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Presidency
 
 
KAC Winter 1998 Vol. 4, Issue 4

 On Receiving the Mary Ferrell-JFKLancer Pioneer Award
for Lifetime Achievement in the Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy
Dallas, November 21, 1998


 
Fonzi
Gaeton Fonzi
© Photo copyright Gordon Winslow

Gaeton Fonzi

Imagine, a "pioneer" award. If I had more time I would dwell on the significance of that and how it makes me feel, but I am in a bit of hurry. I left my wagon train double-parked.

I am, of course, immensely honored by the award, truly awed and humbled by it. Humbled isn't an adequate word in light of the fact that it is presented by a woman who can only accurately be described as a legendary figure in the JFK research community. I know describing Mary as a "legendary figure" misses th
e point. It misses what's most important about Mary. What's most important is that she is a warm, compassionate and generous human being and even those of us who don't know her as well as her friends here in Dallas do, we all consider ourselves blessed to have had her support and inspiration. Her humanity dwarfs us all. Thank you Mary and JFKLancer for the honor of being here.

Now, it's ironic that while the program calls for me to talk about "The Future," I think of something Mary Ferrell said five years ago, on the 30th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.

 

FerrellMary Ferrell
© Photo Copyright JFK Lancer

Mary said then,

"I am very much concerned that we are on the threshold of a failure from which there will be no forgiveness. We must win this struggle for truth," she said, "and do so very quickly, lest the assassination of President Kennedy flounder on some remote shoulder of highway, in a century whose history is on the way to the printer. In the next century, this case could be relegated to obscure questions on high school history examinations."

In that analysis, I believe, Mary Ferrell has flashed a laser of guidance into the future's dark tunnel. "We must win this struggle for truth," she said.

"...We must win this struggle for truth..." Let me suggest to you tonight that it's time to go well beyond the focus of that charge. Let me suggest to you tonight that we have not only emerged victorious in that struggle, but that the truth has long ago rushed into our arms seeking our embrace. Perhaps, in fact, it got too close for us to accept it. But it was known to us from the beginning. The truth was known to us almost immediately on that fateful day thirty five years ago when a barrage of gun fire - a barrage of gun fire - echoed through Dealey Plaza. The truth was known to us in the Government's immediate designation of the assassin and the Government's immediate extermination of that designated assassin. The truth was known to us in the Government's immediate actions to cover that truth, in the immediate Government-generated deluge of misinformation to the public, in the Government's squalid attempt at feigning a legitimate investigation. The truth was as obvious as a bright morning sun rising from the sea on a cloudless blue-sky day. It was ours to grasp, to hold, to proclaim.

But only a few brave souls did, their voices micro-cries that were quickly muffled. The rest of us chose not to face the truth, to avoid its harsh and terrible glare, its shocking significance and awesome implications. We were reinforced in this decision by the media and academia, who abandoned their responsibility as society's pursuers and preservers of the truth. And so we pliantly donned the dark glasses handed to us by the Government and saw the truth become a distant aspiration, deliberately shadowed with mystery and puzzlement.

And over the years the initial false question - "Who really killed President Kennedy?" - was massaged into the more durable: "We won't ever really know the truth, will we?"

My own experience was strangely dichotomous. Perhaps that can only be fully understood by those who came of age in that era, the seemingly placid, trustful Eisenhower years. While the Sixties brought sparks of awakening dissent to emerging youth, those in my generation clung to our self-centered and trusting perspective of the Government's role. It would take a lot to shake it.

In my case, it took an accident of geography.

I was working for "Philadelphia Magazine" at the time, the first city magazine to shake off its Chamber of Commerce roots and become a forceful voice in the community. In the spring of 1966, the editor asked me if I had any ideas for a short piece to fill a few columns in the back of the book.

Months earlier I had clipped out an article that had appeared in a local newspaper for lawyers, called "The Legal Intelligencer". It listed the daily record of court activity but occasionally on its front page it would run an article or essay written by a local lawyer on some legal issue or other. The article I had clipped was written by a young School Board attorney named Vincent Salandria. It had something to do with the Warren Commission Report.

Like most other Americans, after the initial shock of President Kennedy's assassination had dimmed, we fell into the comfortable assumption that the Government was handling the matter judiciously, that the prestigious panel of respected individuals, headed by the most prestigious member of the American judicial system, would provide us with a thorough and valid appraisal of exactly what had happened when President Kennedy was killed. What led me to clip the article by Vincent Salandria is that it ran counter to that assumption.

It dealt with only one aspect of the report - the sequence of events surrounding the number and direction of the shots. But that just happened to be the area assigned to another Philadelphia lawyer, a young assistant district attorney whose quick intelligence and impressive record had landed him a staff job on the Warren Commission. His name, of course, was Arlen Specter.

I didn't initially understand some of the technical and complex points Salandria made in his article, but I did grasp the fact that what Salandria was implying was that the Warren Commission Report was wrong.

The Warren Commission wrong? The United States Government wrong?

Impossible. Vince Salandria must be some kind of nut. Or maybe just a publicity-seeking shyster. Either way, he'd make an interesting little story. I vividly remember my first visit with Salandria in the paneled basement office of his row home on Delancey Street in Center City. He was 38 years old then, a Penn Law graduate, a man of modest stature and demeanor, with olive skin, dark eyes and a thin, serious face. His voice was a soft velvet but he spoke with a deep intellectual intensity. Funny, he didn't look or sound like a nut.

Salandria told me his interest in the Warren Commission had begun shortly after it was formed because he didn't like the fact that it was holding secret hearings. He began to monitor its activities as best he could from news clips and unofficial reports. He spent his vacation in Dallas to familiarize himself with the murder scene. He ordered the Commission's Report and its 26 volumes of evidence as soon as they were issued and plunged into a page-by-page study.

"My initial feeling," Salandria told me, "was that if this were a simple assassination, as the Commission claimed, the facts would come together very neatly. If there were more than one assassin the details would not fit." Salandria claimed the details did not fit. He told me there were blatant contradictions between the Commission's conclusions and the evidence in the 26 volumes.

Blatant contradictions? That was hard to believe. These were smart, brilliant men on the Warren Commission, they wouldn't permit such flagrant inaccuracy. But Salandria gave me his extra copy of the Report and its 26 volumes of evidence and suggested that I take the time to study them carefully.

I did. And Salandria was right. It was unequivocally clear that the details did not fit. There were blatant contradictions between the Report's conclusions and the Commission's own evidence in its 26 volumes.

The truth had hit me upside the head and still I refused to embrace it. There had to be some valid explanation for the contradictions and I knew the man who would give me that explanation was Arlen Specter. I had known Arlen before he went off to the Warren Commission, considered him not only smart but tough and courageous. I had written about the guts he had to successfully prosecute the politically powerful but corrupt boss of the local Teamsters Union. I was sure that once I sat down with Specter he would explain and clear up all those apparent contradictions in the Warren Report.
Local reporters had, of course, asked Specter about the Warren Report when it was released. He was vigorous in defense of its conclusions. He called the Commission's investigation the most exhaustive and complete in history. The single bullet theory, he insisted, was the only possible way to explain how Lee Harvey Oswald had shot President Kennedy. The reporters dutifully reported what he said.

Amazingly enough, even after all those months had gone by since the release of the Warren Report, I was the first journalist to ask Specter about specific details and about the Report's inconsistencies. I apparently caught Specter off guard.

I was shocked by his confusions, his hemming and hawing, his hesitations and evasions. This from someone who was the epitome of the always cool, collected and verbally masterful lawyer, the former star of the Yale Law debating team. I was even more shocked by his inability to provide valid explanations for some of the most blatant inconsistencies in the Report.

I believe the most crucial was the discrepancy between the levels of the so-called "exit" wound in Kennedy's throat and the holes in the back of Kennedy's jacket and shirt. Why were the holes in his back lower than the hole in Kennedy's throat? I still remember Specter hesitating, stuttering, making a few false starts in attempting to answer that question. Finally, he got up from his desk and came around to stand behind me. Well, he said, it was because the President was waving his arm, and then, trying to illustrate why the jacket would ride up, Specter pulled my arm high over my head - far higher than the Zapruder film showed Kennedy waving his hand. "Wave your arm a few times," Specter said, "wave at the crowd." And then jabbing a finger at the base of my neck - not six inches below my collar, where the holes in Kennedy's jacket and shirt were - Specter said, "Well, see, if the bullet goes in here, the jacket gets hunched up. If you take this point right here and then you strip the coat down, it comes out at a lower point."

"A lower point?" I repeated, wondering if Specter were trying to confuse me or was confused himself.

If the entrance holes were at a lower point than the exit hole, how could Oswald have shot Kennedy from the sixth floor window of the Book Depository?

In the end, Specter admitted they had what he described as - quote - "some problems with that."

My interviews also revealed that the Commission had "some problems" with other troublesome evidence, including the so-called "pristine" bullet, the angle of Governor Connally's wounds, the timing of the shots. "Some problems," indeed.
I'll never forget the numbing disbelief I came away with after my interviews with Specter. Vince Salandria was right, the Warren Report was wrong, there had to have been a conspiracy.

In the article I wrote:
"It is difficult to believe the Warren Commission Report is the truth. Arlen Specter knows it." "It is difficult to believe the Warren Commission Report is the truth."

I look back on that now and I think: What a cowardly way to put it. Why didn't I myself tell the absolute truth? And the absolute truth is that the Warren Report is a deliberate lie. The truth is that the Warren Commission's own evidence proves there was a conspiracy to murder President Kennedy.

The truth is that in covering up the criminal conspiracy to kill Kennedy, the Warren Commission itself became part of that conspiracy. And why didn't I tell the absolute truth about Arlen Specter and say that, in helping devise the single-bullet theory, he himself was a conspirator?

We were young once and not so brave. We wanted to cling to the myth of a mystery. We wanted to hang onto the questions of motivation and parade the usual suspects and the illusion of a dilemma before the American people. Could the Mob have killed President Kennedy? Could the KGB have killed President Kennedy? Could Castro have killed President Kennedy? Could anti-Castro Cubans have killed President Kennedy? Could the CIA have killed President Kennedy?

I suggest to you that if it ever becomes known what specific individuals comprised the apparatus that killed Kennedy, those individuals will have some association with any or all of the above. And still the emergence of such individuals, dead or alive, will add but inconsequential detail to the truth about the assassination. Because we have known -- and have long known - who killed President Kennedy.

Could any but a totally controlling force - a power elite within the United States Government itself - call it what you will, the military-intelligence complex, the national security state, the corporate-warfare establishment - could any but the most powerful elite controlling the U.S. Government have been able to manipulate individuals and events before the assassination and then bring such a broad spectrum of internal forces to first cover up the crime and then control the institutions within our society to keep the assassination of President Kennedy a false mystery for 35 years?

Where is the mystery?

Is there any doubt that the uniquely impossible - uniquely impossible - meaning it couldn't ever possibly be duplicated - is there any doubt that the uniquely impossible single-bullet theory actually is proof of a conspiracy?

Is there any doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald, quickly and deliberately portrayed by the Government as a simple, superficial personality - a lone nut - was clearly a well-trained and groomed tool of the intelligence establishment?

Is there any doubt that only the power elite at the highest levels of Government could have taken control of the White House Situation Room and (as Theodore S. White in his book "The Making of a President" reported) on the afternoon of November 22nd while Air Force One was still in the air returning to Washington, sent a message to the Presidential party that "there was no conspiracy" and that the President's assassin had been identified and arrested. This before Oswald was charged, before the Dallas Police knew anything about him, or even if he had any associates.

Is there any doubt that the power elite at the highest levels of Government - and any one who knows Washington and how it works knows that might not include those who the American electorate assume to be at the highest levels of their government - is there any doubt that the highest levels of the power elite took immediate control of the cover up and began a long term program to deceive and confuse the American people?

Is there any doubt that the Warren Commission deliberately set out not to tell the American people the truth?There is a brief glimpse, an illustration of the level at which that deceit was carried out, in an incident that occurred during the Warren Commission's investigation. Commission chairman Earl Warren himself, with then Representative Gerald Ford at his side, was interviewing a barman, Curtis LaVerne Crafard. Crafard had worked at Jack Ruby's Carousel Club before he was seized by FBI men as he was hightailing it out of town the day after the assassination, having told someone, "They are not going to pin this on me!"

In the interview, Warren asks Craford what he did before he was a bartender.

"I was a Master sniper in the Marine Corps," Craford answered. *The next question that Warren immediately asked was: "What kind of entertainment did they have at the club?"

Would an innocent government react the way our government reacted if the Mafia had killed Kennedy? Would an innocent government react the way ours did if Castro or anti-Castro Cubans or even a so-called "rogue element" within the CIA had killed Kennedy? No matter what the concern for the reaction of the American people, an innocent Government would have isolated the apparatus and used its resources to limit the focus of popular reaction.

Instead, what the Government did was marshal its massive national and international resources to influence and control the reaction of our nation's major media corporations, and our nation's most influential pundits and academic luminaries in support of the blatantly false Warren Commission Report.

Is there any doubt that only the most powerful forces could have maintained as strong and lengthy a hold in manipulating the media down through the years? Right from the beginning, the early critics of the Warren Report found themselves being immediately ground down by the country's major media.

When one of the early books on the subject, Edward Jay Epstein's "Inquest", raised significant questions about the Warren Commission's procedures, Newsweek closed its lengthy negative evaluation by quoting an unnamed Commission staffer as saying, "There is not one shred of evidence, not a single hard fact...that demonstrates there was more than one assassin."

And could any but the most powerful have controlled the corporate giant that owned "LIFE", then the most successful and influential magazine in the nation, controlled it to the extent that its editors concocted lies in order to support the Government's deceitful story.

Within days after the assassination, in trying to explain what all the doctors at Parkland Hospital were describing as an "entrance wound" in the throat, "LIFE", the only publication that had the Zapruder film, nevertheless deliberately deceived the public by explaining the throat wound this way:

"...the 8 mm film shows the President turning his body far around to the right as he waves to someone in the crowd. His throat is exposed toward the sniper's nest, just before he clutches it."

The editors of "LIFE" knew that to be false, knew the Zapruder film showed nothing of the sort.

Those of you who were involved then also remember seeing another powerful publication, "The New York Times", immediately and vehemently endorse the "Warren Commission Report" even before its 26 volumes of evidence were released. And then, years later, you saw that same newspaper use its news columns to help destroy the first Chief Counsel of the Assassination Committee, Richard Sprague, because he wanted to conduct a legitimate investigation.

And then, more than three decades after the event, you have seen a giant publishing company like Random House spend a million dollars in publicity to give validity to the hogwash of a Gerald Posner.

What has our reaction been to all this down through the years? The answer is in the question: "Reaction".

We have been defensive in our posture and perspective. We have done hard, grinding research and then presented it as if it were another significant piece of the puzzle, hoping that someday the picture will become clear and the mysterious image will emerge whole and explicit. We have offered the evidence we uncovered as openly and innocently as we can, hoping it was going to be judged on its substance and its validity - and seen it too often ambushed by those still intent on subverting the truth.

We have written letters to the editor believing that rational and logical retort will somehow result in the editor's publication recognizing the obvious and accept the evidence we put forth on its merits, evidence that appears to point towards solving the so-called mystery of Kennedy's assassination.

And we have played into the hands of such covert illusionists as Posner by climbing into his trick-filled ring and, in critical rebuttal, actually provide credibility to his assertion that the issue of conspiracy remains a valid question.

It's time we climbed into our own ring. That's what our future demands. Our future as researchers demands that we abandon our posture as explorers of a mystery and assume the role as re-enforcers of the foundation of truth. That, after all, is what most of us have been about. Now from this distance, these thirty-five years from that awful day, we can now clearly know what we believed from the beginning. Now we know the truth.

Let us shift the focus of the American people, let us lead the American people away from believing the truth to knowing the truth. And we can do this if we are persistent and steadfast in proclaiming the truth. This, I suggest, should be our challenging cry for the future:

We know who killed President Kennedy. Why don't you?

* This is not a quote from the Warren Commission volumes. It is quoted from comic satirist and Warren Commission critic, Mort Sahl which had been quoted in an article on Sahl in a 1994 "New Yorker" article.


 

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