dreaded impossible happened.  With both runways destroyed, the field was closed to all incoming and outgoing traffic.  The French were trapped in a place of their own choosing.  Pierre tried to console his men by telling them the Vietminh could not possibly maintain their murderous pace.  Deep in his tired soul, he prayed to keep his own despair at bay.  To hide their desperate situation from the rank and file, officers of Pierre’s rank weren’t told that artillery commander Colonel Piroth had pulled the pin of a grenade and committed suicide. 

Reinforcements continued to arrive.  But despite their presence, strongpoint Anne-Marie capitulated, shaking the faith of the remaining defenders.  Pierre, who endured communist loudspeakers inciting the legionnaires to desert, derived his limited courage from the only woman on the base.  The Angel of Dien Bien Phu, Nurse Genevieve de Galard had remained steadfast at her station.

In their one moment of success, the French recaptured the Dominique and Eliane strongholds.  An action that failed to raise Pierre’s diminishing hope.

While Pierre’s comrades remained on the defensive, Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap’s men dug a trench around the main compound with spokes spreading toward the French fortress, enabling the communists to avoid detection while placing themselves in position to attack at will. 

For the bone-weary defenders, the situation continued to deteriorate.  Pierre lost his Catholic faith when his God opened the heavens and deluged the compound with monsoon rains, filling the trenches with hip-deep muck.  Meanwhile, the French continually ordered reinforcements into the besieged stronghold.  General Giap countered by setting up Russian, WWII, six-tube rocket-launchers, devastating the remaining fortifications.  While the destitute Pierre starved, supplies dropped by parachute went awry, falling into enemy control.  Even massive air attacks could not deter the camouflaged foe, patiently waiting for the air raids to halt before resuming the shelling.  Unknown to the besieged, negotiations to get America’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles involved came to naught, and this lonely outpost, far from civilization was on its own.

Under orders to hold out at all costs, the survivors exhausted the last of their ammunition then waited for the inevitable.  As Pierre was led into captivity, Dominique and Eliane fell simultaneously. Knowing that only fortress Isabelle remained, Pierre realized that his country was finished as a colonial power.  The following day, Isabelle was overrun, and France requested an armistice.  What were Pierre’s last thoughts?

Did he have time to scream?

Did he have time to pray?

 

Irish-American Authority takes issue with Bill O’Reilly

 

Narrative-History with an Irish Flavor

 

An Open Letter to Bill O’Reilly

Regarding JFK’s 50-Year Old Unsolved Murder

James Francis Smith

 

Bill, I read Killing Kennedy. Then read it again, beginning from the back page by page, to make issues jump out, looking for proof positive. Proof—I found to be lacking. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald was involved, a player and likely to have shot Kennedy. However to have named him, “The Assassin,” he has had to have been the one who fired “The Kill Shot.” Therein lies the rub.

My sojourns into Kennedy’s assassination remind me of the fable, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.” Every time I delve into the assassination, I find myself examining a different part of the animal.

I call your attention to the ease with which you claimed Oswald handled the 23-year old Italian weapon, and the swiftness in which he fired three shots, all within approximately 8.4 seconds. You shared the following:

“…a four-power telescopic sight to make the target seem closer and easier to shoot with pinpoint accuracy.”

Seeing his target clearly, Oswald exhales, gently squeezes the trigger, and even as he feels the recoil against his shoulder, he smoothly pulls back the bolt to chamber another round.

        “…Lee Harvey Oswald knows that he’ll have time for two shots, maybe even three if he works the bolt quickly enough.

        But one should be all he needs.”

 “Earwitness testimony in Dealey Plaza will later confirm that three shots were fired from the depository. One of the shots misses the President’s car completely, and decades later there is still speculation whether it was the first or third round. But the fact remains that two of the shots did not miss.

“The first impact strikes the President in the back of his lower neck. Traveling at 1,904 feet per second, the 6.5-millimeter round tears through the President’s trachea and then exits his body through the tight knot of his dark blue tie.”

 

I believe you should have considered the mass of available data:

 

The C2766 Mannlicher-Carcano rifle

        You made Oswald’s gun appear to be a well-oiled weapon with a scope that functioned properly. The FBI said otherwise, even after they inserted three shims in a failed attempt to make the scope reliable:

“When we attempted to sight this rifle at Quantico, we found the elevation adjustment in the telescopic sight was not sufficient to bring the point of impact to the aiming point.  …every time we changed the adjusting screws to move the crosshairs in one direction it also affected the movement of the impact in the opposite….”  

Others called it a cheap Japanese salvage scope made for a .22 rifle, bought on a fire-sale of sorts by Klein’s, and then resold to Oswald.

In addition, you neglected to mention that the telescope was a hindrance to a left-hander, which Oswald was. Unless Oswald was skillful at firing right-handed, he’d have had to reach over the action to pull the bolt handle up before pulling it back, insert the bullet, push the bolt handle forward, and then down. This would have necessitated his taking his eye off the scope, before refocusing on a target within a vehicle heading down a slope, and contend with movement by passengers within the car. Frazier, an FBI ballistics left handed expert, when asked if it was necessary to take his eye away from the scope, when testing the rifle:

 “Yes, sir, that was necessary. To prevent the bolt of the rifle from striking me in the face as it came to the rear.”

Furthermore in their testing, the FBI reported, “The pressure to open the bolt was so great that we tended to move the rifle off the target.”

To which I add, your admission that one of Oswald’s three shots missed. An indicator that all didn’t go well with his aim.

All the above hindrances would have reduced Oswald’s ability to get off three precisely aimed shots. A case of too many shots, too little time

 

The Bullets

 

Sound and Sequence

 

From what I’ve read, someone took the time to wipe the fingerprints off the shell casings that were found. In addition, there is no way to tell when these were fired … that day or a week prior.

In Killing Kennedy, you stated –The governor had turned his back just before Oswald fired the shot. From Mrs. Connally’s testimony to the Warren Commission, it sounds as though the governor didn’t begin to turn until after Kennedy was hit.

Nellie Connally: “I heard a noise, I didn’t think it was a gun shot … looked back and saw the president clutch his neck with both hands. John turned in the process of looking back …. Then very soon there was a second shot that hit John.”

The two men were only about three feet apart, and the bullet traveled at the rate of 1,904 feet per second. If the same bullet hit Kennedy before hitting Connally, to the human eye, it would have appeared to have hit the two men simultaneously.

Governor Connally supports his wife’s testimony: “… heard what I thought was a rifle shot … turning to look … never made the full turn.” The governor always contended he was hit by a separate bullet.

Secret Service Agent Kellerman: “… there was a report like a firecracker, pop … in the seconds that I talked a flurry of shots came into the car … those shots came all together … I’m going to say two and it was a double bang—bang, bang.”

Secret Service Agent Hill: “…heard a noise from my right, seemed to me to be a firecracker … there was another sound, which was different from the first.”

Secret Service Agent Hickey: “…heard a loud report which sounded like a firecracker … seemed to me to be at ground level. … At the moment he was almost erect, I heard two reports… completely different in sound than the first report and were in such rapid succession that there seemed to be practically no time element between them.”

It’s conceivable that shots from two different weapons were fired almost simultaneously, making it sound as though there was only one.

One final bit of information regarding the timing: A photograph (no.5) by Phil Willis, which corresponds to frame 202 of the Zapruder film, was taken a half second before the Kennedy car could’ve cleared the obstructing oak tree and became visible to a sixth-floor gunman. Willis, claimed he took the photograph in immediate response to hearing the first shot. If this could’ve been verified, it would prove there had to have been a second shooter.

 

 

Direction and Trajectory

 

        For the single-shooter hypothesis to work in the time available, the number of bullets had to be limited to three. The Warren Commission and the FBI each agreed on the number three, but they chose different bullets. To make it workable, Arlen Specter was called upon to dream up a non-plausible explanation.

        Shot #1 – Whether it’s first, last, or in between makes little difference. The “James Tague shot hit concrete several blocks away. This is included by the FBI, ignored by the Warren Commission.

Shot #2 – The Neck Shot occurred by frame 210 to make the single-assassin a workable hypothesis. Could it have come from the front? That’s within the realm of possibility and makes a lot of sense. Because of the tracheotomy operation and the extensive damage to his skull following the Kill Shot, we’re not positive if the Neck Shot’ wound is the entry or the exit.

We know the bullet did not exit “through the thick knot of Kennedy’s dark blue tie.” For if it had, experts then would’ve been able to precisely determine its direction and trajectory.

Under questioning, Doctor Carrico, who witnessed Kennedy’s throat wound before it was distorted by the tracheotomy and before the President’s shirt and tie were removed, indicated the bullet wound was above the knot of the tie. Whereas the Warren Commission placed it lower by an inch. Besides, there were no traces of copper on the tie’s knot.

Doctor Perry upon being questioned answered, “The neck wound could have been either an entrance or exit wound.”

One thing I find intriguing is that Kennedy reached toward his the front of his neck upon being hit. I would have thought if the bullet entered the back of his neck, he would have instinctively reached there.

Shot #3 – Back Wound – FBI Agents Sibert and O’Neill described a bullet wound in Kennedy’s back. According to Doctor George Burkley the wound was about the level of the third thoracic vertebra – four to six inches from the top of Kennedy’s shirt collar. The FBI Summary Report states the following:

“one of the bullets had entered just below his shoulder to the right of his spinal column at an angle of 45 to 60 degrees downward … there was no point of exit.”

This may have been the nearly whole bullet found on the stretcher.

Shot #4 – Governor’s Connally’s wound came from a bullet on a downward angle, shattering his 5th rib and exited below the right nipple. According to Connally himself, this bullet came after Kennedy’s Neck Shot. This occurred about frame 238 of the Zapruder film. Two eyewitnesses, Mrs. Connally and motorcycle officer James Channey concur.

Shot #5 – The nearly whole bullet found on the gurney at Parkland memorial Hospital had to have come from someplace. It’s not the Tague bullet, nor the large fragment that remained in Connally, nor the fragments remaining from Kennedy’s Kill Shot. This leaves one alternative, there had to have been a second shooter.

Shot #6 – According to the certified pathologist Doctor Humes, the Kill Shot entered “the right posterior portion of the scalp…situated approximately 2.5 centimeters to the right and slightly above the external occipital protuberance, which is a bony prominence situated in the posterior portion of everyone’s skull. The third obvious wound at the time of the examination was a huge defect over the right side of the skull…. However, the skull was intact completely past this defect…. …multiple minute fragments of radio opaque material transversing a line from the wound in the occiput to just above the right eye. …more likely moving in a direct line … missile struck the skin and skull at a more tangential angle than did the other missile.”

From all indications, this bullet traveled in an upward trajectory, an impossible task for an object moving in a “direct line” from 60 feet above and behind. Could it have been deflected? Only if one has a vivid imagination. O’Reilly describes the bullet:

“It barely slows as it slices through the tender gray brain matter before exploding the thin wall of bone as it exits the front of his skull.”

Keep in mind these were bullets, not guided missiles.

 

Have I counted any of these bullets twice—that’s quite likely—but which one or ones?

1)    The nearly-whole bullet found on the gurney is a likely one to be eliminated. But which one did it duplicate?

2)    Because of where it hit the ground, The Teague shot, had to be separate.

3)    Kennedy’s Neck Shot, regardless of its direction had to be separate. From all accounts, it came far too early to be the shot that hit Governor Connally. Although it may have been the bullet found on the gurney.

4)    Connally’s shot with its distinct downward trajectory and coming to late to be associated with Kennedy’s Neck Shot also had to be separate.

5)    The Kill shot had to be separate.

6)    Kennedy’s back shot and the bullet found at Parkland hospital may have been the same. Since it lacked an exit wound, it could not have been the bullet that hit Connally.

If we offset the gurney bullet against one of the above, we still have five shots remaining, that’s at least two more than Oswald could possibly have fired in the 12-seconds available.

 

Final Note:

Bill, in light of all the evidence to the contrary the following comment from your book befuddles me.

        “There are still Americans who believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone….”

I will acknowledge, however, that Oswald and the one or more other shooters may have each been acting independently and not in concert. But no unbiased, logical person could possibly believe that Oswald did all the shooting on his own.

A proper investigation should be opened. Americans have the right to know who really killed their President.

Monday, November 25, 1963

        After standing in a line that often stretched for more than two miles, and suffering through 38-degree weather, a quarter of a million mourners visited the Rotunda to show their respects. An outpouring of national grief never before witnessed. Kennedy’s mother, Rose, her son, Senator Edward Kennedy, astronaut John Glenn, his wife, and Ireland’s President Eamon De Valera were among them. Jackie Kennedy made a second visit and again kissed the flag.

During this national day of mourning, churches, across the nation and all over the world, timed memorial services to coincide with the funeral and burial. Betty and I remained in front of the TV mesmerized by the pageantry.

Our tears freely flowed when John-John, on the day of his third birthday, saluted when his father’s casket was placed on the caisson. Escorted by her daughter, a pale Caroline, and the President’s surviving brothers, Robert and Edward, the black-veiled Jackie, who directed every funeral detail, bore her grief as majestically as a queen. Lining the procession route to Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, a million spectators listened as the Marine Corps Band, resplendent in scarlet tunics, played Chopin’s Funeral March. With six-blocks remaining, Mrs. Kennedy left the comfort of her limousine and walked the now narrow 10-lane Avenue of the Presidents to the Cathedral, following the six grey horses in their slow gait.

The Catholic hierarchy had desired a High Requiem Mass, but with the support, of their close friend Richard Cardinal Cushing, the Kennedy family chose a Low Pontifical Requiem Mass, which is said rather than sung.  This type of service was most often attended by the late President. Witnessed by 1,900 invited guests, including delegations from 53-countries headed by 26-heads of state—the greatest outpouring of diplomatic mourning in the nation’s history, among whom were Prince Phillip of England and Anastas Mikonav, first deputy premier of the Soviet Union. By contrast, Lee Harvey Oswald was secretly interred three hours later in a pine coffin with only his mother and Russian wife in attendance.

 

Cardinal Cushing, who had said a prayer at Kennedy’s inauguration, offered the Mass without a deacon, but had two priests serving as altar boys. With the recent advent of television, this Requiem Mass received more attention than any other event. At Mrs. Kennedy’s request, Luligi Vena sang “Ave Maria.”

The procession to the grave site at Arlington was a memorable as any I’ve ever witnessed. Tens of thousands lined the hillsides within the cemetery, some had arrived as early as 3 a.m. The muffled rumble of drums, four ruffles, and flourishes preceded the National Anthem. The tentative sound of a piper was followed by the Air Force bagpipe band, clad in green and black tartans, parading in dirge step.

The strains of an ancient air, “The Mist Covers the Mountains” accompanied Kennedy’s remains, which were tenderly borne by the eight servicemen who carried it to each of the resting places. At the precise moment the casket was placed over the grave, 50-Air Force and Navy jet warplanes flew overhead, next came Air Force One. As though responding to the ceremony, thousands of leaves from a giant oak slowly made their descent earthward. A squad of cadets from the Irish National Military College conducted a ceremonial presentation of arms before the American flag which had draped the casket was folded in the military tradition and presented to Mrs. Kennedy, who pressed it to her heart.

Followed by Bobby and Teddy Kennedy, Jackie bore a lighted taper to the top of the grave and ignited the eternal flame. Jackie’s emotions were kept under control until she tearfully embraced General Maxwell Taylor.

        All this will not be finished in the first hundred days.

Nor will it be finished in the first thousand days,

nor in the life of this administration,

not even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.

But let us begin.

        John Fitzgerald Kennedy, at his Inauguration,

        January 20, 1961