A part in peace

In 1992, I learned a lot more about my family and the John F. Kennedy assassination, mostly because of the Oliver Stone film, JFK, that implied Kennedy had been killed by hihg ranking people within the FBI and CIA.

A consequence of the film JFK was a resurgence in public interest, and the public demanded to know more and newly elected President Clinton authorized releasing part of the JFK Assassination Report that had been begun in 1976, soon after Hoffa disappeared. The congressional committee consisted of bipartisan elected officials, and, interestingly, the editor of Time magazine who had worked with Bobby Kennedy and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to plaster Big Daddy across media after Kennedy’s death. They reopened all files and brought in both FBI and civilian experts in ballistics, forensics, photography forging, espionage, and almost every other aspect that would be involved in the crime of the century. By 1979, the 12 volume congressional JFK Assassination Report reversed the Warren Commissions findings and determined that President Kennedy had probably been killed as part of a larger conspiracy, and that the three main suspects with the motivation and means to orchestrate such a plot were Jimmy Hoffa, Joseph Carlos Marcello, and Sancto Trafficante.

The committe was officially called the House Special Committee on Assassinations, and the HCSA concluded that:

  • * Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at Kennedy. The second and third shots Oswald fired struck the President. The third shot he fired killed the President.
  • * Scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that at least two gunmen fired at the President.
  • * Other scientific evidence does not preclude the possibility of two gunmen firing at the President. Scientific evidence negates some specific conspiracy allegations.
  • * The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The committee was unable to identify the other gunmen or the extent of the conspiracy.
  • * The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the Soviet Government was not involved in the assassination of Kennedy.
  • * The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the Cuban Government was not involved in the assassination of Kennedy.
  • * The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that anti-Castro Cuban groups, as groups, were not involved in the assassination of Kennedy, but that the available evidence does not preclude the possibility that individual members may have been involved.
  • * The committee believes, on the basis of the evidence available to it, that the national syndicate of organized crime, as a group, was not involved in the assassination of Kennedy, but that the available evidence does not preclude the possibility that individual members may have been involved.
  • * The Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Central Intelligence Agency were not involved in the assassination of Kennedy.
  • * Agencies and departments of the U.S. Government performed with varying degrees of competency in the fulfillment of their duties. President Kennedy did not receive adequate protection. A thorough and reliable investigation into the responsibility of Lee Harvey Oswald for the assassination was conducted. The investigation into the possibility of conspiracy in the assassination was inadequate. The conclusions of the investigations were arrived at in good faith, but presented in a fashion that was too definitive.
  • * The Committee further concluded that it was probable that:
  • four shots were fired
  • the fourth shot came from a second assassin located on the grassy knoll, but missed. The HSCA concluded the existence and location of this alleged fourth shot based on the later discredited Dallas Police Department Dictabelt recording analysis.[27]
  • The HSCA agreed with the single bullet theory,[2] but concluded that it occurred at a time point during the assassination that differed from any of the several time points the Warren Commission theorized it occurred.
  • * The Department of Justice, FBI, CIA, and the Warren Commission were all criticized for not revealing to the Warren Commission information available in 1964, and the Secret Service was deemed deficient in their protection of the President.
  • The HSCA made several accusations of deficiency against the FBI and CIA.[1]: 239–256  The accusations encompassed organizational failures, miscommunication, and a desire to keep certain parts of their operations secret. Furthermore, the Warren Commission expected these agencies to be forthcoming with any information that would aid their investigation. But the FBI and CIA only saw it as their duty to respond to specific requests for information from the commission. However, the HSCA found the FBI and CIA were deficient in performing even that limited role.

For reasons I don’t understand, the 1979 results were kept secret from the public, despite the Freedom of Information Act. Since then, every U.S. president has reviewed the report and been able to choose whether or not to release any of if. Carter refused first, followed by Reagan and Bush Senior. If it hadn’t been for the public watching JFK, I can only assume that Clinton wouldn’t have released the first part, and I don’t know why he retained the rest, nor do I know why even today President Joe Biden promised to release the final part at the end of his term in 2024. But, regardless of what else is in the report, the first few pages from 1992 stuck in my mind.

I was sitting in the War Zone coffee shop and book store, sipping coffee and reading books from their politics and conspiracies shelf, like New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison’s 1988 “On the Trail of Assassins,” International Teamster president Jimmy Hoffa’s 1975 authorized biography, “Hoffa on Hoffa,” former FBI head of the Get Hoffa Squad and NBC news correspondent Walter Sheridan’s 1972 “The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa,” and a few random books by mafia lawyers and Teamster insiders who published their recollections many years after legal obligations had ended and threats or ramifications were unlikely. Most books stopped at the HSCA’s final remarks about Hoffa, that though he was a suspect it’s unlikely that he would have taken action because he was so scrutinized and he was an intelligent man. Few people read through all twelve volumes of the JFK report, and like a high school book report they rephrased summaries of summaries and tried to get their point across. There was too much information for one person to absorb quickly, so I reverted to what I had learned about learning and bought the books and took out a pen and began circling words and names and forming patterns, and then I stumbled upon a 1962 FBI report authorized by J. Edgar Hoover himself that implied my grandfather and Hoffa had planned Kennedy’s death.

It was well known that Big Daddy claimed Hoffa had plotted to kill Bobby Kennedy with him – that was in the 1983 film Hoffa and the 1964 Time magazine focus on Big Daddy – but the only plot that was discussed was the plastic explosives Hoffa apparently requested from Big Daddy, assuming Big Daddy could get them from Marcello or any of his other contacts from decades of running the Louisiana Teamsters. But, the JFK Assassination Report showed the full 1962 FBI investigation from almost a year before the president was shot, and that report says that Hoffa and Big Daddy also discussed recruiting a sniper with a scope to shoot Bobby as he rode through a southern town in his convertible, a nuance that made sense because the Kennedy’s were known for riding in convertibles and waving to crowds, and Hoffa used to curse them and say they were spoiled rich kids riding in their convertibles. In the report, apparently Hoffa said that if a sniper was used, he couldn’t be connected to the Teamsters, and at the time, that implied ensuring the sniper disappeared, because dead men tell no tales.

The committee commented on the similarities between the 1962 FBI report and the 1963 assassination, but in their findings simply said that though Hoffa had the means and motivation, they surmised that he was too intelligent to act. They didn’t dwell on links between Hoffa and the other two suspects, New Orleans mafia boss Marcello and Miami maffia boss and cuban exile Santo Trafficante; nor did anyone realize that Ruby had been connected to Hoffa and Big Daddy. Most books and movies are summaries of summaries because few people dig too deeply, and, as I mentioned, witnesses connecting Big Daddy to anything always disappeared or changed their testimonies from the safety of their hospital rooms.

I was confident that Big Daddy was involved in the crime of the century, not just as a kid looking at a museum display and ruminating on his grandmother’s words, but as a 19 year old paratrooper with a remarkable background and the time and motivation to put forth effort and read many, many books with a pen in my hand. The coffee had helped, and it took many visits and many re-reads and many disappointing dead ends, but I was confident in my facts. My mind recalled a magic lecture by Michael Ammar, a well known teacher of magic who had performed for presidents and I had known through Dr. Z, and his repeated phrase, “So What?” He would expound and say that any time you think you are ready to show someone something, imagine they had a sign on their forehead that said, “So What?” and try to empathize with them before doing whatever you feel like doing. I thought my grandfather was involved in Kennedy’s death, but I couldn’t tell anyone why they should care. Besides, the information was public now, and I assumed someone else would reassemble the picture we had in our minds by adding new pieces to the puzzle. I thought another book or film like JFK would come out any day and expose more facts and lead people to think critically and form their own conclusions, to understand the situation and then decide what to do about it.

I was naive back then.

Later in the summer of 1992, Sgt. Weber approached me and said,

“Dolly, what did you do now?” I didn’t even get out of my chair to address him, but I exaggerated my sigh and smiled and waited for him to stop smirking.

Weber and I had developed a friendship of sorts, the closest you can have with someone who has authority over you. It was his relinguishing authority that had begun that process, and The Sergenat Major had a lot to do with that. In one of our panels for soldier of something or another, I had mentioned mispronouncing 88 mm as ADA mike mike and Weber yelling at me, and The Sergeant Major made Weber do pushups in front of me. He calmly asked Weber how that made him feel, and said that any soldier other than Partin may have taken a rifle butt to his head while he slept at night, or a random bullet during a firefight may have found it’s way to Weber.

“Or, Partin may have just whipped your little white ass,” he had told Sgt. Weber as Webber did pushups with a smile on his face. The Sgt. Major’s voice had been calm, as usual. “Don’t do that drill sergeant shit in the real world, Weber,” he said, then told Weber to stand up.

In Vietnam, many leaders by rank alone had died of mysterious reasons, and a draftee with a year remaining in combat zone didn’t want someone yelling at them, and the lines defining murder and who deserves to die get blurred in a combat zone. And by then we had already dealt with many mental health emergencies of our teammates, including well publicized mass shootings in the 504th parade field and local restaurants by disgruntled soldiers who had been bullied or hazed or were simply mentally unstable, and our platoon had talked down a soldier who stripped to his underwear and pointed his loaded M16 at us and cried with a crumpled letter on the ground in front of him from his now ex-girlfriend, breaking up with him. In the real world, never, never use rank and bullying to compensate for leadership shortcomings, because we’re all armed and often exhausted. The Sergent Major had let him get up and reached in his pocket and offered him a cigar, and, like me, Weber had refused and we both noticed that cherry lieutenants who accepted a cigar sniffed it’s length and The Sergeant Major smiled broadly and we’re pretty sure that cigars in his right pocket had taken a detour along The Sergeant Major’s taint, and they were sniffing his thoughts on their leadership skills.

Weber had a cigar in his mouth that he had purchased, and he told me RoboTop wanted to see me.

I walked into Top’s office and he was seated behind his desk, smoking a cigar and doing one armed curls with a 35 pound barbell.

“Sit down, Partin,” he said in a muffled voice. He put down the barbell and set his cigar in an ashtray and leaned forward. He was in just his t-shirt, and behind him on a hanger was his uniform top. The angel wings formed by the hanger on his shirt were at least six inches from where his sleeves began; RoboTop was a massive human with broad shoulders tapering down to a fit waist. “Give me a minute, please,” he said in his usual, deep and resonating voice with a slight southern accent.

He had a folder on his desk with my name on it, and he picked it up and put on his reading glasses and peered at his notes. He flipped a page or two and looked up at me and replaced his cigar and puffed a few times, and sat in quiet contemplation. I waited.

“Partin, it’s come to my attention that you’ve been getting tested for,” he paused, looking for polite words, and then simply said, “AIDS. Is there something you’d like to discuss, son?”

I laughed out loud and he looked surprised and I said, “I met a nurse who works at the hospital, Roo… Frist Sergeant.”

He smiled back and leaned forward and said, “Well gosh darn it, that explains it. What’s she like, son?”

I told him and he told me about his wife and children and we chatted about life, the universe, and everything. He had always admired my adamant stance in wearing an EIB, and respected that I confirmed my right to do so in the UCMJ and stood my ground. He had an EIB and no Ranger tab, and had seen many combat veterans come and go in his 20 years of service, and though he hadn’t been with a unit that deployed, no one doubted that he was the most proficient infantryman in the company after The Sergeant Major, and that deep down he believed the Ranger Creed more than anyone we knew. He attended church on Sundays, and I had met him more than once during Spiritual PT without his rank on, though no one could mistake RoboTop. He was the only soldier I knew who could keep pace with The Chaplain. At the end of our chat, he suggested that I stop getting STD tests and find other ways to see her. He was supporting a new program that allowed anyone with a perfect PT score to choose how they did PT, and I had had a perfect score on PT tests ever since the second one after Desert Storm – it had taken me a while to rebuild my lung capacity, especially after developing sinusitus and asthma during the war – and he said I could do it then. I said I was a new squad leader and didn’t want to stop that, and he suggested that if they all scored within 80% we could do PT as a small team separate from the company, and I said I’d see what I could do.

He said that the captain wanted to see me. Enlisted men usually only spent time with officers in field training or deployments, and we rarely interacted with them in the barracks. I don’t know why. I was surprised to hear that, and though the captain and I knew each other like he knew the other 90 men in D-Company, I had never spoken to him one on one. When I left RoboTop’s office after almost half an hour, he walked with me, wearing his uniform with it’s two angel wings and briefly told the captain that I had been squared away, and the captain simply said that the colonel had asked to see me, and he walked me to the battalion commander’s office, saluted, said everything was good, and left us alone.

The colonel had only recently assumed command, and I knew nothing about him and was shocked to see him wearing flip flop sandals. He didn’t explain himself, but he seemed comfortable and asked me to sit down. I had been sitting for a while already, so I asked to stand and he said to do whatever made me comfortable. He rested his flip flopped feet on his desk and kept a folder in his hands.

“Congratulations on soldier of the quarter and year, Partin.” I had won that, and had recently been runner up in the 82nd soldier of the year. I suddenly became nervous because of a joke I had played at division headquarters, somewhat mocking the division commander. It wasn’t really a joke, and I hadn’t said anything, but I had left a photo to division headquarters next to his that made a lot of people laugh. The 82nd’s commander, three-star General Henry Shelton, was a former special forces officer who would lead Haiti’s democracy reform in 1994, become commander of the 18th Airborne corp that the 82nd was under, and then be appointed as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, reporting to President of staff and responsible for all United States soldiers. I knew he would chair the review board, and that he bore a striking resemblance to the cranky old muppet in Jim Henson’s renowned Muppets, Stradler, one of the two old men muppets who sat in the balcony and insulted Kermit and Miss Piggy and Fonzie the Bear. I had told Frank, and Frank had produced a framed picture of Stradler, and I had brought it to the soldier of the year review and showed it to everyone and we had laughed so hard that we didn’t notice General Sheldon walking up behind us. We had all snapped to attention, and I had left the photo there, sure that I would be reprimanded. I was sure the colonel had been told, and I was about to be reprimanded; the UCMJ says that you can’t mock people who outrank you, even if it’s without words and only via a framed copy of a muppet. I stood at ease and waited for retribution.

He looked at his notes and my uniform, and asked why I wore an EIB instead of a CIB. I told him my believe in earning something rather than being given it, and I quoted the army manual that allowed that choice: when two awards are issued that can be worn on the same location, each soldier can choose which one to wear. I had gotten used to refusing to change it and quoting that manual, and that was probably in the folder he held. More than one officer and sergeant had reported me as insubordinate, only to be reprimanded for not knowing their military codes.

He leaned back and rested his hands behind his head and sat silently for a few moments. Still leaning back, he said, “You’re right. And I can’t tell you to what to do. But, please listen: my reviews are based on what the division commander believes, and he believes that soldiers should wear their CIB. And each battallion is ranked according to the awards of their soldiers, and you have a lot, but many people at division headquarters don’t have your perspective and resent it. Some of them never earned their EIB and cling to their CIB. I think it would be kind of you to wear your CIB.”

I said that I preferred my freedom to choose, and I chose my EIB.

“I respect that. I can choose, too, and I can choose to let your captain know that I’d appreciate him selecting a special soldier to be on latrine duty every weekend until your contract ends,” he looked at the open folder in his hands, “on January 4th, 1994. And I could recommend that it be done in full dress uniform with whichever medals that soldier chose to wear.” He set the folder on his desk and returned his hands to behind his head and leaned back.

I began to see his wisdom, and said that I would choose to wear my CIB. He said that was wise, and we chatted for a bit. He was an exceptionally cheerful person who had a wife and three children and liked to hike with them in his time off. Soon, we returned to more military matters.

“What do you know about Jimmy Carter and the Middle East?” he asked. I told him. Even I was surprised by how much I knew, most of it coming from memories with my dad talking incessantly in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

Carter had been a navy nuclear engineer who walked door to door and advertised his campaign for presidency. He was a devout Christian who simply said you can’t be Christian and not help the poor, and much of his presidency was considered left-wing. But he was also known for diplomacy, and had inserted himself into Middle East talks after the Yom Kippur war and the Six Day War, inviting Middle East leaders to his retreat at Camp David. The result was the Camp David accords, a step forward in peace that returned the Golan Heights to Syria and the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, and established the Multinational Force and Observers, a coalition of 17 countries with troups stationed in the Sinai to observe the region and report on peace treaty compliance. Shortly after that, the world economy collapsed, ironically because of Saudi Arabian and OPEC oil policies, and the price of gas skyrocketed and the public was furious, especially Teamsters who relied on cheap gas to earn their livelihoods, and Carter plummeted in opinion polls. To add fuel to the fire, on November 9th, 1979, a group of Iran militants had captured 52 American diplomats and civilians and held them hostage for what would become 444 days. Canada sent their special ops troops and failed, and Carter sent ours and they failed, too, and that was attributed to his loosing the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan and his running mate, George Bush Senior. No one likes to see dead soldiers left to die alone. Carter had continued negotiating up until his last day in office, and a treaty was signed by Reagan his inaugural day and was given credit, and conspiracy theorists speculated that FBI and CIA had delayed rescue or treaties to ensure history credited the newly formed, evangelical Christian driven side of the republican party.

He digested what I said, and asked what I knew about Isreal, Palenstine, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I said only what I had seen in the news, and he told me that Palastenians were uneducated compared to Israelis, and served as inexpensive, manual labor for the Israelis. But, confidentially speaking, Israel was planning to shut their borders to Palestine by the end of the year, because after the wall fell and communism collapsed in the former Soviet Union, 250,000 uneducated Russian jewish immigrants had flooded into Israel, and Israel promised to care for all Jews, so they were planning to close the border to Palestine and begin using Russian jews as cheap manual labor. The presumed ramifications of that were frightening; terrorism was already a predominant way of life there, a way for weaker coalitions to strike out at stronger ones, and no one knew if closing the border to Palestine and cutting off the only way they knew to earn a living would create more poverty and instability in the region. No one knew what to do about the Middle East, and we still don’t.

The colonel put his flip flopped feet back on the ground and leaned forward and said, “The 1/504 is scheduled to spend six months as peace keepers with the MFO next year, but only foot soldiers.” That meant not D-Company, which was used Humvee’s to carry the big guns. “D-Company will remain behind as division support.” That meant six months of being attack platoons in pre-ranger, guard duty at boring posts, and cleaning lots and lots of latrines until they shined. “But, there’s a new program and we need four soldiers to volunteer.”

Never volunteer in the army, unless you know you’ll end up on a cruise ship because of it. I asked for details, and learned they were seeking “communication liasons,” unarmed soldiers skilled in communicating across diverse cultures and proficient in multiple types of radios and weapons and methods of other country’s soldiers. The communication liasons would be given a diplomatic passport and allowed to cross borders unhindered. To prepare, it was suggested that the selected soldiers spend the rest of 1992 in a barrage of military and civilian courses ranging from Emergency Medical Technician to demolitions expert to religious studies to lifeguard and rescue scuba diver (the Sinai Peninsula is adjacent to the famous dive sites in the Red Sea, and soldiers would likely go diving). I unequivocably said yes, and began blurting out how much I had always wanted to see Egypt, and the colonel let me ramble on excitedly for a few minutes.

We finished our meeting and I felt I was about to be dismissed, but he did is so casually that I was unsure. I began to leave, and he said, “Oh! One more thing, Specialist Partin. You forgot something.”

He opened a drawer and tossed a framed photo of Stradler onto his desk and in front of me.

“Dismissed,” he said, smiling.

General Sheldon really did look like Stradler, and I doubted that any human could see their photos side by side and without laughing or smiling, though I’d show that photo to only one other soldier again.

I spent the next six months in bliss. Our squad scraped by the PT requirements, and I trusted them to continue without me and would see Cristi on many mornings of her work shift. And with my new assignment, I wasn’t required to do most of the boring things around the barracks so that I could attend classes and study, and many of my classes overlapped with training deployment and I was excused then, too. I was still classified as a small team leader for DRF1 and that overrode everything, but no more emergencies erupted that year. I began experiencing a predictable schedule, and would spend mornings with Cristi and evenings with my friends – Cristi went to be early because of her early hospital shift – and on weekends Cristi and whichever of our friends were free would explore North Carolina together. Six months passed quickly.

To my chagrin, I had fallen in love and she was getting out of the army and returning to California to go film school and live with her mom, whom she missed dearly. She felt the same, but we didn’t know what to do about it. She’d leave North Carolina while I was in Egypt. We said we’d write – this was before email and cell phones, and long distance calls were cost prohibitive – and we’d see what happened. Both of us had seen our friends fall in and out of love when one of them moved away and months would pass between visits. We were in love, but not so unwise that we believed it was forever. In January of 1993 we said goodbye and I said I’d call her on my weekly satellite phone allocation, and I donned my newly issued desert fatigues, XL and appropriately sized, with an 82nd combat patch on my right shoulder, a combat infantry badge, airborne wings, air assault wings, and a bright orange patch with a white dove holding an olive branch in it’s beak on my left shoulder. My beret was also orange and had the dove of peace, and though I didn’t carry a firearm, I carried my Leatherman multitool and a handful of books on the religions of Jerusalem: Islam, Christianity, Orthodox Christian, and Judism. I had two decks of cards and four half dollars, and I was ready for whatever happened next.

I had left the photo of Stradler with the squad leader who took my place, and he laughed until he cried at the resemblance to Sheldon, and I suggested that he drop it off at division headquarters as a friendly joke. I never learned what happened.

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