I recently reviewed Volume I in this exceptional review of the murder of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). Author John M. Newman returns in Volume II to the incredible story of the events leading up to Kennedy’s time in office and his untimely demise. Here we change gears and take a deeper look at the alleged defection of Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) to the Soviet Union, the mob ties of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (1888-1969), the role of Italian-American mobster Sam Giancana (1908-1975) and the foreign policy decisions in Cuba, the Congo and Southeast Asia.
The story of Lee Harvey Oswald is an open and shut case if you believe the government’s official story. What we do know is that he did in fact travel to the Soviet Union and attempted to renounce his U.S. Citizenship. But what is often left out of the discussion is did he actually renounce it? To some the question might seem strange but if we take a closer look along with the author, we see that many of Oswald’s actions in Russia did not make sense. In fact, things were so confusing that his mother Marguerite Oswald (1907-1981) wrote to the State Department to verify if her son had given up his U.S. Citizenship. If you eyebrows are now raised, you are on the right track and what follows in this book will change your perception of Oswald’s possible intentions in the Soviet Union. Admittedly, Oswald is still a mysterious figure. The amount of information known about him still pales slightly to the unknown information surrounding his career in the military and his actions in Dallas leading up to Kennedy’s murder. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has generally been quite vague about what it knew about Oswald’s attempted defection and his return to the United States. The opening of the infmamous 201 file on Oswald has always been a topic of discussion in assassination researcher circles and for good reason. Newman explores the issue in detail and clears up some of the mysteries that have lingered for years. But what may really rattle readers is his hypothesis as to why Oswald traveled to the Soviet Union in the first place. Newman does not declare that his belief is what happened but his suggestion has plenty of traction and if it is ever proven to be correct, it would completely change what we knew about Lee Harvey Oswald.
As John F. Kennedy settled into office in January, 1961, his administration faced its first crisis as news of the murder of Patrice Lumuba (1925-1961) spread across the globe. Kennedy publicly had believed in a free Africa policy and Lumumba’s murder dealt a heavy blow for his vision of Africa’s future. Today we have the benefit of hindsight to look back on Lumumba’s death. And what we can see is a story that is much darker than most could have ever imagined. I should point out that there is no direct relationship between Lumumba’s death and Kennedy’s murder. But what is revealed is the role of the CIA which was also discussed in Volume I. The agency as it is known informally, became a foreign policy division of its own and by the time Kennedy took office, no one in Washington dared to challenge it. In fact, the agency was so powerful, that several presidents were unaware of what the agency’s true mission actually was. Author David Talbot discusses the agency in detail in his phenomenal book “The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA and the Rise of America’s Secret Government”, which is a thoroughly researched account of the rise of the CIA under its controversial director Allen Dulles (1893-1969). Newman puts Dulles and the agency back in the spotlight, revealing a sinister web of deceit determined to engineer Lumumba’s downfall. The story is critical to understanding what would follow from the agency in Cuba and eventually Southeast Asia.
Cuba once again comes into focus as Fidel Castro breaks ties with Washington and officials are left seeting with disdain towards the beared revolutionary. This part of the book is perhaps the most chilling as it provides an inside look into the battle being waged behind the scenes to coach Kennedy into an all out war with Cuba. Truths, half-truths and outright lies served to cause confusion and errant decisions that resulted in the distrastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961. The mission was a total failure and publicly, Kennedy excepted blame. But behind the scenes, a war was looming between the White House, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America’s intelligence community. The stakes had been raised and Kennedy came to realize that the CIA was now an obstacle that had to be removed. But what he did not know at the time was that the agency plays for keeps and waits patiently for the right moment to execute.
To say that these books are mesmerizing would be an understatement. This is the history we are never taught in school. The information revealed in these books should serve as the basis for history lessons given about the events during the Cold War and the CIA’s rise to power. The author concludes the book with a snippet from the story of former CIA agent David Atlee Phillips (1922-1988), whose words are an indication of what is come in Volume III of the series titled Into the Storm: The Assassination of President Kennedy. A storm was definitely brewing and by the time it ended, America was never be the same again.
The lone gunman theory remains the official position taken the United States Government with regards to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963). The alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was convicted in the court of public opinion before standing trial in a Dallas courtroom. His assailant, Jack Ruby (1911-1967) permanently silenced Oswald forever and prevented Americans from knowing more about the former Marine that had once lived in the Soviet Union. The big question surrounding Kennedy’s death is who did it? The crime is similar to a black hole, puzzling even the most hardened researchers. The late Jim Marrs (1943-2017) once said that we know who killed Kennedy, we just have to look at the evidence. Author John M. Newman has joined the group of assassination researchers and has produced this first volume in what will be a multi-volume set about the deadly events in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.
In this first volume, Newman sets the tone for what will soon follow. In comparison to other books about the murder, this volume is not focused on Kennedy’s death. In fact, the murder is only mentioned a handful of times. The story that is presented here is of the revolution in Cuba, Fidel Castro (1926-2016) and Washington’s fears of Soviet expansion. As Fulgencio Batista (1971-1973) struggled to maintain control of Cuba, the CIA was closely watching the events taking place in the streets of Havana. Students, revolutionary groups and activists formed a nexus of opposition to Batista’s corrupt regime. At first it might seem counterproductive to write about the Cuban Revolution if the book is about Kennedy’s murder. But what is important to keep in mind is that Newman is slowly setting the stage for what would eventually happen in Dallas. It is generally accepted by researchers that Kennedy’s death was by no means the actions of just one person. In fact, the list of those who opposed the young president was long and for a good explanation of how many forces were conspiring against Kennedy, I strongly recommend Col. John Hughes Wilson’s JFK: An American Coup D’etat: The Truth Behind the Kennedy Assassination, which provides a clear picture of the looming threat to the occupant in the White House.
I strongly believe that to understand Kennedy’s murder, it is necessary to understand exactly what was happening in Cuba and how it played out during Kennedy’s presidency. Newman’s focus is not on the mission in the jungles of Cuba by bearded revolutionaries. His goal here is to uncover the actions of the CIA and finally reveal the characters involved and what purpose they played as Castro took power and led Cuba down the communist path. Acronyms and code names become the norm but if we pay close attention, we come to realize that many of the figures are discussed in other books. However, there are two who stand out here and deserve special mention. Newman goes into the complicated and mysterious stories of Catherine Taeffe and June Cobb (1927-2015). The latter has been written about before and her story is still puzzling to this day. Thousands of pages of records have been released giving us a better picture Cobb’s association with the CIA and Newman ties all of if together here providing a thorough back story as to who she really was. Taeffe is yet another figure who has eluded scrutiny in many books but it is here that her importance to Washington becomes clear. And by the time Newman is finished, the reader will surely realize that there was far more taking place in Washington with regards to Cuba than most Americans could have ever imagined. To be even more frank, things in Cuba had heated up and it is truly a miracle that an all out invasion of the island never materialized.
There are many names in the book and it is easy to get distracted as the author moves through the story. I do think that a quick primer on the crime will help readers make it through the subject matter. As a rule, I always recommend Jim Marrs ‘Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy‘, which still remains one of the best-selling books on Kennedy’s death. With that being said, Newman does an excellent job of focusing on one aspect of the matter and exploring it into exhaustive detail. I am now on to the second volume and his multi-volume approach will undoubtedly change the way Kennedy’s assassination is viewed through the eyes of even the most ardent researchers. What I also found to be exceptionally valuable is that Newman does not put forth conspiracy theories, his conclusions are based solely on the evidence that was released. And it is that approach that makes the book an even more exciting read.
I admit that the Kennedy murder is usually not at the top of the list of books to buy for a majority of readers. But the crime still remains one of America’s darkest moments. Perhaps one day we will finally know what really happened that day but until then, we can only reveal the truth layer by layer. If the author is consistent, the volumes that follow will be nothing short of exceptional. Good read.
When I first heard of this book, I was slightly puzzled. As a fan of the NLF, the name Curt Warner was very familiar to me but it turns out that I had the wrong person in mind. And I am willing to wager that a large number of people who come across this book will also make the same mistake and instead think of the NFL player Kurt Warner, who once played for the New York Giants. Both are retired but only one has a family of four that includes twin sons born with autism. Many of us many know someone who struggles with autism. And others may be teachers who have taught autistic students. Regardless, we can all agree that it is a condition which requires enormous patience and understanding. This is the story of Curt and Ana Warner, two parents faced with the monumental task of raising twin sons born autistic while maintaining family life that includes tow other children.
Since retiring from the NFL in 1990, Warner had remained largely hidden from public life. But with the publication of this book, the creation of his personal website and the Curt Warner Autism Foundation, he and wife Ana are at the forefront of the continuing struggle to understand and solve the mystery of autism. Currently, no one truly knows why some people are born autistic. There have been attempts to diagnose it while a fetus is still in development but an actual cause still eludes doctors. What is known is that there is no cure for it and there may never be. But what we can do as a society is to listen to those who deal with it so that we all can understand what it is and how it affects those born with it. Curt and Ana Warner made the courageous decision to turn their struggle in this incredible book which shows the struggle behind the scenes in a household with autistic children.
Both parents take turns speaking in the book but there is a notation at the beginning of the section so that the reader knows which parent is commenting. The commentary does swtich back and forth quite often and that might be just a little confusing to some readers but both do a great job of staying in sync as the story progresses. And what is clear is that without each other, there was no way the family would have ever survived what can only be described as mind-blowing. My knowledge of autism prior to the book was limited in some ways but having finished the story, I can say for certain that I now have a new found undrestanding for the amount of work required by parents of autistic children.
My only complaint about the book is that I wish it had been longer. As I read through the book, I found myself rooting for Curt, Ana and their kids to pull through as a family. We know today that they have survived many situations that could have been tragic for all involved. The book concludes on a positive note and I hope that the Warners are continuing to enjoy life as much as they can. The bravery they displayed in writing this book is a testament to their character, cemented by their struggle together. Their experiences should remind us all that perseverance, hope and faith are the keys required to make it through even the most difficult situations. Highly recommended.
JFK: An American Coup D’etat: The Truth Behind the Kennedy Assassination – Colonel John Hughes-Wilson
Last week I was debating what book to read next and realized that I had not covered anything on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) in quite some time. To many Americans, his death is in America’s past, and a crime never to be solved. With that being said, his murder is a reminder of how easy it once was to remove a sitting president from the highest office in the land. Kennedy’s death endures as one of America’s darkest moments and the unanswered questions surrounding the events in Dealey Plaza still send chills down the spines of even the most seasoned researchers. Colonel John Hughes-Wilson has taken another look at the crime and lays out his case for what he believes was a coup d’état on November 22, 1963. In the fifty-years since JFK’s death, researchers have been able to compile a staggering amount of revealing evidence throughout independent research and the release of government files under the Freedom of Information Act and the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. Incredibly, Hughes-Wilson has managed to compress thousands of pages of information into a book that is less than 400 pages. But contained within the pages of this book is an excellent summary of what happened before, during and after Kennedy’s murder.
Some readers may be independent researchers in the crime or simply someone that has never believed the official story put forth by the government. I warn the reader to be prepared for many shocking revelations and the introduction of facts that are simply unbelievable. If you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald (1939-1963) was the lone killer, you may find this book hard to accept. But I do think that the author provides an incredibly strong position to support his believe that Kennedy’s murder was in effect a change in government by powerful sources hidden behind the scenes. One of the book’s most interest parts is how the author sets the stage for Kennedy’s murder. So much focus is often placed on November 22 but it is critical to understand the forces that raged against his administration and their culmination into a deadly web of enemies determined to have the president removed at all costs. Author James Douglass does a great job of covering topic in his book on the murder “JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why it Matters“. The information provided therein if plentiful and highly enlightening. Hughes-Wilson takes a similar approach but streamlines the information to keep the pace moving at a sufficient pace.
Any book on Kennedy’s murder is sure to contain a long list of characters relevant to the story at hand. This book is no different and as one would expect, figures such as Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) and J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) are discussed throughout the book. We also learn about the various groups that came to loathe the president such as Cuban exiles, Texas oil barons, Wall Street bankers, the government of Israel and the Italian American Mafia. The connections between the various groups will raise eyebrows and cause mouths to drop open in surprise. But what may truly shock many readers, is their connection to the White House, in particularly Kennedy himself. I warn some that what is also revealed about Kennedy’s private life may change the way they see the former president. But if you have read Seymour Hersh’s “The Dark Side of Camelot“, some of the information may be repetitive. Kennedy is long gone so we will never known what made him do some of the things that he did. The author here does provide clues to his sometimes strange behavior but to a point, even his views are somewhat speculative. Regardless, his assessment of the late president, puts the murder into clear context and also reveals that many great political figures also had a very dark side that the public was not privy to in the age before cell phones and social media.
Hughes-Wilson did an incredible job of staying focused and not straying too far from the main goal of the book. One can easily spend hours on just one part of the murder. Whether it is Oswald’s life or the murder of Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippitt (1924-1963), the amount of information to cover is exhausting. The author here never lets the reader become overwhelmed with information but wisely keeps things moving along and provides enough information for the reader to continue to piece together the entire puzzle. In short, I found the book to a collection of information covered separately in other books but told in a way that keeps the reader deeply intrigued. And even for myself, the book was thoroughly enjoyable even though I have read at least a dozen books and several articles on the crime.
Someone asked me one day if Kennedy’s murder would ever be solved. Well Jim Marrs once said that we already know who did it, but we just need to look closely at the evidence. I think that we have many of the answers that have long been sought through the hard work of researchers and the deathbed confessions of individuals long suspected of being part of the plot. The real question is whether Americans are ready to accept information that will change the way the see the United States Government and politicians many of them have long admired. It is said that no one who was alive when Kennedy’s murder took place will forget where they were that day. My father has told me the same thing many times and can easily recall that day from start to finish even at the age of 66. For my generation, none of us will forget where we were on September 11th. The future generation will have their own moment in history but what that is remains to be seen. No matter how many generations pass, the murder of John F. Kenney will remain the biggest unsolved mystery in American history. But with books such as this by Col. John Hughes-Wilson, we already have many of the answers needed to eventually find the truth.
For readers that are discovering new territory, I strongly recommend reading the late Jim Marrs’ (1943-2017) “Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy“. It remains one of the best sources for information on the assassination. Having discovered this gem, I also strongly recommend this compendium as well for those who truly want to know what really happened.
Last week, my mother and I had a discussion about the actor Denzel Washington, who is widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s greatest stars. For both of us, his role as civil rights figure Malcolm X (1925-1965) in 1992 biopic ‘Malcolm X‘, was a shining moment in which he showed the world his talent as an actor and Spike Lee’s known skills as a powerful filmmaker. I had been contemplating my next book to read and came across this biography by late author Manning Marable (1950-2011). I had previously read The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley and Bruce Perry’s Malcolm: THe Life of Man Who Changed America . The former is a classic read widely across the globe. Perry’s biography is a great read and addressed many topics that Haley did not include. Stepping into the picture is Marable with this phenomenal biography that surpasses Perry’s and provides an even more intimate look into Malcolm’s life.
One of the hardest parts of completing a project as daunting as a biography is separating fact from fiction. Marable exhaustively researched his subject and it clearly shows throughout the book. The amount of information in the book is staggering and will leave many readers speechless at times. I cannot say with certainty how much information Spike Lee had access to when making the film. But what is clear from reading this book is that there is a good chance some things were withheld from him by those with intimate knowledge of Malcolm’s life and that editing the film down to three hours and twenty-two minutes resulted in a fair amount of footage ending up on the cutting room floor. Regardless, Lee created a masterpiece of a film. However, there was far more to Malcolm’s life than what moviegoers saw and some of that information shows his life and the Nation of Islam in a whole new light.
No story about Malcolm is complete without mention of Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975), the former leader of the Nation of Islam. His influence on Malcolm’s life and their subsequent falling out is covered extensively in the book. I personally learned new information that I had never anticipated when I started the book. As to be expected, Malcolm’s time with the Nation of Islam, his marriage to Betty Shabazz (1934-1997) and the creation of Muslim Mosque, Inc. make up large portion of the second half of the book. And it truly is a story that is surreal at times. Undoubtedly the book carries a serious tone but there are bright moments in the book, some of which focus on Malcolm’s time outside of the United States. His visits to the Middle East, which helped shape and then change his views are pivotal moments in the book, showing the process of reinvention that he goes through as he matures.
Some of the reviews I read on Amazon were interesting but one in particular caught my attention for its critique of Marable’s discussion of Malcolm’s sexuality in his youth. I do not believe that Marable tainted Malcolm’s image or was irresponsible in the way that he chose to handle the subject matter. In fact, Bruce Perry also addressed it in his biography of Malcolm and there is a strong possibility that both authors were on the right track. Marable devotes a very small portion of the book to the subject and I think he made the right decision. And the overall story is so interesting that I believe most readers will go through the section and quickly move forward to the rest of the book.
One of the book’s major strengths is the author’s willingness to take on even the most sensitive parts of Malcolm’s life. In fact, there were many things revealed that I am sure the Nation of Islam would have killed to protect years ago. These events are not only about Malcolm’s life but they also reveal information about figures intimately involved in his life such a Minister Louis Farrakhan, Malcolm’s protege and Ella Little (1914-1996). Interestingly, both figures do not make an appearance in Lee’s film for reasons known to the filmmakers. Marable does provide some insight and what he reveals might surprise some readers. Civil rights figures such as Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), Dick Gregory (1932-2017) and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908-1972) are also part of the story and reading Marable’s words made me feel as if I stepped back into time during the tumultuous decade that was the 1960s. Readers who lived during the era will surely reminisce about a time in American history where fear permeated across the nation and the assassination of political figures was nearly commonplace.
About two-thirds through the book, the stage is set for Malcolm’s tragic end at the Audubon Ballroom. The tension and outright hostility between him and the NOI had reached a deadly level. Marable highlights the multiple attempts on Malcolm’s life and the escalation in fearmongering that ensued. The assassination is revisited from start to finish and the author sheds light on a few things that I had previously been unaware of. It is well-known the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) had been keeping Malcolm under surveillance. The paranoia of J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) was endless and he wasted no time in having his agents open a file for the Bureau’s benefit. But what is often left out of the discussion regarding Malcolm’s controversial life is the role of the secret Bureau of Special Services and Investigation (“BOSS”), formed by the New York City Police Department. The roles and actions of these two entities raise new questions about Malcolm’s death that remain unanswered. Perhaps in the next fifty years, more files will declassified and we may finally know the truth as to what state and federal agencies knew about Malcolm, the Nation of Islam and his murder on February 21, 1965.
The epilogue of the book is equally fascinating, and in it Marable opens a discussion about fundamental differences between Malcolm and other leaders of the times. Death was a constant threat in his life and he clearly knew that he had been marked for it but refused to live in fear. Throughout the book, he makes a series of decisions that we can now look at with the hindsight unavailable to him. At the time, he was following his beliefs and remained dedicated in his goal to spread true Islam to anyone willing to learn. His faults and transgressions are also on full display, showing us a multi-dimension yet often streamlined person that helped place the Nation of Islam into the national spotlight. He is revered around the world as a champion of civil rights and a brilliant mind taken from this world far before his time. There is so much more to his story contained within the pages of this book which is an exceptional work that will cause one to ask, how much do I really know about Malcolm X? Here is a good place to start.
Several months ago, my uncle and I had a discussion about aging and how health becomes more important as the years pass by. He recalled when he left the military following his service in Vietnam. His hearing is permanently damaged as a result of being stationed near the 50 caliber machine gun while out on patrol. Over the years, he has spoken about Vietnam on rare occasions but I know for a fact that he and millions of other veterans of the war, carry with them many dark memories and emotional scars from their time in a war that has been viewed negatively for several decades. Author Mark Bowden revisits the war in this phenomenal account of the battle for Hue during the Tet Offensive in 1968. My uncle was not stationed in Hue but in another part of the country and has told me many things about the war that made my skin crawl. For the United States Armed Forces, the battle of Hue and the Tet Offensive changed the war in Vietnam and the for the first time, it became increasingly clear, that this was a war that America could possibly lose.
Bowden opens the book by setting the stage for the events that led up to Tet, the Vietnamese New Year celebration that marks the first day of the lunar new year. American forces led by Gen. William Westmoreland (1914-2005) had assumed that Khe Sanh would be the place where the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) would launch a surprise attack during Tet. Some downplayed the attack as rumors with no basis of truth. However, when the NVA launched its operation on January 30, 1968, it was a wake up call for the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) and Washington, where President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) became haunted by a war with no ending in sight. The book picks up pace at this point and it never slows down.
Instantly I was pulled into the story. Memories of Olive Stone’s ‘Platoon’ and ‘Full Metal Jacket’ by Stanley Kubrick came back to me as different but very vivid portrayals of the conflict in Vietnam. Both films are classics but neither touches in depth on the Tet Offensive. This book is different and what Bowden reveals shows a side of the war that neither filmmaker had enough time or resources to cover. The story at hand follows the Marines and Hue is ground zero. The battle was bloody, protracted and tragic for both sides. The concept of a happy ending does not apply here. In fact, not one person Bowden interviewed, viewed the war in a positive light. What I did find was that there is bitterness, heartache and the question of why the United States became entangled in Vietnam to begin with. It is a question America has struggled to answer. Former Rand employee Daniel Ellsberg revealed much of what Washington was thinking when he provided confidential memos that have become known as the The Pentagon Papers. The memos are striking and reveal monumental failures among the brightest minds in Washington. We may never know all of the details regarding the decisions to become engaged in Southeast Asia.
I warn readers that the book is not for the faint at heart. The injuries and deaths among the Marines are nothing short of horrific. We meet many of them, learn about their lives and follow the paths they took to Vietnam. Some of them do not survive and for those that do, Hue became a permanent memory that would haunt them for years to come. What shocked me, among many things, were the ages of the Marines we become acquainted with. Some are as young as 18 years of age and deposited into a place that they see as hell on earth. The scenes are savage and young men are forced to make decisions and carry out orders that cause them to question what is truly right and wrong. The common adage is that war is hell and it certainly applies here.
The author focuses not only on the battle at Hue but also on the domestic issues raised in the United States. While Gen. Westmoreland, known to many as “Westy” gave figures on the death toll and the successes of U.S. troops, many were skeptical including the late American journalist Walter Cronkite (1916-2009), whose trip to Vietnam is covered in the book. Americans had started to learn that something was not quite right about the reports coming back from Saigon and Cronkite became one of the leading voices in holding Washington accountable to what was happening to the boys overseas. Cronkite’s findings and Johnson’s realizations are one of the pivotal parts of the book and for the troops in Vietnam, a sobering reality.
The book is primarily centered around Hue and is not intended to be a full discussion of the war’s origin. In fact, the leader of North Vietnam, Ho Chih Minh (1890-1969), makes only a brief appearance in the story. The author never loses focus and the story remains on the dedicated Marines, the constant reality of death and the mission to retake the City of Hue. Throughout the book, we come to know many of them intimately and towards the end, Bowden relays what happened to some of them after leaving Vietnam and how they adjusted to life back in the United States. Each does their best to put Vietnam behind them upon rotating back to America. As I read the book, I could not help but to wonder where many other veterans of the conflict are. Undoubtedly, some are now deceased but there are many others who served and fought in Hue who have done their best to forget that experience. This book is a testament to the bravery and perseverance required by the Marines in Hue. It is also a painful look at the misguided policies of Washington that plunged America into a conflict with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
After finishing the book, I thought of the the Ken Burn’s Netlfix documentary series The Vietnam War, which I watched several months ago. The series is riveting and Burns captures the era and conflict perfectly through remastered archival footage and interviews with those who served. It is an amazing work of art and highly recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about the Vietnam War.
Aviation is truly one of the world’s modern marvels. To say that it has made the world smaller is an understatement. There is something mystical and surreal about moving through the air at 39,000 feet, at speeds in excess of 500mph. Every flyer knows that there are inherent dangers when we take to the skies. Pilots are incredibly skilled and make the experience seem like magic to those of us in the cabin. And air travel is safer today that at any point in history but there many tragedies over the years that we have learned from in order to make air travel as safe as possible. Seasoned pilots will tell you that the early days of aviation were quite dangerous and flying literally was like rolling the dice. On January 16, 1942, movie star Carole Lombard (1908-1942) was a passenger on TWA Flight 3, a flight that began in New York and had a final destination of Burbank, California. Most of the trip was routine, but a sudden change of events in Las Vegas, changed the course of history and resulted in one of the deadliest aviation accidents of the 1940s. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed full speed into Mt. Potosi, causing the aircraft to disintegrate upon impact. There were no survivors.
The official cause of the disaster is still a mystery. At the time, flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders did not exist in the form that they do now. The pilot, Wayne Clark Williams and co-pilot Stillman-Morgan Atherton Gillette, took what they knew with them to the grave. For decades, the case remained dormant but author Robert Matzen brings the past back to life in this gripping account of the life of Carole Lombard, her husband and legendary film star William Clark Gable (1901-1960) and the plane crash that shocked a nation. Matzen has visited the crash site which is still littered with debris and other grisly finds. He has reviewed thousand of pages of records including FBI files and official investigation records by the Civil Aeronautics Board (1939-1985). And what he has compiled is a thorough investigative report into the accident that rob Hollywood of one of its brightest stars.
Flight 3’s demise of the crux of the book but the author also tells the story of Lombard’s life, from her humble beginnings in Fort Wayne, Indiana to her success in Hollywood during the golden age. Matzen leaves no stone unearthed, revealing the very private side of Lombard’s life, replete with romances, tragedy and and a near-death experience many years before she met her fate on Flight 3. The author captures the aura of the golden era in Hollywood, a time unlike anything the world had seen previously. Some of the greatest names in Hollywood history appear in the story, coming into and going out of Lombard’s life as she moves through Hollywood’s upper echelon. She eventually crossed paths with Gable and Matzen provides an inside look into their marriage and the changes that took place in their lives after tying the knot. Hollywood has dark secrets and stars sometimes come with many shortcomings carefully guarded behind a thoughtfully crafted facade. Matzen looks past that showing the very human side of both. The result is an honest an intimate portrait of two stars at the height of their careers whose relationship was on borrowed time.
Matzen wrote the book in a slightly different style. In the first half of the book, the chapters alternate between Lombard’s life story and the reaction to the crash itself. Towards the middle of the book, the seam is merged and the story moves forward as emergency personnel formulate plans to visit the crash site and recover what they can. Readers sensitive to graphic descriptions of accidents may find this part of the book difficult to get through. The accident was nothing short of devastating. As Matzen explained the violent nature of the collision, I felt a chill go down my spine. I was also speechless as I read descriptions of the carnage that awaited personnel as they made their way to the crash site. At the end of the book, there are photographs included which help to give the reader a visual image of the crash site. Pictures sometimes do speak a thousand words.
Clark Gable remains one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars. But what the public did not see was the struggle he waged in the wake of his wife’s death. Matzen discusses Gable’s life after the crash and up until his death in 1960 at the age of fifty-nine. Apart from the crash, this part of the book is also a tough read. We witness the emotional and physical descent by Gable as he struggles to move on in life following the loss of Lombard whom he affectionately referred to as “Ma”. His sorrow is strong and his life was never the same again. The author focuses on his emotional state and his surprising decision to enlist in the military during World War II. Gable is a man apart and fans of the late star will find this part of the book to be equally heartbreaking.
As the book moves towards its conclusion, the author gives us yet another surprise with regards to the crash of Flight 2793 on November 8, 2007. The Cessna was a T182t single-engine aircraft piloted by Civil Air Patrol. Col. Ed Lewis and copilot Dion DeCamp. Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed directly into the same mountain as TWA Flight 3. The coincidence was beyond creepy but did both flights crash for the same reason? And why did two planes, piloted by experienced captains slam full speed into a mountain that by all accounts, should have been seen? Matzen provides a very thorough and likely explanation for Flight 3’s crash and reveals interesting facts about 2793’s final moments. Perhaps the final truth will never be known about each flight but we do have an abundance of information about both crashes. They each highlight the dangers of flying at night without proper visual aids and pre-flight planning. May the souls on board of each rest in peace.
Before reading this book, I was not aware of Flight 3 and the sad ending to the life of Carole Lombard. The book came as a recommendation on Amazon and for some reason the cover pulled me in. It was truly a fascinating read and the pace of the book never let up. Matzen has done an outstanding job. Highly recommended.
If you want to learn more about TWA Flight 3, researcher Mike McComb has an informative post on the tragedy titled January 16, 1942: Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA), Douglas DC-3 (NC1946) Potosi Mountain, NV. The post includes more photographs of Mt. Potosi, the crew and some of the passengers. If you like this book, you will find the website to be highly informative and just as thought provoking as Matzen’s work.
I find that as I age, I am more focused on historical events that changed the course of America, in particular from Black Americans. It has been said that in order to know where you are going, you have to know where you come from. For millions of Black Americans, the question of identity has been a difficult one to answer. Some prefer the term African-American while others prefer Black-American. And there are some who prefer Afro-American or just simply Black. Regardless of the label, there is a shared history of pain, struggle and the never ending goal for full integration American society. Over the past fifty years, tremendous progress has been made in the United States but there is still much work to be done. But one of the greatest things about America is our ability to correct and learn from mistakes that have lingered for too long. The young generation of today lives in a world far removed from only twenty years ago. Their world is one in which technology is ingrained and life moves at an even faster pace. My father often thinks back to the period of integration and the times where it seemed as if America was going to tear itself apart. Even to him, as a kid it seemed as if the accomplishments by Black Americans over the years were just a pipe dream.
The Civil Rights Movement was a platform not just for Black-Americans but for all people that had been denied basic civil rights to which everyone is entitled, whether here in the United States or around the world. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has always been seen as the “leader” of the American movement. The reality is that he was one of endless figures who displayed unparalleled bravery and dedication. But he is easily the most recognizable. But behind him, was his wife Coretta Scott King (1927-2006), who in later years became even more vocal in her commitment to Dr. King’s legacy and the movement they both believed in. This book is her autobiography so that the world can learn more not about Mrs. King but about Coretta.
Her story begins in 1927, in the small town of Heiberger, Alabama during the Jim-Crow Era. Readers sensitive to the subject matter might find this part of the book a little unnerving. Although there are some low points, there are equally many high points as well and the pride and dignity with which the Scott family carried itself offsets the darker memories that she recalls. From an early age, she is independent, tough and open to change. Those traits would prove to be invaluable later in life when a young bachelor named Martin Luther King, Jr., walked into her life. It is at this point in the book that the story picks up speed at an extraordinary pace.
Martin’s story is well-known and he remains one of the most iconic figures in world history so I do not think it is necessary to go into detail about his life in this post. Plus, Coretta does that for us but not in the position of a biographer, but simply as his wife and the mother of their four children. This is the behind the scenes look into their very private life which might surprise some. In contrast to the public version of Dr. King which was cool, controlled and always prophetic, the version shown by Coretta is humble, playful, a homemaker, a prankster and a father. The movement is never far away and Coretta explains early on that they both believed that the movement was a higher calling than anything else. And each would maintain that belief until the end of their lives.
As the story moves into the 1960s, the movement gains momentum and Coretta revisits all of the critical moments that changed America. The bus boycotts, Rosa Parks (1913-2005), Bull Connor (1897-1973) and Jim Sharp (1922-2007) are just some of the events and figures that she discusses. She also discusses the much darker moments that occurred such as a the murders of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Robert F. Kennedy and her beloved Martin, whose death rattled the globe and changed her life permanently. Following his assassination, she became the heir apparent to the King legacy and she has never wavered in that task.
The book changes gears after Martin’s death and the focus shifts primarily back on Coretta. Her children also come into sharper focus and she discusses how each responded to their father’s death and what he meant to them. Although Martin was gone, Coretta was still in high demand and the movement never stopped. Her circle of friends and acquaintances changes slightly but the core group of support remains intact. Later in her years, she finds herself in what some would call the widow’s club but to her, it was far from that. She was a survivor of the movement who understood that death was a constant threat to anyone who dared to challenge the system.
There is one part of the book that did strike me and that was her discussion of rumors of Martin’s infidelity. Accounts of philandering, allegedly picked up through FBI wiretaps has circulated for years. It is true that tapes were mailed to their house and Coretta elaborates on what they contained. She also has choice words for J. Edgar Hoover and his bureau. King’s friend Ralph Abernathy (1926-1990) comes under fire here for his statements in his autobiography And The Walls Came Tumbling Down wherein he discusses Martin’s transgressions. Coretta remains firm in her beliefs about Martin’s actions outside the home and Abernathy never changed his position. All are now deceased, leaving us without the opportunity to clear up the issue. What I can say is that I have never seen any photo evidence of such activity and the main source for the information came from the very agency whose job it was to discredit him. I will leave the issue up to the reader to research.
Dick Gregory once said that Black History is American History. One month in February does not come close to telling the full story. But that is easily circumvented through books such as this, written by those who were present during the defining moments in the American experience. Coretta is no longer with us, but her words of wisdom and guidance remain as a light to lead us through our darkest times, some of which have yet to come. Highly recommended.
I am honored to announce that the Free Thinking Bibliophile has been nominated for the Liebster Award. Thank you to Rebecca at Fake Flamenco for her nomination. And a very big thank you to my followers for your support and feedback as this blog has grown. When I started the blog in the summer of 2015, I had no idea it would become such a big part of my life. It has been one of the best decisions that I have ever made.
The Liebster Award helps good blogs get deserved attention so more followers discover them. Lieb is the German word for kind, nice, or good. If you are unfamiliar with the Liebster Award, you can read more about it here.
Here’s an excerpt of my letter to Rebecca of Fake Flamenco:
I am honored to be nominated for the Liebster Award. Thank you for the nomination. I proudly accept it with deep appreciation and happiness. Per your request, here are three facts about me:
- Besides blogging, I am also an IT Administrator and when I’m not blogging, building, fixing and maintaining servers and computers.
- I’m left handed
- I love to travel.
Here are my answers to the three questions that you have asked:
- Which book have you read more than twice? Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth”
- What is your favorite meal? Old-fashioned Dominican cuisine of rotisserie chicken with beans, rice and freshly fried tostones (plantains).
- Where in the world would you like to travel? Having seen some of the UK, the next place I would like to see is Scotland.
Blogs I nominate for the Liebster Award:
My three questions to nominees are:
- If you could meet any historical figure of your choice, who would it be?
- Which event in world history shocked you the most?
- What led you to create your blog?
Today’s post will be quite different and discuss a subject that many of us are loathe to speak of let alone contemplate . This afternoon I received the unfortunate news that a friend and former co-worker died yesterday after a short and aggressive illness. And although the two of us hadn’t seen each other in a few years, we did keep in touch and her death has been usually tough to handle. When she came to the office in 2003, she was originally hired as temporary labor. But the boss liked her so much that he offered a full-time position and for thirteen years she served as the office manager. When she left the office in 2016, it was a tough moment to get through but I understood that employer and employee relationships do not always have a happy ending. Several weeks ago, she called me randomly at a new job because she needed some advice with regards to Microsoft Office. On the phone, she sounded full of life and excited about her new job. I had no idea at the time that she was sick and about to have a battle that would eventually take her life. Her death hits home as I get older and think of my own mortality. I have become aware of the fact that my time on this earth is finite and that no one is promised tomorrow.
The news of her death opened the floodgates of memories and I instantly recalled when she first came over to introduce herself. We instantly hit it off and remained friends ever since. I vividly recall the time I helped her move after a fire destroyed her previous apartment. I vividly recall when she phoned me at 2:00 a.m. on the night of her sister’s death. I vividly recall her mother’s passing and attending the wake with my own mother. And I vividly recall how she went to bat for anyone close to her if she felt that they were being taken advantage of. She was an extremely welcoming person but could be sharp as a knife when needed. And if you looked at her, you would have no idea that she was of Puerto Rican descent. She loved her Salsa music, Puerto Rican cuisine and her beloved Motown music which she played all the time in the office. When I think of her I can truly say that the good times far outweigh the bad.
Sometimes we never know why people come into our lives until they are gone. When I look back on our friendship, she helped me grow in many ways and was always a voice of reason when I had questions about many things in life. She could be tough at times but she was always genuine. And when she loved you as a person, you certainly knew it from the big smile and hug that she greeted you with.
During our last conversation, before she hung up, she said to me “I have to go, I’m at the new job, but we’ll catch up soon”. We never got the chance to make that happen. But I do have many great memories of Christmas parties, bowling, office lunches and tons of laughs as we passed the time at the office. She made sure I knew all of her immediate family, some of whom are also deceased. Some of our friends are in our lives every day and others may drift away but when we see each other, it is as if nothing has happened. No matter how much time had passed since we last saw each other, we were still close as ever and there was nothing I would not do if she needed it. And I knew that I could count on her for the same. Tonight, as I think of her and how she affected many lives, I can take some solace in the fact that she is no longer in pain and may she truly sleep in peace. Godspeed Miriam, Godspeed.
To my subscribers, cherish those around you while you can because while death is certain, life is not. Hug each other, talk to each other and understand each other. Love is tough and it forces us to become vulnerable. But it is that vulnerability that teaches us what true love and friendship really is. And to have a friend, you first have to be a friend. We do not know when our friends will leave us, but until they do, enjoy each moment and be sure to let them know that you are there for them but most importantly that yes, you do love them. For whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee (Selected from the writings of John Donne (1572-1631)).
In loving memory of Miriam Irina Burgos (1958-2019). Vaya con dios amiga.