"I AM A PATSY!"
By George DeMorenschildt
1) Getting to know Lee Harvey Oswald and his wife
2) First meeting with Lee.
3) Further conversation with Lee in 1962.
4) The Oswalds in Minsk
5) We are becoming close friends
6) Contrasts between the Oswalds
7) Increased animosity between Lee and Marina
8) Idea of separation
9) Separation and more trouble
10) What did Lee dislike about the United States
11) Effects of the separation
12) Our meetings at the end of 1962
13) Rare meetings in 1963
Preface in Haiti
"I am a patsy! I am a Patsy!" These last words of my friend, Lee Harvey Oswald, still ring in my ears and make me think of the terrible injustice inflicted on the memory of this "supposed assassin".
November 1963 was fairly uneventful in Haiti-no shootings and no invasions. My young geologist Alson Boyd and I had worked in our office located on Avenue Truman in the center of Port-au-Prince. Since we started very early in the morning to avoid the infernal daily heat, our daily chores were over at 2 p.m. This office occupied a large room of a Quonset building belonging to the Haitian Government and we were kept there virtually incommunicado since it contained government maps and other "strategic information".
Alston and I drove to my house overlooking Port-au-Prince in the area called Tonton Lyle and a block away from the presidential retreat, then we ate and took a siesta, like any self-respecting Haitian. Then later that afternoon we dressed and went to the reception at the Lebanese Embassy.
The usually animated streets of the capital seemed deserted. "I feel trouble in the air," said my wife Jeanne. The air was balmy, the soldiers and the tontons macoutes were absent and we could not hear any shots.
We greeted the Lebanese Ambassador and joined the crowd. George Morel, head of the Pan-American Airways in Haiti came up to us immediately. "Didn't you know your president was killed?" He asked in a strained voice.
At first we thought he was talking about the President of Haiti, Docteur Francois Duvalier who was my nominal boss in Haiti. Seeing our blank expression, Morel explained. "President Kennedy was assassinated today."
I hoped that it wouldn't happen in Texas, especially in Dallas. But Morel summarily explained the situation-and it was in Dallas.
Gloomily we filed out of the Lebanese Embassy, where people did not seem to be too badly concerned about President Kennedy's fate, got in the car and drove away. "If he had his tonton-macoutes around, this would not have happened," I said angrily and this was my first serious criticism of our services supposed to protect the President of the United States.
We drove gloomily to the American Embassy, located near the sea-shore and not too far from my office. The doors were wideopen and two marines stood there on both sides of a book where the American residents would sign their names as a gesture of reverence to the dead head of state. Having signed our names, we were the first to have done it, we drove to the house of an old friend of mine, Valentin (Teddy) Blaque, an attache at the Embassy.
Teddy's house was similar to ours, but more elaborate, with a large terrace overlooking the sparkling bay of Port-au-Prince. Several mutual friends stood around, looking at each other with stunned expression, and seemed to ask the same question: "Why him?"
"For the first time we had a president who was young and energetic. And he was trying to solve the problems of the world," said Jeanne sadly, holding back her tears. "And he had to go..."
The beautiful view seemed funeral to us as we stood there silently.
"And in Dallas," I mused aloud, why there? A conservative and somewhat provincial city, but successful and proud of its success. We knew the Mayor-a charming man-and many city fathers.
"But who did it?" I asked Teddy.,
"I just listened to the radio and a suspect was arrested already," he said.
Before he mentioned the name, I thought of Lee and his rifle with the telescopic lens. "Could it be Lee? No, it was impossible."
And driving back home, in stunned silence, we thought of Lee and the predicament he was in.
But since the official version had it that Lee Harvey Oswald was the main suspect, we made our deposition at the Embassy. We did know him and we were aware of the fact he owned a rifle. We would be happy to testify what we knew about him and about our relationship with him and his wife. But we did not believe he was the assassin.
Then we learned that a letter was sent by someone influential in Washington to the official of the Haitian government to drop me from the payroll and to exile me as fast as possible. Fortunately I had good friends and the latter did not happen. And later, little by little, we were ostracized by the United States Ambassador Timmons, then by the American businessmen and government employees, with whom we had been on very good terms and, finally, came the news of the investigation of all our friends and even acquaintances in the United States.
Then came the man with the white teeth and a flannel suit, an FBI agent trying to scare us off. At last, after a long time, we were officially invited to come to Washington and help the Warren Committee in their investigation. Although we could contribute very little, we still accepted to go to Washington and testify. Although our depositions were supposed to remain confidential, all of the three hundred pages of irrelevant conversation were printed and promiscuously distributed. Actually our depositions were longer than Marina's and Mrs. Marguerite Oswald's put together! Why?
We assume two reasons-to waste taxpayer's money and to distract attention of the American people from the people involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. All the gossipy, futile stuff, related to our private lives, half of it not relevant to Oswald, boring and useless. And all this because my wife and I liked Lee Harvey Oswald, tried to defend him and because Lee said, before he died: " I liked and admired George de Mohrenschildt."
Early in the summer of 1962 the rumors spread out among the Russian-speaking people of Dallas and Fort Worth of an unusual couple-the Oswalds. He was supposedly an ex-marine, an unfriendly and eccentric character, who had gone to Russia and brought back with him a Russian wife. He had lived in Minsk where I had spent my early childhood. And so I was curious to meet the couple and to find out what had happened to Minsk.
Someone gave me Lee's address and one afternoon a friend of mine, Colonel Lawrence Orloff and I drove to Fort Worth, about 30 miles from Dallas. We drove over the dreary, sewage-smelling miles separating the two cities. Texas does have lovely open spaces, but here they were degraded and polluted. After some searching, we found a shack on Mercedes Street in a semi-industrial, slummy area, near Montgomery Ward.
I knocked and a tawdry but clean young woman opened the door. I introduced myself and the colonel, giving as a reference the name of George Bouhe from whom I obtained the address. George was an elderly refugee, very friendly, the father superior of all the Russians in the Dallas Fort Worth Area. So this was Marina Oswald.
To Orlov she was beautiful not withstanding bad teeth and mousy blond hair.
I did not find her very attractive although she had a certain charm and she spoke beautiful, melodious Russian, so different from the language used by us who anglicized our language and bastardized it by foreign intonations and words.
Marina offered us some sherry and said that Lee would be over soon. We spoke a little fooling around; she had a pretty good sense of humour but the opinions she expressed seemed trite to me. And then entered Lee Harvey Oswald who was to become so famous or so infamous. He wore overalls and had clean workingman's shoes on. Only someone who had never met Lee could have called him insignificant. "There is something outstanding about this man," I told myself. One could detect immediately a very sincere and forward man. Although he was average-looking, with no outstanding features and of medium size, he showed in his conversation all the elements of concentration, thought and toughness. This man had the courage of his convictions and did not hesitate to discuss them. I was glad to meet such a person and was carried away back to the days of my youth in Europe, where as students, we discussed world affairs and our own ideas over many beers and without caring about time.
Lee was looking tenderly from time to time at Baby June. He loved her.
We shook hands and left. Driving back the colonel mused: "she is so charming and young!"
"But I found the ex-marine so much more interesting," I said. My friend, the retired air-force colonel resented Lee, his offhandedness, his ironic smiles and especially his ferocious spirit in independence. All his sympathy went to Marina, the poor Russian refugee.
We spoke English first and then, somehow, we switched to Russian. Lee spoke it very well, only with a slight accent. Marina did not say very much. "Doesn't your wife speak any English at all?" I asked Lee.
"No, and I don't want her to know English. I want her to continue speaking her own language. Russian is beautiful and I don't want to forget it." And he added with deep conviction. "Russian literature is marvelous and the people I met in the Soviet Union were so warm and nice to me. Yes, I made many friends there," he added thoughtfully.
"And how about the Soviet Government?" I asked anxiously.
"Well, that's another story. The trouble with me I always look for an ideal which probably does not exist."
"Maybe your friend does not understand Russian,: said Lee looking at Colonel Orloff. "Let's speak English then. You know, I was a marine and have respect for the brass," he smiled and added a few kind words to my friend.
And then it was time for us to go. "My wife speaks Russian also and she would like to spend some time with you Marina, and the baby of course," I said.
"I would like to but it will depend on Lee," she answered humbly.
"I am sure Lee will let you go and will come himself." A bond of friendship was already formed between the two of us.
Lee called me a few days after our trip to Fort Worth. "Marina and I will come over tonight, if you don't mind," he said.
"Maybe I could drive to Fort Worth and drive you?" I asked.
"No, thank you, we will come by bus," he answered laconically.
And here they were, Marina, Lee and the baby June. We lived at the time in a pleasant area called University Park, a few blocks from the Southern Methodist University, a conservative stronghold. Both my wife and I were fairly free at the time and welcomed our guests, so different from the local society. Jeanne liked Marina immediately and offered to help her with her English. "Yes, I have to know the language," she agreed and then added unexpectedly. "People already asked me why I liked Lee," and her eyes darted about the furniture and decoration of our rather modest home, "and I answer them, why did Lee like Me?" Jeanne liked this humble remark and her sympathy for Marina increased.
In the meantime Lee and I sat on a comfortable sofa and talked all evening. Naturally I do not remember the sequence, although I recorded what I remembered a few years later, but mostly I asked questions and he answered them. Naturally I wanted to know what made him go to the Soviet Union and he answered me by telling me of his youth in New Orleans. Since his childhood he was keenly aware of social and racial injustices. Instead of playing basketball or baseball, like any other red-blooded American youth, he read voraciously. Among the books he read was Marx's "The Capital" which made a deep impression on him. Ironically, he said, he borrowed this book from the Loyola University library.
"What did you like in it?" I remember asking him.
"It made clear to me the intolerable fact of the exploitation of the poor by the rich."
"But," I said, "Lee, you must have seen it all over the world, the weak or the poor are exploited everywhere by the powerful and the rich. Listen to this: two dogs meet on the crosspoint between East and West Berlin. One dog is running away from the capitalism, the other from communism. The capitalist dog asks-'why do you run away!'-'Because I can eat but I cannot bark. Why are you running away? 'If I bark I cannot eat' answered the capitalist dog."
Lee laughed and answered by a joke he heard somewhere in Minsk. "As you knew," he said, "Russians grab all they can from the satellite countries. So one day at the meeting of the communist party in Rumania, one of the workers stood up and said. 'Camrade Secretary, may I ask you 3 questions?'-'Go ahead." I want to know what happened to our wheat, our petroleum and our wine?" 'Well' said the Secretary, "it's a very complex economic question I cannot answer it immediately."
"Well a few months later the workers are holding the same type of a meeting and another comrade raises his hand and says: 'Comrade Secretary may I ask you four questions?' - 'Shoot' says the secretary. 'I want to ask you what happened to our petroleum, wine and wheat and also what happened to the comrade who had asked the three questions some time ago?' - Silence."
We both laughed. "At least here we are not being sent to a concentration camp," I said.
"You are wrong," answered Lee seriously, "most of the prisoners, convicts in American jail are political prisoners, the very victims of the system."
I read similar opinions recently in several liberal books and Lee was way ahead in thought of all of them. This was over fourteen years ago.
I remember concluding this conversation by telling Lee. "If you want to be a revolutionary, you have to be a fool or to have an inspiration. And your actions will be judged by the success or failure of your life."
Lee agreed. What I liked about him was that he was a seeker for justice-that he had highly developed social instincts. And I was disappointed in my own children for lack of such instincts.
Incidentally, I remember some details pretty well because I made notes of them later and also made tapes of my recollections fairly soon after the assassination.
That night Jeanne served a Russian dinner which Marina found delicious but Lee hardly touched. He was ascetic in his habits, was indifferent to foods and didn't like deserts. In the meantime baby June slept quietly in bed all wrapped up. Lee looked tenderly at her. That night we learned a lot about him - he neither drank or smoked and objected if others, especially his wife, did. Since neither my wife nor I smoked and drank very little, he liked it and considered that we were on his side.
Jeanne was appalled finding out that baby June hadn't had any injections usually given to a child. Also Marina would pick up a pacifier from the floor -then tried it herself before putting it in June's mouth. Unfortunately she had infected teeth at the time, so the baby was exposed also.
My wife had high ideas on Russian hygiene and generally on the high standards of the Soviet youth, so she was outspokenly critical. "Your infected teeth have to be removed as soon as possible," she told Marina. When Marina objected that she didn't have any money and couldn't speak English, Jeanne promised to help her.
After dinner Lee and I went back on the sofa and renewed our conversation.
"I served in the Marine Corps not because I was a patriot but I wanted to get away from the drudgery and to see the world," admitted Lee.
"Did you like the service?"
"Not particularly. But I had time to study, to read and indeed we traveled a LOT."
"You told me you lived in Japan. How did you land there?"
"Just an accident of the Marine Corps duty. The military duty was boring and stupid. But fortunately I moved around, began visiting places where youngsters meet and established contacts with some more progressive and thinking Japanese." "And this," said Lee thoughtfully, "is what led me to Russia eventually. I also learned there of other, Japanese, ways of exploitation of the poor by the rich. Semi-feudal, industrial giants which act paternalistically yet exploiting the workers - proletarians. The wages in Japan were ridiculously low," Lee added.
"Well, it's changing now," said I. "Say, Lee, it's in Japan that you got your discharge from the marine corps?"
Lee did not like to elaborate on this touchy subject. "I had to work to support my mother."
But it developed later, as we all know, that he did not go back to USA to support his mother but changed his mind and instead went to Russia. He obviously used the money obtained at his discharge for this trip. He first went to Western Europe then drifted to USSR via Finland if I remember well.
Later on Lee's honorable discharge was changed to undesirable discharge and he hated to talk about it and considered it unfair to him. This explains his hatred of Connally who was Secretary of the Navy at the time of this change of Lee's discharge.
But that day he did not discuss this subject and went on talking about Russia. "I got to Moscow and stayed there until the Russians had confidence in me and gave me a permit to work." He did not mention that he tried to commit suicide in desperation and cut his wrists.
Marina took part in the conversation. "Lee, you threw your passport in the face of the American consul and you said that you denounced your citizenship," she said.
Later Lee talked to me about his ordeal in Moscow but not this time. He went talking about his impressions of Minsk because he knew I was interested in this subject. He gave me a general description of the city I know from my early childhood. "I was assigned to work there without any particular reason, in a TV factory, possibly because I had a little electronic training in the Marines," he said candidly.
"Tell me more about the countryside," I asked him.
"Swisloch River is pretty clean, we used to go by row-boats to the forest nearby to picnic on weekends. The forests are beautiful there, huge pine trees, clean grass, full of berries of all kinds."
I remembered the cathedral, several other picturesque churches and the main building - GPU, NKVD, KGB - police headquarters, where my father spent several months and where he almost died of starvation and was finally sentenced to life exile in Siberia. But these were childhood memories and resentment on my part had disappeared. Lee gave me a perfect description of all these landmarks, they were still there, unchanged. But there were many new factories built, one of them where he worked.
"Did you like your job?"
"Not particularly, but the pay was sufficient, about a hundred rubles a month, an average for the Soviet Union. I could live on it. My apartment and all utilities were furnished by the factory for a nominal fee, as well as medical insurance etc."
He gave me the prices of bread, produce, milk etc., which were reasonable and of clothing, which were outrageously high. "Sometimes I used to run short of meat, but you know I am not a big eater, it was of no importance to me."
Marina listened in and gave more precise information, especially complaining about clothing and shoes. She was a practical one.
"You must have been somewhat privileged," I said, "being a foreigner, but how did the other workers live in Minsk, the Russians?"
"Not too well. Usually one roof for a couple, community kitchens and lavatories," he admitted. "This led to quarrels, gossip, jealousy- a rather dismal situation. But what does it matter if everyone is in the same boat, if everyone suffers. No rich exploiters like here, not great contrasts between the rich and the poor."
"Butter and meat were out of my reach," said Marina bitterly, "but you foreigners could afford these luxuries."
She was ready to continue talking more but since she was from Smolensk, the town I was not familiar with, I asked Lee to talk more about Minsk and he did. To me his descriptions were most touching.
That night Marina announced that Lee was going to be laid off from his job in Fort Worth at Leslie Welding Company, if I remember correctly. It was a poor job anyway- minimal wages, long hours, unhealthy conditions- but Lee did not complain, he never complained, it was Marina who was constantly dissatisfied. The air of American prosperity bothered her, she was envious of other people's wealth or well-being. Lee's mind was of a stoical, philosophical type, that's why, I guessed, he had gotten along so well with the other Russians he met in the Soviet Union. Russians do not mind to suffer and even go hungry if they can spend entire nights talking and speculating on some esoteric matters.
Next time the Oswalds came to visit is, we began speaking of Minsk again. I reminisced that when I was five years old, my father took me to the forest and I helped him as well as I could in his awkward efforts to cut down a big pine tree. It was a tough job for my father who had never been a physically able man and he constantly hurt himself. Once he jammed his finger to badly that the bone broke and the finger remained useless for the rest of his life. Surprisingly I grew adept at that sort of thing and was quite able with an ax.
"Is that lovely forest north of town still in existence?" I asked Lee and explained exactly where it was.
"Yes, we used to go there frequently by bus with my fellow workers. We took food along and spent the whole day talking freely. I explained the United States to them and they informed me on life in Russia."
Lee generally did not complain about his life in Russia but Marina did very frequently, sincerely or not, I do not know. She considered me a capitalist and tried to please me.
I promised Lee that night to give him introductions to a few influential people, since I wanted him and his family to move away from the gruesome Fort Worth slum. I hoped that the other members of the Russian community would help him also and told him so.
"Thanks a lot, I can take care of myself, I don't need those creeps, I shall find something," he answered gruffly. This was an example of Lee's independence, he refused help, objected even to my help. Rather than to be indebted to someone, he would rather starve on his own.
While Marina was usually a lot of fun, laughed easily but did not say anything that would make you think - Lee was serious and did not take life as a joke. But if he happened to be in a good mood, he became an excellent companion, remembered political jokes, told them well and laughed at yours.
"Do you know this one about an American tourist carrying a small transistor radio in Moscow?" Lee asked me.
"No, I don't know the story.
"Well, the Moscovite stopped the American and said: 'we make them much better than you do. What is it?'"
We both laughed. Then I countered and asked Lee.
"What is the difference between the capitalism and the socialism?"
Lee did not know.
"Capitalism makes social mistakes and socialism makes CAPITAL mistakes."
"A Russian Commissar is asked at the holy gates where he would like to go - to a capitalist hell or to a communist hell," said Lee.
" The Commissar answers: ' would like to go to a capitalist hell, I am so tired of communist hell."
Then I told Lee a few foolish jokes about Kennedy.
"President Kennedy tells a group of businessmen: 'the economic situation is so good that if I weren't your president I would invest in the stock marked right now! And the businessmen answer in unison:' so would we if you were not our president."
We both laughed.
"Kennedy had a terrible nightmare. He wakes up Jackie: 'Honey what a terrible thing, I dreamed I was spending my own money, not government's."
Again we laughed, but without resentment, we both liked President Kennedy. So I finished my foolish jokes by this one:
"John Kennedy runs to his mother at night. 'Mama! Mama! Help! Bobby tries to run MY country."
I think it was at that time that I told Lee that I had known Jacqueline Kennedy as a young girl, as well as her mother, father and all her relatives and how charming the whole family was. I especially liked "Black Jack" Bouvier, Jackie's father, a delightful Casanova of the Wall Street.
Lee was not jealous of Kennedy's and Bouviers' wealth and did not envy their social positions, of that I was sure. To him wealth and society were big jokes, but he did not resent them.
Now I want to tell something which my seem foolish to people who are not dog lovers. At the time we had two lovely black Manchester Terriers.
Nero and his faithful wife Poppea. Nero had followed us on a long trip over the mountains of Mexico and Central America and saved our lives on several occasions; Poppea was bought for him upon our return to USA and was a wonderful wife for him. I cannot tell how much intuition Nero developed during our trip and how easily he recognized friends from enemies. Well, on the first evening our dogs did not express any interest in Marina or in Baby June but they were fascinated by Lee. Nero especially showed his complete confidence and affection for him. He seldom did it to anyone, even to our close friends. He snugged up to Lee and looked at him with affection. He sensed that he was an utterly sincere person and was deprived of hatred. Poppea also licked his hand in a rare display of affection.
Incidentally, many of our friends and even our own children complained that our dogs were either unfriendly or totally indifferent to them.
And so Lee finally found a job at Taggart's Reproduction Company through the Texas Employment Agency without help from anyone. It was a good job for him as he had been interested in photography for a long time. I guessed that he took a course at the Marine Corps. Anyway he brought a good camera from the Soviet Union and took excellent pictures. Later he showed me excellent enlargements he made himself. These were in black and white- he was not advanced enough to develop and enlarge colored photographs.
But Lee's job did not pay well and as he began to trust me more, he accepted an introduction to a successful businessman-banker, Sam Ballen, who owned, among other companies, a large reproduction outfit, for maps, electric logs, and records. It was not a successful meeting. Lee and my friend did not like each other. To the businessman Lee was a radical and a maverick, and Lee considered Sam an ordinary bourgeois with no redeeming features to this credit. Actually, both were interesting people, they just did not appeal to each other.
Another conversation comes to my mind. One evening Lee was in a blue mood and confided that he was not particularly pleased with his reception in Minsk. Somewhat naively, he expected to be treated as a special person, a prominent refugee, and nothing happened, there was little difference between his condition in Minsk and that of an ordinary Soviet worker. And so he had become depressed. That evening Lee expressed an opinion that he did not appreciate the Soviet type of government.
"Why?" I asked.
"It is somewhat too regimented for me," he said. "We were obliged to go to the meeting at the factory after work, dead tired, and listened to inflammatory speeches. It was lucky if I was able to go to sleep. Indoctrinations of any kind are not to my taste."
I saw his point.
Our first evenings with the Oswalds were spent in conversations and discussions and we got to know each other very well. Now something else happened in our relationship. Before Lee got his job at Taggart's, I asked my daughter Alex and my son-in-law Gary Taylor to help the Oswald's moving to Dallas. The Taylors went to visit the Oswalds in Fort Worth and right there they offered Marina to stay with them and to keep the baby. Whatever furniture they had would be stored in her garage. This generous proposition was accepted, Marina moved to Dallas. Lee stayed for a short time in the apartment in Fort Worth and then moved to a small room at YMCA in Dallas, close to his work at Taggart's. During Marina's stay at my daughter's place, my wife helped her, drove her to the Baylor Hospital where they pulled out her rotten teeth. Thus baby June was kept healthy and well fed. But this short separation did not prevent Lee from coming to see us, even alone.
At the time we knew Lee, nothing could be further from our minds that he might become such a historical figure. His visits were very frequent - sometimes he would come for a short time, sometimes he would spend the whole evening with us. Some bribes of our semi-bantering, semi-serious repartees remain in my memory.
"You are an extremely sincere person, Lee," I told him. "You do not lie even to yourself. Most of the people I know are the opposite of you. They put on a front, they confuse, they deceive, they lie even when thinking.
"I guess it's dangerous to be that way. I know I make a lot of enemies. But what the hell," he acknowledged, "my position is that I am afraid of a very few things in life. I am not cautious. I am not," he smiled, "a turkey which lives only to become fat." And he showed me his non existing belly. He was becoming very thin.
"Lee, your way of life is so un-American, it scares me to think what may become of you."
"It is true," Lee said, "I am probably committing a sin in not being interested in possessions or money. When a rich man dies, he is loaded with his possessions like a prisoner with chains. I will die free, death will be easy for me."
"Stop talking about death, you are only 22. If you want to talk about gruesome subjects, let me tell you this joke: a usurer is on is deathbed. A priest gives him a crucifix to kiss and to confess his sins. And the usurer blabbers: 'I cannot loan you much money for it'".
"Regarding your attitude on money and possessions," I said, "I couldn't agree more with you. You would rather do something unusual than drive a Cadillac. I am the same way."
"Life for me," continued Lee, "is like a hungry crocodile. I'd better defend myself. I have to defend myself against the stupidity of this would. It is enormous! Life must be the work of a perfect idiot. Or maybe the stupidity, like breaking of the atom, is self-perpetuating?"
"Not too bad for a 22 year old American proletarian and a high-school dropout," I thought. "Lee, you have a very original mind."
"Thank you," he said. "I do not often hear the compliments. But let me tell you more why I despise money-loving middle-class. Such people are simply stupid, not serious, they are curiously attracted by crooks and adventurers. And so you hear how often they are sheared of their wool, like sheep, by various financial schemers."
"Diderot," I said, "thinks very much like you. "You have nothing, I have very little now, so a real friendship is possible between us. We are sincere with each other."
"Another thing Diderot said," I continued, "he was very happy being poor and living in a shack. When he achieved opulence and found a nice apartment in Paris, he knew he was going to die..."
"The philosophers talk but you did it," said Lee enviously. "This trip of yours, what a freedom! 3,600 miles on foot on tough trails of Latin America. This demanded a complete change in life - willingly, suddenly, for this you needed an extraordinary moral audacity."
"This time I want to thank you, Lee. But do not exaggerate; this was an act of desperation rather than audacity, after the death of my only son. Finally this trip was very satisfying to Jeanne and to me."
And so we chatted in an open and friendly manner and I must say of Lee:
"My opinion of this guy changes completely and frequently, which happens only with people who are close and important to me. I usually judge the others superficially and label them once and for all."
But now I should explain the reasons why I had introduced the Oswalds to my daughter Alex and to her husband. They were about the same age. Gary was a scatter-brained, simple-minded but pleasant young man and as most of his financial schemes failed, he had plenty of time on his hands. His fondest ambition consisted of becoming rapidly another Clint Murchison or H.L. Hunt and that was hard to achieve. Frankly I hoped that my daughter and her husband Gary would acquire some of the world-wide interests that Lee certainly possessed. His serious approach to life contrasted sharply with the foolish flippancy of Gary's; I also hoped that Marina would teach my daughter some interesting facts about Russia. When these two were together that they were somehow able to communicate, as my daughter was and is an excellent linguist.
But, introducing people of such different backgrounds led to unpleasant results. First of all we caused a separation between Marina and Lee. We did understand that it was not the first separation between them, but we actually caused this one. It amazed my daughter that Lee called Marina on the phone infrequently and did not express much desire to be with her. But he missed baby June. It was peculiar for a young husband but I already suspected that he was pleased being alone at YMCA and was already bored with Marina's company. Next the personalities of Lee and of Gary clashed. Lee considered Gary a spoiled, rich American, foolish youngster and Gary looked down at him as a supercilious, impractical lunatic with revolutionary ideas. My daughter's opinion of Marina was low also, she was slovenly and didn't know anything about baby-care. Although she had obtained a degree of "registered pharmacist" in USSR.
My daughter's opinion of Lee was low also, he was not good-looking, did not care about his appearance, neither was he inclined to make money. As for me, I regretted that Alex did not see any qualities I liked in Lee - the fact that he was socially motivated, was a dreamer and a seeker of truth. But such people have a very hard time in life and that's why so many people considered him a "failure and a loser ".
Maybe, had he lived longer, he would have fitted better into the scheme of American life, he would have joined the group of love-children, would have grown a beard and certainly would have been among the protesters against the war in Vietnam.
It was probably Marina, dissatisfied with my daughter's attitude, who made Lee hustle and find an apartment. Very soon the Oswalds settled in their own ground-floor apartment on Elisabeth street, in the Oak Cliff, suburb of Dallas. it was far away from us, while we wanted them to live nearby. Probably Lee wanted to be as far away as possible from the other Russian refugees, whom he disliked. Anyway, the apartment was ten miles or more away from our place at University Park.
With Lee's job secured at Taggart's and away from the gruesome slum in Fort Worth, Jeanne and I thought the Oswald family would be happy. Jeannne registered the baby in children's clinic for regular check-ups and Marina was treated almost gratis in the dental clinic of the Baylor hospital. This involved long trips for Jeanne to drive back and forth but she did not mind.. Staying so far away from anyone put Marina in a condition of total dependency on Lee. Since she could not communicate with anyone around, we were the only source she could understand. To invite the couple for dinner, we drove back and forth, almost forty miles for a four-way trip.
Jeanne became quite close to Marina at the time, while Lee and I saw each other frequently. Soon, however, these trips became difficult for us as we both became busy in our professions, yet we wanted to continue seeing the Oswalds. One solution would be for them to buy some second-hand car but Lee did not know how to drive, nor did Marina of course. I did not doubt Lee's word. I mention this here because later Lee's lack of driving ability became a controversial issue. I believed him because I knew about the abject poverty of his childhood in New Orleans. In these prosperous United States, Lee's family occupied a position at the poverty line, similar to poor Blacks and Mexican-Americans.
Due to my wife's help, Marina's four spoiled teeth were removed and her system was not poisoned by them any more. Baby June became healthy also.
The Russian colony collected a small amount of money for Marina and the care of the baby June. Lee did not know about it, he would not have accepted any charity, so it was done secretly. I think Jeanne handled the operation and Marina spent nights in the house while the next morning Jeanne would drive her to Baylor dental clinic or to the child care center.
An amusing incident happened on the way to Baylor, recalls my wife. She had to drive by the predominantly poor section of town, gaudy but cheerful Hall and Washington streets, almost every decrepit house lodging either a night-club, strip-tease joint or a dance hall. Hookers and flashy pimps strolling along the broken pavements. Suddenly Marina excitedly attracted my wife's attention shouting in Russian to slow down. She looked at the tall, muscled, black youngster standing proudly at the corner and surveying the situation.
"Look at him! Look!" She pulled at my wife's sleeve in a frenzy. "What a handsome man!"
"Oh yes," agreed Jeanne, "he is very handsome."
"No, he is fantastic, fantastic!" Exulted Marina.
Such an enthusiasm surprised my wife.
"He is so big and strong! What muscles he must have..."
As my wife related this incident, she observed that is was not a question of an attraction of a Nordic woman to an exotic man of a dark race, but addressing fact that a young married woman with a child would show such an uninhibited admiration for a sexy male.
I drove her myself on the same street and teased her myself about her attraction to black men. "Marina," I guessed, "you did not see in Russia such uninhibited natural men."
She laughed: "Neither Russians nor American whites can compare to such beautiful men," she said candidly. "Maybe the Cubans I met in Minsk were just as attractive."
The storied related by Lee and Marina about Minsk were especially interesting to me. It seems that Lee was very unhappy at the beginning of his stay there and he even tried to slash his wrists out of despair. Since he was supposed to have done it already in Moscow, in order to obtain a permit to remain in the Soviet Union, the wrist-slashing became somewhat of a habit if not a subterfuge with him. Marina held a job as a pharmacist in the hospital where Lee was treated. She took care of him, flirted with him very nicely and began conquering his heart. Later he had some problems so he kept on going to the some hospital. An that's how the romance began and flourished.
Marina came from a fairly good family from our point of view, since her father belonged to a former czarist officer group. After his death her mother married a man called Prussakov. Later her mother died and Marina got tired of living with her stepfather and her half-brothers and sisters. And so she decided to move from Smolensk to Minsk where she received soon a degree of a registered pharmacist. I remember Marina's amusing repartee when I asked her is she liked her half-brothers and sisters.
"They were good, normal children, not like me. I was a bad one." And she laughed, showing a good sense of humour and a great deal of charm.
After the hospital meetings, Lee and Marina began going out together to dances and movies and eventually the relationship of affection and love developed between them.
"I remember looking at the new apartment building near the river Svisloch," reminisced Marina, "but only high technical and political personnel lived there, as well as some foreigners, Lee among them."
It was a wonderful setting for a Soviet romance - love, an American refugee, a river and a new apartment building... Actually the building belonged to the factory where Lee worked at the time, his staying there was no particular favor. But for the girl who had lived in crowded rooms with a stepfather and several children, this new house seemed a real paradise.
And so they married and moved to that apartment building. Why did she marry him? She could have cohabited with him- this happened frequently with young couples in Russia. The reasons are unknown to me and known only to Marina: love, pity or desire to come to the United States. Probably the latter, as soon after their wedding Lee decided that he wanted to go back to the United States. He traveled to Moscow without a permit, went to the United States embassy, got back his passport and borrowed there $500 for the return.
While in Texas, he paid religiously back each month installments due on that loan. Marina frequently complained that he was too punctual in his payments - but he was. I ask you where do you find another man in Lee's position, on the verge of starvation, who would be in such a hurry to repay a government loan, which would be very difficult to collect from a poor man like Lee. But somehow Lee felt this obligation very sincerely.
Another question puzzled and still puzzles us: how come the Soviets permitted Marina to leave her homeland so easily, while it was hard for Lee to obtain a permit to leave USSR. They had to make another trip to Moscow to arrange it and he never explained to me clearly how he got the permit to take Marina along. "Well, I did it," Lee smirked, "because all bureaucrats, all over the world, are stupid..."
Marina had an uncle, a colonel of special forces NKVD - KGB to-day - Department of Interior, called Medvedev; I think he was her mother's brother.. For some time she had lived with him, in Smolensk I think, and Lee told me that this important man was dead set against his niece marrying him. Later something made him change his mind. We were not interested at the time in the why's and the wherefore's of this colonel activities. Now it is too late to find out. Maybe this colonel for his own reasons helped his niece to get out of Russia. It was possible it was a good riddance of a Prussakova niece, possibly something else...
The loyal decrepit Russian refugees liked Marina only because her real father had been a pre-Revolutionary officer or some czarist official. This matter was indifferent to us and we did not inquire further. But the permission to leave USSR was puzzling to us, uncle or no uncle, because we knew of many cases of Americans who never obtained a permit to leave Russia for their Soviet wives. Personally I know of one case: one of the reporters of the Christian Monitor successfully extracted his wife from Russia at the time of Stalin.
One day Jeanne asked Lee a straightforward question: "Why did you decide to go to USSR, answer frankly! "You risked never to return to your country."
"I was looking for an ideal," Lee answered sadly.
"And why did you decide to return here?" Jeanne insisted.
"Because I did not find my ideal. Obviously utopia does not exist. I could travel and change countries the rest of my life and never find it."
We liked this statement and agreed with Lee.
From time to time my wife would prepare a special Russian or French dinner for the Oswalds, always keeping in mind that both of them were under-furnished. And I would talk with Lee in the meantime, often late into the night. Although he unquestionably had had some unpleasant experiences, as the slashing of his wrists proved, Lee was never hostile or emotionally upset about his life in the Soviet Union. He spoke of his CO-workers humbly and engagingly. "They were hospitable, friendly and sincere, they invited me to their homes, fed me from their meager supplies and we discussed all the subjects frankly as we do it here."
"Did they tell you any jokes about their regime? I asked.
"Here is one I remember," Lee said. "An American worker comes to the Soviet Union and sees big apartment complexes. He asks: 'To whom do they belong?' - 'To the state' - 'They belong to the state also.''" Then Lee smiled. "The Russian worker comes to visit United States. He asks: 'These huge factories, to whom do they belong?" - 'To the capitalists' comes the fast answer. 'Aha', says the Russian, ' this is terrible!' Then he notices nice suburban homes, now cars. He asks: 'To whom do these belong?' - 'To the workers', comes an immediate answer."
Then I asked Lee: "Did you ever hear that one about a Soviet worker who was wandering from one factory to another asking "Is there a place that would pay as little as the little work I intend to do?'"
Lee did not laugh. "That is a rather vicious joke. Soviet workers work almost as hard as here and certainly they get paid much less."
Then he reminisced: "Nobody in the Soviet Union tried to intimidate me or influence me. But I encounter these tendencies here. Nobody ever tried to make a communist out of me. I was a sympathizer but I never joined the party."
He is probably on the level, I thought.
"And what were your living conditions there?" I asked.
"Not bad at all, ample meals, clean surroundings, good companionship."
"And they pay?"
"Sufficient; the apartment cost me five per cent of my pay, and I don't eat much, as you know. With Marina's additional salary we could manage quite well."
"Expensive but adequate and I am not interested, as you know, in stylish clothes. Of course, the Cubans dressed to kill." he smiled.
Marina must have missed good clothes there, I thought.
"And how about transportation? I asked.
"Of course I could not afford a motorcycle, but I like to walk and the public transportation was cheap and good."
"What was most annoying to you in the Soviet Union?" Asked Jeanne who was listening in.
"Those endless, endless meetings we had to attend after work, listening to those deadly, monotonous speeches. You were lucky if you were in the back and could take a nap...We listened to those bureaucratic outpourings half-dazed, like children during a very boring lesson. Then we voted, rather indifferently, on various trivial issues. Later we would file out, exhausted and would return home. And, "Lee smiled, "we never received any extra pay for the hours lost, and we certainly deserved it."
I approved his attitude, nodding agreement. I would also hate to waste my time on such meetings.
Lee spoke of other foreigners living there, some Cubans whose names I forgot, one family of refugees from Argentina; the father was an experienced engineer and Lee had a great respect for him. It wasn't once that he mentioned this family to me, taking mainly of the daughters who "were so pretty" and so friendly to him. All in all Lee spoke frequently to me of his interest in women and he even bragged amusingly and somewhat naively of his conquests in Russia.
Here in the United States Lee wasn't certainly a ladies' man, he felt depressed and confined. I think he frequently regretted having left Minsk.
But there I can visualize him cutting a path of Casanova among the Russian women. And why not? He was a foreigner, he acted freely, he looked pleasantly and his interest in Russian people was warm and genuine.
Marina admitted herself one day. "He was something out of the ordinary. He looked like an American, he was easygoing, loose and alert - not like the other guy." That Lee was a perfectly normal and well adjusted individual of Minsk - Marina insisted frequently. "The only trouble with him was, his interest in books - serious books - serious books, politics, discussions, rather than sex."
Maybe it is not nice to talk about confidential sex matters, between the Oswalds, but might as well do it, they show light on the personalities of this interesting couple. Marina was close enough to my wife to be completely one with her. "Lee does not have sex with me but rarely," she admitted, "very rarely, about once a month and he is in such a hurry, poor fellow, that I do not get any satisfaction. It's most frustrating." When Jeanne repeated this matter to me, I laughed and told Marina a well-known Texas joke translating it, probably for the first time, into Russia.
"Mandy was a good-looking black prostitute. A handsome, tall Black, by the name of Rastus came to see her. How much do you charge Mandy?' - For fifteen dollars I do it all, for ten we do it, for five you do it all! Rastus had only five dollars, so they agreed and went to bed. But while Rastus began making love to Mandy he turned out to be such a formidable male that in ecstasy Mandy ailed: 'Rastus I shall do it all on credit, you have such an honest face!"
Naturally in Russian it did not sound very hot, but we all laughed and possibly it was the beginning of Marina's ardent interest in our racial minority - the Blacks.
But aside from such foolishness, we talked with Oswalds of their lives in the Soviet Union. And soon we acquired a certainty that Marina wanted a richer and materialistically more rewarding life then the one she had at home and it was she who convinced Lee to go to the American Embassy, to ask for the return of this passport and for money, all this in view to go with him to the United States. Another interesting fact: the first time he went from Minsk to Leningrad or Moscow he did it illegally, but the second time he obtained a legal Soviet permit to go there by train. As a foreigner Lee was not supposed to leave town without notifying the police and obtaining a permit. Not an easy matter for some of the people who had tried to leave Russia.
I remember Marina telling me without any emotion that she had been discharged at the time from the Komsomol, an organization of communist youth, and that it happened because she had married an American. In the Soviet Union it was a disgrace, but she did not attach any importance to it while in Minsk, because obviously she know she would leave her country anyway. Both Lee and I laughed about her naive belief that the streets of the United States were paved with gold and that the poor people were the ones who had to wash themselves their Cadillacs. I remember Lee telling us a joke, which circulated at the time among the young Russians. Capitalism to them meant champagne, luxurious cars, jazz, caviar for dinner and Gina Lollobrigida for a girl-friend. Marvelous! Communism to them meant vodka, dirty tramway, balalaika, black bread and their own mother!
Marina laughed good-naturedly.
Very often people ask me with suspicion why I, a person with several university degrees and of fairly good financial and social standing - with friends among the rich of the world - became such a friend of that "maladjusted radical" - Lee Harvey Oswald? Well, I hope that this book clarifies Lee's personality and endows him with a lot of most attractive features. I already spoke of his straightforward and relaxing personality, of his honesty or his desire to be liked and appreciated. And I believe it is a privilege of an older age not to give a damn what others think of you. I choose my friends just because they appeal to me. And Lee did.
It never occurred to me that he might be an agent of any country, including United States - although he might have been trained in Russian for some ulterior motive - Lee was too outspoken, naively so. In this way I was similar to him. In 1946 when I was working in Venezuela for William Buckley's family company- Pantepec Oil Company- I met the Soviet Ambassador there who had been a roustabout for Nobel Oil interests, and my uncle was a director of that outfit. So the Ambassador knew my name and was extremely friendly to me. We spent many an evening talking and drinking vodka. As a result he suggested that he would offer me a contract to work in the Soviet Union. But after listening to me and my outspoken opinions, he advised me: "My friend, you talk too much, you criticize too much, you would be a babe in the woods in my country and would end up in Siberia."
Also Lee was very interested in other people, in their work, he tried to improve his own education by reading, observing and studying. Sometimes he was amusing when he used long, difficult words in English - words like charisma, politicomania, extravaganzas, elitism - the knowledge of which he liked to display. We even laughed together about his use of such words, the exact meaning of which eluded him. Occasionally Lee's constant search for truth, for the answers to the mysteries of life, seemed tragic and disturbing to me. But this proves also that it seems highly improbable that any government would try to make an agent of such a man. His own element of self-inquiry, self-denial and self-doubt, mixed with instability, worried Lee. But I told him not to worry, in my opinion instability, doubt, constant search were elements of youth and were indicative of exuberant life.
I told Lee that I pitied people who did not possess such characteristics, were living dead: they form the mass of obedient slaves in all countries.
A strong desire for adventure was also one of Lee's motivations. That's why he became a marine, that's why he switched jobs just because he did not like what he had to do so far. And routine was deadly to him. However, his last job at the printing company fitted him well and he seemed fairly happy.
"Why didn't you stay in the Marine Corps?" I asked him one day.
"Oh, did not care for the military, not much fun being an underline, not much adventure either."
"You could become an officer, you are intelligent enough," I countered.
"Oh, no, to hell with being an officer, I don't like to command other guys."
Often I was asked with suspicion, long before the assassination, "How did you get along so well with Lee Oswald?"
"In my life I have done many things, I was often a promoter, an originator of new ideas, so I liked new ideas, even if they seemed strange and outlandish, I enjoyed meeting people of various types, evaluated their thoughts, did not criticize them," I retorted.
Later on, when I was in the hot water because of my friendship with Lee, a friend of mine testified: "George always liked stray dogs and stray people."
Many people considered Lee a miserable misfit, an insult to the American way of life, and completely disregarded him. A Russian refugee living in Dallas told me once: "I am scared of this man Oswald, he is a paranoid."
"Paranoid or not, he is as intelligent as you are. Listen to him, there is a lot of sense in what he says," I would reply.
Probably to annoy Lee, the Russian refugees and some ultra-conservative Americans showered Marina with gifts and gave her too much attention. Since Americans could not communicate with her, their efforts were wasted. But the gifts given his wife by the refugees annoyed Lee. Unquestionably Marina added oil to the fire bragging about the gifts and talking about how successful some of the donors were - owning their own homes and two automobiles. He might have been wounded in his pride, although he never complained to me.
At the time Lee did not want Marina to learn English. She could only say yes and no and if she went to the store, he had to point out the articles she wanted. "It's very egotistical on your part Lee," Jeanne told him, "you have to let her study English so she can communicate with other people than the Russian refugees. You cannot keep her a recluse."
Sensing that Lee resented them, the members of the Russian colony gave Marina some hundred dresses. Baby June received a new crib, a carriage and a lot of toys. Unquestionably it annoyed Lee. The more people gave Marina, the more it disturbed Lee. Disturbed is not the right word - maddened. And so he declined invitations to these "benefactor's" homes, he was often rude to them. That situation had very sad consequences for this family.
As far as we are concerned, we continued our good relationship with the Oswalds, even after the situation in Soviet Russian and in Minsk especially had been thoroughly discussed. Instead of questioning them, we became concerned in the welfare of this couple. 'Be nice to the poor' was always Jeanne's' motto.
Seeing that Lee's situation was also gradually deteriorating, I became even nicer to him. Never kick a man who is down, help him, was my belief. Sometimes Lee's action and his sensitivities annoyed me, but I did not try to show any resentment and attempted to find a solution for him and his wife.
One day Lee brought to me typescripts of his experiences in Russia. He was interested in publishing them in a form of an article in a magazine or possibly to develop them into a book. A few typed pages, and poorly at that, in substance could not add much to what he had already told me. And what he had told me was of interest only to me, because I was familiar with the locale, but not to other readers. But it was important for him to get my recognition since he knew that I published many articles in Europe and in this country did some theatre reviews for the Variety Magazine. And so Lee sat on the sofa and looked hopefully at me.
"What do you think of this?" he asked.
"Remember I am not a professional writer, I was lucky enough to have had some articles published, your story is simple and honest but it is very poorly written. It is deprived of any sensational revelations and it's really pointless. Personally I like it because I know Minsk but how many people know where Minsk is. And why should they have interest in your experiences? Tell me!"
"Not many," Lee agreed mildly.
I did not say, not to offend him, that his grammar was poor and the syntax was abominable. And those long, pompous words...
But that was the result of his poor, formal education. And the only things in his favor stood out - his sincerity and his obvious good will to inform correctly.
"If you add some sensational, detective story type details, a beautiful female spy, depraved, masochistic policemen, if you depict all Russians as degenerate monsters, then your script will be published."
"No, thank you," said Lee proudly. "I do not want to tell lies. My purpose is to improve Soviet-American relations." And he added quickly, "People here should know how decent and generous Russians are. How well they treated me, a simple American ex-marine, with kindness and generosity - I did not find anything monstrous in Soviet Russia."
"I agree with you personally. Also you talk about some individuals you met there. It's good and factual, they are decent people. But who is interested in comrade this or that, in refugees from Argentina or in some cheerful Cuban students? Correct?"
Lee agreed and I handled him back his pages.
The same typescripts were shown me later for identification by the Warren Committee Lawyer and they were printed in the Warren Committee report. So Lee's wishes came true after his death.
This was a period of relative tranquillity for Lee, as he was working for Taggart's developing and enlarging photos, posters and maps and he seemed to enjoy his work. But Marina was dissatisfied and complained to Jeanne again. "He comes home tired, hardly talks to me, only to the baby, then reads Russian books and is seldom tender and loving to me."
Incidentally I never saw him interested in anything else except Russian books and magazines. He said he didn't want to forget the language - but it amazed me that he read such difficult writers like Gorki, Dostoevski, Gogol, Tolstoi and Turgenieff - in Russian. As everyone knows Russian is a complex language and he was supposed to have stayed in the Soviet Union only a little over two years. He must have had some previous training and that point had never been brought up by the Warren Committee - and it is still puzzling to me. In my opinion Lee was a very bright person but not a genius. He never mastered the English language yet he learned such a difficult language! I taught Russian at all levels in a large University and I never saw such a proficiency in the best senior students who constantly listened to Russian taped and spoke to Russian friends. As a matter of fact American-born instructors never mastered Russian spoken language as well as Lee did.
The fact that Lee reserved Marina as a perfect Russian conversationalist for himself was foolish and selfish. Being in close relationship with the Oswalds we noticed the signs of the coming disintegration of their already fragile relationship. Lee seemed to be fond of Marina but he mostly cherished baby June. Maybe he was too secretive a person to show his affection and Marina's Slavic nature demanded more attention and tenderness. But Lee never spoke badly to us about his wife, he never criticized her but neither did he ever express any deep feeling for her. Even in his typewritten memoirs he spoke very little of her.
Marina, on the other hand, annoyed and criticized Lee, due possibly to a perversity of her Russian character. "He is so puny, so dull, he never drinks, only works, tires easily, is only interested in books" she complained to me and my wife. And she said that behind his back and obviously to him directly when we were also there. Never did we hear from her that she loved her husband. But there was nevertheless an element of strong attachment which tied together these two so different people, but we did not notice it at the time.
Lee was indeed all wrapped up in his work, books, his ideas on equality of all people, especially of all races; it was strange indeed for a boy from New Orleans and a Texas poor white family, purely Anglo, to be so profoundly anti-racist. "Segregation in any form, racial, social or economic, is one of the most repulsive facts of American life", he often told me. "I would be willing any time to fight these fascistic segregationists - and to die for my black brothers."
He obviously intended to do just that, as we shall see from the later chapters and from Marina's inscription on Lee's picture. Warren Committee completely disregarded this unusual aspect of Lee's character and eliminated my statement from the report.
Otherwise, we seldom heard from Lee much talk about women, Marina, on the other hand, spoke freely to Jeanne and to me about her pre-marital experiences, her admiration for strong, sexy men. She spoke enthusiastically about the Cubans she met in Russia. "They were outgoing and gay. Often they carried their guitars with them, sang their catchy Caribbean tunes, danced so well. They were such fun!"
This was an indirect criticism of her husband who did not like music, except Russian folcloric sad tunes, who did not play any musical instruments and could not dance. And let's face it he wasn't particularly entertaining with her.
Here I want to dispel once more the impression I may have given that Lee did not have a keen sense of humour. For instance I remember this one he told me. "A Russian doctor had a parrot who was able to say 'How do you do', 'good night' etc. One hot evening the doctor left the parrot on the windowsill to cool off. A Russian mujik passes by and hears parrot's greetings. He takes his hat off and says: 'Excuse me, comrade, I thought you were a bird!"
On American politics he expressed the following opinion. "Under dictatorship people are enslaved but they know it. Here the politicians constantly lie to people and they become immune to these lies because they have the privilege of voting. But voting is rigged and democracy here is a gigantic profusion of lies and clever brain-washing."
Also he said something about FBI which did not strike me at the time as very clever, but history proved his judgment correct. "Knowledge is a great power, especially if you know it about very important people." Obviously J. Edgar Hoover's files must come to your mind.
Also he told me the joke which must have been circulating at the time in the Soviet Union, "A strip-tease joint was opened in Moscow for the tourists. It was decorated and run just like in Paris and lots of money was spent on this establishment. Yet it did not attract much trade. A state Economic Commission questioned the worried director. He explained: 'I did my best, hired the best decorators, imitated a place in Paris.' - 'How about the girls?" asked a member of the commission. 'No trouble with them, they are all at least for thirty years good, party members.'"
Lee also liked jokes about southern hillbillies and rednecks but I cannot recall any of them now. He subscribed to "Drokodil" a Soviet satirical publication, somewhat similar to the New Yorker or to the British Punch. Krokodil, which we often read together, featured mainly Russian self-criticism in the form of short stories or cartoons. Animals frequently featured local politicians, and in the manner of Krilov's fables, emphasized the foibles of the Soviet bureaucracy. It also took swipes at the bourgeois world quite sharply.
Lee read Russian classics and discussed some at length with me, especially I remember "The Idiot" by Dostoievski, a psychoanalytical study. He understood the pre-Revolutionary life in Russia, which I did not know but heard about from my parents. Russian classics belong exclusively to the pre-Revolutionary or early revolutionary days and modern Russians are fascinated by those days of extravagant aristocracy, czarist power and abuses of it, great wealth and great waste, ownership of slaves, temporal strength of the Greek-Orthodox church - these aspects of the old days Lee observed with distaste but the elegance and the gaiety of the certain occasions gave him a feeling of nostalgia, as he were Russian himself.
Marina did not care about any of this, she was a super-materialist, really destined by nature for the mediocre, middle class American life: new clothes, new buildings, plastic, neutral surroundings, tall, well-dressed men.
"Lee, when shall we get a car?" She kept on nagging. "Everyone here has one, even the poorest people!" And poor Lee even did not know how to drive a car. And when Marina was talking to Jeanne he said: "I never wanted a middle-class wife, mediocre, obscure, money-loving who would have the taste of vanity, of luxury, of comfort, of all that bourgeois nonsense."
Well, you have one, I thought.
Marina liked wine, he objected to it. She smoked, he detested the smell of tobacco. So whenever she was without him she would become a chain-smoker, inhaling deep, asking for drinks, enjoying these forbidden pleasures. She called Lee a slender, ascetic man, but by no means a weakling, a bookworm. He respected education and knowledge, especially in others, she was just the opposite; she didn't value her degree as a pharmacist.
"It must have been difficult to get it?" I asked her once.
"Not for me, I got by easily, used phonies and passed my examinations," she answered breezily.
But she would remember some handsome fellows she had met and shared a bed with, real soviet type orgies. She confided in Jeanne. Those parties were organized in Minsk by richer sons of the bureaucrats who disposed of comfortable apartments while their parents were gone. The kids drank and slept indiscriminately. "This was terrific, "she reminisced. "And I also remember a handsome boy who instead of joining us on holidays would take a book and would go all day to the forest to study. Some people are crazy," she concluded.
In my conversations with Lee, I found out that he was an open and straightforward agnostic. Religion did not interest him. He saw that was probably since his early childhood. His agnosticism was on the type of Jefferson's or Franklin's - and it was fine. He was not an aggressive atheist who wanted to impose his point of view with violence. He must have read Toynbee and Bertrand Russell because his argumentation against organized religion was solid. One day he said, "The doctor sees a man at his weakest, the lawyer sees the man at his wickedest and the priest sees a man at his stupidest," he chuckled. "I read it somewhere, it's pretty good?"
Lee was always very humble with me and he really blossomed when I showed some interest in what he had to say. But aren't we all the same way?
Only once, while discussing organized religion, he expressed his views with cold disdain. "What I dislike," he said, "are the materialistic aspects of the American type religion, not all, but the large denominations with their ridiculously garish churches, their tax-deductible tricks and finagling." Lee seemed quite versed in the matter. Here he was rather instructing me. And I had to agree with him on the greedy aspects of our modern Christianity, so far removed from the original teachings of poverty and humility.
I remember talking to my wife about Lee and she mentioned that we both treated him on a perfectly equal basis, and never scorned him, while other people who helped the Oswalds did it for Marina only or for the child. And Lee did not like any help, especially that type. He was occasionally rude to the people who interfered in their lives being intrinsically a very independent, self-sufficient person. And so he began refusing invitations which infuriated Marina.
Many local people, especially Russian refugees, resented Lee because he had deserted these United States, the "country of the brave and the free" and many considered him an outright traitor. And he, a hundred percent, native-born American smiled and would say: "who are the real Americans? Only the Indians, Blacks and the Mexicans from the South-Western states, to whom this country originally belonged."
We have a different attitude. We like young people who search to solve some problems which bother them. He disliked many aspects of American life and thought that maybe somewhere else it was better. Being with him took me back to my young days at the University of Liege, when we spent entire days discussing various problems of life without any respect for the rules or for the establishment.
It was not the first time that he mentioned that he was disappointed in the Soviet Union because he did not find there his ideal of justice. "Maybe it does not exist..." he said sadly one day. "And so I came back."
The narrow-minded people condemned him without understanding his motivations, without giving him a chance to explain himself. And later on our Dallas police let him die without explaining himself and telling the truth.
But we are talking of the year 1962 and of people he met then. Many resented him - and he answered in kind. And we were the only ones who took interest in him and gave him a chance to express himself.
Since I had mentioned Lee's agnosticism, let's go back to Marina's attitude towards religion. We were positive that at the time Marina was also an agnostic, even an atheist, after all she was brought up in Soviet Russia in purely communist surrounding. She did not have the slightest idea of God, not any interest in anything divine - or so it seemed to us. But soon she realized that being religious in the United Stated would help her, as it usually does. And so she had her child June christened later in the Greek-Orthodox church in Dallas during one of her separations from Lee. This exacerbated their conflict. He told her in our presence: "You double-crossed me, you should have consulted me before doing this to my child. This is unforgivable!"
And so there was another element added to their disputes.
Personally I do not criticize faith or religion, but these should be true and profound feelings, not the outward manifestations. Lee's faith, his strongest belief was - racial integration. He told me at many occasions - "It hurts me that he Blacks do not have the same privileges and rights as white Americans." And I agreed with him. This was the time when Blacks had to sit at the back of the bus, couldn't eat in restaurants or stay in the hotels and motels reserved for the whites. It angered and annoyed me. At the time I didn't have many contacts with the Blacks, except with some artists, teachers and preachers. But in my profession I couldn't afford to have Black friends often in the house, I would have been blackballed and eliminated from the competitive field. Fortunately now the situation changed for me and I am very happy.
Lee also resented the poor care of his child. This led to frequent quarrels and recriminations. Gradually fights between the Oswalds became frequent and vicious. Marina would arrive by bus with the baby and would complain to Jeanne: "He beat me up again," and showed bruises on her body to Jeanne and a black eye to me.
One day we visited them in their apartment on Elisabeth Street in Oak Cliff. It was on the ground-floor of a dreary red-brick building, the atmosphere of the house and the neighborhood conducive to suicide. The living-room was dark and smelly, the bedroom and the kitchen facing bleak walls. But Lee was proud of his own place and showed me his books and magazines as well as some letters from Russia which we read together. The place was spruced up by the lovely photographs of the Russian countryside taken by Lee there and later enlarged by him. Trees and fields, charming peasant huts and cloudy skies contrasted strangely with the dreary walls and the lugubrious atmosphere. Some pictures were framed by Lee, others unframed were assembled carefully in an album. I also remember artistically-taken pictures of Moscow and Leningrad, especially of the river Neva which I also slightly remembered from my childhood. He was happy to have access to elaborate photographic equipment. "Look at these churches, look at these statues," he exclaimed proudly. Indeed almost all his pictures had a professional touch, he was justly proud of them.
While Lee and I were chatting on that moth-eaten sofa of his in the living-room, Marina invited Jeanne to come to the kitchen. There she cried and showed an infected spot on her shoulder. "The son of the bitch caught me smoking and he grabbed the cigarette and put it out on my bare flesh."
"This is terrible, this is terrible" shouted Jeanne, coming out of the kitchen. "Lee what have you done to your wife?"
"Well, she smoked against my orders," he said sullenly.
"You lived abroad only two years and picked up those customs," Jeanne attacked Him. "You could not have picked up this brutality in Russia where women are independent. And here you have no right to brutalize a woman just because she smokes occasionally."
Right there we discussed with them very frankly their growing antagonism and tried to find a solution to it. We came up with an idea of a temporary separation but let it up to them. "Take it easy," I told Lee, "and stop abusing your wife."
"But she enjoys brutality," he answered calmly. "Look at me. I am all scratched up." Indeed, even in the darkish room we could see long red marks on his face - traces of Marina's fingernails. "She is provoking me," he added sadly.
"Still it's no excuse," I said. "Your temperaments obviously clash - it's another reason for separation."
The Oswalds remained silent, wrapped up in their misery.
"Do it," said Jeanne, "before you really hurt each other. And you Lee are responsible because you are stronger."
"Man, that woman loves to fight," countered Lee seriously.
Marina and Jeanne went back to the kitchen where Marina cried on my wife's shoulder. On the way home Jeanne related the complaints. "He is cold and hostile," said Marina. "He goes to bed with me so rarely now. Once in a couple of weeks. He makes me so god-damn frustrated.
Jeanne was amused by such frank revelation but could not find a better solution for Marina than advising her to be more feminine, use some perfume in the evening and occasionally put on a sexy, transparent negligee.
But before leaving I remember taking a close look at baby June, laying in her crib, rather fat and not being able yet to say a word. "She reminds me of someone, of some celebrity." I said.
And then the answer came to me. "Look at June," I shouted. "Look she is a baby edition of Nikita Krushchev!"
I did not mean it as an insult, just the opposite. I rather liked that outgoing, earthy old man, and so did the Oswalds. So we all laughed and assembled around the crib, examining the baby. "Same pinkish color of the skin," observed Jeanne. "Same rare, fluffy hair," said Marina. "Same round Russian face," agreed Lee smilingly.
And so we left that evening advising our young friends to talk over there problems and to stop torturing each other. Whatever their decision would be, we would be glad to help them in any way we could.
Driving back from the Oswalds we spoke of their problems and laughed about the June-Krushchev comparison. "Yes, the baby has the same slanting eyes and the same belligerent expression," said Jeanne, "how come I did not notice it before?"
Yes, June was not a pretty baby at the time but perfectly normal and healthy. We have not seen her lately, for reasons I shall explain, but I am sure she grew up to be a lovely young girl. She has a step-father and knows probably little or nothing about her real father. And we remember with sadness how much Lee was devoted to her. "He is an unusually loving and tender father," I mused aloud while driving.
"And he has a very good heart," said Jeanne, "Look how much our dogs love him."
"It's so touching when Lee kisses June and calls her "moia malenkaia devochka." And never gets mad at her, I concluded while we approached our house.
Conflicts in married couples develop slowly like a cancer, and then from the slow development the sickness attacks the couple with alarming rapidity. In previous chapters we showed how slowly but insidiously the animosity developed in the case of the Oswalds. Looking back at Lee and remembering his reactions, he became suddenly standoffish, sometimes supercilious and spoke only to people whom he liked and trusted. And there were not many of them. Lee was not close to his mother and seldom spoke of her. But neither did he criticize her. He hardly spoke of his brother Robert and not at all of his wife. Yet, the Oswalds stayed with them for a short time upon their arrival in the United States.
As a matter of fact we never met any member of the Oswald family and we are sorry not to have met Lee's mother. Even Marina spoke nicely of her.
Later we admired when Marguerite Oswald tried desperately to clear up her son's name and reputation. We wish her the best of luck.
One of the reasons we agree with Mrs. Marguerite Oswald that her son was probably innocent of Kennedy's assassination - and we insisted on this during the Warren Commit interviews (although it was never brought up publicly) - was the following: Lee actually admired President Kennedy in his own reserved way. One day we discussed with Lee Kennedy's efforts to bring peace to the world and to end the cold war. "Great, great!" Exclaimed Lee. "If he succeeds, he will be the greatest president in the history of this country."
Kennedy's efforts to alleviate and to end segregation were also admired by Lee, who was sincerely and profoundly committed to a complete integration of Blacks and saw it in the future of the United States. "I am willing to fight for racial equality and would die fighting if necessary," He told me once. Because of his poor, miserable childhood, he probably compared himself to the Blacks and the Indians and commiserated with them. In this he was so different and so noble compared with the Southern trash and rednecks, whose segregationalism stems from their fear of the Blacks, of their strength and of the possibility of their prominence in every field of human endeavor. Education for the Blacks was an anathema for them, while Lee was full-heartedly for it. He loved black children and admired their cute and outgoing ways. He also was fond of the black music and folklore with which he was familiar from his childhood days in New Orleans.
Lee despised the reactionary groups, the white supremacists, the so called "hate groups" and did not hide his feelings. I naturally agreed with him. Marina, on the other hand, was not interested in anything except acquiring possessions. Her crass materialism, envy of other refugees' success, compared to Lee's idealism, lead inevitably to confrontations.
Lee was rather neat and orderly, Marina was lazy and devil-may-care about her household and herself. This unusual Russian-American couple was too much for the average Anglo. Hence their cohabitation with Robert Oswald and his family was short. It all became clear to my wife as she had the opportunity of observing Marina more than I did. This ex-Russian activist and member of the Communist youth stayed in bed 'till noon or later and avoided domestic chores. This was what happened when she stayed in our house. The same opinion was shared by my daughter with whom Marina stayed also for a while.
Marina was simply deprived of energy while Lee, capable of an effort, was no,t however, an average go-getting type of a person who succeeded in America. I often regretted that Lee did not get a better education- he would have done well in the scholastic world and would have been a useful citizen.
In the meantime Lee's relationship with Marina worsened as she became more enticed by the American "luxuries". It was a sensuous joy for her to wear my wife's silk nighties when she stayed with us and my daughter said that she did the same when she stayed in her apartment.
As Marina was luxuriating, Lee was reading whenever he could his Russian books (he had brought a lot from the Soviet Union) and his friends kept providing him with new supplies of books and magazines.
Although I did not notice any special signs of jealousy regarding Marina - for obvious reasons, she could not communicate with Americans and the Russian refugees were too old for her - but it annoyed him that his wife kept corresponding with her boy-friend, or an ex-lover, in Russia. Lee intercepted a letter from this man and became very bitter. I do not remember whether he beat her up on that occasion. Marina did not complain. But he told me that the letter contained reference of Marina's plan to return to the Soviet Union without him. It could be that Lee imagined it . Anyway, the situation became tenser. Lee obviously loved Marina in his own way and did not want to lose her.
Marina's smoking and occasional drinking gave fits to Lee, he hated the smell of tobacco on Marina's breath. Laughingly I told him to avoid this problem and to approach Marina, when he was in an amorous mood, from the back. He did not laugh this time.
June's upbringing also caused bitter disputes. Lee accused his wife of not paying enough attention to his daughter, not to change her diapers fast enough and to be tender enough with her. Actually Marina was not a bad mother, but Lee was too much of a perfectionist and June was his idol. In our opinion he spoiled the child too much and we told him so.
The Oswalds quarreled in front of us bitterly but without physical violence. But gradually the tempo of their fights increased and we saw Marina more often with bruises and Lee with scratches on his face.
Jeanne tried to convince Lee to change his ways, to be more tolerant- otherwise this confrontation would end in a tragedy. I did not believe that Lee would seriously hurt Marina and laughed - "Even prominent people occasionally beat their wives, the most important thing is not to maim them."
My wife liked Marina and found her amusing and stimulating but we were both annoyed to hear her complaints about "that idiot Lee who does not make enough money."
"Why don't you try to make something out of yourself?" asked Jeanne. "I came penniless to America, worked hard and became a successful designer. Go to school, learn English, revalidate your degree."
Marina was not interested.
To encourage Marina and prevent her from bitching at Lee, Jeanne gave her a series of records to teach Russian-speaking people English. They were her own records, as she came to the United States from China, without knowing the language well. But she learned fast and made a superhuman effort to become independent and to give an excellent education to her daughter.
We also gave the Oswalds a phonograph. But instead of learning English she played melancholy Russian tunes and did not obviously cherish the idea of finding a job.
One day both of them were reading to us a letter from Marina's girlfriend in Russia. "Marina," it read, "I knew you would make it, you were destined to be great and your success in America is a proof of it."
Lee smiled sadly: "Marina what were you saying to your friend?"
Ironically Marina did become famous after the assassination, was on the cover of Time Magazine, received a lot of money from charitable but foolish Americans, and is now well off financially.
At the time it was pathetic to read such a nonsense. But is it possible that Marina in her own strange way considered her arrival in America a great success, maybe the hundred odd dresses donated to her turned her head?....Who knows?
One day she told Jeanne that she always wanted to come to the United States - at any price. All the foolish gadgets and all the junk which clutter our lives in this country.
We were appalled at the Oswalds' marital troubles which from being bad became desperate. One day Marina came to our house without announcement, crying, badly bruised all over and carrying baby June along. It would be dangerous for her with Lee. And so we discussed the situation with a charming couple - the Mellers - very kindly people without children of their own. He had been a professor in Eastern Poland and she a Soviet displaced person. They met in a camp in Germany, fell in love, married and eventually came to the United States. They met Marina and liked her and at the same time they were not prejudiced against Lee. Not being rich, they were generous, and they accepted to host Marina and the child 'till the situation would clear up.
The same day I invited Lee to come to the house to discuss the situation with him. We spoke very calmly and as a matter of fact of the need for separation. Our dogs, Nero and Poppea, sitting snugly next to Lee, were a living proof that he was neither frantic nor nervous. When it came to the last beating, the result of Oswalds' desperate quarrels, Jeanne said: "Separate as fast as you can. Stay away from each other. I will let you know later where Marina will be. But not before some time lapses."
At that Lee became indignant, our dogs went into hiding, "You are not going to impose this indignity on me!" He shouted. "I shall tear up all of June and Marina's clothes and break the furniture." He was incoherent and violent. We never saw him in this condition before.
"If you did this, you will never see June and Marina again. You are ridiculous," she said quietly. "There is a law here against abuse."
"By the time you calm down, I shall promise you will be in contact with baby June again," I interceded, knowing that Lee was afraid that someone would take the child away from him. And so he calmed down, promised to think the situation over, assured us that there would be no more violence and after a while we drove the couple back to the dreary Elisabeth Street apartment.
The next evening Lee was back with us, all alone. Again he wanted to talk the situation over. He sat gloomily on our famous sofa and both of us tried to talk some sense.
"I heard of love accompanied with beating and torture," I said half seriously, read Marquis de Sade or observe the life of the underworld - l'amour crapule, as they say in France. But your fights seem to be deprived of sex, which is terrible..."
"If you think you are fond of each other, cannot you do it without scratching, biting and hitting?" Jeanne tried another reasoning.
Lee sat gloomily without saying a word.
"Separation will be a test for both of you," continued Jeanne, "You will see if you can live without each other. If you can, you will find another woman and will be happier with her."
"If not," I laughed, "you will separate or divorce again. Look at me. I did it four times until I found somebody who can stand me."
Jeanne kept on talking about a nice temporary home for Marina and the baby and the good care both of them would have. Naturally we did not mention the name of Mellers.
"I promise you, Lee, that after a cooling-off period, I shall give you the address and the telephone, so you can communicate with your child. Nobody should separate a child from her father."
Lee believed my promise because he knew that I myself had been a victim of a vindictive wife who prevented me from seeing my children.
Jeanne had called one of two families who knew the Oswalds and they wholeheartedly approved of the proposed arrangement because they thought that Marina would be better off alone than with Lee. And I personally was sure that Lee would be happier without Marina.
Since Marina had been for this arrangement from the start, it was only Lee we were worried about.
That night we separated rather sadly. "You may hate us, Lee, or maybe you will be grateful to us one day for enforcing this separation," I said, "But I don't see any other way out under the circumstances. This is Saturday, we are free tomorrow and will come in the morning to help Marina and the baby move out."
Lee agreed but he was on the verge of tears. "Remember your promise. You will give me soon their address and the telephone."
We shook hands and Lee left.
The next day, a Sunday, we drove to Oswalds' apartment on Elisabeth Street. Lee hardly said hello to Jeanne to who he had always been most cordial.
"This is not the end of the world, Lee," she told him. "Cheer up!" And she went to help Marina. I sat on the sofa with him and tried to talk to him. He was gloomy and hardly said a word. He did not try to help us move the crib, baby's belongings, but when it came to Marina's clothes, he became infuriated. In the meantime our big convertible Galaxie - which we kept for years in memory of Oswalds - was filling up high. Seeing all those innumerable clothes, Lee grabbed a bundle of them and shouted: "I will not permit it! I will not permit it! I shall burn all this garbage."
And so back we went into the apartment following Lee and the bundle of Marina's clothes. "You cannot go back on your promise to be calm, Lee!" Shouted Jeanne. Disgusted, I wanted to call the police for help. But Lee looked so desperate that I sat on the sofa again, grabbed him by the arm and tried to reason with him. "Brutality won't help you, Lee," I said. "If you keep on with these tantrums, Marina and the baby will be gone anyway and you won't see them again. So better submit and keep your word."
He sat gloomily not sure of what he was going to do.
"We are wasting our valuable time helping you kids, "I shouted loosing my patience. "To hell with you and your quarrels!"
And Lee calmed down and agreed to everything. He even helped carrying Marina's clothes acquired from the hateful Russian-American benefactors, and put them on top of our overloaded car. With all this junk, our convertible sank almost to the ground and groaned.
And so we departed, Jeanne holding on to all that stuff to prevent it from falling out, Marina holding on to baby June. As I was driving I laughed because we looked so obviously ridiculous. But fortunately this was a Sunday, there were few people on the streets and I drove slowly, avoiding main arteries from Oak Cliff, the far Western part of Dallas, to the Lakeview area, in the Eastern part of Dallas, a distance of some fifteen miles.
And so we reached the apartment of that gentle couple, the Mellers, who came out, greeting Marina and the baby and helping to unload all that junk.
Little did they suspect that this kindly action would cause them so much trouble after November 23, 1963, and that their gentle life would be disturbed by the insane suspicions and crazy publicity following Kennedy's assassination.
Marina complained for the last time about that stupid Lee and all the trouble he had caused all of us. I was worried about him. "Let's get over with it," I said gloomily, finishing the unloading. "And let's get out of here. We have done enough for these crazy kids."
Obviously the separation which we caused and worked so hard at was not the right solution for the couple's problems. It was a heavy burden on this charitable Polish-Russian couple - the Mellers - who were used to their own ways and who had to share Marina's temperamental problems. She would not help Mrs. Meller in her household chores and behaved like a primadonna. And for Lee the separation was much worse. He missed Marina and the child and came to our house daily, asking how they were, did June miss him, were they well taken care of. In other words he practically forgot that this separation was not a joke and that he had caused it to a great extent.
Again we had a chance to talk together, in a less cheerful mood than before. "One can arrive at truth by trial and error," he said. "In my case I commit so many errors and I still do not know whether I arrive at truth."
"It is possible, Lee," I countered, "that you take things too seriously. Don't do things which are unpleasant or uncomfortable because of some great ideology you may have. You see all the mess you are in. You must have read Arthur Koestler's book where he repents for his years as an ideological communist revolutionary."
Lee remembered the book.
"Stop living miserably, do like a normal person does, live pleasantly and keep your own ideology to yourself. Don't disclose yourself."
"You are right," of course, said Lee. "But this society we live in, it's so disgusting and degrading. How can you stand it?"
"Well, my friend, that's why we have built in distractions, stupid TV, moronic movies, rock and roll music for most of the people."
"And good books for us," concluded Lee, rather aptly.
"Lee, you are too straight, your back does not bend enough. One of these days someone will break your back. You have to learn to bend, be resilient."
"But look at the politicians here, most of them. They want to be praised publicly of their honesty and good will. Connally, the governor of Texas, for example. In reality they will do all the degrading actions and yet try to appear in good light."
This was the first time he mentioned his loathing for Governor Connally. What caused it, we shall show later.
"What you need, Lee, is a good walk in the jungle, like we did. That would bring you back to the essentials of life - survival."
"Marina is not Jeanne, she will not do anything of the sort. And we have the baby..."
Later we were asked many times with great suspicion - "Why were you wasting your time on this crazy Marxist and his unappealing wife?"
The answer is - first to help a young couple in despair and secondly-more complex answer - I found Lee a most interesting and invigorating individual, he never bored me. Maybe the reader will agree...
Talking to Lee was a balm for his raw nerves, a sincere conversation calmed him down and it wasn't bad for me either. Fortunately I remember well so much of what he said. I remember distinctly that one of those evenings together we talked of John F. Kennedy. Lee liked him and certainly did not include him among those despicable politicians he mentioned before. I showed him President's picture of the cover of Time Magazine and Lee said -"How handsome he looks, what open and sincere features he has and how different he looks from the other ratty politicians."
I don't remember exactly the words but Lee spoke most kindly of the gradual improvement of the racial relations in the United States, attributing this improvement to the President. Like most young people he was attracted by the Kennedy's personality but he also knew that JFK's father was a rascal who made money off whisky and being bullish on the stock-market which is betting against this country's economy.
Lee often mentioned that the two party system did not work well, that other points of view were not represented. He did not see the difference between a conservative democrat and a fairly liberal republican - and in that I agreed with him.
"Both republicans and democrats really did not oppose each other," he mentioned one day, "they do not represent different points of view, but they are both solidly against poor and oppressed."
But regarding JFK, Lee did not have such a gloomy attitude and he hoped that after the Bay of Pigs fiasco Kennedy would accept coexistence with the communist world.
As I mentioned before, he did not like Marine Corps and considered it racist and segregationist. "Do you know that President Truman wanted to abolish this Marine Corps and I would agree with him on that." Lee did not like any militarists, Russian or American, he thought that some day there would be a "coup d'etat" in this country organized by the Pentagon and that the country would become a militaristic, nazi-type, dictatorship.
Maybe this negativist attitude was the result of the separation, these days he was gloomy and did not smile at my jokes. Yet I tried my best. I remember telling him about the meeting of four girls, French, English, American and Russian. "The French girl said, "my lover will buy me a dress." The English girl said: 'my husband promised to buy me a new coat.' The American girl bragged: 'my boss will buy me a mink stole'. And the Russian girl concluded: 'Girls, I am a prostitute also'."
One of those evenings Lee spoke for the first time of his discharge from the Marine Corps. "I received an honorable discharge and then those bastards, in the Navy, changed it into an undesirable discharge, just because I went to Russia and threw my passport in the face of the American consul."
"Didn't they do it because you lied? You were supposed to go back to the States to help making a living for your mother..."
"Oh, hell, that was just a crooked excuse," He said sullenly. "And Connally signed this undesirable discharge."
Those days Lee was bitter about religion, which he generally seldom mentioned. He explained his avowed agnosticism: "Money wasted of these innumerable churches, garish and costly, should be spent much more usefully on hospitals, asylums, homes of the poor and elderly, on eliminating slums."
But Lee did not like the communist party either. "In Russia party members are mostly opportunist, carrying their cards proudly in order to get better jobs, or they are forced into the party by the circumstances or families."
Again I tried to cheer up Lee by telling him a joke I heard in Yugoslavia.
An uneducated Montenegian communist arrives in Belgrade where he sees for the first time changing lights in a main intersection. 'Comrade,' he asked a passer by. 'What are these lights for?' He asked timidly. The slyde answer was: 'The red lights are for the communists to cross over, the yellow for the communist sympathizers, the green for all the others.' And so the peasant tried to cross on the red light, almost got killed and was strongly admonished by the policeman: 'What kind of fool are you?'-'But I am a member of the communist party, but I didn't really wanted to join it, I was forced into it.'
He did not laugh but concede that the joke proved his point. "People without any party affiliation were the nicest among those I met in Russia, he concluded.
I remember that Lee did not like any political parties, anywhere. He was just a native-born nonconformist. But he told me that when he used to teach his co-workers English in Minsk, he tried to present United States in the most favorable light and wasn't too popular with the authorities because of that. In USSR he defended USA, in USA he defended USSR.
This type of attitude I like very much and I tried to do the same when I worked in Yugoslavia in 1967. I remember deeply offending the secretary of the communist party of Slovenia comparing him to my ex-father-in-law, ex-chairman of the Republican party of Pennsylvania and an extremely rich man. Both of them, communist and a super-capitalist were made in the same mold. When he heard this, Lee finally smiled.
And so Lee tried to create good feeling in two opposing countries, in two opposing systems of government. This is not an attribute of a violent man, just the opposite. I must say that I never considered Lee capable of a truly violent act. Marina annoyed him, he beat her up, but she scratched him back and hurt him worse. Lee regretted his acts but Marina did not. Lee threatened to destroy toys and clothes but he did not do it. Look how he accepted our intervention... I am not a very violent person, but I would not stand for somebody else to take away my wife and my only child, whatever the reasons were.
Unquestionably Lee was a very sincere person, he meant what he said, even if it meant trouble for him. Marina, I remember, had the same feelings regarding the religion as Lee, she found all religions absolutely ridiculous, a childish farce. But at the same time she had her baby baptized - just in case. She knew it would create a favorable impression among Americans and Russian refugees. She did it at the time of this separation, we did not know about it, and she did it without Lee's consent.
And so baby June was baptized in the Russian-Orthodox church, where the priest, father Dimitri, was a good friend of mine. Being a neophyte himself - he had been a strong Baptist - he was somewhat fanatical about his new faith and considered this baptism a great achievement. And he did well in the church and at present time he is bishop of California.
When Lee heard of this baptism, he became infuriated and it led him into more religious or rather anti-religious discussions, which I remember well.
"You know all those theories of immortality leave me cold," said Lee. "And who would be this mysterious judge who would punish or reward me? It's out of sight."
"Yes, I agree with you but becoming just gas after death seems too simple to me."
"Eternity, immortality, what highfalutin ideas," continued Lee. "Anyway I have hard enough time in this short existence of mine," he smiled bitterly. "What shall I do with immortality?"
"Somebody said," pursued Lee, "this man is not intelligent to doubt - he is a BELIEVER."
"My friend," I said, "hope and religion are a peculiar mixture. They make lots of people happy but they also made Jewish people go to gas chambers singing Hebrew songs, instead of fighting the Nazis."
"That won't happen to me," said Lee. "I don't need hymns to pep me up when I die. And I don't know where I shall go after death and I don't care. But I shall not be like a rich American - who eats, sleeps, drinks, amuses himself and then dies painfully leaving all his belonging and a large bank account. I shall die poor and free."
I was frequently asked - was Lee a good husband? Now we have seen his unpleasant characteristics. But he often helped Marina in the household work. He gave her all the money he earned. Sometimes he complained that she was too lazy - and so he did the job himself, cleaning dishes, even washing clothes. He was tender to the baby. As far as sex is concerned, we have heard Marina's complaints but we know that the greatest mystery in the world is what happens between the married couple at night, behind the closed doors. And we never looked in the keyhole.
I don't remember Lee ever saying that he would go back to the Soviet Union, even when his marriage was going on the rocks.
If Marina had any brains, she should have known that a man like Lee, who was not a money-maker but barely a wage earner, would never provide her with all the luxuries, all those desirable items, that America seemed to possess in such limitless quantities. She picked at him, annoyed him, as if she desired a separation, which she finally achieved through us.
This letter from Marina's ex-lover that Lee intercepted, why did she let it drag around. Maybe she wanted to end this unsuccessful marriage?
What annoyed us also was that Marina liked to ridicule Lee. She called him a fool, a moron. "You are always thinking of politics instead of making money - you act like a big shot!"
Marina had a bad habit of constantly correcting Lee when he was speaking Russian and that annoyed him and me. Lee, for a man of his background, had a remarkable talent for Russian and Marina foolishly tried to blow up his occasional mistakes or ridicule his slight accent. It's difficult to know two languages to perfection and Lee's English was perfect, refined, rather literary, deprived of any Southern accent. He sounded like a very educated American of indeterminate background. But to know Russian as he did was remarkable - to appreciate serious literature -- was something out of the ordinary. He had affinity to the Russian ways of life, customs, music and food.
Therefore to criticize this remarkable fellow was an act of nastiness or idiocy, especially for Marina who knew only two English words - "yes" and "no". That's how she went around and did her shopping pointing at the articles with her finger.
Lee asked me once - "What is your philosophy of life? You make me talk a lot but tell me jokes instead of being serious."
"Well, jokes sometimes express more than thick, serious doctoral theses," I answered. "Frankly I am not interested in politics, I lost most of my relatives - and so did Jeanne - through various wars and revolutions. What I believe in - live and let live. But let the minorities and the poor live decently, then I am for that type of a government. I had voted Republican so far but I am considering switching to the Democratic party. There is a guy there by the name of Eugene McCarthy whom I like. I also consider that each country deserves the government it has, let the communists live the way they want, same goes of the socialists or even dictators. For instance the Germans definitely deserved Hitler."
Lee nodded agreement.
"This country has too many damn problems to bust into other countries and impose our ways. We must solve our problems first."
FBI later annoyed me to no end and intervened in my life. Immediately after the assassination and Lee's declaration that I was his best friend and the only one he respected, I became marked as a suspect number one by the FBI and CIA. Various agents, in disguise and officially representing their agencies invaded my friends and business acquaintances asking: "Is he a communist, is he an anarchist, is he an agent provocateur, what country is he working for?" some even intimated that I was a hypnotist and that I held Lee under my spell.
Just imagine the effect of such massive inquiries? And both my wife and I had left Dallas for Haiti eight or nine months before the assassination, working on the geological survey of that country.
Some moronic agent comes to your friend and asks: "Is George a potential killer?" Then your best friend begins to worry. The same thing happened to my wife, a famous designer: "Is she a Marxist? Why was she born in China? Is she an agent of the Mao Tse Tung?" Stupid questions, but your business contacts begin to worry and you lose them.
You have to investigate like the Scotland Yard does, or do it through the private detectives, cautiously, not by innuendo, gossip or plain brutal imposition. Finally, assembling of a bunch of such depositions into volumes of gossip at a large expense to the taxpayer - and that's what the Warren Report is - is a height of foolishness and a bureaucratic nightmare. But we shall talk about these matters later.
Lee was frequently critical of the United States and this was understandable considering his poor and sad childhood in New Orleans, Texas and New York. But also there was some logic in his arguments.
"America is a racist society from its very origin. The arrival of the pilgrims and elimination of the Indians. United States is a dishonest country because it's based on the spoliation of its rightful owners. This country is based of hate and intolerance. And finally," concluded Lee, "I think American Anglos hate this country because they ruined it to such an extent. Just look around - ugliness and pollution.
"You exaggerate, Lee, " I argued, "There are lovely places in each town."
"The plastic ghettos of the rich, you call them lovely," he answered angrily.
"In this country of great economic wealth, the jobs are hard to find even in times of prosperity. In depression, it's awful."
"One thing you are right about," I said, "there are few happy people here. I remember an old joke: 'In America the poor get poorer, and the rich get Porfirio Rubirosa."
He did not laugh, Lee probably did not know who Porfirio Rubirosa was.
"What kind of a country is this, if an Alabama ignorant redneck calls a Black professor from Dillard University - 'a nigger!'?" And Lee continued angrily.. "You like jokes, so listen to this one: 'Two white policemen sit in their office somewhere in Mississippi. A voice from outside calls: 'Sheriff, come over, a man is drowning.' A fat-bellied sheriff rises, goes out and comes back shortly. 'Goddamit', he says, 'another nigger tries to drown himself- the bastard wrapped himself in chains, cannot swim.'"
Yes, Lee could be justifiably angry. But he hated FBI most of all.
"Those sob's annoy me and Marina constantly. They keep on inquiring about me and her. They intimate that I am a suspicious character and that she is a communist. And so I cannot hold a decent job..."
"I agree with you, Lee, why don't you write FBI a letter and complain?"
"I did that and promised to blow up their god-damn office," he said angrily.
As we know now, the existence of this letter was carefully concealed by FBI from the Warren Committee.
A banker, friend of mine, to whom I introduced Lee, knew the situation and shied away from him. He did not want investigators in is warroom.
Lee could have moved away from Dallas, and he did already move from Fort Worth here, but those lousy investigators followed him everywhere. That's why the Oswalds moved to New Orleans, but this happened after our departure to Haiti. I could have advised him to stay on his job.
The banker, I mentioned above, gave Lee an interview, on my insistence, liked him, found him an independent, clear-thinking man, yet he did not hire him. "I am afraid getting involved with this guy," he told me later. "He is a hot-head, FBI will keep pestering him. And his undesirable discharge...I am sorry."
This same friend of mine testified at Warren committee that had I stayed in Dallas, there would have been no assassination (if Lee was involved) as I would have known what he was up to. And I am thankful for this one intelligent remark, although at the same time the same banker said some disagreeable things about me. But I am a Christian, so I forgive him.
Some other good friends understood what we were trying to do for the Oswalds - trying to improve their position materially, socially and emotionally. And had we been successful, Lee's animosity might have disappeared or would become constructive criticism. and, God, we need it!
Marina testified at the Warren Committee hearings that Lee had been a different person in the Soviet Union, a friendly and compatible man, but in the States he was resentful and a recluse. He disliked the life of Russian refugees, comparing their bourgeois ways, soft and comfortable, with the tough and ascetic life of their compatriots in Russia. He considered them fools, who did not understand the problems of the United States and even as traitors to their own mother-country. Why Lee did not resent our soft ways of life, I shall never know...
Lee disliked people who were lavish with Marina, spoiled her; and she foolishly bragged: "Look at this, look at that. They gave it to me. They can afford it." Naturally it infuriated him.
And so, testified Marina, Lee became somewhat of a recluse, and all that giving backfired making Oswald's life miserable and empty. It could be that this was intentional; some elderly lonely people are jealous of an unusual couple, seemingly in love, so they get mixed up in their affairs.
Lee disliked and even despised bureaucracy in every form here or in the Soviet Union. "Here they are nasty', he said to me once, "in the Soviet union they are naive and stupid." This outburst came out after I asked him: "How the hell did you get out so easily out of Russia?"
"I outsmarted those Russian bureaucrats. Man! They are just an amorphous bunch of people. They make a mistake and go to a concentration camp like a bunch of sheep."
Comparing Soviet Union and this country, Lee told me one day: "Both sides have made a lot of mistakes, enormous mistakes, but which side is right and which side is wrong, I shall be damned, I don't know."
And he added seriously. "I hope at least China will be right and will do well."
Several interviewers and even good friends asked me constantly the same question: "You belong to a different sphere of society - why did you get mixed up with these 'low class' people, the Oswalds?"
Most of the reasons were explained in previous chapters but there was another important explanation. In 1960 I lost my only son to a congenital disease - Cystic Fibrosis - CF in short. Although the fatal issue was expected, when it happened it affected me so strongly that I knew that I had to get "away from it all". I asked my wife Jeanne to give up her successful designing profession and join me on an expedition on foot by the trails of Mexico and all of Central America. This effort helped me immensely and then we met the Oswalds very shortly after our return.
Lee understood the nature of my ordeal - and so did Marina - which was a Russian way of going back to nature, to be alone in the wilderness with the image of the lost person in our minds. And so we experienced a communication with a departed child. But walking among the poor and dispossessed opened our eyes to the realities of life. Before that, like most people in this country, we were hustling after our business, quite successfully most of the time, and dismissed poverty and inequality from our mind.
I became receptive to some of Lee's ideas, listened to them, discussed them freely and came to look at his as a friend, almost a son.
Our experience of living with the poor people of Mexico and of Central America interested Lee immensely and he kept asking intelligent questions. Because of his childhood in New Orleans and his early contact with Latin Americans, he understood complex, semi-feudal problems and was searching for solutions. Marina was not involved in these discussions. Thus, possibly I identified Lee with my lost son, unconsciously, of course, an as far as age is concerned he could be my son. Maybe this is the reason why Lee accepted our paternalism in his private life.
Lee trusted Jeanne and I implicitly and felt that whatever we tried to do would be beneficial to him.
I can think of another element of our closeness. At one period in my life, I was an officer the Polish cavalry where I always prided myself on excellent relations with the soldiers. Maybe I treated Lee also like a soldier- firmly but fairly. And on Jeanne's part there was the same element vis-à-vis Marina, who was about her daughter's age. And so the Oswalds might have considered us our foster parents.
After the forced separation, Lee came to our house every day. Once he brought some visiting cards he printed for me at Taggert's . A touching gesture and I still keep these cards. Lee obviously liked my impossibly long name and spelled it correctly, but he printed the cards on shiny Bristol paper with fancy letters and black borders, as if they were made for a funeral.
The evening he brought my cards he appeared completely despondent from lonesomeness. "Give me Marina's telephone," he begged me, "I want to talk to her and the child."
We consulted each other. By consensus we had Lee Marina's telephone and address, against Marina's will. We just did not believe that she would be afraid of Lee. Whether our decision was a right one, we don't know but starting that evening Lee began calling his wife at all times of day and night, disturbing everybody until this charming couple, the Mellers, asked Marina to move out.
This time we had nothing to do with the move and it seems that Marina refused to be with Lee and moved first to Mrs. Katia Ford's place - a Russian refugee married to an American geologist - and later she moved to another family named Rays (she was also a Russian refugee and he an American advertising executive). Eventually she returned back to Lee. But before that she gave Lee each time her telephone and address. Marina returned to her domicile after a tearful scene - which we did not see.
Supposedly Lee swore her his love, stood on his knees and promised to make some money.
Later on we were told that Marina had moved away from Lee for a few days in Fort Worth, and then went back to him...
The separation we were involved in so painfully was too short to have a positive effect, I told Lee. He should have been more patient and we were angry with ourselves for this intervention in their lives.
And life was catching up with us - time became very valuable for both of us. Jeanne had to finish some urgent designing jobs and my long awaited project of a geological survey of Haiti was coming to fruition. At the same time I was chosen chairman of the local Cystic Fibrosis campaign, which meant writing letters, seeing lots of people, participating in various meetings and above all - raising money. Jeanne was most useful spending her energy most usefully, raising large amounts of money from our rich neighbours and from the executives of the clothing industry. The campaign was a great success.
And here is another coincidence: my ex-wife and I had started this Cystic Fibrosis foundation on a small scale in Dallas and eventually it became a national organization with headquarters in Atlanta. At the time of our friendship with the Oswalds, Jacqueline Kennedy became an honorary chairman of our Foundation for which, we all, afflicted parents, were profoundly grateful to her. Lee Oswald was aware of this fact and out of friendship to me, he expressed several times how much he admired our President's wife.
Somebody familiar with things Haitian know how difficult it is to organize anything worth-while in that country. But I have always been very fond of Haiti and especially of people there. Fortunately my many friends were helpful and we were assured now that my survey was developing a firm base. Also I was trying to organize a company to help developing a firm base. Also, I was trying to organize a company to help developing the sagging economy of this impoverished but beautiful country. So the time was short for us and we were seeing the Oswalds rather seldom.
One night he came alone and seemed very depressed.
"Lee, my friend," I told him. "You like Tolstoy, don't you. He said many clever things but his one applies to you. 'Man must be happy. If not he has to work on himself to correct this misunderstanding which makes him unhappy.' I think I know what your 'misunderstanding is.'"
Lee nodded sadly. "My tragedy is," he said, "that my suffering is inflicted on me by a person close to whom I want to be and from whom I would want to find protection and consolation."
These words, which I remember distinctly, touched me greatly.
"You try to change Marina into your image. It's difficult, if not impossible. You should like her for what she is, not for what you would want her to be. Do you see my point?"
"But she is becoming like an American middle-class wife," Lee fought feebly. "She thinks only of foolish comforts. She is becoming like the rest of them, talking of washers, dryers and other gadgets as if they were the most important things in life."
"Lee, you are too demanding. She is new in this country and is affected by it. Take it easy. Try to be friends with her. Somebody said: 'Friendship is a quiet and exquisite servant, while love is a ferocious and demanding master.'"
"I am a fool and I am very unhappy," said Lee quietly. "But thanks for advice anyway. You are a very good friend."
When he left I thought: Here is a good fellow whose tragedy is a complete misunderstanding of himself. He wants love from a woman who does not understand him. And he himself does not face squarely the issues. What is the most important to him? In the meantime the despair is like an organism which destroys him. He begins to lose hope.
And so Lee went back home and to his miserable life. But he seemed to be resigned to unhappiness and we had not had any complaints from Marina - -no black eyes and no burned cigarettes on her delicate white flesh.
In the meantime a big party was to be given for Christmas of 1962 by Declan Ford - the geologist - and his wife Katia - the Russian refugee- who knew the Oswalds well but tried to steer away from them. They were probably annoyed by Marina's stay with them; as far as Lee was concerned they were rather indifferent to him. Being younger than most ex-Russians, Katia was a relatively liberal person.
After we received the invitation, Jeanne called Katia and asked her permission to bring the Oswalds who were extremely lonesome atthe time, KATIA WAS NOT TOO enthusiastic at Jeanne's suggestion but with a little of arm-twisting she accepted, but asked specifically not to bring the baby June. Or maybe the baby was just a pretext and the Oswalds had no money to have a baby-sitter. So I got on the phone and said: "Oswalds are lonesome, isolated, nobody sees them except us and we are not giving a party this year. We will not come without the Oswalds."
"Marina will not have anyone to speak to if we invite her to another, purely American party. At your party she will find some Russian-speaking people. I have a solution, I shall find a baby-sitter for June."
Fortunately Jeanne's friend, an American-Italian lady, a good Christian, volunteered for the job and stayed with June that whole night.
That Christmas eve both Marina and Lee were well dressed and looked very elegant. Lee didn't always have to be a non-descript individual, he had sometimes a very pleasant appearance and could dress well.
The self-appointed baby-sitter, Anita, liked June and took care of her in a typical warm, Italian manner and the Oswalds and two of us, chatting pleasantly, went to Ford's attractive house in North Dallas. It was a clear, cold night and a slight layer of snow, unusual for Texas, cheered all of us and gave the city a Christmas-like appearance.
Most of the guests had already consumed lots of drinks and they were chattering excitedly in a dozen languages. The loveliest girl of the crowd was a Japanese musician, Yaiko, staying in Dallas for a short time with her friends from Tokyo. She was a delicate, elegant, sophisticated girl, restrained and dignified, a little lost in our Dallas society of noisy, self-assertive, aggressive females.
Marina did not look too well, she seemed to be afraid of the crowds. She looked to operate with men one-to-one, and appeared bashful, like a country-girl. Lee, on the other hand, blossomed and was the hit of the party. Naturally a good conversationalist - if he wanted to - both in English and Russian, he was outgoing and friendly possibly because the people were more liberal than usual, his behavior was exemplary. Serious, attentive and polite, he answered questions intelligently, if the person who asked the question was serious. He reacted well to the surroundings.
Somebody played Russian tunes on the piano and some good voices could be heard. Marina unfortunately was not musical and Lee was engrossed in conversations. I stayed around him and noticed that several women flirted with him and displayed their charms. Some were quite attractive. But Lee's greatest conquest was this Japanese girl Yaiko, I had mentioned before, and who I also found the most interesting woman of all. He noticed her also and angled towards her - or possibly it was vice-versa - anyway soon they were engrossed in a conversation. Of course Lee had served in Japan and there he had learned a lot about the country and the people. He had told me that he met there some interesting leftist youngsters.
Maybe Yaiko had met G.I.'s whatever it was, but they were engrossed in each other and I left them alone. Marina stayed around, but not being able to understand she fretted and did not know what to do with herself. As far as I was concerned, I was delighted. How many times I'd heard her call Lee a bore, a fool, a bookworm, how many times she degraded his masculinity and here the loveliest girl of all was in a trance. Now Marina became just a jealous woman, she even forgot to smoke cigarettes and to drink wine - both were free and plentiful - she just watched Lee with narrow, jealous eyes. "We should go home," she muttered to me. "It's getting late. I am worried about June."
"Don't worry, she is well taken care of. And we are having a good time," I answered, enjoying the situation sadistically.
And Lee this time was not to be budged. It was the first time that I saw him truly shine in the crowd. He enjoyed the evening and insisted staying there to the end of the party.
The other Russians at the party, unknown so far to the Oswalds, like cultured Russian Jews, were amazed by Lee's almost perfect command of the language. He spoke very fast to an elderly lady and she said: "I have lived here in America thirty years and I cannot speak English and well as you, young man, speak Russian."
The party finally became boisterous and noisy. Lee and Yaiko lost track of each other. But she found me and asked timidly: "What an interesting friend you have. What's his name?"
"Lee Harvey Oswald."
"Oh, what a lovely name."
"I agree with you that Lee is an unusual and intelligent young man, but many others, the majority, disagree with me. They don't seem to understand him."
"I do," said Yaiko. "He had so many true things to say about Japan. He is a very sensitive person and he understood my country. The New Japan is very complex."
"Yes, Lee is not one of those GI's who believe that for a bar of chocolate and a pair of stockings you can conquer a woman - and for a larger stake - the whole country."
"Where does he work?" She asked bashfully.
I gave her Taggart's address and the telephone number and thought to myself: "Hehe! A real romance is in the making..."
At last something good was happening to my friend Lee, new horizons were opening for him.
Unfortunately I cannot say whether this romance has materialized, as my life became hectic and I did not have much time for the Oswalds, their conflicts and even Lee's love life. They did communicate, however, and I wouldn't have known about it had it not been for Marina, who came over one day furious and told me. "I found in Lee's pocket this Japanese girl's address. What a bastard, he is having an affair with her."
I did not say anything, just smiled and thought: "Good for him."
"That Japanese bitch," she cried bitterly, "we had a fight over her - and look at the result."
She sported a new black eye.
"She provoked me to a fight," Lee told me later, showing his scratched face. "This time she fought like a mad cat."
The situation was normal again, they were at each other's throat.
This last incident, due this time to Lee's romantic interlude, showed us that it was only up to them to iron out their difficulties. We even began to agree that the Russian refugees were perhaps right in eliminating this unhappy couple from their lives.
We did not show to Lee or Marina this change of our attitude but our meetings became rarer. When we saw each other we spoke mostly about Lee's job, our coming departure and about June's health. Only one evening led to some serious discussion. I remember Jeanne complimented Lee for his serious attitude towards life. She was tired of people teasing her and did not enjoy this American pastime. My teasing annoyed her also.
"Excessive vanity is related to jokes and constant teasing," she told Lee. "People who tease are trying to be brilliant at others' expense. That you don't do, Lee, neither to us or to Marina." The teasers and constant jokers," she continued, "want to show themselves superior."
Lee was grateful for the compliment. He sat on that sofa of ours and told us something very touching. "I think that I shall be moving away from here after your departure. When my heart is heavy - and it will be when you will be gone - It will be hard for me to remain in one place."
"Don't impose new changes on Marina and the child, think of them," said Jeanne. "If everything works out well, we shall invite you to stay with us in Haiti."
Then she gave the Oswalds this advice: "You seem to be still in love with each other. Cultivate this love as you would cultivate a fire, adding affectionate actions like little pieces of wood. Otherwise the fire will be extinguished."
"Study, Lee," I had to add my piece of advice. "Study is the best consolation against worst adversities. Some philosopher said that, it's not my own idea."
"Kids," said Jeanne. "We shall miss you, although you have been giving us a lot of headaches. We shall be basking in the sun of Haiti, drinking the beauty of our favorite island and eating sunshine and mangoes."
"Maybe it won't be so pleasant," said I, not wanting the Oswalds to think of their dismal lives on Elizabeth Street in Oak Cliff. "Remember life in America is fun...fun...fun... and then worry...worry...worry..." I quipped. "Try to have more fun than worry."
As a result of our admonishments Marina promised not to smoke and Lee said: "I won't put out cigarettes on your arm, since you won't be smoking." Peace for a while in the Oswald family.
Practical issues of life took over, I had to spend all the time on my geological work and on preparations for departure and Jeanne was designing furiously for several companies at the time trying to make some money. Our finances were almost exhausted.
But one evening with the Oswalds, fraught with incidents, stands out in our memory. That evening we decided to show the 8mm. movie of our walking trip which Lee did not see and insisted on seeing. This was sometime in January of 1963. A scientist working for the research department of an oil company, Edward Glover, arranged for the projection in his house. And he invited all his friends, acquaintances and colleagues. Most scientisst and skillful technicians dream of wilderness and free life in the open. And so the large room was full. Our only guests were Lee and Marina. They had found someone to baby-sit for baby June.
I did not show this film often as this original was precious to us and we didn't have a copy of it. Taken all outdoors, this film came out amazingly well starting with our departure from the "civilized" world and ending a year later south of Panama canal. What we did was a little walk from the Texas border, all on foot - and we did not cheat even once.
This trip began in October of 1960 and we returned from Panama in a civilized way by plane, to Jamaica first and then to Haiti where we took a good rest.
During this hegira we made a complete breakaway from all comforts, slept exclusively outside, on the ground, ate whatever the Indians had to sell and I exchanged occasionally my knowledge of minerals against food supplies. We walked freely as much as we wanted, slowly at first, much faster later, guiding ourselves by old mining maps and by compass. We lost a lot of disgusting fat in a hurry and after three months became lean and bronzed like savages, able to run up a high mountain without breathing hard.
The film, taken periodically, showed this amazing change in us, from slobs to healthy individuals. The rest consisted of beautiful scenery, of Indians we met, of our wonderful Manchester Nero and of our unpredictable mule-Condessa.
We stopped in a ranch south of Panama canal and left our mule there, to be retired from hard work. I hope she ended her life peacefully.
Quite a few of Glover's friends from Dallas and New York, mostly your career people, although conservatively inclined, were interested in meeting Lee Harvey Oswald. Some were more interested in him than in our movie. and they got their money's worth. After the showing they asked Lee some pointed questions and he answered them aggressively and sharply without hiding, and even exaggerating, his feelings. Lee wanted to show these well dressed, prosperous youngsters that he was different radically from them. I wanted to stop him but he went on nevertheless talking of his sympathies of revolutionary movements all over the world, of his respect for Fidel Castro and for Che Guevara. This made him hardly popular with this group, composed mainly of big oil companies' employees, dreaming not of revolutions but of advancement of their respective careers.
And there is nobody more conservative and even race conscious than an oil company employee or executive. Lee knew that. "I bet you" he said sharply, "that your companies do not employ any Blacks or Mexicans in any positions, not executive but average position..."
Nobody answered Lee's challenge.
"Naturally abroad you act differently, you use natives of all colors that American oil companies are soooo liberal."
Incidentally, now the situation changed somewhat, possibly because of President Kennedy's assassination, which put in sharp perspective racial discrimination in this country.
But there was an exception in this conservative group - a tall, dark-haired, attractive woman in her late twenties. She took a vivid interest in Marina and did not take offense to Lee's utterances. She asked me if Marina spoke any English. I said - "no."
"Would you introduce me to her? My name is Ruth Paine."
I did. And to my great surprise Ruth began to speak in fluent Russian to equally flabbergasted Marina.
Mrs. Ruth Paine, an eccentric American, came from a wealthy Philadelphia Quaker family and went to some Eastern college where she took Russian studies very seriously. She was one of those gifted people who learn a difficult language well and are infatuated by the Russian culture. Mrs. Paine was probably bored in the suburban Irving atmosphere and wanted to practice Russian; her husband being a research engineer for Bell Helicopter. She had energy and time on her hands. She saw a native-Russian who did not speak any English - Marina was a real find for her. Some people accused her later of an infatuation of a different type, but I did not notice it. Anyway she was more interested in Marina than in Lee who in the meantime continued his furious and extravagant discussions with our conservative friends.
Thus began a friendship between these two women, a friendship which lasted till the day of the assassination. Ruth Paine has done more for Marina and June than any other person, yet, for some reason, Marina refused to see her after Lee's death.
All in all the showing of our picture was a success, beautiful scenery, waterfalls, volcanoes in eruption, outcrops of brilliantly-hued deposits showed up well - and scientists, being adventurers at heart, loved wilderness. Marina could not care less, she was not an outdoor woman, but being polite, she did not express her dislike and kept on chatting amicably with Ruth Paine.
Lee, on the other hand, commented late excitedly how much he liked the film and that he envied us for having lived for a year close to nature, an ascetic life of complete freedom. "You have walked almost 4,000 miles to get away from people, comforts, stupid gadgets and conventions. It would be my dream also . I envy you. I have never been completely free."
"Yes it was a great privilege," I told Lee, "but it was tough, believe me. We wore out twenty two pairs of shoes and guaraches each."
The subject of our film filled most of our last conversations with Lee. I advised him to try the same. We spent quite a lot of money on our trip but some American lunatic who pretended that he was a saint had done part of our itinerary by himself: without spending a cent, people fed and clothed him out of charity.
"I would never do anything without paying for food and lodging," said Lee. "And Marina is not an outdoor woman like your wife."
Some newspapermen and writers attribute to me the part of Svengali, of sinister, evil adviser to Lee. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He was a strong and stubborn man, a hundred-per-cent American, who had made a decision early in life, in his childhood as a matter of fact, that the American way of life means unabridged capitalism, crooked politics, violence, racism, pursuit of luxuries rather than ideals, living up to Joneses etc.. and that conviction motivated his escape to Russia. Nothing could have persuaded him to the contrary.
Lee's views on Latin America were determined long before we met. On the basis of our trip I began to look at things somewhat like Lee always did. Previously I lived in several Latin American countries, where the social injustices were obvious, but then I was looking at life as an eager petroleum geologist, not as a sociologist.
This time our primitive trip put us close to simplest people, we lived with them and understood the problems of the poor. And it was exactly what had happened to Lee in Japan - hence his immediate close relationship with Yaiko who was a sensitive and perceptive woman.
Lee told me that the same phenomena of awakening to the fate of the poor occurred to Che Guevera when he carried his assignment as a doctor in Central America, in places we visited ourselves. The desperate plight of the poor could not be denied by anyone with open eyes and a little bit of feelings for a fellow-man.
Che Guevera understood the situation well," said Lee, "although his stay in Central America took place years before your trip. But still you saw dismal poverty in parts of Mexico, in Guatemala, San Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama, didn't you?"
"Yes we did. But in Costa Rica we found a somewhat different situation. Why?"
We knew the answer but asked Lee anyway.
"Simply because," he said, "that this country has never been occupied and corrupted by us, Americans."
Right he was. the ignorant "high-school dropout" knew the history of different United States interventions in Latin America.
And so Costa Rica is Switzerland of Latin America, with a true democratic government, limited police force, no army or air force. you can talk there freely and meet the president in the barbershop in San Jose. You can also find refuge there if you steel millions in USA.
All these problems are clear and open now but they were not in 1963.
We discussed with Lee the dismal poverty of overcrowded El Salvador, where the wealth of the whole country belongs to 23 families, latifundistas since the Spanish conquest. It's still true today.
And then the tragi-comical history of Nicaragua. Somoza family owns most of Nicaragua and this regime was imposed by the wife of an American ambassador during the occupation by the Marines. An elderly Nicaragua geologist told us the story of a handsome and husky telephone lineman, who seduced the lonesome wife of the Yankee Ambassador - the name was mentioned but I forgot it - and his subsequent appointment as chief of police, which was equivalent to a dictator for life. His and his children's.
These discussions with Lee took place 13 years ago. Today the frequent support of the United States of oligarchs, crooked generals and ruthless dictators is discussed openly in the Congress, Senate and in the United Nations. But in 1963 such conversations might have been considered subversive. Now, after Vietnam and Watergate, we all see a little clearer and talk more freely.
"Lee, how do you understand the Latin American situation so well?"
"I am from New Orleans, as a kid I met a lot of refugees from all these banana republics, no better source of information."
In this way both Lee and I were non-conformist, even revolutionaries. But my long years of experience in Latin America, followed by my son's death and the ensuing sadness, made me commiserate with the fate of the poor and of the starving. As a younger man, I was career and money mad, a hustler...But Lee was the same since his childhood, which made him such a beautiful and worthwhile person to me.
I had been in the Social Register, played with the jet-set, knew innumerable rich people, including the Bouvier family, father and mother, and Jacqueline and Lee when they were young girls - all this foolish activity makes me today disgusted with myself. Now all this opportunist-waste of time is meaningless, but Jeanne, my wife, and Lee had always been on the side of the underprivileged and she had lived in China and saw new-born babies thrown in the garbage because parents were too poor to feed them. To Lee, commiseration for the dejected came naturally. Poor as his family was in New Orleans, he never really experienced hunger. But by his inner nature he belonged to the socially motivated people.
In our last meetings Lee often expressed his concern about this country - past and present. Its origins - according to him - by the hypocritical pilgrims, through Indian genocide, invasion of the continent by the greedy and hungry European masses, who, meeting racist attitudes of the Anglos, became even more racist themselves. Before busing confusion arose in this country, Lee was keenly aware of the racist cancer eating America's healthy tissues. "All people are sob's" he often said, "but the strongest and more ferocious always win, physically but not morally."
Jeanne often participated in our discussions. Let me explain her background a little and to clarify why she got along so well with Lee.
Social attitudes are unpredictable and do not depend on your parents or on your environment. Jeanne's family in China was well-to-do. Her father built a railroad, she lived a luxurious childhood, but she preferred from early days to give rather than to receive. He remembered the Chinese as humble and kind people, dismally poor, who hated to fight and rather insulted each other and stamped their feet. Even in huge families, violence was seldom seen. These subjects were interesting to Lee who discussed them with my wife. She told him of the formation of the puppet state of Manchukuo, of the Japanese invasion and of the ensuing cruelties, of her flight from the Japanese to the United States.
Lee compared her experiences of the old militaristic Japan with the present Japanese movement, which he knew so well. And so both of them got along fabulously well, instructing each other on the Far-Eastern situation thirty years ago and now.
Since Marina never participated in these discussions, we would talk with Jeanne of this curious couple after their departures from our home.
"The opposites attract," was Jeanne's opinion.
"I think it's sex," was my opinion," but what type of sex I don't know." But there must have been a strong emotional bond between those two. They always came to each other, except just before the assassination. Lee begged Marina to come and live with him. He had a job with the Book Depository, everything seemed fine. And Marina refused because Lee could not buy a washing machine to which she had had access in Mr. Paine's house. From this incident came the theory attributed to me by some publication (Esquire, I think)-"A washing machine theory of Kennedy's assassination". Supposedly I compared Marina to a typical Texas woman who would not go back to her husband because he could not afford a new Cadillac. But in poor Marina's case it was a washing machine...
The comparison is not bad but I did not enunciate it since for me Lee is innocent of Kennedy's assassination. I cannot prove it but the later events, which will be discussed, tend to prove Lee's innocence.
I did not know Lee to be a dangerous man, a man who would kill like a maniac without any reason - with reason any man is a potential killer - and we proved that he was rather an admirer of Kennedy's. Lee's connections, when we knew him, were fairly liberal, equalitarian, not even communist but rather vague, Marxist beliefs. He did not try to influence me in any way nor did I try to exert any influence on him. "That's why it's so easy to be with you," said Lee one day, "everyone tries to influence me one way or another, in the Soviet Union, in Japan, here, and you leave me strictly alone."
Our film recurred frequently in our conversations and even Marina participated in these discussions. "How could you have done such a thing at your age?" she asked Jeanne. "And to look so trim, strong and beautiful?
"Effort and constant exercise. Control over your body," Jeanne would lecture. But to no avail. Neither was I successful to convince Lee to be sportier. "Get your troubles, your sadnesses, your anger out of your systems through hard physical exercise," I advised them both. It worked so well in our case. Unfortunately neither of them would follow our advice.