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  • Matt Crumpton

Ep 34: Oswald in the Marines (Part 3)

Updated: Apr 23

So far, in looking at Oswald’s enlistment in the Marines, we’ve covered his initial training tour, his eventful time overseas in Japan and maybe Taiwan, and his return to stateside to the Santa Ana base. We also heard Oswald’s fellow marine, David Bucknell, claim that Oswald was recruited into intelligence. We also examined Albert Schweitzer College - the tiny, obscure, Swiss school where Oswald applied in 1959 - and the CIA connections of Percival Brundage, the president of the college’s financial arm.

 

In this episode, we’ll continue unpacking Oswald’s time in the military, with a focus on how Oswald got out of the marines in September of 1959. We’ll also try to get to the bottom of exactly when he began studying Marxism and learning to speak Russian.

 

Discharge for Dependency

 

Lee Harvey Oswald’s Marine Corps enlistment contract required him to serve on active duty until December 7, 1959.[1] This meant that he couldn’t just walk away from the Marines Corps. To get out before December 7, Oswald had to have a special reason. That reason came in the form of a discharge for dependency in order to care for his “disabled” mother. But, as you will see, there seems to be more to this dependency discharge than meets the eye.

 

In December of 1958, Marguerite Oswald was working for the King Candy Company in a booth inside of the Fair Ridglea department store in Fort Worth. While Marguerite was reaching for a jar, a box of candy fell on her face and nose.[2] She was examined by Dr. Milton Goldberg who said that she had a small laceration on her nose with swelling, and that the x-rays revealed no fractures.[3] So, there was medical confirmation that something had fallen on her. But, Marguerite’s injury appeared to be only surface level.  

 

Not satisfied with Dr. Goldberg’s initial diagnosis, Marguerite continued to follow up with him for medical care related to this candy box injury. But, Dr. Goldberg told the FBI that he informed Marguerite that QUOTE “he could not go along with the alleged injury for compensation purposes…”[4] So, Dr. Goldberg thought Marguerite was – at a minimum – playing up her injury and making it seem like more than it really was, just so she could get the insurance money.

 

From February of 1959 until Oswald’s discharge was granted, Marguerite saw multiple other doctors on dozens of occasions for various different ailments.[5] None of those doctors found that she was permanently disabled. In August of 1959, her appeal to the Texas Industrial Accident Board from her denial of employment benefits, was officially denied. The Board found that Marguerite had “no loss in wage earning capacity” as a result of box of candy falling on her nose.[6]

 

Despite the lack of objective evidence for Marguerite Oswald being disabled, Lee Harvey Oswald still sought a discharge for dependency from the Marine Corps, for the stated reason of taking care of her - his disabled mother.

 

In July of 1959, Lee Oswald traveled to the Red Cross at the El Toro base and asked them about paperwork for a hardship discharge that would allow him to get out of the Marines early. He told them that his mother was permanently disabled, which, as we have seen, was not true. At that point, the local Red Cross in Fort Worth was notified to interview Marguerite so that it could be determined whether the conditions of a hardship discharge had been met.[7]

 

Patricia Henley from the Fort Worth Red Cross then interviewed Marguerite and told her what documents she would need for Lee to be able to submit the application. In her report, Henley described Marguerite Oswald as QUOTE “Neurotic, feeling completely lonely, and persecuted. The mother is definitely unstable and in need of support.” So, the local red cross found that Marguerite was disabled, but not because of a physical ailment, it was because of how she acted in the interview. Henley was not aware of all of the medical records showing that Marguerite was not disabled and the recent Texas Industrial Accident Board determination. Based on this one visit between Patricia Henley and Marguerite Oswald, the Red Cross then helped Marguerite gather the documentation required for Lee to apply to leave the Marines early so that he could come home and take care of her.[8]

 

Once the documents had been compiled, Oswald filed his discharge for dependency application on August 17, 1959. His request was approved about two weeks later at the end of August.[9] That two week approval timeline was far shorter than the normal amount of time that it took for the Dependency Discharge Board to process applications. Board member. Lt. Col. Bollish Kozak who signed off on Oswald’s discharge, told the HSCA that it normally took 3-6 months for a dependency discharge.[10] He didn’t elaborate on why Oswald’s particular case was processed so fast. Perhaps Oswald just got lucky.

 

Oswald served his last day in the Marines on September 11. About a year later, the Marine Corps would update Oswald’s status from a discharge for dependency to undesirable discharge, once they learned about his attempted defection to Russia.[11]

 

Discharge Analysis

 

Most Warren Report defenders and critics alike agree that Oswald’s discharge was not really done so that he could help his mother. It was likely a ruse so that Oswald could travel to the Soviet Union, which he was already planning to do. Oswald even told fellow Marines in his unit that he was planning to defect to Russia according to FBI Reports.[12] And Oswald’s mother told Dr. Goldberg that her son was planning to defect to Russia nine months before he did.[13]

 

If Marguerite really needed help, she had another perfectly good son right in her own backyard of Fort Worth – Robert Oswald. Why wouldn’t Robert just help out his mom? The dependency discharge papers actually mention Robert Oswald, but say that he can’t help his mom because of marital responsibilities – as if being married relieves you of the human duty to help care for your mother.[14]

 

Oswald sent his application fee to Albert Schweitzer College on June 19. But, just a few weeks later, he was asking the Red Cross how to get a dependency discharge for his mother for an injury that he had known about for more than 7 months - since December of 1958. Of course, Oswald can’t attend college in Switzerland andcare for his mom at the same time. But, why would he waste today’s equivalent of $250 on an application for a school he knew he couldn’t attend because he would be taking care of his mom?

 

The answer is that he never intended to take care of his mother at all. Just like he never intended to go to Albert Schweitzer College. The discharge for dependency got him out of active duty with the Marines early. And the Albert Schweitzer application allowed him to travel internationally when he otherwise would have been prohibited from travel because of his 3 year inactive duty service obligation.

 

Given that Marguerite’s injury was either fake or extremely exaggerated, the question is whether she pushed this idea of being injured by a candy box to help Lee get out of military service or whether it was just for money. Either answer is possible. But, Grace Craner, Marguerite’s landlord, said that on September 13, Marguerite told her that she “wanted her to meet Lee because he was only going to be in town for a few days.”[15] Marguerite’s knowledge that Lee would not be staying to help her – which was the entire point of the dependency discharge – makes it more likely that she was trying to help Lee commit fraud on the Marines so that he could go to Russia sooner.

 

Communism

 

When reading about the Warren Report’s version of Oswald, a central part of his persona is the idea that he was stridently dedicated to Marxism, a political philosophy where worker’s own the means of production, and Communism, a system of government based on Marxist principles.

 

But, when exactly did he begin to express Marxist beliefs? And did he outwardly share those beliefs with others?

 

Oswald told Aline Mosby that he had been interested in Communist theory since he was 15 years old, when an old lady in New York handed him a pamphlet about saving the Rosenbergs.[16] Oswald turned 14 years old in the Fall of 1953, when he and his mother were still living in New York. The Rosenbergs, who were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, were executed in June of 1953.[17] So, what Oswald is saying could be true.

 

We know from looking at Oswald’s childhood that the first time anyone who knew him says that he was interested in Marxism is when Henry Timmer – the guy who claims to have met Oswald as a boy in North Dakota - brings it up. But, as we have discussed, the Oswald in North Dakota saga is disputed and uncertain.

 

Curiously, Ed Voebel, Oswald’s closest friend at Beauregard Junior High School, said that Oswald never mentioned communism. Voebel told the Warren Commission QUOTE “I have read things about Lee having developed ideas as to Marxism and communism way back when he was a child, but I believe that's a lot of baloney.… I am sure he had no interest in those things at that time, at least that I know of.”[18] 

 

The next person to say that Oswald discussed Marxism was Palmer McBride, who worked with Oswald at the Pfisterer Dental Lab. McBride is the one who gave the FBI report claiming to have worked with Oswald from December 1957 through May of 1958. McBride told the FBI QUOTE “Lee Oswald was very serious about the virtues of Communism and discussed these virtues at every opportunity.”[19] McBride also knew Oswald when he got kicked out of William Wulf’s house for talking too positively about Communism.

 

Putting North Dakota aside for now, it looks like Oswald started to outwardly share his affinity for Marxism during his friendship with Palmer McBride. To figure out when this was, we are back to the problem of Palmer McBride’s time with Oswald at Pfisterer Dental Lab overlapping with dates when Oswald was serving in Atsugi, Japan.

 

Richard Garrett, Oswald’s tenth grade Arlington Heights high school classmate, told Life Magazine that Oswald “tried to sell him on communism.”[20] This make sense because right after Oswald dropped out of Arlington Heights, he wrote a letter to the Socialist Party of America on October 3, 1956.

 

The letter said QUOTE

 

            Dear Sirs,

 

I am sixteen years of age and would like more information about your youth league. I would like to know if there is a branch in my area, how to join, etc. I am a Marxist and have been studying Socialist principles for well over fifteen months….[21]

 

Fifteen months before the date of this letter would have been the Summer of 1955, when Oswald was serving in the Civil Air Patrol alongside Ed Voebel, who says Oswald never discussed Marxism. Robert Oswald, who was briefly home with Lee some that Summer, said that “if Lee was deeply interested in Marxism, he said nothing about it to me. I didn’t see any books on it in the apartment.”[22] Between the letter to the Socialist party and the statements he was making to Richard Garrett, Oswald’s outward Marxism really seems to have taken off when he was in Fort Worth, right before he enlisted in the Marines.

 

But, it’s hard to say because Oswald didn’t have many close friends during his childhood. When he joined the Marines and was regularly in close proximity to others, those Marines who got to know him had mixed statements on whether Oswald ever favorably discussed Communism.

 

Allen Felde, who was with Oswald for several months at boot camp and Camp Pendleton said that he continually discussed politics and that Oswald was “left-winged.”[23] This makes sense because just before he joined the Marines he was writing letters to the Socialist Party. But, what doesn’t make any sense is that there are entire tours of duty and dates of service where Marines who served with Oswald say that Oswald was no fan of Communism, he didn’t read about it, and that he never even brought it up.

 

During the 3 week trip to Japan on the USS Bexar, Daniel Powers (who already knew Oswald from Biloxi) spent a lot of time with him and taught Oswald how to play chess.[24] He said that Oswald would always read books, but not communist ones. He saw him reading Walt Whitman.[25] Aside from Powers, Donald Camarata was the only other person the Warren Commission or FBI spoke with who was with Oswald in both Jacksonville and Biloxi. Camarata had no recollection of any remarks from Oswald concerning Communism, Russia or Cuba.[26]

 

Other marines who knew Oswald from the USS Bexar and his time at the Atsugi base agreed that Oswald did not show any interest in Russia or Communism. John Heindel said Oswald would go his own way when they were allowed to leave the base and he never seemed to be interested in politics or international affairs.[27]Godfrey Daniels taught Oswald how to play poker while on the USS Bexar from San Diego to Japan. He did not mention anything about Oswald discussing Russia or communism.[28]

 

Oswald’s bunkmates in Atsugi would have spent the most time around him in close quarters. Robert Augg was one of those bunkmates. He told the FBI that Oswald was quiet, neat, and clean and that he would always go on liberty alone.[29] None of the other three Marines who shared Oswald’s bunk area were interviewed by the FBI or Warren Commission. In total, the FBI interviewed only 8 people who knew Oswald while he was oversees on his Japan deployment.[30] Many of those Marines didn’t even personally know Oswald.[31]

 

The fact that there are zero witnesses from Oswald’s time Jacksonville, Biloxi, or Japan who recall him speaking favorably of Marxism is somewhat mysterious, especially when we look at the statements from the Marines who served with Oswald at Santa Ana once he returned from Japan.[32]

 

When Oswald was back stateside, he bunked with Nelson Delgado, who said that Oswald always praised the socialist form of government and said that Castro was the best thing that ever happened to the Western Hemisphere. Delgado said that Oswald had a copy of Das Kapital – the same book that Henry Timmer and Palmer McBride mentioned. And that Oswald was always reading it.[33] Sergeant Richard  Call echoed what Nelson Delgado said. Oswald had also discussed Communism and the book, Das Kapital, with him.[34] 

 

By this time, Oswald’s love for the Soviet Union was on full display. Everyone in his unit was calling him “Oswaldskivitch.” It’s easy to see why. He played Russian records loudly. When he played chess, he used a set with red pieces to represent the Red Army. And he talked about wanting to help Castro in the Cuban revolution.[35]

 

Oswald even received a Russian newspaper called “The Worker” at the Santa Ana Marine Corps base.[36]Oswald told Nelson Delgado that the paper was okay because it was a “White Russian” paper, not a Communist one. Russian history sidebar: White Russians were the faction in Russia that opposed the Bolsheviks. They were the anti-communists.[37] Anyway, this newspaper came to the attention of Captain Robert Block who then confronted Oswald about it. But, according to Oswald, he was QUOTE “merely trying to indoctrinate himself in the enemies’ philosophy,” according to Marine Corp policy. The matter of Oswald’s Russian newspaper was then dropped.[38]

 

Jim Batelho, who roomed with Oswald in Santa Ana told Mark Lane, QUOTE “I’m very conservative…Oswald was not a Communist or a Marxist. If he was, I would have taken violent action against him and so would many of the other marines in the unit.”[39]


In summary, the first mention of socialism is Henry Timmer when Oswald was 14, but no one else says he talks about it until Richard Garrett when he was about to turn 17. Why wouldn’t Oswald talk about his favorite subject for 3 years? Maybe he did and no one was interviewed who heard him. Or maybe Timmer fabricated the incident and the first person to actually hear Oswald  mention Marxism was Richard Garrett at Arlington Heights.

 

The absence of any talk of Marxist talk for large chunks of Oswald’s military life makes no sense. Especially, when he picked right back up with it when he arrived in Santa Ana. Are we to believe that Oswald decided it wasn’t a good idea to talk about Communism in Jacksonville, Biloxi, or Japan, but that it was fine for him to do in Camp Pendleton and Santa Ana?

 

It's also strange that Oswald would be espousing the virtues of Communism while eagerly leaving high school early to join the Marines. Remember, Oswald tried to enlist when he turned 16 and he was denied. Is that the behavior of a Russia loving commie? I can’t make it make sense. The official answers to that question are that Oswald had a brother in the Marines and that he wanted to escape his mother.[40] But, there is no evidence that Lee and Robert were ever very close. And Lee could have gone anywhere to escape his mother. He didn’t need to join the Marines.

 

One last thing on Oswald’s relationship with Marxism: We know from Commission Exhibit 2718 that Oswald’s love of all things Russian while serving in the Marines did not result in any investigations or negative notes about Oswald in his Marine Corps file. But, remember, we are talking about 1959, just a few years after Joseph McCarthy led hearings on the House Un American Activities Committee which accused hundreds of Americans of being communist sympathizers with little proof. Yet, it is just a few years after this that Oswaldskivitch is allowed to go full Russian fan boy while on a Marine base. I suppose it could have been a very laid back and accepting Marine base. But, it seems more likely that Oswald was allowed to steep himself in Russian culture because it was part of his job, which is basically what he said when he was asked about his subscription to the Russian newspaper.

 

Oswald learning Russian

 

We talked about a timeline for Oswald outwardly espousing the political theory of Marxism. But when, exactly, did he begin to study the Russian language? Russian is not an easy language to learn. It’s listed as a category 4 language, which takes about 1,100 hours to learn, according to the United States State Department.[41]

 

While there is evidence that Oswald was espousing Marxism just before he turned 17, the record is lacking when it comes to any evidence on when Oswald first began to learn the Russian language.

 

The Warren Report says QUOTE “While in Atsugi, Japan, Oswald studied the Russian language, perhaps with some help from an officer in his unit who was interested in Russian and used to ‘talk about it’ with Oswald occasionally.”[42] The Report doesn’t tell us who this officer was. There are no known FBI reports or statements from witnesses on the topic. So, it appears that the Warren Report determined that Oswald first learned Russian in Japan without any evidentiary support whatsoever.

 

Zack Stout was stationed with Oswald in Atsugi. Out of everyone in Stout’s group who was there in Japan with Oswald, none of the men said that he spoke Russian. Stout told John Armstrong about the idea of Oswald speaking Russian in Atsugi, QUOTE “That’s ridiculous. I never saw or heard him study any foreign language in Japan or anywhere else. Most of the time we were aboard ship or on maneuvers in the Philippines. He didn’t have time to study any foreign language.”[43]

 

It's also not likely that Oswald had a pre-existing knowledge of Russian before Japan. Daniel Powers, who was Oswald’s superior officer in radar school, and spent a lot of time with Oswald on the USS Bexar headed over to Japan, says that Oswald never said anything about Russian. And he never saw Oswald studying Russian.[44]

 

The first evidence that we have of Oswald knowing how to speak Russian or pursuing learning Russian is when Oswald returned from Japan to Santa Ana in December of 1958. Only two months later, on February 25, 1959, Oswald took the Defense Language Proficiency Test, which he passed, getting 2 more questions correct than he got wrong.[45] How could it be possible that a high school dropout with a ninth grade education level who had never studied Russian before, could pass a Russian test, with only two months of studying under his belt? 

 

Nevertheless, Oswald did speak, read, and write Russian when he was at the Santa Ana base in 1959. This was a matter of common knowledge among all of the marines there at the time, according to the Warren Commission affidavit of Erwin Lewis, who worked with Oswald there.[46]

 

In the Spring of 1959, a few months after taking the Russian test, Oswald was introduced to Rosaleen Quinn, the aunt of Oswald’s fellow Marine – Henry Roussel, Jr. Quinn, who was an airline stewardess at the time, was studying the Russian language because she wanted to work for the State Department in Moscow.[47] Quinn gave her nephew a ride from Louisiana across the country to the Santa Ana base and ended up staying at a house nearby for a week. Her nephew, Rousell, Jr, set up the date between Quinn and Oswald so they could practice speaking Russian to each other. They went to dinner and a movie. Quinn said that, while it was hard to talk to Oswald because he was very quiet, Oswald spoke Russian well for someone who was self-taught.[48]

 

Given that there is no evidence that Oswald learned Russian in Atsugi or before, there has to be something more than meets the eye when it comes to how he picked up the Russian language. I don’t know what that is. But, you don’t go from zero to passing a Russian language test in just a few months of studying.

 

NEXT TIME ON SOLVING JFK: I’ll be joined for another Recap & Rebuttals episode by Jeff Crudele from the podcast JFK: The Enduring Secret. Jeff and I will unpack all of the disputed issues from Oswald’s time in the Marines. After that, we begin looking at Oswald’s time in Russia.

 


[1] Warren Report at 688. (It would’ve been October of 1959, but he had extra days added because of his confinement while he was in Atsugi.)

[2] WC Document 819, Employers First Report of Injury, Liberty Insurance Company, 12/11/58.

[3] Id., Letter from Morton Goldberg to Liberty Insurance Company, 1/26/59.

[4] FBI Report of 11/22/63 by Special Agents Madland and French, available at Armstrong, CD-ROM 59-03.

[5] See John Armstrong, Harvey & Lee at 221, 224, 227, 231, 235.

[7] Id. at 240.

[9] Warren Report at 688.

[10] HSCA Interview of Lt. Bollish Kozak, 8/2/78.

[11] Warren Report at 689.

[12] FBI Interview of Robert Eddy by Jerome E Meinert on 11/22/63; FBI Memorandum from SA Meinert to SAX Los Angeles, 11/25/63.

[13] Commission Document 5, p 298, FBI Interview of Dr. Milton Goldberg by SA Jack French, 11/22/63

[15] Armstrong at 245.

[16] Warren Report at 695.

[18] Warren Commission Testimony of Ed Voebel, https://www.jfk-assassination.net/russ/testimony/voebel.htm

[20] Life Magazine Interview with Richard Garrett, 2/21/64.

[21] Warren Report at 681.

[22] Destiny Betrayed, Chapter 7

[24] Warren Report at 683.

[25] Id.

[26] Donald Camarata Warren Commission Testimony, 8H 317.

[27] WC Affidavit of John Rene Heindel, 8 H 318

[28] Armstrong at 168.

[29] FBI interview of Robert Augg by SA Rufus Tyson, 3/13/64

[30] Armstrong at 170-171.

[31] Robert Augg, Oswald’s bunkmate we mentioned before; William Trail (who said he QUOTE “saw little of Oswald but heard rumors of his being different.”); Peter Cassisi (who had no contact with Oswald during off hours and had no recollection of ever having spent any time with him or associating with him in any way); Richard Cyr (who didn’t work with Oswald and slept in a different bunk cubicle that was not next to Oswalds, but said he didn’t think Oswald studied a foreign language in Japan); Sidney Robinson (who never had any conversations with Oswald); Robert Demers (who was not friends with Oswald, but never saw any communist literature or heard him discuss communism); Peter Connor (who didn’t know anyone who was close with Oswald, but had no recollection of communist sentiments from him); and Jerry Pitts (who said he had little contact with Oswald and didn’t recall anyone being particularly close to him). Pitts and Connor both mentioned to the FBI that Oswald hated being called by his middle name – Harvey or Harv.

[32] Posner at 32.

[33] FBI Interview of Nelson Delgado by SA James Marley 1/15/64

[34] Telephone Interview of Richard Dennis Call by John Hart Ely, 5/8/64; HSCA Interview of Call, 6/6/78

[35] Posner at 29.

[36] Commission Document 75, p 236, FBI interview of Paul E. Murphy by SA Jerome Meinert, 11/22/63.

[38] Posner at 32.

[40] Posner at 19.

[42] Warren Report at 257.

[43] Armstrong at 187.

[44] WC Testimony of Daniel Patrick Powers, 8H at 285.

[47] Commission Exhibit 2015

[48] Id.

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