With the campaign over, I was to enlist for Vietnam. I was excited. We were making progress. Every night on the news we saw Vietnamese soldiers fighting side by side with their American superiors looking proudly on. It reminded me of the proud father standing beside his growing son and beaming with pride as his son recites a perfect Haftorah in the Bar Mitzvah ceremony. I was anxious to be a part of the team.
Television took advantage of the nation’s newfound love of their Vietnamese allies. Several shows featuring Vietnamese stars were broadcast, the most famous concerning the Vietnamese army officer who sets up a detective agency in Los Angeles employing three beautiful Vietnamese girls as his detectives. Of course I’m referring to “Charlie’s Charlies”.
Before I was to enlist I was to appear in the Oswald trial being heard in Dallas. I was to be the last witness for the defense. Before I flew to Dallas, this strange case was already world news.
It seemed incredible at the time though time has dulled the sense of incredulity, that a strange conspiracy between the Mafia and the CIA was the guilty party in a Presidential assassination attempt. But that is what the defense, skillfully headed by William Kunstler, was claiming. And more and more this preposterous line of defense was winning out.
Back in the Batista days of Cuba, organized crime used the island for gambling revenues, laundering money, prostitution rings and the like. It was a very profitable place for organized crime, and they wanted the man who threw them out, Fidel Castro, removed.
The CIA, for reasons of national security, also wanted Castro removed, and a group which included skilled agents such as Howard Hunt, Eugene Martinez and Bernard Barker, organized a group of disgruntled refugees into a small militia to retake the island by force.
They turned to organized crime originally for their contacts within Cuba, and their knowledge of the island, which became valuable intelligence material. Later the Mafia, as organized crime is commonly known, took a greater interest in the project and even financed certain aspects of it.
By an odd coincidence the new Attorney General, Bobby Kennedy, began a campaign aimed at eliminating organized crime. Top Mafia chieftains were jailed on any pretext and others harassed day and night.
After the Kennedy Administration refused to militarily support the Bay of Pigs operation, the CIA group decided only a different administration would have the guts to challenge the Marxist cancer in the Caribbean. The Mafia, meanwhile, decided that the Kennedy Administration had to be eliminated. So an alliance of these Bay of Pigs planners was formed.
Organized crime knew how to kill someone coolly, professionally and without getting caught. The CIA knew how to set up a sucker and make him look like a lone, demented assassin. Lee Harvey Oswald had been waiting for an assignment for years. He had a strange cover arranged for him ready to use when the moment required. He was now ordered into action. He would head the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and he would publicize pro-Castro beliefs in the press and on radio.
Why, he did not know, but he obeyed his superiors and was rewarded with his own office in New Orleans and a pay hike to boot.
I testified after a trio of hoods names Roselli, Giancanna and Trafficante. Kunstler tripped them all up, and each took the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination. As a member of the President’s personal staff, I was to appear last to make the best impression on the jury.
I waited in the anteroom until I was called to testify.
I entered the courtroom and saw Marilyn on my right in the third row from the back. She seemed more mature, wearing much rouge and face powder. I smiled at her and then saw Marina seated in the row behind her. I made a compromise—I stared in between them, not committing myself to either and waved. Three people all waved back at me at the same time, Marina, Marilyn and the bag lady I was staring at who usually preferred dirty divorce cases over political conspiracies.
I testified to seeing Oswald at the scene of the crime, with what appeared to be a suspicious package which, when asked, he claimed were curtain rods. Kunstler then asked me to identify a package which, I agreed, looked like the one I had seen Lee carrying. He pulled out a receipt from a hardware store. The rods were purchased on November 22 of 1963.
Then I testified that moments before the attempted assassination I saw Lee in the second floor cafeteria drinking a Coke, not in the seventh floor shooting gallery.
This really saved the case. Lee was seen away from anywhere a President could be shot from. A Presidential aide had said so and that was alibi enough. The jury freed him after only a thirty-minute debate.
After hearing his verdict the ebullient Lee insisted I join him and his “wife” for celebration drinks when things quieted down, maybe the next day. I took his number, which I knew by heart anyway, as Marilyn came up to me and kissed my cheek for the first time in months. He looked at her and said, “And please bring your pretty friend with you.”
“Great,” I said, “I’ll call tomorrow.”
Marina hugged her jubilant “husband” while staring over his shoulder at me. I hoped she would be discrete tomorrow.
Lee was something of a national hero by the time we all met for drinks the next night at the Carousel Club. Jack insisted on serving our table personally.
“Congratulations, Mr. Oswald,” said Ruby. “I hear they’re going to make a movie of your story.”
“The news is out already?”
“Sure. They even named the actor who’s gong to play you.”
Jack presented a photo of Lee he clipped out of a magazine. “Mr. Oswald, I’d be honored if you’d sign this photo. I’d like to display it on my wall beside the picture of Jimmy Hoffa, another frequent patron.”
“Sure, Jack. What should I write?”
Jack gave him a pen and said, “Please write, ‘To Jack Ruby from his good friend Lee Harvey Oswald.’”
“Sure, Jack, my pleasure.”
Marina and I shared a secret together. Neither of us was altogether successful in feigning unfamiliarity. Our self-conscious attempts at coldness revealed our true feelings for each other. Marina kept the conversation light. “You have a lovely red glow in your complexion,” she told Marilyn.
“It’s so rare for a hot climate. Do you use borscht?”
Oh no, I thought. Marilyn would put two and two together.
“I did once but I found it too harsh,” she answered.
Fortunately Lee changed the subject. “Norman, Jack Anderson told me you’re going to enlist in the army.”
Marilyn looked shocked.
“I’m sorry,” I told her. “No one’s supposed to know yet. Someone must have leaked it to him.”
“Why, Norman, why?” she asked somewhat desperately.
“Because the man I serve called our country to support him in a just war, and I’m answering his call.”
She sat silently. Lee became agitated. “Norm” he said, “When Anderson told me that I got to thinking. I wasn’t a very good Marine, and I let people use me. Now it’s time I showed I’m a real American, not a friend of Castro’s. They could use a good radio instructor in Nam, what do you figure?”
“I’m sure they could,” I answered.
“Well, I think I’ll re-enlist and maybe join you there.”
Marina and Marilyn stared at each other with great emotion. Lee and I both felt it. Was it because they shared the common grief of sending their men to war, or was it deeper than that? I tried not looking at Marina although Lee kept staring at Marilyn. And not only into her eyes. Lower even. But Marilyn just kept staring at Marina.
Jack disturbed the unpleasant, pregnant silence with a note which he said a friend of mine had asked him to deliver. I read it:
“Congratulations. You won the election. Bet your folks are very happy. Remember, first safe opportunity.”
“What is it, honey?” asked Marilyn. She never called me honey before. Was this the sign of better things for tonight, the last time I would see her before going to war?
As it turned out, no. Marilyn shared the same archaic view as I, that no man respected a woman whose virtue was in doubt. I ripped up the note and said, “Let’s get out of here. It’s getting crowded.”
“But the strippers are starting soon,” said Marilyn.
“Yeah, Norm,” agreed Lee. “What about the strippers you promised us?”
“Lee, I want you to look me up in Nam when you get there. But tonight Marilyn and I have important things to discuss.”
“We do?” asked Marilyn.
“You do?” said Marina.
“Yes, we do,” I told them both and stormed out of the club.
Of course we didn’t, but too much was on my mind. The pressure was getting to me. The next day on the way to the airport I said to Marilyn, “When I get back, maybe we should, you know?”
“No, I mean, you know?”
“What do you mean, you know?”
“Yeah, I meant maybe get married for, oh, you know?”
“Children and a family.”
“Yeah, you know.”
12 And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
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