Living in a Dallas boardinghouse, separated from his wife, Marina, and their two children, Lee Harvey Oswald feels completely powerless and desperate. But on November 19, 1963, he sees two articles in the Dallas Times Herald; one on the front page in which President Kennedy calls for the overthrow of Castro in Cuba, and the other announcing the president’s visit to Dallas this coming Friday. This, Oswald believes, is the opportunity for which he has been waiting.
In Seven Days in November 1963, author Edward J. Gibbons presents a fictionalized account of Kennedy’s assassination, an event that has posed a tragic, complex puzzle to most of the American public for five decades. Gibbons fits the pieces of that puzzle into a plausible, understandable story that takes place during the course of seven days in Dallas in late November 1963—a time of heightened Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, focusing on Cuba.
Seven Days in November 1963 tells how Lee Harvey Oswald, the president’s assassin, and Jack Ruby, the man who would kill Oswald two days later on live national television, both had their own twisted, delusional motives for committing their acts of violence. It also explores how the investigation into the assassination was compromised by American intelligence agencies that omitted vital information to protect themselves from responsibility or blame for the president’s death, thus leading to decades of confusion and conspiracy theories about what actually happened.
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Seven Days in November 1963
The Kennedy Assassination
By Edward J. Gibbons
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Edward J. Gibbons
All rights reserved.
Monday, November 18, 1963
On a chilly, wet Monday morning in the quiet residential neighborhood of Oak Cliff, a few miles southwest of downtown Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald arose early as usual. He opened the French doors of his small room, which was no bigger than a large closet, and stumbled barefoot down the cold hallway floor of the rooming house. Oswald was rather small in build, barely five foot nine inches and less than 150 pounds, but he was wiry and deceptively strong. His deep-blue eyes set off his ordinary looks, and although he was only twenty-four years old, his light-brown hair was already thinning.
Now he had to call his wife, Marina, from the telephone he shared with the other tenants of the rooming house. The Oswalds were living apart; their marriage had been a difficult, sometimes even violent one ever since they arrived in the United States the year before. Oswald was ashamed that he had been unable to provide a decent living for his wife and their two young daughters, two-year-old June and one-month-old Rachel, who lived with their mother six miles away in Irving, Texas. There, they shared a house with Marina's only real friend, Ruth Paine, who was also separated from her husband, and her own two young children.
When Marina finally answered the phone, she was sleepy but already upset and angry with her husband. "Where were you last night, Lee?" she demanded in her native Russian. "I called the number you gave me for emergencies, and a lady told me there was no Lee Oswald living there. What's going on? Where are you?"
"I'm at the rooming house, and I was here last night," said Lee in his broken Russian, the only language he used when speaking to his wife and children. "That was Mrs. Roberts you talked to, my landlady. I told you never to call me here, only in emergencies. Why did you call? Is there something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong. I just wanted to talk to you. I felt bad because you didn't come by this past weekend to see me and the girls."
Marina only included herself to be polite. She did not really love Lee anymore, and he didn't love her either. They had both come from broken homes and were so lonely that they needed each other; she needed him because she was a foreigner and he was the father of her children, and he needed her because she was the only one left who could tolerate him.
"I know you were upset, Lee, but why did your landlady tell me you didn't live there?"
"Because I used another name," Lee confessed.
Marina paused. "What name?"
"O. H. Lee."
Marina became incensed again. "But why did you do that? How was I to know? Why do you need another name?"
Now Oswald's anger began to rise. He did not like explaining himself. "I didn't want the FBI to know where I lived, that's why. Don't you understand?"
"No, no. I don't understand. That's crazy. The FBI isn't looking for you, Lee. When will all your foolishness end? First, it's one thing, then another, and now it's this fictitious name. Please stop all this, please. You're a father of two small children. This has to stop," demanded Marina.
But Oswald was not listening. The last thing he wanted now was to fight with his wife. Their relationship had improved slightly since his return from Mexico City in early October when he had attempted to defect to Cuba, but his improved attitude toward his wife and their marriage was a mask; it was not because he had decided to be a better husband and father but because of the guilt he felt for his recent affair with a woman he met while he was in Mexico City. Their affair was brief, but it had made a significant impact on Oswald. It was not surprising then that before long he again became distracted and indifferent to Marina and their marriage, and they began to live apart when he went to work in Dallas. And now he was angry that Marina had found out about his alias.
"You're wrong," Lee insisted. "The FBI is interested in where I am. I know they keep track of me. They visited you twice a few weeks ago and asked you about me, didn't they?"
"Yes, but you know I didn't tell them anything because I don't know where you live or what your address is. All I had was this telephone number, and I didn't give it to them," said Marina.
"Well, that's good," said Lee, "because I don't want them bothering me or Mrs. Roberts and asking questions. If she knows the FBI is interested in me, she'll tell me to leave. You know what the FBI is like. It's like the gestapo."
"No, I don't know. The men who came here just asked questions and left. The FBI is not interested in you anymore, and they're not following you now. You're just imagining all this. They interviewed you twice before because you defected and then returned; that's all," Marina pleaded with her husband.
"No. You're wrong," Lee said. "If they knew I lived here, they would come here, too, and only make trouble for me."
"Lee, please stop thinking like that. They told me they would not bother you."
"Marina, I don't want to argue with you. Just promise me that if they come to see you again, you won't tell them anything. I want to be left alone. Promise me, okay?"
"Yes, of course, I promise. You know I wouldn't tell them anything. But when are you going to stop all this craziness? You're scaring me," said Marina.
Her husband did not want to talk anymore. "Marina, everything will be better soon, but don't call here again unless it's an emergency. And if you do, ask for 'O. H. Lee,' all right?"
Marina agreed reluctantly, and they said good-bye.
Oswald was not imagining things. The FBI was still interested in him. Two days after he returned to the United States from the Soviet Union with Marina and little June in July 1962, the FBI, as was their custom for a returned defector, contacted him and requested that he come to their office in downtown Dallas for an interview. Oswald was extremely defensive during the interview, and it did not go well. Two months later, the FBI interviewed him again outside a small bungalow that he and Marina were renting in Irving, Texas. Oswald was less defensive and agreed to inform the FBI if any Soviet agents tried to contact him. After this second meeting, the FBI saw no potential danger from Oswald and recommended that his file be closed.
Then, in early November 1963, FBI agents stopped by Ruth Paine's home on West Fifth Street in Irving, Texas, twice looking for him. Oswald's FBI file had been reopened, and they wanted to know Oswald's current whereabouts. The agents found only Mrs. Paine and Marina at home, and after brief, chilly interviews, neither woman could tell the agents where Oswald lived in Dallas.
Oswald walked down the empty hallway of the quiet rooming house and returned to his small bedroom to dress for work. The small five-by-fourteen-foot room consisted of a single bed with a thin mattress; a large, paint-chipped dresser; and a nightstand with a lamp next to the bed. Neatly stacked on top of the dresser were a few library books, some local newspapers, issues of the Socialist newspapers the Militant and the Worker, and his Time magazines. The walls were bare, and the room was sparse, but it was neat and cost him only eight dollars a week. Its location at 1026 North Beckley Street was near a city bus stop from which it took only fifteen minutes to get him to his job at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas.
After dressing, he followed his morning routine of a simple breakfast of buttered toast and a small glass of milk. He put a few pieces of fruit into a brown paper bag for his lunch and headed for the front door. Lee Oswald was a man of few pleasures. With eyes downcast, he made no effort to notice or say hello to any of the other tenants who passed him in the narrow hallway. A few minutes later, he was on the bus heading to work in downtown Dallas.
* * *
The president awoke Monday morning in West Palm Beach, Florida, to prepare for a busy day of campaigning and speeches. After finishing a late breakfast, he and his aides departed West Palm Beach aboard Air Force One bound for Tampa. Upon his arrival at Madill Air Force Base, Tampa's mayor and an assortment of US Army generals greeted him and an army band played "Hail to the Chief." A briefing from his generals at US Strike Command Headquarters was followed by a luncheon at the Officers' Club with the base's top military and civilian personnel. An hour later, the president and his party left by helicopter for Tampa's Al Lopez Stadium where he gave his first speech of what would be a very long day.
President Kennedy genuinely loved giving speeches and the travel that went with political campaigning. He enjoyed getting out of Washington, DC, and seeing the enthusiasm of the audiences that greeted him. He was a young, handsome, articulate man, who, in two short yet harrowing years, had grown into his role as president. The proof of his growing popularity was in the public opinion polls that showed him and his administration with a 65 percent approval rating, even though he had been elected by the slimmest of margins three years before.
During those three years, President Kennedy had had failures and successes in his attempts to guide the United States through the tense times of Cold War drama. The Bay of Pigs CIA-led invasion of Cuba in early 1961 to topple Castro's Marxist government was an embarrassing failure for Kennedy. The Berlin Wall crisis in 1961 and especially the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 were instances in which the United States and the Soviet Union came perilously close to confrontation, even nuclear war. Ultimately, Kennedy's World War II experience as a heroic naval officer and his personal conviction that a nuclear war was a last, horrible resort made him an effective partner in managing and reducing Soviet-American Cold War tensions around the world.
After finishing his short speech at Al Lopez Stadium, the president left by motorcade and traveled to Tampa's Fort Homer Hesterly Armory where he delivered another well-received speech to the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Afterward, he was asked about the hottest and most controversial political topic facing Florida's voters—Cuba.
"There is a great deal of unfinished business in Cuba," the president said. "We have not been successful in removing Mr. Castro. He still remains a major danger to the United States. But we are successfully isolating the country. Cuba's trade with the United States and its allies is down 80 percent, and Cuba's gross domestic product is down 25 percent since Castro took power. As a symbol of revolt in this hemisphere, Castro and his policies have faded badly."
Despite Kennedy's words, Castro was extremely popular with the Cuban people and in firm control of his country. This was especially true after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In April 1961, CIA-trained Cuban exiles had attempted a land invasion on the Cuban coast but were quickly defeated by Castro's troops, and those who were not killed were captured and held for ransom. And in October 1962, the United States discovered that the Soviet Union had secretly installed nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles on Cuban soil, sixty miles off US shores, in an effort to protect Castro's government from any further US military invasions. But under Kennedy's cool leadership, the Soviets backed down and removed the missiles, avoiding the real possibility of a nuclear showdown. The agreement to remove the missiles without informing Castro first infuriated him, but he was able to secure a commitment from Kennedy that the United States would not invade Cuba.
After Kennedy finished his speech and answered reporters' questions, mostly about Cuba and Castro, his motorcade traveled to Tampa's International Inn where he gave a short speech in the Inn's Crystal Ballroom to another group of Florida businessmen. Afterward, the president's motorcade returned to Madill Air Force Base where he boarded Air Force One for the brief half-hour return flight to Miami.
Approximately three thousand political supporters greeted him upon his arrival at Miami International Airport. Later that evening, 1,200 delegates to the Inter-American Press Association convention attended a dinner at Miami's American Hotel, where the president would give what would be his last, and most fateful, foreign policy speech.
* * *
Oswald spent his workday at the book depository on Monday as he had every day since being hired as an "order filler." He gathered orders for schoolbooks from the main office on the second floor, took one of the two freight elevators up to the sixth floor of the seven-floor building, found the correct books for each order, and brought them back down on the elevator to the shipping room on the first floor where shipping clerks would package them and prepare them for shipment. The work was repetitive and unchallenging, but it suited his reclusive and secretive nature and gave him time to be alone and to think about where his life had taken him.
Oswald had been born into a lower-middle-class family in a poor section of New Orleans and had a poor, unhappy childhood. His father died two months before his birth, and his cold, domineering mother, Marguerite, later sent Oswald and his older brother, Robert, and older half-brother, John Pic, to live in an orphanage for two years until she could properly care for them. Because of his unstable childhood, Oswald became severely withdrawn and temperamental and had few, if any, friends. In his self-imposed isolation, he became fascinated with books and reading. When he was not in school, he would spend most of his time poring over books in the quiet of the local library or at home reading alone in his room. After his mother and her third husband divorced, she continued her struggles alone as a single mother of three boys, trying to make ends meet. Oswald hated how little his family had and despised the unfairness he perceived all around him while he lived in New Orleans.
In 1953, when he was fourteen years old, Oswald and his mother were facing hard times and went to New York City to live with his brother, John Pic, who served in the US Coast Guard. Oswald was bitterly unhappy during this stay in New York City, refusing to attend school because his classmates constantly made fun of his slight southern accent and called him a hick.
One day while roaming the streets of the city alone, he came upon a large group of demonstrators. An older woman approached him and handed him a pamphlet entitled, Why the Rosenbergs Should Not Die.
Curious, Oswald asked the woman, "Who are the Rosenbergs?"
"Take it home and read it, dear," said the woman, "then you'll understand. They are heroes."
"Who are they?" Oswald asked again.
"Julius and Ethel are husband and wife," replied the woman.
"But if you say they are heroes, why are they going to die?" persisted Oswald.
"Because, young man, they have been falsely convicted," said the woman.
"Why are they heroes?" asked Oswald.
"They were trying to bring peace to the world, but, because of all the hysteria, they were sentenced to die instead of going to prison," said the woman.
"I don't understand," said Oswald, beginning to become emotional.
"Take the pamphlet home and read it, young man. Then you will understand," she said.
The woman turned and continued about her business as Oswald hurried home with the pamphlet. He read it many times, horrified that a husband and wife would be executed, and began to follow their case intensely in the daily newspapers and on television.
A few months later, while Oswald and his mother were still in New York City, the Rosenbergs were executed by electric chair. When he heard the news on television, Oswald was heartbroken and upset. But what had really fascinated him the most about the Rosenbergs' case was the fact that they were Socialists, or Marxists. As he read more and more about Socialist philosophy, it struck a deep chord in him—so deep that by the time he reached the age of fifteen, he had become a serious reader, not of literature or poetry, but of politics and current affairs, particularly Socialism and the Communist/Marxist world of the Soviet Union, where he naively believed that an ordinary person was treated better and life was fairer. And the more he read, the more he wanted to escape from the injustice and poverty he saw all around him.
Excerpted from Seven Days in November 1963 by Edward J. Gibbons. Copyright © 2013 Edward J. Gibbons. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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