Who Killed James Forrestal?
By David Martin
World War II had ended
less than three years before. It was becoming increasingly apparent that, for
all its losses, the big winner of that war had been the Soviet Union and world
communism. On March 10, 1948, the body of one of the leading holdouts against
the communist advance was found in the courtyard beneath the window of his
office. National authorities called the death a suicide, but reports in
opposition countries concluded that it had been a murder, a political
assassination by the secret police.
I am speaking of Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, the last non-communist
government minister of Czechoslovakia, which was the last Eastern European
country not yet taken over completely by the communists.
On May 22, 1949, the body of the man generally regarded as the leading
government official warning of the communist menace abroad and within the United
States government, the nation’s first Secretary of Defense, James V. Forrestal,
was found on a third floor roof 13 floors below a 16th-floor window of the
Bethesda Naval Hospital. He had been admitted to the hospital, apparently
against his will, diagnosed as suffering from “operational fatigue” and kept in
confinement in a room with barred windows on the 16th floor since April 2, some
seven weeks before. The body had been discovered at 1:50 a.m., and the last
edition of the May 22 New York Times reported the death as a suicide, although
the belt, or sash, of his dressing gown was tied tightly around his neck, a more
suspicious happenstance than anything associated with Masaryk’s death.
Books on Forrestal
A suicide it has remained in the newspapers and magazines of the United
States to the present day. Three books have also been written about Forrestal,
each of which discusses his death in considerable length. The first was James
Forrestal, A Study of Personality, Politics, and Policy by California
political science professor, Arnold A. Rogow, published in 1963 by The Macmillan
Company. If the Book Review Digest is any indicator, it was the most
heavily publicized, if not the best received, of the books in question. Nineteen
reviews are listed, and a few are summarized. Most take the author to task for
the general shallowness of his effort and his attempt at post-mortem
psychoanalysis, what some have called a psychological autopsy. None of them,
however, challenge Rogow’s conclusion–which is really almost his starting
place–that Forrestal’s death was an obvious suicide caused by his “mental
illness,” something that Rogow dwells upon almost ad nauseam.
The second book was The Death of James Forrestal by Cornell Simpson,
published by Western Islands Publishers in 1966. It is not mentioned by Book
Review Digest, and presumably it was not reviewed by anyone in the American
media. Your local municipal or university library probably does not have a copy.
And although, through checking with contemporary newspaper sources, I have found
it to be far more accurate and better documented in matters concerning the
details of Forrestal’s last weeks, days, and hours, the third, and last, of the
books written, in its two chapters on Forrestal’s decline and death, references
Simpson’s book only once, versus 23 references to Rogow’s. We shall have a good
deal more to say about Simpson’s efforts later in this essay.
But first, let us turn to that last word on the subject, the 587-page
biography, Driven Patriot, the Life and Times of James Forrestal, by
Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley. This biography by a former Under Secretary
of the Air Force and the current head of the Eisenhower Center at the University
of New Orleans, respectively, was named a Notable Book of the Year (1992) by the
New York Times, although the Book Review Digest records only seven
reviews in periodicals. Here is their concluding paragraph of chapter 32
entitled “Breakdown,” the paragraph that occasions their lone reference to the
|Forrestal’s death fostered several enduring
suppositions that the end was not suicide, but murder. Henry Forrestal, for
one, believed “they” murdered his brother, a position based in large part on
his conviction that no man of Forrestal’s courage and stamina could kill
himself. The murderous ‘they’ were variously identified as “the Communists”
or “the Jews,” and their nefarious work had the necessary connivance of the
highest authorities in the United States government. But the facts of the
case, beginning well before Forrestal entered the hospital and including the
Menninger and Raines diagnoses of his illness, effectively refute the murder
theory. (p. 468)
It is interesting, indeed, to learn that in this case a man as close to
Forrestal as his older brother Henry did not believe that the death was a
suicide, so let’s have a close look at the “facts of the case” on the night of
the death, as recounted by Hoopes and Brinkley:
Apparently, Forrestal was now finding it possible
to take the onset of Drew Pearson’s Sunday-night broadcasts in stride, for
on Friday, May 20, two days after Raines’s departure, there was no visible
sign of the anxiety that had shaken him on the approach of previous
weekends. On the contrary, he seemed in high spirits. On Saturday, Rear
Admiral Morton Willcutts, the commanding officer at Bethesda, watched him
consume a large steak lunch and found him ebullient, meticulously shaven,
and eager to greet a few scheduled visitors, among them [son] Peter. Nothing
untoward occurred during the afternoon and early evening. Then, late in the
evening, he informed the corpsman on duty that he did not want a sedative or
a sleeping pill because he was planning to stay up quite late and read. The
corpsman was Edward Prise, the most sensitive (and the one Forrestal liked
best) of the three who rotated round-the-clock eight-hour shifts outside his
door. One of the other corpsmen had chosen Friday to go absent without leave
and get drunk, which meant that Prise was to be relieved at midnight by a
substitute for the fellow who had gone AWOL; the new man was a stranger to
Forrestal and to the subtleties and dangers of the situation. Prise had
observed that Forrestal, though more energetic than usual, was also more
restless, and this worried him. He tried to alert the young doctor who had
night duty and slept in a room next to Forrestal’s. But the doctor was
accustomed to restless patients and not readily open to advice on the
subject from an enlisted corpsman. Midnight arrived and with it the
substitute corpsman, but Prise nevertheless lingered on for perhaps half an
hour, held by some nameless, instinctive anxiety. But he could not stay
forever. Regulations, custom, and his own ingrained discipline forbade it.
At one-forty-five on Sunday morning, May 22, the new corpsman looked in
on Forrestal, who was busy copying onto several sheets of paper the brooding
classical poem “The Chorus from Ajax” by Sophocles, in which Ajax, forlorn
and far from home, contemplates suicide. (As translated by William Mackworth
Praed in Mark Van Doren’s Anthology of World Poetry.) The book was bound in
red leather and decorated with gold.
Fair Salamis, the billows’ roar
Wander around thee yet,
And sailors gaze upon thy shore
Firm in the Ocean set.
Thy son is in a foreign clime
Where Ida feeds her countless flocks,
Far from thy dear, remembered rocks,
Worn by the waste of time–
Comfortless, nameless, hopeless save
In the dark prospect of the yawning grave....
Woe to the mother in her close of day,
Woe to her desolate heart and temples gray,
When she shall hear
Her loved one’s story whispered in her ear!
“Woe, woe!’ will be the cry–
No quiet murmur like the tremulous wail
Of the lone bird, the querulous nightingale–
When Forrestal had written the syllable “night’ of the word “nightingale”
he stopped his copying. It remains a speculation whether the word
“nightingale” triggered what Dr. Raines later called “Forrestal’s sudden fit
of despondence,” but a coincidence should not go unremarked. As discussed in
Chapter 23, “Nightingale” was the name of an anti-Communist guerilla army
made of Ukrainian refugees, recruited and trained by the CIA to carry on a
secret war against the Soviet Union from behind the Iron Curtain. Many of
the recruits were Nazi collaborators who had carried out mass executions of
their fellow countrymen, including thousands of Jews, behind the German
lines during the war. As a member of NSC, Forrestal had authorized the
In most accounts of what happened next, it is said that the inexperienced
corpsman “went on a brief errand.” However, Dr. Robert Nenno, the young
psychiatrist who later worked for Dr. Raines, quotes Raines as telling him
that Forrestal “pulled rank” and ordered the nervous young corpsman to go on
some errand that was designed to remove him from the premises.
After writing the syllable “night” of the word “nightingale,” Forrestal
inserted his sheets of paper in the book between the last page and the back
cover and placed the book on the bed table, open to the poem. Then he
quickly walked across the corridor into the diet kitchen. Tying one end of
his dressing-gown sash to the radiator just below the window, and the other
around his neck, he removed the simple screen and climbed out the window. No
one knows whether he then jumped or hung until the silk sash gave way, but
scratches found on the cement work just below the window suggest that he may
have hung for at least one terrible moment, then changed his mind–too
late–before the sash gave way and he plunged thirteen stories to his death.
Only seconds after he entered the diet kitchen, a nurse on the seventh floor
heard a loud crash. His broken body had landed on the roof of a third-floor
passageway, the dressing-gown sash still tied around his neck and his watch
still running. The Montgomery County coroner concluded that death was
The corpsman Prise had returned to his barracks room, but could not
sleep. After tossing restlessly for an hour, he got dressed and was walking
across the hospital yard for a cup of coffee at the canteen when he was
suddenly aware of a great commotion all around him. Instantly,
instinctively, he knew what had happened. Racing to the hospital lobby, he
arrived just as the young doctor whom he had tried unsuccessfully to warn
emerged from an elevator. The doctor’s face was a mask of anguish and agony.
As Prise watched, he grasped the left sleeve of his white jacket with his
right hand and, in a moment of blind madness, tore it from his arm. Prise
was doubly crushed by Forrestal’s death; in frequent friendly exchanges over
several weeks, he had come to regard Forrestal as “the most interesting man
I ever met.” But more than that, Forrestal had asked Prise to work for him
after he left the hospital–as chauffeur, valet, man Friday. The details had
not been filled in, but Prise felt there was a genuine bond between them,
and a job with a great and famous man meant a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity. ‘It was my one big chance,” he said later. (pp. 463-466)
This might sound persuasive to the uncritical reader. But notice what’s
missing. We hear nothing from the people in the position to know, the naval
corpsman and the doctor who were on duty there on the 16th floor at the time of
the death. Interestingly, Hoopes and Brinkley even withhold their names, as
though they are afraid that someone might track them down and find out what they
saw and heard that fateful night. We also hear nothing from the nurse who was
supposed to be in charge of that floor that night. Instead, we get a
psychiatrist, who later worked for the supervising psychiatrist who was in
Montreal at the time of the fall and an “intuitive” naval corpsman who, by his
own words here, had left for the night well before the fall occurred.
We might note, as well, that the name of this Edward Prise appears in none of
the contemporaneous accounts of the death in the major newspapers I consulted,
and his story appears to contradict some of the basic facts in those stories.
For instance, news accounts place the time of the declining of the sleeping pill
at 1:45 am, not much earlier in the evening as Prise tells us. The news accounts
also note nothing irregular or unusual about the corpsman who was on guard at
the time of the death. He is named as Apprentice Robert Wayne Harrison, Jr., and
he is nowhere described as a substitute for the regular person on duty. By those
early accounts, it was not a case of an inexperienced corpsman not recognizing
danger signals who allowed himself to be wheedled into leaving his post. Rather,
the guard, according to the hospital, had simply been relaxed from 100% of the
time to checks on Forrestal every five minutes. So great had been Forrestal’s
improvement, so little did anyone fear that he would commit suicide, that not
only was he routinely being permitted unobserved, ready access to an
easily-opened 16th-floor window, but he was also “being allowed to shave himself
and...belts were permissible on his dressing gown and pajamas.” And Harrison’s
guard shift did not begin at midnight as told in the Prise account, but at 9:00
p.m. as related by The Washington Post on May 23, 1949.
So, this Edward Prise story is not just irrelevant. It appears to be fiction.
So where did Hoopes and Brinkley get it and why do they tell it to us? Their
references are as follows:
[John] Osborne, “Forrestal,” unpublished manuscript outline; Rogow, James
Forrestal, pp. 16-17; and Lyle Stuart, Why: the Magazine of Popular
Psychiatry I, no. 1 (November 1950), pp. 3-9, 20-27.
About the first reference, one can only wonder how it came to their
attention. One hardly knows where to start looking for it. The second reference,
for its part, flatly contradicts the Prise account:
|Late on the evening of May 21 Forrestal informed the
Naval Corpsman on duty that he did not want a sedative or sleeping pill and
that he was planning to stay up rather late and read. When the Corpsman
looked in at approximately 1:45 on the morning of Sunday, May 22, Forrestal
was copying onto several sheets of paper Sophocles’s brooding ‘Chorus from
Ajax,’ as translated by William Mackworth Praed in Mark Van Doren’s
Anthology of World Poetry. The Corpsman went on a brief errand while
Forrestal transcribed: [poetry lines repeated] (p. 17)
Notice that the person told earlier by Forrestal that no sedative will be
needed and the person on duty later at the time of the tragic events are one and
the same in this account. There is no Edward Prise being replaced at midnight by
a pinch hitter on the job. Notice, as well, that Rogow who, as we have noted,
sells the suicide thesis even harder than do Hoopes and Brinkley, is also
careful not to give us Harrison’s name.. (Former Naval Corpsman Robert Wayne
Harrison, Jr., if you are still alive out there, now is the time to come
We might also note that the Rogow account is also in conflict with
contemporaneous news accounts with respect to the rejection of the sedative.
They say that it took place when Harrison looked in on Forrestal at 1:45 and
found him awake, after he had appeared to be sleeping at 1:30. Forrestal’s
declining of the pill, by news accounts, even prompted Harrison to go wake up
the staff psychiatrist on duty on the 16th floor, Dr. Robert R. Deen, and ask
him what they should do about it. On page 16 Rogow also reveals that Hoopes and
Brinkley are wrong about the steak dinner that Admiral Willcutts watched
Forrestal eat. That was at noon on Friday, not Saturday, which is in agreement
with the Simpson account.
Who knows what’s in that third reference for the Prise story? Why? The
Magazine of Popular Psychiatry is truly obscure. According to a search at
the Library of Congress, only two libraries in the country have back issues of
this long-defunct periodical, and when I tried to get a copy I found that their
collections did not go back to the cited premier issue.
Secret Investigation Report
So why did Hoopes and Brinkley have to reach so far for sources, especially
when those sources relate, apparently, only to a very poor witness who wasn’t
even around when Forrestal took his tragic plunge? What about the findings of
the review board that was appointed by the same Admiral Willcutts who observed
Forrestal dining on steak on Friday? Here’s how the New York Times described the
board’s upcoming work on May 24:
|The board will consider all the circumstances of Mr.
Forrestal’s illness and of what happened in the few minutes when he was left
unattended, walked out of his room into a diet kitchen and jumped. Today the
board outlined the procedures it would follow and visited the scene of the
death. Tomorrow it will hear witnesses, including Capt. Raines, the
psychiatrist attending Mr. Forrestal.
Why, you might ask, didn’t Hoopes and Brinkley simply go to the transcript of
those hearings and tell us what the most immediate witnesses had to say? At this
point, the best expression that comes to mind is one frequently used by the
Miami Herald’s humorous columnist, Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up.” The
hearings were secret and the transcript has remained secret to this day.
It is true that Admiral Willcutts, the head of the National Naval Medical
Center, Admiral Leslie Stone, the Bethesda Hospital commandant, Dr. George N.
Raines, the Navy psychiatrist in charge of the case, and Dr. Frank J. Brochart,
Montgomery County (Maryland) coroner, all publicly called the death a suicide
virtually immediately after it happened (in violation of the basic investigative
rule of police that all violent deaths should be treated as murder until
sufficient evidence is gathered to prove otherwise). But, on what basis, one
might ask, did the duly appointed investigative body, Admiral Willcutts’ review
board, conclude that it was, indeed, a suicide?
Dave Barry’s favorite expression is appropriate once again. I’m not making
this up. The answer is that it didn’t. Here is what the investigation concluded,
as reported on page 15 of the October 12, 1949, New York Times. The full
article, including the headlines, is given here:
|Navy Absolves All in Forrestal Leap Investigating
Board Report on Death Submitted May 30, Revealed by Matthews
Special to the New York Times
Washington, Oct. 11. Francis P. Matthews, Secretary of the Navy, made
public today the report of an investigating board absolving all individuals
of blame in the death of James Forrestal last May 22. The former Secretary
of Defense leaped to his death from an upper story of the Naval Medical
Center at Bethesda, Maryland.
The text of the report declared:
- That the body found on the ledge outside of Building 1 of the
National Medical Center at 1:50 A.M. and pronounced dead at 1:55 A.M.
Sunday, May 22, 1949, was identified as that of the late James V.
Forrestal, a patient in the neuropsychiatric service of the United
States Naval Hospital National Medical Center.
- That the late James V. Forrestal died about 1:50 A.M. on Sunday,
May 22, 1949, at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda,
Maryland, as a result of injuries, multiple extreme, received incident
to a fall from a high point in the tower, Building 1.
- That the behavior of the deceased during the period of the stay in
the hospital preceding his death was indicative of a mental
- That the treatment and precautions in the conduct of the case were
in agreement with accepted psychiatric practice and commensurate with
the evident status of the patient at all times.
- That the death was not caused in any manner by the intent, fault,
negligence or inefficiency of any person or persons in the naval
service or connected therewith.
The board, appointed by Rear Admiral Morton D. Willcutts, then head of
the Naval Medical Center, submitted its report on May 30. The Navy
announcement today gave no explanation of the delay in making the findings
Shortly after Mr. Forrestal’s death, Navy psychiatrists explained that
their patient had reached a stage in his recovery where a necessary
“calculated risk” had to be assumed in permitting him more liberty of
movement and less supervision. He climbed through the window of a kitchen
during the temporary absence from his floor of an orderly, who otherwise
would have seen him and who could have prevented the jump.
At least The New York Times is consistent. Its very first report in the last
edition of its May 22 newspaper begins, “James Forrestal, former Secretary of
Defense jumped thirteen stories to his death early this morning from the
sixteenth floor of the Naval Medical Center.”
But look at the Navy’s conclusions. They tell us only that he died from the
injuries caused by the fall and that no one associated with the hospital or the
Navy was responsible in any way for the fall. What they don’t say is what caused
the fall. They don’t even venture to remind us that the sash of a hospital gown,
presumably Forrestal’s, was tied tightly around the neck of the corpse, which
they thoroughly establish was that of Forrestal. By not mentioning it, they are
relieved of any requirement to explain, or even to speculate upon, its purpose
and who might have done the tying of the sash.
Recall that Hoopes and Brinkley had said quite confidently that Forrestal had
tied one end of the sash to a radiator below the window and that it “gave way,”
whatever that means. All The New York Times had to say about the sash in its
front-page May 23 article was as follows:
|There were indications that Mr. Forrestal might also
have tried to hang himself. The sash of his dressing-gown was still knotted
and wrapped tightly around his neck when he was found, but hospital
officials would not speculate as to its possible purpose.
And to this day no one in authority has told us what that sash was doing
there. Might that be because the attempted hanging scenario is not just
nonsensical, but it is impossible? If Forrestal was bent on killing himself,
wouldn’t he have simply dived out the window, particularly when the attendant
was likely to return at any minute? After the sash had been wrapped and tied
tightly around his neck, was there enough of it left over for it to also have
been tied at one time around the radiator beneath the window? Were there any
indications from the creases in the sash that an attempt had been made to tie it
around something at one end? How likely is it, anyway, that Navy veteran
Forrestal would have been so incompetent at tying a knot that it would have come
undone? Most importantly, how do we know that skilled assassins, working for
people with ample motives to silence this astute and outspoken patriot (more
about those people later) did not use the sash to throttle and subdue Forrestal
before pitching him out the window?
The willingness of the authorities to withstand the thoroughly justified
charge of cover-up by not releasing the results of their investigation,
including the transcripts of witness testimony, speaks volumes, as does the
extraordinarily deceptive description of the case by the likes of such
establishment figures as Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley. The
Hoopes-Brinkley account is replete with deceptions, but there is none greater
than this withholding of the information that all the key witness testimony has
been kept secret, along with the results of the investigation itself, and that
the investigation did not conclude that Forrestal committed suicide. Even Arnold
Rogow states in a very matter-of-fact manner in a footnote on page 19, “Both the
Surgeon General of the United States and the Navy conducted official inquiries.
The results of these investigations have never been made public.” (This is the
only mention that I have seen of the Surgeon General’s inquiry. I submitted a
Freedom of Information request for the Willcutts investigation report to the
National Naval Medical Center some weeks ago, but have received no reply as of
“Evidence” without Sources, and Sins of Omission
By leaving out the vital information that the official record of the case has
been suppressed, Hoopes and Brinkley, cobbling together an account based on a
hodgepodge of dubious sources, leave the reader with the impression that we know
more about what happened than we really do. Take, for instance, the matter of
Forrestal’s copying of a poem, interpreted as an advocacy of suicide, in the wee
hours of the night. How do we know that the copying was done by Forrestal,
himself, and not by someone who saw it as a clever substitute for a more
difficult to compose fake suicide note? Well, Hoopes-Brinkley say that the
substitute corpsman saw him copying away when he looked in on him at 1:45. And
how do they know that? Their sole reference for that observation is Arnold
Rogow, and, sure enough, as we see in the Rogow quote above, that’s what Rogow
says, although Rogow’s observer is apparently the regular guard and not a
So how does Rogow know? We have no way of knowing, because he has no
reference. In all likelihood, the Rogow account upon which Hoopes-Brinkley rely
is not true. All The New York Times and The Washington Post have to say about
the 1:45 encounter is that the corpsman found Forrestal awake, and he declined a
sedative or sleeping pill. If the corpsman had actually witnessed him writing,
with the poetry book open in front of him, the newspapers would have surely
taken that opportunity to tell us, because they certainly do want us to believe
that he was the transcriber. Here’s The New York Times account of May 23:
|Mr. Forrestal had copied most of the Sophocles poem
from the book on hospital memo paper, but he had apparently been interrupted
in his efforts. His copying stopped after he had written “night” of the word
“nightingale” in the twenty-sixth line of the poem.
Clearly, this is conjecture, and not based on what the corpsman had to say.
This presumably copied poem by Forrestal was played up big by all the newspapers
from the very beginning, because it was from that, as much or more than anything
else, that the suicide conclusion that all of them immediately reached was made
to seem plausible. It is highly unlikely that the newspapers would have passed
up actual eyewitness evidence that Forrestal was transcribing the tragic lines
just minutes before he took his fatal plunge.
So, was Forrestal the person who transcribed those lines from Sophocles, and,
if he was, did he do it just before his fall from the window? The honest answer
is that we do not know.
By now it should be clear to the reader that authors of well-publicized and
distributed books in the United States on James Forrestal have taken no oath to
tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Take, as well, the
treatment of Forrestal’s older brother, Henry, a solid and successful
businessman who lived in the family home in Beacon, New York, where they and an
older brother had grown up. We have seen that Hoopes and Brinkley note Henry’s
doubts about the official verdict on Forrestal’s death, but they brush him aside
and make him appear a tad outrageous with his suggestion that “the Communists”
or “the Jews” might have been behind it, with the connivance of the highest
officials in the U.S. government. As with the missing testimony of the
witnesses, how much better would it have been to hear what Henry had to say
himself about this matter! The authors had access to Cornell Simpson’s 1966
book, The Death of James Forrestal, and they could have given us at least
something of the flavor of the following passage:
|At his home in Beacon, New
York, Henry Forrestal stated to this author that James Forrestal positively
did not kill himself. He said his brother was
the last person in the world who would have committed suicide and that he
had no reason for taking his life. When Forrestal talked to his brother at
the hospital, James was having a good time planning the things he would do
following his discharge. Henry Forrestal recalled that Truman and [new
Defense Secretary Louis] Johnson agreed that his brother was in fine shape
and that the hospital officials admitted that he would have been released
soon. To Henry Forrestal, the whole affair smelled to high heaven. He
remarked about his brother's treatment at the hospital, his virtual
imprisonment and the censorship of his visitors. Henry Forrestal had never
heard of such treatment and questioned why it should have been allowed. He
further questioned why the hospital officials lied about his brother being
permitted all the visitors he wanted.
He was bitter when recounting that from the first minute the officials
had insisted the death was a result of suicide; that they did not even
consider the possibility of murder even though there was no suicide note,
though his brother acted perfectly normal when the corpsman saw him only a
few minutes before his death, though the bathrobe cord was knotted tightly
around his neck.
He considered it odd that his brother had died just a few hours before
he, Henry, was to arrive and take James out of the hospital.
Then he repeated his belief that James Forrestal did not kill himself;
that he was murdered; that someone strangled him and threw him out the
window. Henry Forrestal went on to ask why the authorities did not have the
decency to admit these things and then try to apprehend the murderer. He
lamented the fact that the case was hurriedly hushed up in an apparent
attempt to avoid a scandal.
He went on to say that he was a Democrat but nevertheless he blamed the
Truman administration for covering up his brother's murder, for letting it
happen, and for the way James Forrestal was treated in the hospital. He
concluded that he was "damned bitter" about it all but did not know what he
There is at least one other person who did not believe the suicide story.
Monsignor [Maurice] Sheehy said that when he hurried to the hospital several
hours after Forrestal hurtled to his death to try to learn what he could of
the circumstances of the tragedy, a stranger approached him in the crowded
hospital corridor. The man was a hospital corpsman, not young Harrison, but
a warrant officer wearing stripes attesting to twenty years of service in
the navy. He said to Monsignor Sheehy in a low, tense voice: "Father...you
know Mr. Forrestal didn't kill himself, don't you."
But before Monsignor Sheehy could reply or ask the man's name, he said,
others in the crowded corridor pressed about him closely, and the veteran
warrant officer, as if fearful of being overheard, quickly disappeared.
What did this man know about Forrestal's death? What was it he did not
dare tell even a priest?
What really happened in the hospital that fatal night? (pp. 29-30)
Hoopes and Brinkley also say matter-of-factly that Henry had visited his
brother at the hospital four times. Again, they don’t tell us what we learn in
the obscure 1966 Simpson book:
|Henry Forrestal tried several times to see his
brother in the hospital but was refused visiting rights by both Dr. Raines
and [acting hospital commandant] Captain [B. W.] Hogan. He finally managed
to see his brother briefly after he had informed Hogan that he intended to
go to the newspapers and after he had threatened legal action against the
Henry Forrestal told this writer that when he was finally allowed to see
his brother, he found James “acting and talking as sanely and intelligently
as any man I’ve ever known.” (p. 9)
There is no hint from Hoopes-Brinkley that Henry was ever kept away from his
brother by the hospital.
Hoopes and Brinkley do tell us of Henry’s futile efforts to persuade Dr.
Raines to allow Forrestal’s friend and Catholic priest, Father Maurice Sheehy,
to visit, although they don’t tell us that, in fact, Raines turned Sheehy away
on six separate occasions. The different accounts of the prevention of visits by
Sheehy in the two books make interesting reading. First we have Hoopes-Brinkley:
|Raines did not release his patient, but he did tell
Henry that his brother was “fundamentally okay.” Henry also pressed Raines
to allow Father Maurice S. Sheehy, a Catholic priest, to visit Forrestal,
but Raines was opposed. According to Michael Forrestal, his father had met
Sheehy, “a short, dark man of the shadows,” sometime during his last months
in office when “he was groping for a way back to his boyhood faith.”
Forrestal had asked to see Sheehy “to help him return to the Catholic
Church, almost from the first day he entered the hospital,” and concurrently
he was reading Monsignor Fulton J. Sheen’s Peace of Soul. For reasons
never adequately explained, Raines turned down these requests while
providing assurances that everything would be possible at the proper time.
Henry Forrestal, who was Father Sheehy’s ally in this undertaking, asked,
“How long do you want to wait, Doctor? Delays in such cases can be
dangerous. Have you ever heard of a case where being visited by a clergyman
has hurt a man?” But Raines, for his own reasons, perhaps because he thought
the reopening of the Catholic issue would be disquieting to the patient, or
possibly because a Catholic confessional might risk disclosing sensitive
national security information, continued to put him off. On May 18, Henry
Forrestal and Sheehy took their exasperation to the Navy Secretary, John L.
Sullivan. He telephoned Raines, who seemed to promise an early visit by
Sheehy, but three days later he was dead. (pp. 462-463)
Now here’s the Simpson account:
|Henry Forrestal could see no reason why his younger
brother should be held almost a prisoner in the hospital. He talked again
with Captain Hogan and Dr. Raines and expressed the thought that his brother
should be out in the country where he could walk around in the sun and talk
to his friends. He received no response to his suggestions and finally asked
the doctor point-blank if his brother was fundamentally all right. Dr.
Raines replied yes.
Nevertheless, when Henry Forrestal told Raines and Hogan that his brother
particularly wanted to talk with his close friend Monsignor Maurice S.
Sheehy, who was instructor in religion at Catholic University of America, in
Washington, D.C., and who had been a World War II navy chaplain, Captain
Hogan admitted that the patient already had requested this a number of times
but said he still would not be allowed to see the priest. Henry Forrestal
told this writer that the more he thought about his brother being shut up in
an isolated tower room and refused permission to see Father Sheehy, the more
it bothered him. Finally, he decided to take his brother into the country to
complete his convalescence. Henry Forrestal made train reservations to
return to Washington on Sunday, May 22, and reserved a room at the Mayflower
Hotel for that day. He then phoned the hospital and told them he was
arriving to take his brother.
But only hours before Henry Forrestal was due to board his train, he
received the news that his brother was dead. James Forrestal, oddly, died
the very day his brother had planned to take him from the hospital. (pp.
Notice that Simpson makes no attempt to make excuses for the inexcusable
policy of Dr. Raines with respect to Father Sheehy. Rather, he says, “The priest
later commented that he received the distinct impression that Dr. Raines was
acting under orders. One might ask, Under whose orders?” (p. 10)
When Father Sheehy contacted Secretary of the Navy Sullivan, the Secretary
seemed surprised to learn of the ban on his visiting. Simpson reaches the
conclusion that the orders that Dr. Raines was following came from the White
House, the same as the orders that had caused him to be committed to the
hospital in the first place and kept there in near isolation on the top floor
for seven long weeks.
Simpson goes on to reveal that Father Paul McNally, S.J. of Georgetown
University had also tried and had been prevented from seeing Forrestal by Dr.
Raines, as had at least one other important friend, unnamed, who “urgently
wanted to talk with him.” (p. 11)
Yet, The Washington Post reported on May 23 that “During the past few weeks,
Forrestal was allowed to have any visitors he wanted to see, a medical officer
on duty said, adding that no log was kept of such visitors.” Obviously, the
Bethesda medical authorities, like the prominent Forrestal biographers, had
taken no oath to adhere to the truth, either.
Odd Choice of Permitted Visitors
At the same time that Forrestal was being prevented visits by those he most
wanted and needed to see, unwanted guests were being allowed in. These included
his successor as Secretary of Defense, a man whom, according to Hoopes and
Brinkley, he held in very low regard:
|Johnson was not an attractive figure physically,
intellectually, or socially. As Assistant Secretary of War in the late
1930s, he quarreled with his superior, Harry Woodring, and was soon marked
as a nakedly ambitious troublemaker. FDR fired him without tears. [Forrestal
aide] John Kenney thought him “a miserable creature, driven to live in an
atmosphere of strife and discord of his own making.” Forrestal regarded him
with contempt and found degrading the idea that he might be displaced by
such a man. “He is incompetent,” he told Kenney. (p. 431)
Interestingly, The New York Times of May 23, 1949, alongside its articles
about Forrestal’s death is the headline, “Johnson Took Post on Forrestal Plea.”
That article reported that on May 17 Louis Johnson had addressed a group called
the Post Mortem Club and had told them at that time that he was reluctant to
accept the post, but Forrestal had pleaded with him to take over the job from
him. One might wonder if Johnson knew at that time that Forrestal would never be
able to contradict him.
Another guest who was probably unwanted, two weeks before Forrestal’s death,
was the man who had actually made the decision to replace Forrestal with his own
head campaign fund-raiser, none other than President Truman, himself. Townsend
Hoopes also learned in a January 1989 interview of top Forrestal aide, Marx
Leva, that even young Congressman Lyndon Baines Johnson “managed to gain
entrance to the suite ‘against Forrestal’s wishes’.”(p. 462)
This is a very strange revelation. Johnson, at that time, was a man of far
lesser stature than Forrestal. It would have been extraordinarily presumptuous
of him to bull his way into Forrestal’s hospital room when his visit was frankly
not wanted. A likely reason why Forrestal would have considered Johnson a member
of the enemy camp, albeit a low-level one, was Johnson’s great partisanship
toward the fledgling state of Israel. As a Congressman, Johnson was considerably
ahead of his time in that respect, at least for a Congressman outside the state
of New York. We might imagine something of Forrestal’s attitude toward LBJ by
noting a May 23, 1949, Washington Post article headlined, “Delusions of
Persecution, Acute Anxiety, Depression Marked Forrestal’s Illness.” That article
concludes as follows:
|His fear of reprisals from pro-Zionists was said to
stem from attacks by some columnists on what they said was his opposition to
partition of Palestine under a UN mandate. In his last year as Defense
Secretary, he received great numbers of abusive and threatening letters. (p.
One must truly wonder why Lyndon Johnson would have wanted to go visit
Forrestal in his hospital room and what on earth the two adversaries might have
had to say to one another. We must wonder as well why none of Forrestal’s
closest professional associates are known to have visited or attempted to visit
him. One would think that men like Ferdinand Eberstadt, Robert Lovett, and Marx
Leva, who, as we shall see, were at his side during his days of decline would
have exhibited continuing personal concern for his well-being by periodic visits
to the hospital.
Something we need not wonder about is whether Dr. Raines and the Naval
Medical Center made decisions based upon what was best for the patient in this
case. Clearly they did not. Their visitor policy would appear to be more closely
akin to torture than to therapy, or closer to the state-serving psychiatric
profession of the old Soviet Union. Here’s what the aide, Leva, had to say about
it in an interview for the Truman Library:
|By the way, psychiatry. He was never permitted to see
the people he should have seen. I'm not sure he should have seen me, I would
have reminded him of too much, but friends of his, people who loved him;
Senator Leverett Saltonstall, just to mention one name, not really a
political ally but just someone who really loved him; Kate Foley his
The great vice of military medicine is that you see who they want you to
see. Louis Johnson came out to see him and he saw him and that was the last
person that he should have seen you know. Captain Raines couldn't say no to
Louis Johnson, but that's the last thing that should have been done.
----- And only a Navy doctor could put a VIP patient on the seventeenth
floor (sic) you know. I mean nobody else would put anybody above the second
floor with that particular illness. Who is to know whether that had gone so
far? I mean he apparently was beyond being neurotic, I mean it was
apparently paranoid (sic) but I didn't see it at all. It's a long way to
tell you that I did not see it at all until the day after he left
However much he might have improved, whether because of or in spite of his
treatment at the Naval Hospital, one must wonder if Forrestal wasn’t a bit off
in the head and therefore possibly prone to suicide, as even Leva grudgingly
seems to have accepted. A number of statements made in the wake of the death
could leave one with hardly any other impression. This is from the May 24 New
|Captain George M. Raines, the Navy psychiatrist who
had been treating Mr. Forrestal, said that the former Secretary ended his
life in a sudden fit of despondency. He said this was “extremely common” to
the patient’s severe type of mental illness.
And in the May 24 Washington Post, although Dr. Raines “categorically denied
that Forrestal attempted suicide previously during his stay at the hospital”
(which had been charged by columnist, Drew Pearson, who also said he had tried
to hang himself, slashed his wrists, and had taken an overdose of sleeping pills
while at Hobe Sound, Florida, where he had gone for relaxation), Raines did say:
|There was a history of an alleged suicide attempt
obtained by Dr. Menninger which is said to have occurred on the night before
the patient was seen by him (at Hobe Sound). At no time during his residence
with the Naval Hospital had Mr. Forrestal made a suicidal gesture or a
suicidal attempt. His feelings of hopelessness and possible suicide had been
a matter of frank discussion between the two of us throughout the course of
Please notice the firmness of the denials of actual suicide attempts versus
the extreme vagueness of the apparent affirmation of suicidal tendencies and of
the “alleged suicide attempt.” Arnold Rogow also gets in on the act. Speaking of
Forrestal’s stay at Hobe Sound, he says:
|During the next several days Forrestal made at least
one suicide attempt. As a result, all implements that can be, and have been,
used in suicide efforts–such as knives, razor blades, belts, and so on–were
hidden or kept under surveillance. Forrestal was at no time left alone; when
he was taking a shower or shaving himself, swimming in the surf or strolling
on the beach, one or more friends was always in his company. Since proximity
to the ocean presented special risks, Forrestal was always accompanied in
the water by a friend who was an especially strong swimmer. (p. 6)
Notice, again, that while there are many details about preventive measures
taken against suicide, Rogow provides us no details at all about what he calls
“at least one suicide attempt.”
Hoopes and Brinkley muddy the water still further with respect to that
supposed suicide attempt with this passage.
|Although Forrestal talked of suicide in
Florida, Raines said, he made no attempt to kill himself. According to Eliot
Janeway, however, Eberstadt told him privately that Forrestal had made one
suicide attempt at Hobe Sound. (p. 456)
Here Dr. Raines apparently clarifies his earlier “alleged suicide attempt”
claim, ruling it out entirely, but a somewhat less authoritative and frankly
biased source is cited to bring it back into the realm of possibility, though
details are still quite noticeably lacking.
Hoopes and Brinkley also say that before the decision was made that Forrestal
should go to Florida to rest, he told his friend and fellow Wall Street magnate
turned high government official, Ferdinand Eberstadt, that “his life was a
wreck, his career a total failure, and he was considering suicide.” (p. 450) And
what is their reference for that? Like their account of the witness to the
transcription of the poem, it is only Arnold Rogow. Rogow says that Forrestal
told Eberstadt that he was a complete failure and considering suicide, but, once
again, Rogow has no reference such as an interview with Eberstadt or any writing
by Eberstadt.. He has no reference again when he describes Forrestal’s transfer
from the relaxing beach resort in Florida to the Bethesda Naval Hospital:
|Forrestal, although he had been given sedation, was
in a state of extreme agitation during the flight from Florida. Again he
talked of those “trying to get me” and of suicide. At one point he raised
the question whether he was being “punished” for having been a “bad
Catholic’–“bad”–referring to the fact that he had not practiced his faith
for more than thirty years, and had married a divorced woman. Although he
was repeatedly reassured that he was not being “punished” and that no one
wished him ill, much less wanted to destroy him, Forrestal’s agitation
increased during the trip in a private car from the airfield to the
hospital. He made several attempts to leave the car while it was in motion,
and had to be forcibly restrained. Arriving at Bethesda, he declared that he
did not expect to leave the hospital alive. It was not clear whether he was
referring to suicide or to a conviction that he would be murdered. (pp. 8-9)
On page 454 Hoopes and Brinkley repeat this passage virtually verbatim,
leaving out the part about his talking of suicide again and supplying the
information that he was accompanied on this trip by Eberstadt, the psychiatrist
Dr. Menninger, and by aide John Gingrich. Only the sourceless Rogow, however, is
cited as a source. Maybe the more recent authors omitted the suicide talk,
knowing that it would hardly ring true in such close juxtaposition to
Forrestal’s manifestation of his serious Roman Catholicism. Catholics regard
suicide as one of the cardinal sins.
Of particular interest are the supposed words of reassurance given by
Forrestal’s traveling associates. “Efforts by his companions to assure him that
no one wished him ill or wanted to destroy him were unavailing,” is how Hoopes
and Brinkley put it. At this point one must ask who it is that’s off his rocker
here. The unprecedented campaign of defamation to which he had been subjected,
led by columnists and radio commentators Drew Pearson and Walter Winchell, ever
since his position against recognition of the state of Israel had become public,
and the “great numbers of abusive and threatening letters” about the matter that
the Washington Post said he had received demonstrated beyond a doubt that large
numbers of people wished James Forrestal ill. It is also abundantly obvious that
there were a number of people who wanted to destroy him as a man of influence.
The only question was how much power they might have had and how far they
thought it necessary to go.
The Hoopes-Brinkley account of what transpired upon Forrestal’s arrival at
the Bethesda Naval Hospital, which directly follows the account of his troubled
trip, is most intriguing:
|Dr. Menninger talked to Forrestal on April 3 and
again on April 6, but did not see him thereafter. Responsibility had passed
to Dr. Raines and the navy, but recent evidence suggests that the White
House was beginning to exert its influence on physical arrangements and
public relations. In 1984, Dr. Robert P. Nenno, a young assistant to Dr.
Raines from 1952 to 1959, disclosed that Raines had been instructed by “the
people downtown” to put Forrestal in the VIP suite on the sixteenth floor of
the hospital. Dr. Nenno emphasized that Raines’s disclosure to him was
entirely ethical, but that “he did speak to me because we were close
friends.” The decision to put Forrestal in the tower suite was regarded by
the psychiatric staff as “extraordinary” for a patient who was “seriously
depressed and potentially suicidal,” especially when the hospital possessed
two one-story buildings directly adjacent to the main structure that were
specifically organized and staffed to handle mentally disturbed patients.
Nenno added, “I have always guessed that the order came from the White
If the White House was calling the shots on where Forrestal should be locked
up, there is a good chance that Monsignor Sheehy’s suspicions as related by
Simpson that they were also specifying the visitors he should receive were also
Who Was Calling the Shots?
Concerning the extent of White House involvement in Forrestal’s treatment,
the following 1968 excerpt of an interview by the Truman Library’s Jerry Hess of
Harry Truman’s appointments secretary for his full time as President, Matthew J.
Connelly, is of considerable interest. Connelly had previously been Truman’s
executive assistant when Truman was Vice President and when he was Senator, and
before that he was the chief investigator on the Senate committee through which
Truman rose to prominence as chairman, the Committee to Investigate the National
Defense Program. The first and last parts of the excerpt are included to support
other suggestions in this paper that there was a big drop-off in leadership
quality in the fledgling Department of Defense when James Forrestal was replaced
by Louis Johnson.
The next man who served for just a short period of
time until the unification was Kenneth C. Royall. He appears again as
Secretary of the Army so we'll discuss him as Secretary of the Army, if
that's all right.
The next category is Secretary of Defense. Of course, the first Secretary
of Defense under the unification act was James Forrestal. Why was he chosen
as the first Secretary of Defense?
was Secretary of the Navy prior to the merger of the branches of the Army,
Navy and Air Force. Mr. Forrestal had been in Washington under the Roosevelt
administration, was a highly intellectual fellow, and was a good
administrative officer. When the merger was completed to create the Defense
Department, Mr. Truman looked on him as the superior of the other members of
the military establishment and appointed him as Secretary of Defense, which
office he held very successfully until an illness overtook him.
HESS: Do you recall
any instances, any evidences on the job of the mental deterioration that
overtook Mr. Forrestal, unfortunately?
CONNELLY: Yes, I
recall Mr. Forrestal called me and told me that his telephones were being
bugged, his house was being watched, and he would like me to do something
about it. So I had the chief of the Secret Service detail at the White House
make an investigation of Mr. Forrestal's home; I had him observe it, I had
him check his phones, and found out that he was just misinformed, that it
wasn't being watched, and there was no indication that there was any
wiretapping in Mr. Forrestal's home. That really upset me, because I
realized that the Secret Service would do a thorough job, and I told the
President that I was worried that Mr. Forrestal might be a little bit wrong.
HESS: What did the
President say at that time? Do you recall?
CONNELLY: He asked me
what I thought and I said, "I think Mr. Forrestal is cracking up."
So he said, "Why don't we arrange to have him go down to Key West and
take a little vacation?"
So, Mr. Forrestal did go to Key West. There was a repetition down there.
Mr. Forrestal had hallucinations about things that were going wrong at Key
West and he called me from Key West and told me that something was wrong
down there. So I checked very carefully with the Navy, who supervises Key
West, and Mr. Forrestal later was transferred from Key West to the naval
hospital in Bethesda.
HESS: Do you recall
what he thought was going wrong at Key West at this time?
CONNELLY: He thought
that the same things were happening, that people were annoying him, and he
felt he was under surveillance down there, he felt that he was being
watched, and in other words, he was being personally persecuted. So as a
result of that, we had him very quietly removed to Bethesda hospital in
Washington. And history will disclose that is where he jumped out a window.
HESS: The next man to
hold the position was Louis Johnson. Why was he chosen for that position?
Johnson was chosen for two reasons. Number one, Louis Johnson had been
Commander of the American Legion. He was a perennial candidate for
President. He was a very effective political organizer, and during the
campaign of 1948 when things were not very good for Mr. Truman, Louis
Johnson accepted the position as treasurer of the Democratic National
Committee. He gave up his law practice. He devoted all of his time to
raising money for the campaign in '48. He was a highly successful lawyer in
Washington, and Mr. Truman turned to him after the death of Mr. Forrestal to
take over the Pentagon operation.
HESS: During this
time, two important events took place, the cutting back of the Armed Forces
and the invasion of Korea. Some people had blamed Louis Johnson for the
reduction in the Armed Forces. Is that valid?
CONNELLY: That is
valid. He had promised that he would cut to the bone the expenditures of the
Defense Department and set out to do so, with the result that when the
Korean war developed we found ourselves very unable to meet our commitments
for our appearance in Korea.
HESS: Was this done
strictly for reasons of economy? Wasn't it seen that this was a dangerous
thing to do in the world situation at that time, or not?
CONNELLY: Well, World
War II was over and Mr. Johnson thought that the appropriation for the
Defense Department could be cut to reduce the overhead we had in maintaining
the equipment over here and overseas, and he put on an economy program and
without the Korean war at that time being imminent, he succeeded in his
objectives. However, when the Korean thing developed we were too thin on
supplies and materiel.
HESS: In the Korean
war the North Koreans invaded South Korea, we'll get to that a little bit
later, on June the 24th, on a Saturday, of 1950. Just when was the decision
made to replace Louis Johnson . What can you tell me about the resignation
of Louis Johnson?
CONNELLY: I don't
HESS: Was that offered
willingly, do you recall?
CONNELLY: I don't
believe so. I think that the President by this time became dissatisfied with
Johnson because of his inability to get along with other members of the
HESS: How did he got
along with the other members of the Cabinet?
Johnson was somewhat of an individualist, and Louis Johnson was not what you
would call a cooperative member of the Cabinet. He was running his own show,
and he didn't want any interference from anybody else, and I don't think he
asked very often for opinions from anybody else. (see
The first thing to notice here is that Connelly’s statement apparently
contradicts both the Hoopes-Brinkley and the Rogow accounts as to who was behind
the decision to send Forrestal down to Florida, and later to have him placed in
the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Both books have Forrestal’s friend and colleague,
Ferdinand Eberstadt, as the prime mover in the decision to go down to the estate
of State Department official and friend, Robert Lovett, where Forrestal’s wife,
Jo, was already vacationing. As we shall see, their version is supported by the
most immediate witness to Forrestal’s apparent nervous breakdown, Forrestal
aide, Marx Leva. One curiosity is that, although Eberstadt did not die until
1969, six years after Rogow’s book was published and 20 years after Forrestal’s
death, no one seems to have any sort of formal statement from Eberstadt directly
about these matters, including Forrestal’s supposed suicide attempt at Hobe
Sound or his talk of suicide. As for the decision to move Forrestal to Bethesda,
Hoopes-Brinkley have it as a “tacit agreement” among several people at Hobe
Sound, including Dr. Menninger, whom Eberstadt had apparently called in, Dr.
Raines, who they say had been sent down at the behest of the White House (though
not as the “agent” of the White House) and Forrestal’s wife. The wife, they say,
had been influenced toward the Bethesda decision by a telephone conversation
with Truman. Rogow says simply that Bethesda “was deemed” preferable to
Menninger’s psychiatric clinic, but doesn’t say by whom.
Considering the fact that Forrestal, having been officially replaced as
Defense Secretary by Johnson on March 28, was a private citizen at this point,
it is certainly reasonable to assume that Forrestal’s extra-legal transportation
to Florida on a military airplane and confinement and treatment in the Naval
Hospital at Bethesda was not done without approval at the highest level.
Therefore, the Connelly account is probably essentially correct, although some
area of dispute may remain as to who was the prime mover behind the decisions
that were made. What appears not to be factually correct in the Connelly account
is his placing of the Florida vacation site as Key West instead of Hobe Sound.
Hobe Sound is on the southeast coast of Florida, north of Jupiter and West Palm
Beach and more than 100 miles from Key West. One would like to think that he
just slipped up on the name, but he is so definite about the Navy’s role in
everything, and the U.S. Navy does have facilities at Key West. Perhaps it was
the active role of Navy doctor, Captain Raines, that caused his confusion.
As we have seen, although they don’t go quite so far as Connelly, Hoopes and
Brinkley do hint at a heavy behind-the-scenes presence by the White House in
Forrestal’s treatment. Not only do they suggest that the White House was
responsible for Forrestal being confined to the 16th floor, but one can easily
see political pressure as opposed to sound medical considerations behind the
curious choice of visitors that they tell us Forrestal was permitted. Arnold
Rogow doesn’t take that chance. He did, as we have seen, mention in passing,
though without comment in a footnote, that the report of the official
investigation was kept secret, but generally he is far guiltier than
Hoopes-Brinkley of withholding vital information from the reader.
Rogow’s Psychological Autopsy
The hand of the White House remains completely hidden in the Rogow account.
Rather, the voice we hear over and over is that of Dr. Raines and of the
psychiatric community. One is greatly reminded of Kenneth Starr’s heavy reliance
upon “suicidologist” Dr. Allan Berman and his “100% degree of medical certainty”
that Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster committed suicide:
|Raines diagnosed Forrestal’s illness as involutional
melancholia, a depressive condition sometimes seen in persons who have
reached middle age. In most cases of involutional melancholia,
|mental faculties in general become less acute.
There is a tendency to bewail the past, and to feel that the future has
nothing in store. The mind is occupied with the “might-have-beens,” and
in consequence doubt, indecision, fear and anxiety readily show
themselves. The glands of internal secretion begin to fail in their
functioning, and the bodily health is lowered. (Here Rogow has a long
footnote with three additional sources in addition to the psychiatric
textbook from which he quotes.)
Although some psychiatrists regard involutional melancholia as one of the
mixed states of manic-depression, and others feel that it is a form of
schizophrenia, there is broad agreement that the symptoms include anxiety,
self-doubt, depression, and nihilistic tendencies.
The underlying personality characteristics of a typical involutional
melancholic, according to one authoritative source, include a devotion to
hard work and pride in work. Many of those who develop the illness are
“sensitive, meticulous, over-conscientious, over-scrupulous, busy, active
people....” (same textbook reference) They have also been described as
showing “a narrow range of interests, poor facility for readjustments,
asocial trends, inability to maintain friendships, intolerance and poor
sexual adjustment, also a pronounced and rigid ethical code and a proclivity
to reticence....” (ibid.) In the treatment of involutional melancholics,
suicide is always a great risk, and therefore the average patient “is best
treated in a mental hospital.” (ibid.)
A percentage of involutional melancholics experience paranoid ideation;
in Forrestal’s case such ideation was particularly apparent. The belief that
he was a victim of “plots” and “conspiracies” antedated his visit to Hobe
Sound, and despite the treatment prescribed by Raines in Bethesda, this
delusion was never fully displaced in his mind. (pp. 9-10)
Rogow does mention, again almost in passing, that Forrestal’s brother, Henry,
was not happy with the treatment at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, and he quotes
from the December 1950 article by William Bradford Huie in the December 1950 New
American Mercury to that effect. He also tells us that Father Sheehy had tried
six times “during the week before [Forrestal’s] death” to see him at the
hospital but “he told reporters, he was turned away by Raines because Raines did
not believe that such a visit ‘would be in the patient’s best interest.’” (p.
No reference is given for the Sheehy talk to reporters, but the Huie article
is clear that the six attempts by Sheehy to visit took place before Henry’s last
visit with Raines on May 12, ten days before Forrestal’s death, and probably
over a period of time much longer than one week. Huie tells us that on April 12,
“Henry Forrestal also told the doctors (Raines and Hogan) that his brother
wished to talk with Father Sheehy. Captain Hogan replied, according to Mr.
Forrestal:: ‘Yes, he has asked to see the Father several times. And, of course,
he will.’” (p. 651)
The prevention of any meeting between Sheehy and James Forrestal was
obviously not the last minute sort of thing that Rogow would apparently want us
to believe it was. In a further attempt to explain things away, but in apparent
contradiction to the statement that the six visit attempts were all in the week
before Forrestal’s death, Rogow has this long footnote:
|Huie quotes Henry Forrestal as saying to Raines in
May (It was May 12. ed).: “How long do you want to wait, doctor [before
Forrestal was permitted to talk with Father Sheehy]? We have waited five
weeks. Delays in such cases can be dangerous. Have you ever heard of a case
where being visited by a clergyman has hurt a man?” Huie also reports Father
Sheehy’s statement that “Had I been allowed to see my friend, Jim Forrestal,
receive him back in the Church, and put his mind at ease with the oldest and
most reliable medicine known to mankind, he would be alive today. His blood
is on the heads of those who kept me from seeing him.” On November 18, 1949,
however, Father Sheehy issued a more temperate statement to a United Press
reporter who interviewed him in Washington. In its story headed “New
Argument Stirred Over Forrestal Death,” the UP reported that while Raines
had declined to comment on Father Sheehy’s statement that he had been
“turned away” on six occasions when he tried to see Forrestal, a “Navy
spokesman” had said that the hospital had never “refused permission” for a
priest to talk to Forrestal. Father Sheehy, the UP story continued, “agreed
that the Navy attitude was not one of outright refusal but of believing that
Mr. Forrestal’s condition did not warrant calling in a priest.” (pp. 46-47)
Say what? But what if Forrestal requested to see the priest, and did his
condition warrant calling in a number of non-medical people that he was very
loath to see? Sheehy, in a very short article in the January 1951 Catholic
Digest entitled “The Death of James Forrestal”responding to Huie’s American
Mercury article offers the opinion that “the psychiatrist in charge was acting
according to his principles.” Father Sheehy, who also reveals in the article
that his efforts to see Forrestal took place virtually over the whole period of
the confinement, writes here in such a politically circumspect manner that one
wonders what anyone could possibly have had to fear in letting him talk to
Rogow, for his part, even manages to come half clean with respect to doubts
that Forrestal’s death was actually a suicide. Here is his one paragraph on that
|In addition to those who believed, with Huie, that
Forrestal had been “destroyed” by persons inside and outside the government,
there were those who were convinced–and who remain convinced–that Forrestal
did not, in fact, commit suicide. Forrestal’s widow, in early June, 1949, in
a preliminary application for payment of a $10,000 accident insurance policy
held by Forrestal, claimed that her husband had met “accidental death.” A
letter to the Commercial Travelers Mutual Accident Association of America,
sent in her behalf by the firm of Wyllys Terry and James Terry, Inc. of New
York, stated that since Forrestal’s death did not involve suicide, the
policy, which was payable in the case of accidental death, should be paid in
A footnote then tells us that we don’t know whether or not the insurance
company paid up. What’s missing here, of course, is the heartfelt cry of outrage
from Henry Forrestal that we quoted earlier from the Simpson book.
To be sure, Rogow did not have the Simpson book to quote from since his book
predated Simpson’s by three years, but he had something even better. He had
Henry Forrestal himself. In his acknowledgments on page 375 he says, “To begin
with, I owe a debt to his brother, Henry L. A. Forrestal. Without his
cooperation the book would have been a much more difficult undertaking.” Also,
on page 58 we have this passage: “Although his brother reports that the family
supplied him with an estimated $6,000 during the three years at Princeton,
Forrestal, for reasons not clear, was almost continually in financial distress.”
Clearly, Henry made himself available to Rogow and told the man everything he
wanted to know. No doubt, in desperate hope of finally getting his own
considered opinion that his brother was murdered out to the public, he also told
Rogow everything that he wanted Rogow to know. One can only imagine the sense of
betrayal he must have felt upon reading what Arnold Rogow ended up writing. The
experience probably left him more "damned bitter" than ever, and ever more at a
loss as to what he could do.
The Gospel According to Rogow
In the absence of an official “Warren Report” or “Fiske Report” or “Starr
Report” on Forrestal’s death, Rogow’s flawed account has become the surrogate
“official” version of what happened. We have seen how Hoopes-Brinkley lean on it
for important evidence that is not elsewhere supported, like the naval corpsman
witnessing Forrestal transcribing the Sophocles poem and Forrestal’s supposed
talk of contemplated suicide to Ferdinand Eberstadt. It has also become the
standard reference for accounts of Forrestal’s death in popular books like
The Puzzle Palace, by James Bamford, The Agency, by John Ranelagh,
and The Secret War against the Jews, by John Loftus and Mark Aarons. Otto
Freidrich, in his book, "Going Crazy", uses Rogow as his source and refers to
Forrestal as “mad as King Lear.” (For a severe criticism of Rogow and his
psychological slant see the brief but incisive “Madness and Politics: The Case
of James Forrestal” by Mary Akashah and Donald Tennant, Proceedings of the
Oklahoma Academy of Science, Vol. 60, 1980,
We have noted that Rogow, like Hoopes-Brinkley, leaves out the name of vital
witnesses like the naval corpsman and the doctor on duty on the 16th floor on
the night of May 21-22, 1949. He even goes Hoopes-Brinkley one better and omits
the name of Special Assistant and General Counsel to the Secretary of Defense,
Marx Leva, the man who first witnessed Forrestal’s breakdown on March 29, the
day after his replacement as Defense Secretary by Louis Johnson and shortly
after he was honored at a ceremony of the Committee on Armed Services of the
House of Representatives. In the course of two paragraphs Rogow refers to an
anonymous “aide” or “assistant” no less than five times. In each case he is
talking of Leva.
Forrestal Protege, Marx Leva
Since it is evident that Rogow didn’t want readers to seek out Leva and hear
or read for themselves what he had to say, I shall provide his account here from
the previously-cited Truman Library interview by Jerry Hess:
What do you recall about the unfortunate mental
breakdown that overtook Mr. Forrestal?
LEVA: Well, I may have
been in the position of not being able to see the forest for the trees
because I was seeing him six, eight, ten, twelve times a day and both in and
out of the office. A lot of his friends have said since his death, "Oh, we
saw it coming," and, "We knew this and we knew that." The only thing that I
knew was that he was terribly tired, terribly overworked, spending
frequently literally sixteen hours and eighteen hours a day trying to
administer an impossible mechanism, worrying about the fact that a lot of it
was of his own creation. I knew that he was tired, I begged him to take time
off. I'm sure that others begged him to take time off.
I tried to arrange, and on one occasion did arrange, a fishing trip for
him with his friend Ferdinand Eberstadt, which he canceled, he didn't take
it. I tried to tell him he ought to go south, go somewhere, and rest. I did
realize that. But I did not--I had no background with mental illness, I had
no knowledge of how it manifested itself and I did not equate exhaustion and
mental illness. I just thought he was terribly tired and he ought to take
I even came up with what I thought was a very ingenious device because he
told me he didn't have any under secretary; he didn't have any assistant
secretaries, he couldn't leave. And I even gave him a legal opinion (I hope
not written because it was not very valid), in which I said that, I think I
told him this: That because the 1947 unification act didn't create an under
secretary or any assistant secretaries, but did have a number of
presidential appointees in the Pentagon, it would be quite all right for him
to designate any one of the three secretaries as the acting Secretary of
Defense in his absence because they were the next level of presidential
appointees. And I said, "If you feel that Secretary Symington cannot be
objective on a Navy matter and Secretary Sullivan cannot be objective on an
Air Force matter, then you have Royall as a possible man, since the Army is
less partisan, or if you feel that it would be an insult to one of the
secretaries to have one of the others and what you want is a caretaker for a
couple of weeks, you can appoint a fellow like Gordon Gray, who was my
specific recommendation, who is the Assistant Secretary of the Army, or
perhaps then Under Secretary" And I said, "Nobody could be insulted,
everybody respects him and he is a presidential appointee. I'm sure Mr.
Truman would approve, and you could just let him run the department
administratively, and we can always get you on the phone when we need to,"
which I thought was a rather ingenious solution, but nothing came of it.
That is a long answer to your question, or a long non-answer, I did not
know what was happening. Now my observation of what did happen is as
follows: Louis Johnson, who I had not met before he was sworn in, was to
have been sworn in on March the 31st of 1949. Forrestal apparently just
thought he couldn't hold on any longer, I didn't realize that until later,
and asked that this ceremony be moved up to March the 28th. It was moved up
to March 28th and while Forrestal was terribly tired, it was--he spoke
briefly but well. The ceremony went off fine.
I believe that either Forrestal went to an office that had been set aside
for him afterwards, or he went home. In any event, we had an appointment on
the Hill the next day, March 29th before the House Armed Services Committee
because Chairman Vinson had said to me, "Be sure to have Mr. Forrestal
there." They wanted to take note of his outstanding service, etc. So I
arranged that Mr. Forrestal would be there. He came to the Pentagon.
I rode up to the Hill with him. That was the day after Johnson was sworn
in, and we appeared before the House Armed Services Committee and Forrestal
was sort of overwhelmed by the compliments of Carl Vinson and the ranking
Republican member, Dewey Short, from the great state of Missouri. And he was
a little teary eyed, I think, but he responded very beautifully and said
that anything that he had been able to accomplish was because the
Secretaries of Army and Navy and Air Force had been working so closely with
him, etc. He made a, you know, good routine response. My further
recollection at that time is that Stuart Symington said to me, "Marx, old
fellow, would you mind if I rode back to the Pentagon with Jim; there's
something I want to talk to him about." I don't know what it was.
I said, "Sure."
So, I rode back with Royall because Forrestal and I had driven over
together. When I got back to the Pentagon I went back to my office.
Forrestal had been given an office down from the Secretary of Defense a
little, next door to mine. So I stuck my head in--it was next door to my
office--and he was sitting there just like this with his hat on his head,
just gazing. And I went in and I said, "Mr. Secretary, is there anything I
can do for you?"
He was almost in a coma really. That was when I first knew and that was
when I first got scared. So I said, "Do you feel faint?" I don't remember
what I said.
He said, "No, no, I want to go home."
So, he got up and headed for the door and I said, "Where are you going?"
He said, "I'm going for my car." Well, he didn't have a car.
So, I ran like hell. I remember whose car I got; I got Dr. Vannevar
Bush's driver, who was then head of the Research and Development Board, and
I said, "Take Mr. Forrestal home and phone me when you get him there." I
knew Mrs. Forrestal wasn't in town, and I told the driver to make sure that
the butler knows that he's there, etc. And then I phoned, as it happened,
Mr. Eberstadt who was testifying on the 1949 amendments to the unification
act before the Senate Armed Services Committee. And I said, "I don't like
what I see. Can I meet you?"
He said, "Yes, I'll meet you at the house."
So, I met him at the house and the butler said he had gone upstairs. I
don't know, anyway--I’m sort of short-circuiting this. That wasn't exactly
what happened. We first phoned the house, Eber and I got together, the
butler said, "He won't speak to anybody."
Eber said to the butler, "You tell James (Eber and others of the
Princeton group called him James), you tell James he can get away with that
with a lot of people but not with me." And so he came to the phone and
apparently babbled a lot of stuff about the Russians--apparently it was just
like that. I don't know. The only further thing I knew is that I did drive
to the house, I waited while Eber had the butler pack his clothes. Eber came
out once and said,"Can you get a plane to take him to Florida?"
And I said, "Certainly."
And I phoned and we got a Marine plane, I think, I don't know. And so
Forrestal came down and Eber sat in the back seat of my old, old Chevrolet
and Forrestal sat in front with me and then the butler came running back,
came running after us. He brought the Secretary's golf clubs. So I opened
the trunk, we put in the golf clubs and I drove out to the private plane end
(we didn't go to the military planes), private plane end of National
Airport. And on the way out Forrestal said three times, the only thing he
said, Eber tried to speak to him and he would say, "You're a loyal fellow,
Marx." "You're a loyal fellow, Marx," three times. I remember that, I think
I remember that. And we put him in the plane and I had also phoned to be
sure to have a military aide there to look after him and then I said to
Eber, "I hate for him to be going down there by himself but I know Bob
Lovett is down there," who was a close friend.
And I said, "I'm going to phone Bob to be sure to meet the plane." So I
phoned Bob and Bob did meet the plane. I never saw him after that.
By the way, psychiatry... (omit two paragraphs previously quoted)
Actually, as I understood later from Mr. Eberstadt--Mr. Eberstadt sent a
plane down, chartered a plane, and sent Dr. Menninger from Topeka and wanted
the Secretary to fly up to the Menninger Clinic, but Mrs. Forrestal and Mr.
Truman agreed that it would be--neither of whom knew anything about
psychiatry either--that there would be less stigma at being at the naval
And only a Navy doctor could put a VIP patient... (omit previously-cited
HESS: What would be
your evaluation of his general effectiveness and his administrative ability
and Mr. Forrestal's overall value to the United States?
LEVA: Oh, I think he
was one of the ablest public servants I have ever known. I think that he was
simply tremendous in everything that he went into. I think that most
people's memories have been clouded by the end of the story without any
attention to the early chapters or the middle chapters.
I think in particular of a column that Arthur Krock wrote that impressed
me very deeply. The day after Forrestal was sworn in, which now has us to
September '47, in which Arthur wrote, in substance, "He entered on his new
duties as Secretary of Defense with a measure of public respect and esteem
unequaled in the memory of this correspondent." It's easy to lose sight of
that. He apparently did a simply fantastic job at the Navy during World War
II both as Under Secretary and as Secretary. I only got there when it was
over but those who were there say that that multi-multi billion procurement
program that he put together, hiring for the purpose the best and the most
outstanding lawyers anywhere in the country to make sure that the country
got its money's worth, and what he did on a crash basis, and I'm sure what
Patterson did in a similar context in the Army, was simply a fabulous
administrative achievement. I think within the limit of what one could do in
the very difficult framework of starting unification, he did magnificently.
The first thing to note is that Leva’s candid, non-medical view that prior to
the breakdown on March 29 the only thing noticeable about Forrestal’s condition
was that he was badly exhausted and overworked. Leva was not alone in not seeing
any evidence that Forrestal was actually “cracking up.” Here’s what Hoopes and
Brinkley have to say on page 426:
|Given the extent and pace of his decline, it is
astonishing that colleagues at the Pentagon, including members of his inner
staff, failed to recognize it. In retrospect they attribute their failure to
Forrestal’s formidable self-control, his brusque, impersonal method of
dealing with staff, and the simple fact that they saw him too frequently to
note much change in his condition or demeanor.
These observations are in curious contrast to what Monsignor Sheehy wrote in
his Catholic Digest article:
|The day he was admitted to the hospital, Forrestal
told Dr. Raines he wished to see me. The word reached me through the
executive officer of the hospital. I dismissed a class, because I had seen
his collapse coming on for some weeks, and knew his condition was serious.
The psychiatrist told me that he wished my help, but that Jim was so
confused I should wait some days before seeing him. (Pp. 40-41)
Sheehy does not elaborate. Perhaps he is talking about the growing
exhaustion. Setting aside what some have seen as “paranoid” previous claims by
Forrestal that some people were out to get him, because there is every reason to
believe that they were, his truly strange behavior began very abruptly after
that automobile ride with Secretary of the Air Force (and later Senator and
Presidential aspirant) Stuart Symington. It should be noted that in their index
under “Symington, Stuart, double-dealing tactics of,” they list pages 368-70,
380-83, 446, and 447. It is a relatively safe assumption that whatever it was
Symington had to say to Forrestal affected the latter very, very greatly and in
a very negative way. It would not have been out of character for Symington, if
one accepts the Hoopes-Brinkley portrait of the man, for that to have been his
intention. That impression of Symington’s motives is reinforced by the fact
that, “Symington later denied the trip had occurred or that he was alone with
Forrestal, but Leva and [Forrestal aide John] Ohly are insistent on that point.”
The Symington Revelations?
The reader may excuse me if I engage in a bit of speculation at this point as
to what the subject matter of that conversation might have been. One must agree,
I believe, that this speculation is at least as valid as the suggestion that the
word “nightingale” in that poem by Sophocles, because that was the name of an
American intelligence program to infiltrate anti-communist former Nazi
sympathizers into the Ukraine, touched off such feelings of guilt in an
apparently fully-recovered Forrestal that he rushed quickly across the hall,
tied one end of his gown’s sash tightly around his neck, attempted
unsuccessfully to secure the other end to a radiator, and then flung himself out
the window, dying from the fall instead of from the intended hanging.
The key to the subject matter of the Symington conversation is to be found in
the five words that Forrestal kept repeating to Leva,
“You are a loyal fellow. You are a loyal fellow.” And why wouldn’t he be, one
might ask, and in contrast to whom? Now I think we can see why Arnold Rogow
didn’t want us to know Marx Leva’s name. Marx Leva, if you had not guessed by
this time, was quite thoroughly Jewish. The best guess as to the subject matter
of Symington’s conversation, I believe, is that it related to some enormity,
some devastating power play by Jewish Americans that advanced the cause of
Israel at the expense of what Forrestal perceived to be the interests of the
United States. Forrestal was absolutely overwhelmed by the contrast between the
personal and the patriotic loyalty of Leva, a man he had elevated to his current
position because of his dedicated service to the American government, and the
large number of prominent and less-prominent Jews who had made Forrestal’s life
a hell over the past couple of years.
On the Beach
At this point let us pick up the Hoopes-Brinkley account of Forrestal’s
actions at Hobe Sound:
|At times he seemed more relaxed and was able to joke
about the fact that his friends would not allow him to be alone even on the
toilet. But his depression and despondency did not depart, nor did his
conviction that “they” were lurking everywhere and determined to get him.
Walking on the beach with Lovett, he pointed to a row of metal sockets fixed
in the sand to hold beach umbrellas. “We had better not discuss anything
here. Those things are wired, and everything we say is being recorded.” He
expressed anxiety about the presence of Communists or Communist influence in
the White House, which he said had driven him from office. He thought he had
been marked for liquidation for his efforts to alert America to the menace,
indeed, that the Kremlin planned to assassinate the whole leadership in
Washington. He was convinced the Communists were planning an invasion of the
United States, and at certain moments he talked as if it had already begun.
This passage is so close to a verbatim rendering
of Rogow, whom they reference, that one could almost call it plagiarism, except
that Hoopes-Brinkley have made it sound even more outlandish by adding the bit
about the Kremlin’s plan to assassinate the whole leadership in Washington. Once
again, when we turn to Rogow for his reference we find that he has none at all.
The story about the supposedly bugged beach
umbrella sockets is quoted in its entirety in The Secret War against the Jews
and it is also recounted in The Agency. It certainly does make it sound like
Forrestal was pretty far around the bend while at Hobe Sound, but no evidence
has been provided that it is true.
Robert Lovett is long dead, but fortunately he
gave an interview to Alfred Goldberg and Harry B. Yoshpe of the Office of the
Secretary of Defense Oral History Project on May 13, 1974 (Lovett was Secretary
of Defense under Truman from September 1951 to the end of Truman’s term in
January of 1953.).
We quote the relevant portions:
It has often been said that the problems of trying to run the Defense
establishment in the face of these difficulties undermined Forrestal’s
health. Is there any truth in that?
LOVETT: I wouldn’t say
that those problems were the ones. Jim Forrestal was a very intense man
anyway, but he had himself under strict control. He was never one to show
emotion–containing that all the time was what I think put such extra tension
on him. I remember that he was flown down to Hobe Sound after his breakdown.
They phoned me and asked me if I would meet him, which I did–as I say, he
was a very dear, close friend of mine. And when he got out of the plane over
at the air base, we stood under the shadow of the tail plane because it was
hot as the hinges at that time of day. When he came down and he offloaded
his golf clubs, bag, and that sort of thing, I said to Jim, “I’m glad you
brought your golf clubs because I’m going to take every dollar you’ve got
here.” Not a crack of a smile, and he finally turned to me and said, “You
know, they’re really after me.”
I’d been warned, of course, by Eberstadt over the phone that Forrestal
was in bad shape. But to shorten the story, he was at that time a completely
different person from the one I knew. We finally got him back to Washington.
Ed Shea, his roommate at Princeton, came up from Texas and stayed there with
him, and slept in the room with him the whole time. But he obviously was in
very bad shape.
Now part of that tension was not the result of the problems of running
the Department but the fact that he had been dabbling a little bit in
politics. In other words, he had been dealing with the Republican side while
a Democratic appointee. Not in any sly way but simply maintaining his
position–I think he wanted to continue in the job in case of the change. I
believe that had something to do with it. But that, I would say, would not
be for publication.
YOSHPE: Some of the material, including the Forrestal diaries, seemed to
indicate that he had expected to stay on at least until May.
LOVETT: He had hoped,
I think, to stay on. He was obsessed with the idea that his phone calls were
being bugged and that “they” (it was hard to identify they) were some
anti-Forrestal group in the Administration. They, the enemy, who was it? He
was not of sound mind, in my view.
That’s it. No examples are given to illustrate Forrestal’s unsoundness of
mind but the ones you see here. There is no talk of suicide and no mention of
any suicide attempt. There is also no mention of suspicion of bugged beach
umbrella sockets (although if one were to try to record conversations on a
beach, putting bugs in pre-installed umbrella sockets would seem to be the best
way to do it), nor is there any talk of Forrestal running out of his room in the
middle of night claiming the Russians were attacking when a police siren
awakened him. This latter tale is a story reported by Drew Pearson in his
nationally-syndicated column, but dismissed as untrue by Hoopes-Brinkley.
listen to what Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Powers, has to say in The Man
Who Kept the Secrets, Richard Helms and the CIA:
|Less than a week after his replacement as Secretary
of Defense in March 1949, Forrestal broke down completely, told a friend,
“They’re after me,” and was even reported to have run through the streets
yelling, “The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming. They’re right
around. I’ve seen Russian soldiers.” (Daniel Yergin, Shattered Peace
[Houghton Mifflin, 1977], p. 208.) In May, in the Bethesda Naval Hospital
outside Washington, Forrestal tried to hang himself with his dressing gown
from his hospital room window, but slipped and fell sixteen stories to his
death. (p. 361)
Yergin’s reference for this story, and for Forrestal’s “at least one suicide
attempt” at Hobe Sound, turns out to be none other than Arnold Rogow. The idea
that Forrestal slipped and fell while trying to hang himself is apparently
original with Powers. In the Ranelagh and Loftus-Aarons accounts, the reason
Forrestal ends up falling instead of hanging is that the sash broke, another
fanciful account that these authors seem to have invented independently, that
is, unless there is some propaganda-central supplying these authors. (Here we
are reminded of the supposedly independent reports of authors Ronald Kessler [Inside
the White House] and Judith Warner [Hillary Clinton, The Inside Story]
that Vincent Foster’s pocket was where a hand-written list of psychiatrists
turned up in that mysterious death case. That bit of evidence is inconsistent
with the official story, which is that a search of Foster’s clothing turned up
nothing--except two sets of keys after a second search of the body at the
But we have not yet covered everything in the Lovett interview that bears
upon the demise of James Forrestal:
Another issue from this same period was raised with us
by a number of people. It falls right into your State Department period.
That was the Palestine problem. The Defense Department had very strong views
on this, and the State Department did also.
LOVETT: I was the
agent in State who had to take the rap in this thing and do most of the
ground work so I’ve a lively recollection. Pick some particular question –
GOLDBERG: I really wanted to ask how State looked at the National
Security aspects of the issue at that time. I know how the Defense
Department was looking at it, and I’ve seen a lot of the State documents for
the period, too, but we’re interested in hearing about it from your level
and General Marshall’s.
LOVETT: Well, you
remember the American position set forth by Senator Austin at the United
Nations meeting. It was, in effect, that this small country of a million and
one half people, surrounded by 40 million Arabs, was non-viable unless it
could be assured of an umbrella of some sort. It was on that basis that the
theory of the trusteeship was developed which would give them an independent
country, but place them in the hands of a group of trustees until such time
as they either matured into a viable nation or until some method of living
could be worked out with the Arabs.
We were ultimately defeated on that. I say we, this country’s point of
view did not prevail, and it didn’t prevail because it was fought vigorously
by the Israelis. Now the atmosphere was embittered, and that was the thing
which caused most of the attacks on Forrestal. In my view, it was one of the
principal causes for his mental condition. The constant unrelenting attacks
on Forrestal. I was less visible as a government official. They were bad
enough, God knows, on me. I received telephone calls at 11 o’clock at night,
with threats: “we’ll get you, you so and so.” And I got telegrams from every
conceivable agency–Haganah, Hadassah, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver–everybody
pressuring me to do this, that, and the other thing. Give these people
independence. You give them independence and they get overrun–what do you do
then? So it was a sense of conscience in this country, being willing to help
them and not leading them down the garden path to utter destruction. It was
a very serious problem.
Compared to Forrestal, Lovett, by his own account, was relatively out of the
line of fire over the Israel issue, but that did not prevent him from receiving
late night threatening telephone calls and tons of pressure from all quarters.
Lovett was subjected to none of the public vilification that Forrestal faced, so
one can only imagine what Forrestal had to put up with privately.
Forrestal Was Bugged
Actually, we don’t have to depend completely upon imagination. This is from
pages 212-213 of The Secret War against the Jews by Loftus and Aarons:
|Soon after arriving in Florida, [Forrestal] tried to
commit suicide. Some of the “old spies” we asked about Forrestal suspect
that part of the blame for his demise rested with [Zionist leader David]
Ben-Gurion, who also believed that [New York Governor Thomas E.] Dewey would
be elected instead of Truman. The Zionists had tried unsuccessfully to
blackmail Forrestal with tape recordings of his own deals with the Nazis,
but they had much less evidence than they had against [Nelson] Rockefeller.
Still, it was enough to tip Forrestal over the edge. His paranoia convinced
him that his every word was bugged.
To his many critics, it seemed that James Forrestal’s anti-Jewish
obsession had finally conquered him. He was admitted to the mental ward of
Bethesda Naval Hospital in April 1949. At the end, Forrestal allegedly could
be heard “screaming that the Jews and the communists were crawling on the
floor of his room seeking to destroy him.” His suicide came in the early
hours of May 22, 1949.
Whether or not Forrestal’s “every word” was bugged would appear from this
revelation to be little more than a quibble over the degree to which his
dealings were clandestinely monitored by his avowed enemies. After all, how
would Ben-Gurion have come into possession of tapes of Forrestal’s most private
business dealings except through the use of bugs and/or wiretaps? And if this
account is to be believed, the fact of the monitoring had already been revealed
to Forrestal by this dastardly attempted blackmail, an attempt to get Forrestal
to go against what he thought was best for the nation by playing upon a
hoped-for fear of revelations possibly detrimental to his own personal
interests. The following passages from Hoopes-Brinkley shed more light on the
underhandedness of such a proposition:
the Palestine affair, Forrestal was, along with the entire leadership of the
State Department and the military services, concerned with the protection of
U.S. interests in the Middle East, which they felt would be seriously
jeopardized by American sponsorship of a Jewish state. His innate patriotism
led him to believe American Jews would, or should, be U.S. citizens first
and thus ready to recognize and support evident national interests. He had
always despised his immigrant father's pro-Irish stance and had severed his
own residual ties of sentiment to the Old World. This seemed to him the
clear civic duty of every American, but he paid dearly for his lack of
sophistication on that point. Beyond the substantive issue, he was troubled
and alarmed by the messy, sordid, fantastically disordered way in which
American policy on Palestine was determined, for he was passionately devoted
to orderly process. (p. 477)
Forrestal, [Secretary of State George C.] Marshall, Lovett, the State
Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were all agreed that a war in the
Middle East into which American troops might be drawn, loss of Arab
friendship, and long-range turbulence in the whole region were too high a
price to pay for a Jewish state. They underestimated, however, the elemental
force of the Zionist movement and the need of a politically weak
administration for the support of Jewish votes. Ironically, although he was
not, in fact, a central figure in developing and carrying out U.S. policy on
Palestine, Forrestal took a disproportionate share of the heat and suffered
heavier damage to his reputation from hostile press attacks than any of the
others. In part, this seemed the consequence of his outspoken insistence on
reasoned argument and orderly process, an inability to conceal his dismay at
the sorry, fantastically disordered performance of government officials and
special interest lobbyists and their feckless indifference to the
consequences of their actions. It was a spectacle entailing everything
Forrestal considered inimical to good government.
Events proved him wrong on two short-term calculations: (1) the U.S.
recognition of Israel did not cause the Arabs to cut off the oil supply to
the West, and (2) the Jews were not driven into the sea by the combined Arab
armies. As to the first, it was astonishing to Forrestal–and especially the
oil company executives on whose judgment he heavily relied–did not see that
a cutoff was unlikely, as it would deprive the Arabs of their markets and
thus of their principal revenues; their only means of selling their product
was through a marketing apparatus controlled by American and European oil
companies. As to the second, Forrestal’s miscalculation was shared by
everyone in Washington–the White House, the State department, the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, and the Congress. The fighting qualities of the fledgling
Israeli army astonished the world. In a real sense, this was the factor that
made recognition an acceptable, indeed nearly a painless risk for the Truman
administration. If the Jews in Palestine had been in severe danger of being
overrun and destroyed, U.S. recognition would have carried with it far
heavier consequences, including a moral obligation to send American troops
to fight alongside the Israeli army. Such an extreme situation might well
have led to a cutoff of Arab oil in the context of a “holy war” against the
Western Infidel, and the Arabs might well have turned to the Soviet Union
for arms and political support. Either consequence would have produced
corrosive divisions in the American body politic.
In the longer perspective, it is hard to fault those who in 1948 argued
that sponsoring a state of Israel was not in the U.S. national interest. The
United States has paid, and continues to pay, an extremely high political
and economic price for its indulgent support of that nation. Instability in
the Middle East over the past forty years would have existed had there been
no Israel, but the unending Arab-Israeli antagonism has inexorably
bifurcated the U.S. approach to the Middle East, making it impossible for
Washington to define and pursue U.S. interests there without ambivalence and
contradiction, or to promote the economic development of the region as a
whole. A series of bloody Arab-Israeli wars has not perceptibly mitigated
the hostility or the vicious complications, and these conditions continue to
fuel a relentless arms buildup on both sides (including nuclear, chemical,
and biological weapons) that makes the Middle East the most overarmed and
explosive region in the world. "The melancholy outcome," Robert Lovett said
in 1985, "is in the day's headline." His statement applies with equal force
in 1991, even after the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War against Iraq. The
Palestinians remain a permanently dispossessed people.
Forrestal, Lovett added, “warned that unless the American support of the
Zionist demands guaranteed the rights of the Palestinians would be justly
upheld and the boundaries of the new state explicitly drawn, the United
States would alienate not alone the Arabs and the Middle East, but of the
whole Moslem world...and the eventual harvest would not be a peaceful
homeland for a race exhausted by persecution and massacre, but a reaping of
a whirlwind of hate for all of us.”
The immediate consequence for Forrestal, however, was to become the
target of “an outpouring of slander and calumny that must surely be judged
one of the most shameful intervals in American journalism.” ( pp. 402-404)
Back to the passage from The Secret War against the Jews: the
Rockefeller reference relates to the book’s prior revelation that Nelson
Rockefeller had been coerced by Ben-Gurion into using his influence with various
Latin American dictators to vote in the United Nations for Palestine’s
partition, again through threatened revelation of Rockefeller’s business
dealings with the Nazis throughout World War II.
“It seems likely from its sheer quantity that the information the Zionists
collected on Nelson Rockefeller had to have come from a variety of sources,
including wiretaps.” (p. 168)
So, it would seem that in the secret war “the Jews,” who to Loftus and Aarons
are synonymous with the Zionists, are not without weapons of their own, and very
sinister weapons they are, indeed.
More Zionist Weapons
We learn some more about the extent of their clandestine weaponry from Neal
Gabler, the biographer of one of Forrestal’s main press tormentors, Walter
Winchell. The period under discussion is 1940-1941, when, in spite of its best
efforts, the Roosevelt administration, because of the overwhelming opposition of
the American people, had not yet been able to involve the United States in the
|To Walter isolationism had now become unconscionable,
a form of treason. He was determined to prove that the isolationists were
not, as they claimed, patriotic Americans who happened to hold a different
point of view from his own; they were Nazi collaborators, anti-Semites, and
racists who cared far less about saving American lives than about ensuring
Hitler’s victory. In 1940 Walter inaugurated a new feature in his column,
“The Winchell Column vs. The Fifth Column,” thrashing Nazi sympathizers, and
early in 1941 he replaced the “oddities” portion of his broadcast with a
report of Nazi activities in this country called “The Walter Winchell Quiz
to End All Quizzes...And All Quislings!,” an allusion to the Norwegian
leader who collaborated in the Nazi occupation of his country. A few months
later he changed the feature’s name to “Some Americans Most Americans Can Do
Every week brought new charges from Walter linking the radical right to
Nazi Germany, but Walter’s prime source was not, as most assumed, the FBI;
in fact, he was one of its prime sources, channeling hundreds of
documents about Nazi groups to the bureau both before and during the war.
Rather Walter’s most important source was Arnold Forster, the young
basso-voiced attorney who, at the time he met Walter early in 1941, was New
York counsel for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of the B’nai B’rith.
When it came to the radical right, Forster had one of the best
intelligence-gathering operations in the country, with spies everywhere. He
had even infiltrated the inner circle of Mississippi Senator William Bilbo,
a vicious white supremacist and isolationist. “I was soon receiving a
continuous flow of reports about the conduct of the senator against Jews,
blacks, the Administration, the ‘internationalists’ and other ‘dangerous
elements,’” wrote Forster, “reports that I would rewrite into column items
for Winchell’s broadcasts.” It drove Bilbo crazy to see in the column or
hear on the broadcast everything he said privately. (Winchell: Gossip, Power
and the Culture of Celebrity, pp. 294-295)
The Winchell biographer, Gabler, by the way, is another one of those authors
who draws very heavily upon Arnold Rogow in his account of Forrestal’s death.
Publishing his Winchell biography in 1994, two years after the Hoopes-Brinkley
biography of Forrestal, he makes explicit use of their account as well.
The ADL has continued its clandestine activity in the United States. This is
from the New York Transfer News Collective, May 8, 2002:
|ADL Found Guilty of Spying by California Court
By Barbara Ferguson
WASHINGTON: The San Francisco Superior Court has awarded former
Congressman Pete McCloskey, R-California, a $150,000 court judgment against
the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
McCloskey, the attorney in the case, represented one of three civil
lawsuits filed in San Francisco against the ADL in 1993. The lawsuit came
after raids were made by the San Francisco Police Department and the FBI on
offices of the ADL in both San Francisco and Los Angeles, which found that
the ADL was engaged in extensive domestic spying operations on a vast number
of individuals and institutions around the country.
During the course of the inquiry in San Francisco, the SFPD and FBI
determined the ADL had computerized files on nearly 10,000 people across the
country, and that more than 75 percent of the information had been illegally
obtained from police, FBI files and state drivers license data banks.
Much of the stolen information had been provided by Tom Gerard of the San
Francisco Police Department, who sold, or gave, the information to Ray
Bullock, ADL’s top undercover operative.
The investigation also determined that the ADL conduit, Gerard, was also
working with the CIA.
Two other similar suits against ADL were settled some years ago, and the
ADL was found guilty in both cases, but the McCloskey suit continued to drag
through the courts until last month.
In the McCloskey case, the ADL agreed to pay (from its annual
multi-million budget) $50,000 to each of the three plaintiffs Jeffrey
Blankfort, Steve Zeltzer and Anne Poirier who continued to press charges
against the ADL, despite a continuing series of judicial roadblocks that
forced 14 of the original defendants to withdraw. Another two died during
The ADL, which calls itself a civil rights group, continued to claim it
did nothing wrong in monitoring their activities. Although the ADL presents
itself as a group that defends the interests of Jews, two of three ADL
victims are Jewish.
Blankfort and Zeltzer were targeted by the ADL because they were critical
of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.
The third ADL victim in the McCloskey case, Poirier, was not involved in
any activities related to Israel or the Middle East. Poirier ran a
scholarship program for South African exiles who were fighting the apartheid
system in South Africa.
At the time, the ADL worked closely with the then anti-apartheid
government of South Africa, and ADL's operative Bullock provided ADL with
illegally obtained data on Poirier and her associates to the South African
But the conclusion of McCloskey's case does not mean the end to the ADL's
On March 31, 2001, US District Judge Edward Nottingham of Denver,
Colorado, upheld most of a $10.5 million defamation judgment that a federal
jury in Denver had levied against the ADL in April of 2000.
The jury hit the ADL with the massive judgment after finding it had
falsely labeled Evergreen, Colorado residents 'William and Dorothy Quigley;
as "anti-Semites." The ADL is appealing the judgment.
Post-Mortem Smear Artists
There are a couple of more things in the earlier Loftus-Aaron quote that need
comment upon. Let us look again at the next to last sentence: “At the end,
Forrestal allegedly could be heard ‘screaming that the Jews and the communists
were crawling on the floor of his room seeking to destroy him.’” That is
obviously a false statement, ranking right up there with this one from Jack
Anderson, written in his 1979 book, Confessions of a Muckraker, The Inside
Story of Life in Washington during the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson
Years, with James Boyd:
|While at Hobe Sound, Forrestal made three suicide
attempts, by drug overdose, by hanging, and by slashing his wrists. On the
night of April 1, the sound of a fire engine siren prompted him to rush out
of the house in his pajamas screaming, “The Russians are attacking!” (p.
158. And yes, Anderson quotes Rogow extensively as well.)
Actually, the Loftus-Aarons observation is even worse, because it gives the
impression that Forrestal’s mental state had continued to deteriorate while he
was in the hospital, but we have seen from the observations of Henry Forrestal,
Harry Truman, and Louis Johnson, and the statement to Dr. Raines to brother
Henry that Forrestal was “essentially okay” and the general relaxation of his
observation, that that was certainly not the case. Loftus-Aarons give as their
reference, Charles Higham, Trading with the Enemy: An Expose of the
Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949, pp. 210-211. Here is what we find there:
|James V. Forrestal also ended his life by suicide. In
1949 he hanged himself from the window of the Bethesda Naval Hospital in
Washington, D.C., where he was suffering from advanced paranoid
schizophrenia. Newspapers reported him screaming that the Jews and the
communists were crawling on the floor of his room seeking to destroy him.
So the end of the trail turns out to be anonymous “newspapers,” who if they
ever reported such a thing were likely making it up themselves or had had it fed
to them by someone who was. We might note, as well, how greatly this report of
Forrestal’s condition in his final days contrasts with the observations of the
man in charge of the hospital. This is from Simpson, p. 16:
|Immediately after Forrestal’s death Rear Admiral
Willcutts told reporters: “We all thought he was getting along splendidly. I
was shocked.” The admiral went on to say he had visited with Forrestal on
Friday (before his death on Saturday night) and that Forrestal had eaten a
large steak lunch. He described the former defense secretary as being up in
the morning with a sparkle in his eye and “meticulously shaven.”
Finally, we turn our attention to this Secret War against the Jews
sentence: “To his many critics, it seemed that James Forrestal’s anti-Jewish
obsession had finally conquered him.”
Did he have such an obsession? Loftus and Aarons certainly want us to think
so. In their index we find under “Forrestal, James” the sub-category,
“anti-Semitism of, 156-59, 177-80, 199, 208, 213-14, 327, 365.” The primary
evidence they give for the assertion are the business dealings of Forrestal’s
investment banking firm, Dillon, Read, with companies in Nazi Germany in the
1930s and Forrestal’s opposition to the creation of the state of Israel, that
is, his anti-Zionism. Nowhere do Loftus and Aarons tell us that founding partner
of Dillon, Read, Clarence Dillon, who was Forrestal’s boss, was Jewish. He was
born Clarence Lapowski in San Antonio, Texas, in 1882, the son of an affluent
clothing merchant. Maybe this is the rock upon which David Ben-Gurion’s
blackmail attempt foundered.
They also have passages like this: “Forrestal himself admitted that he
thought that Jews were ‘different,’ and he ‘could never really understand how a
non-Jew and a Jew could be friends.’” (p. 157)
The passage finds an echo in Gabler’s Winchell biography:
|Forrestal had never particularly liked Jews and,
according to a friend, had never understood how Jews and non-Jews could be
intimates. Now he took his anti-Semitism into public policy, arguing that a
Jewish state in Palestine would needlessly antagonize Arabs and jeopardize
oil supplies, that the Soviets would eventually be pulled into any Mideast
crisis and that American troops would eventually have to defend the Jews
there. (p. 385)
If the two books sound quite similar on this point it is because they have
the same source, page 191 of Arnold Rogow’s book. Turning to Rogow, we see that
his source is not only typically anonymous, but Loftus-Aarons, and Gabler have
used the passage very much out of context:
|Here, perhaps, his views were a direct reflection of
his background. While Forrestal was not an anti-Semite, his attitude toward
Jews was characterized by much ambivalence. Although he maintained good
relations with his New York and Washington associates who were Jewish,
notably Bernard Baruch (At this point Rogow has a long footnote mainly
expounding upon Baruch’s great admiration for Forrestal.), his Defense
Department legal aide Marx Leva, and Navy Captain Ellis M. Zacharias, he had
difficulty accepting Jews as social equals. One of his Wall Street
colleagues recalls that Forrestal
|thought Jews were “different,” and he could never
really understand how a non-Jew and a Jew could be friends. I remember
an occasion when I was involved in his presence in an argument with a
Jewish friend. At one point I got over-heated and I said something like
“you son-of-a-bitch.” Jim was shocked that I could talk that way to
someone who was Jewish. He himself was always very reserved with people
who were Jews. I think there was something about them he couldn’t
understand, or maybe didn’t like. (pp. 191-192)
Or maybe not. Forrestal was also very reserved with people who were not Jews.
What Rogow has given us here is clearly the very subjective impression of one
man, on a very tricky subject. Others have expressed a very different view of
Forrestal. Here are the words of the fervent Zionist James G. McDonald,
America's first Ambassador to Israel.
|He was in no sense anti-Semitic or anti-Israel nor
influenced by oil interests. He was convinced that partition was not in the
best interests of the U.S., and he certainly did not deserve the persistent
and venomous attacks on him which helped break his mind and body. On the
contrary, these attacks stand out as the ugliest examples of the willingness
of politician and publicist to use the vilest means -- in the name of
patriotism -- to destroy self-sacrificing and devoted public citizens.
(quoted by Alfred M. Lilienthal in The Zionist Connection II: What Price
Peace?, selection online at
And here is what Hoopes and Brinkley have to say about Forrestal's presumed
|Forrestal was not in any sense motivated by
anti-Semitism. He had worked in harmony with many Jewish bankers and
friends, both on Wall Street and in the government. In 1951, two years after
Forrestal’s death, Herbert Elliston, the editor of the Washington Post,
wrote that the Zionist charge of anti-Semitism was “absurd...no man had less
race or class consciousness.” Robert Lovett wrote, ‘He was accused of being
anti-Semitic. The charge is false. Here I can speak with sureness.”
Forrestal’s Jewish assistant, Marx Leva, thought him “patriotic, sensitive,
intelligent, and just,” entirely sympathetic to the plight of the European
Jews and their desire for a homeland, but unable to agree that that desire
should be allowed to override every other national consideration. “He was
not anti-Semitic,” Leva said flatly. Anyone, however, who expressed doubts
about the primacy of a Jewish homeland became a Zionist target. Middle East
experts in the State Department, who were mainly pro-Arab, were denounced as
“anti-Semites.” The New York Times and its publisher, Arthur Hays
Sulzberger, were openly attacked when the newspaper in 1943 criticized
Zionism as a ‘dangerously chauvinist movement” not representative of
mainstream Jewish opinion. The trouble was, as Dean Acheson later observed,
that the Zionist position was propelled by a passionate emotionalism which
virtually precluded rational discussion. Acheson had come “to understand,
but not to share, the mystical emotion of the Jews to return to Palestine
and end the Diaspora,” for he saw that a realization of the Zionist goal
would “imperil not only American but all Western interests in the Near
East.” By pressing the U.S. government to support a state of Israel,
American Zionists were, in his view, ignoring “the totality of American
interests.” (pp. 390-391)
Ironically, for their rather bizarre theory that the word “nightingale”
awakened feelings of guilt in Forrestal and may have prompted a sudden decision
to end it all, we have this reference: “John Loftus to Edythe Holbrook, January
25, 1983 (in authors’ possession); John Loftus, The Belarus Secret (New
York, 1982); and Henry Rositzke, CIA’s Secret Operations (New York,
1977). One wonders why they should think that Loftus, any more than Rogow, was
an author that they could rely upon.
The Book on the Death
Now let us look at Cornell Simpson’s virtually unknown book, the one that
only Hoopes-Brinkley make reference to, in this manner::
|For Henry Forrestal’s concerns and the
“murder-conspiracy” theory, see Cornell Simpson, The Death of James
Forrestal (Belmont, Mass., 1966), and Huie, ”Untold Facts in the
Forrestal Case,” pp. 643-652. (end note 70, chap. 32, p. 544)
Simpson tells us in his foreword that he completed the manuscript in its
entirety in the mid-1950s but then put it aside after a previous would-be
publisher decided that it was too controversial, too “dangerous” to publish. He
also says that he purposely chose not to update it to maintain the “close
perspective” of the era. That is a great shame, for in following this course he
gave Arnold Rogow, who published his book three years before, a free pass.
Simpson could have easily made it clear what a poorly-documented and
poorly-argued case for the suicide theory of Forrestal’s death Rogow had
Quite early in Simpson we get some clarification of the oft-repeated, but
vague assertion that Forrestal had made “at least one suicide attempt” at Hobe
Sound. The renowned psychiatrist, Dr. William Menninger, who at the time was
president of both the American Psychiatric Association and the American
Psychoanalytic Association, was summoned by Forrestal’s friend Eberstadt, with
Forrestal’s agreement, according to Simpson.
|Dr. Menninger questioned Forrestal about a reported
suicide attempt supposedly made by Forrestal after Dr. Raines’s arrival at
Hobe Sound, and Menninger subsequently told the Washington Post he had
satisfied himself that there was nothing whatsoever to this tale:
|Mr. Forrestal told me that the night before I
arrived he had put a belt around his neck with the intention of hanging
himself, but the belt broke. Since there were no marks on his throat or
body, I consider this [only] a nightmare. Also, we never found a broken
belt of any kind.
In spite of Dr. Menninger’s statement, the suicide story was later
exploited by unscrupulous newspaper columnists and by a man who was present
and knew its falsity. (P. 6)
One does wish that Simpson had given the date of the Post edition in which
the Menninger quote appeared. The man who was present at Hobe Sound, yet later
exploited the attempted suicide story, from later observations by Simpson,
appears to be Dr. Raines. The Menninger statement is almost too bizarre not to
be true. It also explains the vagueness of the various authors about the nature
of Forrestal’s attempt (except for the specific, but false, claims of the
outrageously irresponsible and vicious Drew Pearson). Were they to get specific
about the means of suicide they would have to come to grips with the Menninger
interpretation of the matter. Still, they can satisfy themselves that they are
not lying because, against Menninger’s interpretation of what Forrestal told him
and the lack of physical evidence, they have Forrestal’s own words.
One would appreciate more candor from all the authors who have written on the
subject of Forrestal’s mental state. Even noted historian, David McCullough, in
his widely-praised 1992 biography, Truman, repeated the mantra that
Forrestal “made at least one attempt at suicide” while at Hobe Sound. (p. 739)
There is no doubt that at least for a few days the man was in a very bad way. If
he could mistake a nightmare for an actual event he was clearly in need of help.
There is no need for embellishment. What there is ample reason to question is
whether Forrestal was ever truly suicidal, and there is even stronger reason to
question whether he was anywhere near his Hobe Sound emotional state some seven
weeks later. When authors so regularly go beyond known and verifiable facts to
create a desired impression, readers have a very good reason to be suspicious.
By contrast, Cornell Simpson portrays Forrestal, after his rest and recovery,
as not only quite normal in manner in the judgment of everyone who saw him, but
also as a man with a good deal more to live for than the average person:
|There are marked peculiarities in connection with
Forrestal’s alleged suicide. Contrary to the impression given the public at
the time, Forrestal had none of the usual reasons for killing himself. He
had no financial worries. He had no personal worries. He was basically in
The only possible motive he could have had for taking his life, everyone
agreed, was depression over losing his job as secretary of defense and/or
over the smears of newspaper columnists and radio commentators.
However, Forrestal could hardly have killed himself for those reasons
either. All his life he had been a fighter. And the chorus of abuse directed
at him merely “got his Irish up.” He was actively planning, as soon as he
left the hospital, to start a career as a newspaperman and write a book.
These projects, he had told friends, would allow him to take the offensive
against his attackers and expose their real motives.
A man depressed and at loose ends may kill himself, but Forrestal was far
from being at loose ends. His eager plans were two good reasons for staying
alive. He had a whole new life before him, including the very career,
newspaper work, that had been his first choice.
As for “depression over losing his job” as a possible suicide motive, he
had intended leaving his government post soon in any event. Though it was
exasperating and humiliating to be rudely dismissed by Truman, it was far
from a killing blow. It did not even mean a change in his plans. (P. 15)
Corroboration that Forrestal was seriously interested in taking a big plunge
into the news, that is, the opinion-molding business, is provided by
|What would Forrestal do after he left? He was, he
told friends, seriously interested in publishing a newspaper or founding an
American magazine of political commentary based on the model of The
Economist of London, which he greatly admired. Various friends in New
York, including Clarence Dillon, Ferdinand Eberstadt, and Paul Shields,
appeared willing, even eager, to raise the necessary money and install
Forrestal as the directing head. (p. 238)
They are writing about a time period a couple of years before the press
campaign against Forrestal, but he was still very well off financially and
well-connected on Wall Street. A James Forrestal in the publishing business
would have been a serious force to be reckoned with in American public life,
perhaps a greater force than he had been as a cabinet member.
Forrestal’s writing and publishing plans provide the answer to the question,
“Why would anyone bother to murder him when he had already been driven from
office and disgraced by the taint of mental illness?” Had Forrestal lived and
gone on with his writing plans, Drew Pearson’s lurid and irresponsible charges
would have probably been all that anyone would have heard about Forrestal being
“mentally ill.” There would have been no Arnold Rogow book psychoanalyzing the
James V. Forrestal was a formidable man who knew a great deal about the inner
workings of the government under Roosevelt and Truman, and he didn’t like the
direction that the country was going.
The compelling reasons for Forrestal to want to continue living were also
compelling reasons for his powerful enemies to see to it that he did not.
Forrestal had left his top job at Dillon, Read in June of 1940 to become an
administrative assistant to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. For most of World
War II he served as Under Secretary of the Navy. He became the Secretary of the
Navy in April of 1944, and he was appointed the first Secretary of Defense after
reorganization of the armed services in September of 1947.
All during his period of high government service, Forrestal had kept a
detailed diary. It would have been a gold mine for the book he planned to write.
Who knows what he might have revealed, but Forrestal was thought of as a very
forceful and independent-minded person, as nobody’s yes-man? Some areas where
his diaries might have been revealing were the disastrous war strategy that
needlessly prolonged the conflict and invited massive communist expansion in
both Europe and Asia, the wholesale infiltration of the Roosevelt and Truman
administrations by Soviet agents, communists, and communist sympathizers, and
the tactics employed by the Zionists to gain recognition of the state of Israel.
Perhaps the underhanded means that, according to Loftus and Aarons, had worked
on Nelson Rockefeller but failed on Forrestal, had also worked on some other
high-level government officials.
Simpson Versus McCullough
The treatment of the question of the handling of Forrestal’s diary by the
prominent historian McCullough and the little-known writer, Simpson, makes a
very interesting contrast. First we have McCullough:
|Questions about the tragedy persisted. Why had
Forrestal, in his condition, with suicidal tendencies, been placed in a
sixteenth floor room? Had his priest been denied the chance to see him? As
time went on, and fear of Communist conspiracy spread in Washington, it
would be rumored that pages from Forrestal's diary had been secretly removed
on orders from the White House--that Forrestal, the most ardent anti-Soviet
voice in the administration, had in fact been driven to his death as part of
a Communist plot and the evidence destroyed by "secret Communists on
Truman's staff." (pp. 740-741)
If this passage reminds you of number 3 in my “Seventeen Techniques for Truth
Suppression,” it is with good reason.
|3. Characterize the charges as "rumors" or, better
yet, "wild rumors." If, in spite of the news blackout, the public is still
able to learn about the suspicious facts, it can only be through "rumors."
(If they tend to believe the "rumors" it must be because they are simply
"paranoid" or "hysterical.")
Contrast the McCullough brush-off of suspicions with regard to Forrestal’s
diary with Simpson’s long, serious treatment of the diary question:
|During Forrestal's brief stay at Hobe Sound, his
personal diaries, consisting of fifteen loose-leaf binders totaling
three thousand pages, were hastily removed from his former office in the
Pentagon and locked up in the White House where they remained for a year.
The White House later claimed that the former defense secretary had sent
word during his four days at Hobe Sound that he wanted President Truman to
take custody of these diaries.
It is unlikely that Forrestal made such a request. The diaries are a key
factor in the Forrestal story and will be discussed in detail later in this
book. At this point, however, it is important to note only that all during
the seven weeks prior to Forrestal's death, his diaries were out of his
hands and in the White House, where someone could have had ample time to
study them. The diaries referred to here are the original ones, not the
censored and emasculated version that was eventually published. (p. 7).
When Forrestal resigned after nine years in the government he finally was
free to expose administration personalities and policies that he had long
known were aiding world Communism and sabotaging the United States. The book
he could have written in 1949 would have blasted official Washington like a
bomb and aroused his countrymen from the Pacific Palisades to the Maine
Since Forrestal's book was to be based to a great extent on the material
he had recorded in his original three-thousand-page diaries, it is important
to consider what was in those original diaries and what happened to them.
The evidence indicates that the key to the whole story of Forrestal and his
tragic death may lie in his diaries and the scorching material they
A greatly censored version of the diaries eventually was serialized in
the New York Herald Tribune and other newspapers and was published in book
form by the Viking Press. What appeared in print, however, was only a pale
shadow of the original diaries.
Between the time the White House got its hands on the diaries, seven
weeks before Forrestal died, and their posthumous publication, they were
subjected to censorship and evisceration from three different sources: They
were examined by representatives of the White House; they were censored by
representatives of the Pentagon; and, finally, they were condensed and
gutted by Walter Millis under the guise of editing. (pp. 81-82)
In his editing job, Millis tossed out more than eighty percent of
Forrestal's writing. There were over half a million words in the original
diaries; Millis used a scant 100,000 of them. This drastic slashing was not
done because of a lack of space, for Millis injected into what was
supposedly Forrestal's diaries approximately 100,000 of his own words. Under
the guise of "explaining, interpreting and supplementing," he frequently
attempted to disparage statements of Forrestal which ran counter to the
leftist line. Since the typographical distinction between Forrestal's and
Millis' words is inadequate, the reader emerges from the book in a cloud of
confusion as to what was written by whom.
Judging from the few deleted items, we can safely say that Millis left
out of the published diaries some very revealing information. In his
foreword, Millis admitted he had arbitrarily deleted large chunks of the
diaries, including everything on the Pearl Harbor investigations except for
a single entry, itself mutilated by deletions.
On April 18, 1945, Forrestal set down in his diary (p. 46) a list of
recommendations he had just made to President Truman. Item five revealed
Forrestal had ordered a further investigation of Pearl Harbor. The dots
indicate material deleted by Millis.
|5. PEARL HARBOR. I told him that I had got
Admiral [H. Kent] Hewitt back to pursue the investigation into the Pearl
Harbor disaster.... I felt I had an obligation to Congress to continue
the investigation because I was not completely satisfied with the report
my own Court had made....
Note that one of the things Millis deleted here was whatever it was
Forrestal recommended regarding Pearl Harbor.
Forrestal obviously suspected that Roosevelt and his brain trust had
covered up something in the Pearl Harbor debacle. It is likely that as early
as April 1945 he was on the trail of the policy makers at top levels in
Washington, not Tokyo, who were, in effect responsible for the Pearl Harbor
massacre of 2,993 American servicemen, and who, in effect, saved Soviet
Russia from a planned attack by Japan by steering the Japanese war machine
against the U.S.
Millis conceded that the diaries had contained "numerous entries" on the
Pearl Harbor investigations. But, he added, "all have been excluded."
Furthermore, Forrestal's private diaries have contained memos and running
notes or (sic) his war against Communism abroad. But there was not a single
mention of Forrestal's solitary efforts in the published version.
What else did Millis delete from the diaries? Forrestal's most trusted
friend, Monsignor Sheehy, has revealed that he received more than forty
letters and notes from Forrestal during the years that Forrestal was
secretary of the navy and secretary of defense.
"Many, many times in his letters to me," Monsignor Sheehy said, "Jim
Forrestal wrote anxiously and fearfully and bitterly of the enormous harm
that had been done, and was unceasingly being done, by men in high office in
the United States government, who he was convinced were Communists or under
the influence of Communists, and who he said were shaping the policies of
the United States government to aid Soviet Russia and harm the United
Yet the published twenty percent of the diaries did not contain one
reference to Forrestal's conviction that there existed wholesale Communist
subversion of the United States government. Instead, Forrestal was made to
appear concerned only about Communism outside the United States.
In his foreword, Millis also frankly admitted he had arbitrarily deleted
unfavorable "references to persons, by name...[and] comment reflecting on
the honesty or loyalty of an individual..."
Who was Millis protecting by such deletions? Though Forrestal for years
was preoccupied with the Communist menace, his published diaries did not
once refer to any open American Communist, such as the then U.S. Communist
party head, Earl Browder. Nor was there a single mention of Communist spies
such as Lauchlin Currie, Harry Dexter White and Alger Hiss--all of whom
Forrestal had frequent opportunity to observe in action. Nor did the diaries
contain anything derogatory about most of the other traitors with whom
Forrestal had clashed again and again in his desperate battle to protect his
country's interests. (pp. 83-84)
Perhaps the most important single omission from the published diaries
concerned Forrestal's perpetual antagonist General George Catlett Marshall.
It should be remembered that Marshall opposed virtually every anti-Communist
measure preposed (sic) by Forrestal or anyone else, and that Marshall's own
record was that of a long series of acts consistently beneficial to Soviet
Russia and harmful to the United States. Yet Forrestal's published diaries
contained no criticism of Marshall. In fact, Millis claimed in the part of
the book he himself wrote that though Forrestal had "occasional" differences
with the general, "he greatly admired and respected" Marshall.
There is considerable evidence that Forrestal's original diaries
contained a great deal of caustic criticism and highly derogatory
information on Marshall--information which would have dealt a real setback
to both Marshall and his pro-Communist friends if it had reached the
Monsignor Sheehy said he was astounded that the published diaries
included nothing but favorable mention of Marshall inasmuch as he knew
positively from conversations with Forrestal that Forrestal had distrusted
Marshall. Monsignor Sheehy further said that he strongly doubted that
Forrestal had ever written anything in his diaries to the effect that he
"greatly admired and respected" Marshall. (p. 85)
Unfortunately, the version of the truth with respect to the Forrestal diaries
that even the most serious history students are ever likely to see is that of
McCullough, or maybe that of Hoopes-Brinkley, and not that of Simpson. Hoopes
and Brinkley say nothing in their text about the confiscation of diaries by the
White House. At the beginning of their notes on sources on p. 483 we have this:
|The 1951 edition of The Forrestal Diaries
(Viking Press, New York), edited by Walter Millis, was a valuable source in
the preparation of this book. Prior to its publication, a number of diary
entries were deleted by government censors on the grounds of national
security. In recent years, however, all of these unpublished entries have
been available to scholars at the Seeley G. Mudd Library at Princeton
University, at the Office of the Defense Historian at the Pentagon, and at
the Naval historical Center, Washington, D.C. Citations from the complete
unedited materials are identified in these notes as Unpublished Forrestal
One wonders how these authors can be so confident, in the absence of the
diaries’ author, that everything that Forrestal put into the original version is
now available in complete, unedited form. The contrast between Simpson’s claim
that Millis left out 80 percent of the original to “a number of diary entries”
were deleted for national security purposes is also striking.
To be sure, not everything that Cornell Simpson has written should be taken
at face value, either. Nowhere does he tell us how he knows with such precision
that there were originally exactly 3,000 pages in 15 notebooks in the Forrestal
diaries. Simpson, himself, is something of a mystery man. This book on
Forrestal’s death seems to be the only one he has written, and a search of the
Internet for his name turns up only references to The Death of James
Forrestal. He is a very polished and skillful writer, and his knowledge of
the degree of infiltration of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations seems
almost like that of an insider. Many of the charges in his book, which echo
those of Forrestal in his waning days in government, have been borne out by more
recent discoveries. This is from The New Dealers War, Franklin D. Roosevelt
and the War within World War II by Thomas Fleming, 2001:
|There was scarcely a branch of the American
government, including the War, Navy, and Justice Departments, that did not
have Soviet moles in high places, feeding Moscow information. Wild Bill
Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, had so
many informers in its ranks, it was almost an arm of the NKVD. Donovan’s
personal assistant, Duncan Chaplin Lee, was a spy. (P. 319)
By count from the Venona decrypts (secret Soviet cable traffic from the
1940s that the United States intercepted and eventually decrypted, which
became available to historians in 1995), there were 329 Soviet agents inside
the U.S. government during World War II. The number of rolls of microfilm
shipped to Moscow from the NKVD’s New York headquarters leaped from 59 in
1942 to 211 in 1943, the same year during which the American press and
publishing industry were gushing praise of the Soviet Union. In the single
year 1942, the documents leaked by one member of England’s Cambridge Five
filled forty-five volumes in the NKVD archives. The Russian agent in charge
of Whittaker Chambers’s spy ring boasted to Moscow: “We have agents at the
very center of the government, influencing policy.” The OSS and the British
SIS did not have a single agent in Moscow.
David Niles, the Communist
One man in particular with some dubious connections was in a very strategic
position to do harm to Forrestal. That is one of many key staff aides that
Truman had inherited from Roosevelt, David Niles. In the foregoing, when we have
said that “the White House” may have taken some action or other with respect to
Forrestal, those actions might well have been the work of Niles, Harry Truman’s
famous aphorism about where the buck stops notwithstanding. The following
passage from Hoopes-Brinkley, set in the period just after Truman’s surprising
victory over Dewey in 1948, gives us a good introduction to Niles:
|Given the timing and the circumstances, it seems
likely that Truman had not yet seriously addressed the question of his
Cabinet for the new term (a month before, even his staunchest supporters
would have considered this a frivolous exercise, a waste of precious time
and energy in a desperately uphill campaign). Nevertheless, he had developed
questions and doubts about Forrestal and was beginning to consider whether
it was time for a fresh man at the Pentagon. In his consideration he was
strongly pushed by members of the White House staff–especially [Harry]
Vaughn, [Matthew] Connelly (remember him? ed.), and David Niles–who disliked
Forrestal intensely. The main points against him were resistance (as Navy
Secretary) to Truman’s proposals for military unification, resistance to the
Truman budget ceiling on military spending, resistance to the partition of
Palestine, and his attempt to assert personal control of the National
Security Council and its staff. There were more minor irritations, such as
Forrestal’s proposals to create a Cabinet secretariat and an elite corps of
government managers and executives. Those and other initiatives seemed to
small-minded White House loyalists like efforts to enhance Forrestal’s own
power and prestige, especially to give the impression that he was a kind of
philosopher-king whose broad and varied talents outshone those of Harry S.
Truman. (pp. 428-429)
Tracking down Cornell Simpson’s numerous references to Niles leads the reader
to suspect that Niles was not just another “small-minded White House loyalist.”
(The sentence fragments are in the original.):
|Soviet spy Alger Hiss, fair-haired boy of the State
Department, who went to Yalta as Roosevelt's advisor and who was a chief
planner of the present United Nations.
Harry Hopkins, Lauchlin Currie, David Niles, Michael Greenberg, Owen
Lattimore, Philleo Nash and others identified in sworn testimony as
pro-Communists or outright Russian spies operating through the White House,
who for years secretly influenced United States presidents and shaped policy
decisions to benefit the USSR.
With characters such as the above and countless more like them dictating
U.S. government policy, it is little wonder that Forrestal often felt he was
the only pro-American in a nest of Communists. In December 1945 he made a
brilliantly simple indictment of the wholesale treason in Washington when he
told the newly elected U.S. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (R., Wis.):
"Consistency never has been a mark of stupidity. If the diplomats who have
mishandled our relations with Russia were merely stupid, they would
occasionally make a mistake in our favor." (p. 53)
Another was David Niles, alias Neihuss, a powerful advisor to Roosevelt
and Truman. The mysterious Niles, who had an office in the White House,
operated very secretively; however when various Fifth Amendment Communists
were asked by congressional committees if they knew Niles, they refused to
answer on the grounds that if they did so they might incriminate themselves.
Congressman Martin Dies of Texas, first chairman of the House Committee
on Un-American Activities, told this writer that a short time before [former
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank] Murphy died, Mrs. Dies and he met Murphy
at the home of the late celebrated Washington hostess, Mrs. Evelyn Walsh
"Justice Murphy was highly excited," Congressman Dies explained. "In
fact, he was the most emotionally disturbed man I've ever seen. He paced
back and forth, unable to sit down. He said he had recently 'gotten
religion' and had returned to the Catholic church.
"And then he told us, very excitedly, 'We're doomed! The United States is
doomed! The Communists have control completely. They've got complete control
of Roosevelt and his wife as well. It's impossible for anyone to see him now
unless the appointment is cleared by David Niles and his gang. (p. 134)
The campaign against Forrestal had a threefold purpose: to discredit
Forrestal in the eyes of the American people, thereby permanently
eliminating him as a public official; to harass and persecute him personally
and drive him to a nervous breakdown if possible, thus wrecking his capacity
to fight the Communist conspiracy even as a private citizen; to intimidate
all other anti-Communists by instilling in them a fear of the terrible
reprisals awaiting those who dare oppose Communism at home and abroad.
Monsignor Sheehy and others have said they suspected that the long smear
campaign against Forrestal may have been secretly directed by Communists and
pro-Communists in the White House itself--perhaps by the powerful David
Niles. (p. 161)
Other insights into the connections and the character of David Niles are
provided by the following four paragraphs of the 2000 book by Herbert Romerstein
and Eric Breindel, The Venona Secrets, Exposing Soviet Espionage and
|Meanwhile, Josephine Adams remained active on the
political scene. In October 1944 she wrote to Mrs. Roosevelt, “Last evening
it was requested through [presidential assistant] D. [David K.] Niles that
E. B. [Earl Browder] withdraw from the radio debate with [George] Sokolsky
on the election.” Filed with the letter in the Roosevelt Library was an
unidentified newspaper clipping reporting that Browder had canceled the
debate with Sokolsky. The letter was marked to be shown to the President.
The election was a month away. The Communists actively supported Roosevelt’s
reelection, but public support from Earl Browder was not an asset in most of
Niles, a mysterious political operative for President Roosevelt, had
other associations with the Communists. An NKVD Venona message from New York
to Moscow reported on a plan to send a husband and wife team of NKVD
“illegals” to Mexico. The message said, “Through Roosevelt’s advisor David
Niles–will take three-four days will cost $500.... [A]round Niles there is a
group of his friends who arrange anything for a bribe. Through them Michael
W. Burd [“Tenor”] obtains priority and has already paid them as much as
$6,000. Whether Niles takes a bribe himself is not known for certain.” Burd
was a Soviet agent and an officer of the Midland Export Corporation in New
On August 2, 1944, the New York Rezindentura reported to Moscow that
“Niles refused to intervene in the case explaining that he had only recently
interceded for one refugee and recommended approaching Congressman [Arthur]
Klein.” When this did not work, Niles intervened. And although the project
was held up because Niles was busy with the Democratic convention, the
matter was finally taken care of–Burd handled the paperwork.
Whittaker Chambers reported to the FBI an odd story about Niles that he
had heard from a fellow Soviet agent named John Hermann in 1934 or 1935. A
Soviet agent named Silverman (not George Silverman) was living in the next
building from Alger Hiss. This Silverman apparently had an obviously
homosexual affair with David Niles. Silverman had told Niles of the work of
the underground apparatus in Washington, and Niles later threatened to
expose the activities of the Communist group unless Silverman left his wife.
To solve the problem, J. Peters, the head of the American Communist
underground, ordered Hermann and Harold Ware to get Silverman to leave
Washington, D. C. immediately. (pp. 180-181)
That James Forrestal was “disliked intensely” by the likes of a David Niles
would seem to be something of which Forrestal could be justly proud.
There is something missing, however, in the portrait painted by Cornell
Simpson of Forrestal as public enemy number one of the Communists. He neglects
to mention that the fiercely anti-Communist columnist and radio commentator,
Walter Winchell, enthusiastically joined his leftist counterpart, Drew Pearson,
in the Forrestal smear campaign. The big thing they had in common was that they
were both strong Israel advocates. Neither Israel nor Zionism appear in
Simpson's index. He vilifies Pearson as a virtual Communist spokesman, but
mention Winchell only once, and that is favorably for his exposure of Harry
Truman’s supposed lies about Truman’s former membership in the Ku Klux Klan. His
only allusion to possible Zionist enmity toward Forrestal he handles defensively
|Others chose to tar Forrestal with anti-Semitism when
they spotted a chance to distort his stand on the Palestine partition issue.
Forrestal was not anti-Semitic; he had simply urged that Truman not play
domestic politics with the Palestine question and had explained his position
"If we are to safeguard western civilization in this crisis, the British
and American fleets must have free access to Near Eastern oil. That is a
fact, however unpleasant it may be.... I am interested in justice in
Palestine, but this interest must remain secondary to my primary interest,
which is the protection of America and the West from the gravest threat we
have ever faced [Soviet Russia]. No minority has the right to jeopardize
this nation for its own selfish interest." (p. 162)
David Niles, the Zionist
We’d never get it from Simpson, but there is very good evidence that David
Niles used his power as a gatekeeper for Roosevelt and Truman at least as much
for the Zionists as he did for the Communists. For evidence of that, we turn to
another source, Edwin Wright. Wright was Army general staff G-2 (intelligence)
Middle East specialist in Washington, 1945-46; Bureau Near East-South
Asian-African Affairs Department of State, since 1946, country specialist
1946-47, advisor U.N. affairs, 1947-50, and advisor on intelligence, 1950-55.
The first passage is from his 1975 work, "The Great Zionist Cover-up,"
originally prepared for and by request of The Harry Truman Library,
|Mr. Loy Henderson, Director of NEA (Near East-Africa
Division of the State Department), on November 24, 1947, sent a Memorandum
to Acting Secretary Robert Lovett to pass on to President Truman. In it is
|"It seems to me and all the members of my office
acquainted with the Middle East, that the policy we are following in New
York, (at the United Nations, where the U.S. Delegation was favoring the
establishment of a Zionist Jewish State on territory overwhelmingly
Arab) is contrary to the interests of the United States and will
eventually involve us in international difficulties of so grave a nature
that the reaction throughout the world, as well as in this country, will
be very strong.--We are incurring long-term Arab hostility -- the Arabs
are losing confidence in the friendship and integrity of the USA.--(It
will encourage) Soviet penetration into important areas as yet free from
Soviet domination" and as vast quantities of petroleum were being
discovered in Arab lands, it was essential that normal and mutually
advantageous relations with the Arab world should be preserved.
Before these memoranda could get to the Oval Office in the White House,
they had to pass through the screening of Sam Rosenman, Political Advisor of
the President, and David (Nyhus) Niles, Appointments Secretary, both
crypto-Zionists. One of these memoranda was returned unopened with a
notation, "President Truman already knows your views and doesn't need this."
That President Truman's attitude toward the NEA had been poisoned is evident
from his remarks in his Memoirs that he could not trust his advisors in the
State Department because they were, "anti-Semitic." Being low on the totem
pole in this group, I can testify that I have never worked with a more
honest or conscientious group of men, who when they were asked their opinion
gave it honestly - and were insulted for their loyalty. (pp. iv-v)
A pdf file of “The Great Zionist Cover-up” can by found on the web site of
Pitman Buck at http://pitmanbuck.net/ .
There are other telling references to Niles in the July 26, 1974, Truman Library
interview of Wright by Richard D. McKinzie at
|These many Israeli Government propaganda
organizations did all they could to discredit those men in the State
Department, whom they identified as "pro-Arab." For further details: Alan R.
Taylor Prelude to Israel (Philosophical Library, 1959), especially
the Chapter VIII, "The Zionist Search for American Support," pp. 77-113.]
They kept whispering in his ear, "Don’t trust the State Department." The
result was he did not trust the State Department, the people who knew what
was going on.
David Niles was another one. He was the protocol officer in the White
House, and saw to it that the State Department influence was negated while
the Zionist view was presented. You get this from Mr. Truman's book, but
also there are many stories that are not known.
Foreign policy cannot be operated intelligently if it's to be the
football of domestic lobbies, and this was Mr. Truman's great mistake. In
this issue he gave way to a domestic lobby. What did (New York Congressman)
Emmanuel Cellar know about the Middle East? The answer is nothing. What did
these other men, David Niles or (former Truman business partner) Eddie
Jacobson know about the Middle East? Zero. The result was he listened to a
group of propagandists who gave him the wrong ideas and he came across with
this fatal decision that we would support a Jewish state in the area.
One day I was sitting next to Mr. Henderson , he had his notes out and
was dictating to me some letters when the telephone rang. It was Mr. Niles
of the White House, and Mr. Niles told him (I got the story later on) that
the night before some member of the State Department had been at a dinner
party and had criticized President Truman's statement on a Jewish state. Mr.
Niles said, "We are not going to tolerate any criticism of the President on
this issue, and you let your staff know that if this happens again they must
Mr. Henderson called a meeting of the staff and told them of the message
of Mr. Niles. He said, "None of you people are to speak in public about this
issue, because if you do we'll have to send you off to some Siberia if any
of you publicly express your private opinions, even to private groups, and
it gets to the White House, you will be purged."
What happened was that Clark Clifford went to Mr. Truman, evidently upon
the request of [Zionist leader and first president of Israel, Chaim]
Weizmann, who was also hanging around Washington. Washington was loaded with
Zionists at that time, they were all hanging around there talking to their
Congressmen, getting Eddie Jacobson on the job and others. They were pulling
all the strings. It's very difficult for the person outside to know just
what did go on, because this has not yet been published. We'll have to find,
if David Niles ever publishes any documents, as to what part he played in
it. I don't know that his book has come out yet.
Anyhow, through David Niles, they had a meeting of Clark Clifford,
political adviser to the President; [Eliahu] Elath, at that time still
called himself Epstein; and the President. On the morning of the 13th of
May, Epstein argued, "Please recognize Israel immediately, because we need
that recognition for legitimacy." They had quite a discussion, but Mr.
[Secretary of State George C.] Marshall was never called in or asked about
this at all. [F.R.U.S. 1948, Vol. V, pp. 974-77, Secretary of State’s
memo of May 12, 1948 describes the acrimonious debate between Clark Clifford
and Secretary Marshall.]
We were committed to certain things and we didn't know what we were
committed to. As these situations unfolded, and the Secretary of State made
no decisions, I can assure you of this: They were all made in the White
House. Mr. David Niles knew what was going on, Emmanuel Cellar knew what was
going on, but the State Department often just had these announcements coming
out and they'd find out afterwards what'd been decided.
MCKINZIE: At what
point was it apparent to you that you weren't supposed to say anything?
WRIGHT: The day that
Mr. Henderson told us what Mr. Niles' instructions were: "Discipline these
fellows if they disagree with the President." From then on we knew that we
played no part in what was going on.
A final excerpt from the Wright interview reveals completely the ascendancy
of the Zionist power over America’s foreign policy apparatus:
|There were influences to get rid of anyone who was
called "pro-Arab." They were not pro-Arab, I must insist upon this, they
were acting in accordance with America's larger interests in the Middle
East. The Zionists gave them the title "pro-Arab" and that was enough to
destroy them. You had to be pro-Zionist or keep quiet in order to stay in
the State Department, and the net result was a whole generation of officers
who are simply "Uncle Toms." They don't dare to speak or publish things.
They are afraid that they will be sent off to Africa, or who knows to some
other part of the world, and will stay there the rest of their lives.
One of these men was Henry Byroade. Henry Byroade made a talk in
Philadelphia in April 1954. Before he made this talk he had two men work
with him on it. One was Parker T. "Pete" Hart, who was the head of the NE,
the Near Eastern Section, and the other was myself. We went over to his
house and worked out his talk. In it he made this statement: "I have some
advice for both Arabs and for Jews. Israel should think of itself as a state
living in the Middle East and that it must live with its Arab neighbors. The
Arabs must cease to think of themselves as wanting to destroy Israel and
should come to terms with Israel itself." [Fred J. Khouri The
Arab-Israeli Dilemma, Syracuse Press, 1968, p. 300 adds that even the
Israeli Government protested this statement]
The next morning Henry Byroade got a call from Nathan Goldman, who was in
California. [Nathan Goldman was president of the World Jewish Congress and
many years president of the World Zionist Organization. He acted as though
he were president of a World Jewish State and had a bitter fight with Ben
Gurion after 1948.] He used his first name and said, "Hank, did you make
that speech in Philadelphia that was reported in the papers today?"
Byroade said, "Yes, I made that speech."
He said, "We will see to it that you'll never hold another good
That was the control, from California, that Nathan Goldman held over the
State Department. All they had to do was go to the President or to Congress,
and the demand would come for this fellow to be sent off and put in some
obscure area, where he no longer would influence the situation. This has
been going on for 26 years in the Department of State as the result of Mr.
Truman's first decision to purge Loy Henderson.
It destroyed the efficacy of the Department of State in that particular
area. The Zionists consider that they have control of the Department of
State, can dictate who is going to be in it and who is going to say what
policy should be. It's sort of silent terrorism that they have applied and
kept up ever since.
Zionist Enemy Number One
One must wonder if James Forrestal realized the power of the forces he was up
against in opposing the push of the Zionists for a state of their own in
Palestine. From the treatment he received in the press, it was apparent whom
they regarded as their principal enemy in the United States. If there is any
doubt left, it is erased by these excerpts from Chapter 7 of The Secret War
against the Jews, entitled “A Jewish-Communist Conspiracy” (with quotation
marks around the original):
|In this chapter we discuss the following allegations
by our sources in detail:
- The United States’ first secretary of defense, James V. Forrestal, was
the leader of a cabal of senior State Department and intelligence
officials within the Truman administration that worked behind the
president’s back to block the creation of the State of Israel.
Forrestal was, in fact, a corporate spy for Allen Dulles within the
Truman administration, while Dulles was working to elect the president’s
opponent, Governor Thomas E. Dewey.
When the Zionists realized right before the UN vote on partition of
Palestine that they might not have enough votes, they blackmailed Nelson
Rockefeller, who delivered the largely hostile votes of the Latin American
The secret history of the birth of Israel has never been told before. Let
us begin with the principal villain, the man who nearly succeeded in
preventing Israel’s birth.
Despite deep dissatisfaction with the president [Roosevelt] and his
successor, Forrestal rose through the ranks to become undersecretary and
then secretary of the navy, and finally the first secretary of defense in
September 1947. Truman did not realize for another year that Forrestal was
quietly going mad. Virtually the entire American defense policy, indeed much
of its strategy toward the Zionists, was in the hands of an extremely
bigoted lunatic. (pp. 155-156)
It could hardly be clearer that the extreme animosity toward Forrestal that
motivated the slander campaign in the press in 1948, and was behind the
threatening letters and telephone calls in the last months of his life, is alive
today in the writings of people like John Loftus, Mark Aarons, and Walter
Winchell biographer, Neal Gabler.
The First Ruddy?
Curiously, though, the only suspects Cornell Simpson even considers in
Forrestal’s likely murder are the Communists. His book is divided into two
sections. The first is named, “Suicide or Murder?”, and he leaves little doubt
in the reader’s mind that it was the latter. Section Two is titled, “Who Could
Have Murdered Forrestal–and Why? The section consists of four chapters. The
titles of the first three are questions: “Who Gained Most by the Death?”, “Who
Gained Most by the Death (continued)”, and “Who Murders in a Matching Pattern?”
The answer in each case is “The Communists and the international Communist
conspiracy.” Yes, Simpson also shows that the Truman administration itself also
benefited from the death, but only because it helped conceal the degree of its
penetration by Communists and the extent to which its policies, particularly
those of Truman’s predecessor, Franklin Roosevelt, aided the Communists.
The final chapter, in case you still don’t get the picture, is titled, “What
the Communists Did to Forrestal.” These passages give one the flavor of
Simpson’s summing up:
|...it was the Communist Daily Worker that
openly launched the vicious barrage against our first secretary of defense.
And the defamation was quickly snatched up and embellished by all those
newspaper columnists and radio and TV commentators who march in closed ranks
behind the Communist party line.(p. 162)
After Forrestal was killed, the New York Sun reported that [Drew]
Pearson’s stories depicting the former defense secretary as a mental case
were picked up and published prominently in the Russian press. Here again
Pearson’s smears were valuable to the Kremlin, for it is standard Communist
technique to question the sanity of all anti-Communists. (p. 163)
Two days after the former defense secretary was killed, Tris Coffin,
another Washington columnist, came out with a story that used a classic
smear technique–the anonymous source. Coffin claimed that an unnamed
informant had visited Forrestal at the hospital and had found Forrestal
disheveled, deranged and obviously suicidal. Other visitors and hospital
officials agreed that Forrestal had been in excellent spirits and was
immaculately groomed. Coffin also claimed that Forrestal’s “wrists were
bandaged,” implying that Forrestal had tried to slash them. This lie was
printed the day after Dr. Raines had stated in a press release that
Forrestal had not made any suicidal gestures in the hospital.
Two and a half years after the death, Time magazine reissued some of the
original “suicide attempt” lies. It also implied that Forrestal’s mind had
slipped, as evidenced in a habit he had developed of scratching his head
Note that Forrestal’s enemies, even long after his death, continued to
print lies designed to establish not only that he had frequently tried to
kill himself but had been hopelessly out of his mind, all of which served to
discredit his entire anti-Communist stand. (p. 166)
Indeed it did, but as we have seen, the Forrestal smears and
misrepresentations keep coming, right up to the present day, and they are not
coming from the Communists. They were neatly packaged by Arnold Rogow in a book
that was published three years before Simpson’s, which Simpson chose to ignore,
perhaps because he was unable to paint Rogow as a Communist or Communist
One must wonder why Cornell Simpson is so intent on steering his readers away
from the obvious prime suspects in Forrestal’s death. It was not the Communists
who were known to have threatened Forrestal, Robert Lovett, and other government
officials in the last months of Forrestal’s life. And though they might have had
some small influence with the American press that slandered him, distorted the
facts about his last few weeks of life, and failed to raise a hue and cry about
the ongoing secrecy of the investigation of his death, it was minor compared to
that of the Zionists, and it is now non-existent.
Simpson actually gives himself away in the fourth paragraph of his book’s
|...on November 22, 1963, while riding in a motorcade
in Dallas, president Kennedy was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a
mysterious young American Communist recently returned from a lengthy stay in
Soviet Russia. While in Russia, Oswald, according to his own writings, had
been paid large sums of money by the Soviet secret police, which is the
terrorist “enforcement” arm of the Soviet government and which is notorious
for political assassinations both inside and outside Russia. Why the Soviet
secret police would have had the future assassin of a U.S. president on its
payroll never has been disclosed. (P. vii)
To be sure we have learned a great deal more about the Kennedy assassination
than we knew in 1966, but it is very hard to believe that a man as perspicacious
and as skeptical of the government and the press as Cornell Simpson has shown
himself to be in the Forrestal death, could accept as face value the official
line that Oswald killed Kennedy. Here he reminds us of no one so much as the
reporter and now Newsmax.com editor, Christopher Ruddy. Ruddy, with his reports
in the New York Post and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, and his book, The
Strange Death of Vincent Foster, has been the only American journalist to
challenge the official verdict of suicide in the death of Deputy White House
Counsel, Vincent W. Foster, Jr., but he scoffs at skeptics of the Warren Report
and other apparent cover-ups, calling them “conspiracy theorists.” One can only
conclude that Ruddy is an operative for someone, and the fiercely pro-Israel
orientation of the Newsmax site strongly suggests who that someone might be. May
not the same suspicion be raised of Simpson, who gives voice to the skepticism
over the Forrestal death felt by many of his contemporaries, but then directs
that doubt and skepticism down a rabbit trail leading away from the most likely
|At critical moments in U.S. relations with the Arab
world and Israel there has invariably been some one person who has seen the
problem in full perspective, bestirred himself, and attempted to tell the
story to the American public. Equally invariably, like the wolf at the head
of the pack, he has been forthrightly shot down, his pen or voice stilled,
and the gaping vacuum once more becomes apparent.
(Alfred M. Lilienthal, op. cit.
Lilienthal was referring to techniques like character assassination and other
heavy-handed methods such as those used on conscientious State Department
officials, but the Communists are not the only ones "notorious for political
assassination." Just eight months before Forrestal's death, members of future
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's "Stern Gang" gunned down the United Nation's
chief mediator in Palestine, the Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte. In November of
1944 that same organization was responsible for the murder of Lord Moyne, a high
British official supervising that country's Mandate over Palestine. In July of
1946, agents of another Zionist terrorist organization, Irgun, led by another
future Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, blew up the building where the British
had their headquarters in Jerusalem, the King David Hotel, killing 35 people,
including 17 Jews.
The most extreme of the Zionists in Israel have always had an inordinate
amount of power and influence in the United States, right up to the present day.
Criticism of their actions is much more prominently voiced in Israel, itself,
than it is in this country.
Only a few months before James Forrestal’s confinement
to the Bethesda Naval Hospital (also famous, or infamous, we might remind
readers, for the autopsy of John F. Kennedy) a group of the most illustrious
Jewish intellectuals in the United States were moved to warn the country with
the following message:
|Letters to The Times
New York Times December 4, 1948
New Palestine Party Visit of Menachem Begin and Aims of Political
Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the
emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the "Freedom Party" (Tnuat
Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods,
political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It
was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai
Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine.
The current visit of Menachem Begin, leader of this party, to the United
States is obviously calculated to give the impression of American support
for his party in the coming Israeli elections, and to cement political ties
with conservative Zionist elements in the United States. Several Americans
of national repute have lent their names to welcome his visit. It is
inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if
correctly informed as to Mr. Begin's political record and perspectives,
could add their names and support to the movement he represents.
Before irreparable damage is done by way of financial contributions,
public manifestations in Begin's behalf, and the creation in Palestine of
the impression that a large segment of America supports Fascist elements in
Israel, the American public must be informed as to the record and objectives
of Mr. Begin and his movement.
The public avowals of Begin's party are no guide whatever to its actual
character. Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism,
whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist
state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real
character; from its past actions we can judge what it may be expected to do
in the future.
Attack on Arab Village
A shocking example was their behavior in the Arab village of Deir Yassin.
This village, off the main roads and surrounded by Jewish lands, had taken
no part in the war, and had even fought off Arab bands who wanted to use the
village as their base. On April 9 (THE NEW YORK TIMES), terrorist bands
attacked this peaceful village, which was not a military objective in the
fighting, killed most of its inhabitants-240 men, women, and children-and
kept a few of them alive to parade as captives through the streets of
Jerusalem. Most of the Jewish community was horrified at the deed, and the
Jewish Agency sent a telegram of apology to King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan.
But the terrorists, far from being ashamed of their act, were proud of this
massacre, publicized it widely, and invited all the foreign correspondents
present in the country to view the heaped corpses and the general havoc at
The Deir Yassin incident exemplifies the character and actions of the
Within the Jewish community they have preached an admixture of
ultranationalism, religious mysticism, and racial superiority. Like other
Fascist parties they have been used to break strikes, and have themselves
pressed for the destruction of free trade unions. In their stead they have
proposed corporate unions on the Italian Fascist model.
During the last years of sporadic anti-British violence, the IZL and
Stern groups inaugurated a reign of terror in the Palestine Jewish
community. Teachers were beaten up for speaking against them, adults were
shot for not letting their children join them. By gangster methods,
beatings, window-smashing, and wide-spread robberies, the terrorists
intimidated the population and exacted a heavy tribute.
The people of the Freedom Party have had no part in the constructive
achievements in Palestine. They have reclaimed no land, built no
settlements, and only detracted from the Jewish defense activity. Their
much-publicized immigration endeavors were minute, and devoted mainly to
bringing in Fascist compatriots.
The discrepancies between the bold claims now being made by Begin and his
party, and their record of past performance in Palestine bear the imprint of
no ordinary political party. This is the unmistakable stamp of a Fascist
party for whom terrorism (against Jews, Arabs, and British alike), and
misrepresentation are means, and a "Leader State" is the goal.
In the light of the foregoing considerations, it is imperative that the
truth about Mr. Begin and his movement be made known in this country. It is
all the more tragic that the top leadership of American Zionism has refused
to campaign against Begin's efforts, or even to expose to its own
constituents the dangers to Israel from support to Begin.
The undersigned therefore take this means of publicly presenting a few
salient facts concerning Begin and his party; and of urging all concerned
not to support this latest manifestation of fascism.
ISIDORE ABRAMOWITZ, HANNAH ARENDT, ABRAHAM BRICK, RABBI JESSURUN CARDOZO,
ALBERT EINSTEIN, HERMAN EISEN, M.D., HAYIM FINEMAN, M. GALLEN, M.D., H.H.
HARRIS, ZELIG S. HARRIS, SIDNEY HOOK, FRED KARUSH, BRURIA KAUFMAN, IRMA
L.LINDHEIM, NACHMAN MAISEL, SEYMOUR MELMAN, MYER D. MENDELSON, M.D., HARRY
M.OSLINSKY, SAMUEL PITLICK, FRITZ ROHRLICH, LOUIS P. ROCKER, RUTH SAGIS,
ITZHAK SANKOWSKY, I.J. SHOENBERG, SAMUEL SHUMAN, M. SINGER, IRMA WOLFE,
Would men like Menachem Begin and his followers have hesitated at
assassinating the most popular, outspoken, and powerful critic of the nascent
state of Israel in the United States if given the opportunity? It certainly did
not stop them when the perceived obstacles to Israeli ambitions were members of
the British or the Swedish leadership and nobility. Would someone like David
Niles have used his power and influence to assist the assassins, and did he have
sufficient power and influence to see that the deed was accomplished? From the
evidence we have presented, I believe the answer would have to be in the
Would President Truman have countenanced such a thing? One likes to think
that he would not, had it been in his power. But from his earliest days in
politics as a member of the political machine, that is, the organized criminal
conspiracy, of “Boss” Tom Pendergast of Kansas City, Truman had learned how to
make the kinds of compromises that would leave him eventually, though President,
powerless to prevent such an atrocity. (Do an Internet search of various
combinations of “Truman” “corruption” “Pendergast” and “John Lazia” for evidence
of the sort that you will not find heavily emphasized by Truman hagiographers
like David McCullough.). We have seen the assertion, after all, by Zionist
apologists John Loftus and Mark Aarons that David Ben Gurion would freely use
blackmail to advance Israel’s interests.
Would America’s press have participated in the cover-up of such a heinous
crime? Considering what we have learned of the role they have played in the
aftermath of the assassination of the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King and
Vincent Foster, the temptation to engage in sarcasm at this point is almost
irresistible. Let us simply say that, considering who the most likely suspects
would have to have been, one would sooner expect Pravda of the old days to
question the official verdict in the Jan Masaryk “suicide.”
November 10, 2002
Who Killed James Forrestal?
Go to Synopsis.
Signs of a Struggle?
The first person to
enter former Secretary of Defense James Forrestal's fully-lighted room at the
Bethesda Naval Hospital after his fatal, late-night plunge from a 16th floor
window saw broken glass on his bed. The Navy photographer who took pictures
of the room at some unknown time later took a picture of broken pieces of what
looks like either a petri dish or an ash tray on the ornate carpet in the
room, but in the photograph, the bed had nothing but a bare mattress and a
couple of bare pillows on it, not even the turned-back bed covering that the
nurse who saw the glass on the bed described. The two photographs of the
room, taken from different angles, also failed to show either the slippers
under the bed or the razor blade beside it that the nurse saw. In fact, the
barren room with nothing on the bed or any of the furniture, no reading or
writing material, no clothing, no spectacles, no pipe, tobacco, or lighter, in
short, no sign that James Forrestal or anyone else had, shortly before, been a
patient there, is clearly not the room as described by the nurse, Lieutenant
junior grade Dorothy Turner. (See
The scene that Navy
corpsman chief John Edward McClain captured was not what a proper police
crime-scene photographer would have captured. The room had been stripped down
and scrubbed up, except that the cleaners seem to have overlooked the clear
pieces of glass two feet, or so, from the foot of the bed. A suspicious police
investigator, encountering this broken glass on the bed and the floor and
noting the bathrobe cord tightly tied around Forrestal's neck, might well have
concluded that these were signs of a struggle, quite inconsistent with the
quick conclusion of suicide by the county medical examiner and the inferences
drawn by the news accounts.
Secret Report Finally Made Public
This new information
on James Forrestal's untimely death, never reported before anywhere, is taken
directly from the investigation of the
review board convened
by the commander of the National Naval Medical Center, Rear Admiral Morton D.
Willcutts, on the day after Forrestal's May 22, 1949, death. The board, made
up of five Navy Medical Corps officers junior to Admiral Willcutts and one
retired Medical Corps captain had finished hearing and recording the testimony
of all witnesses–all of whom were also members of the Navy Medical Corps on
duty at the Bethesda Naval Hospital–on May 31, 1949. The "proceedings and
findings" of the board were officially signed off on by the Commandant of the
Potomac River Naval Command on July 13, 1949, but not until October 11 was a
less than one page, uninformative 5-point "Finding of Facts" released to the
public. Interestingly, that release did not conclude that Forrestal had
committed suicide, but the press left us with the impression that it had. The
Review Board investigation itself remained secret until April 6 of 2004 when
the author, on his third Freedom of Information Act try, the first two of
which were to the National Naval Medical Center, received the report from the
Navy's Judge Advocate General's office.
Forrestal’s body had been
found on the roof of the second deck of the Bethesda Naval Hospital at around
1:50 AM on Sunday. The board met at 11:45 AM on Monday, May 23, and spent
only 45 minutes total, visiting the morgue to identify the body, the site 13
stories below where Forrestal had landed, room 1618 where Forrestal had been
hospitalized for some seven weeks, and room 1620, the diet kitchen across the
hall out of whose window Forrestal had apparently fallen. A lunch break was
taken from 12:30 to 1:30 and the board members then conferred among themselves
until 2:18, when they adjourned for the day.
The first two witnesses
called when the board convened the next morning were the photographer who took
pictures of the body and the photographer who took pictures around the 16th
floor area. It is of some interest that two photographers were required for
this task. Of even greater interest is that, quite properly, the time when
the pictures of the body were taken is firmly established by questioning, but
the board exhibits a very curious lack of curiosity as to when the second set
of pictures, the ones inside the hospital, were taken.
that “Harley F. Cope, junior, Aviation photographer’s mate first,” had “been
called upon recently to take some pictures” and having elicited from Mate Cope
what the nature of the pictures were, this question is addressed to him:
Q. Can you tell us at what time you arrived on
the scene and at what time you took the pictures?
A. Yes, the pictures - that series of pictures
were taken between three and three fifteen. The last picture was taken at
three fifteen as a matter of fact.
The second witness, “John
Edward McClain, hospital corpsman chief, U.S. Navy,” was also asked if he was
“called upon recently to take some pictures” and asked to identify them, but
the follow-up question establishing the important fact of when he was called
upon and when he took the pictures never comes. It is apparent that enough
time had been permitted to elapse for Forrestal’s room to be transformed from
the one that Nurse Turner described to the one that Corpsman McClain
photographed. That the review board failed to establish just how much time
that was looks to be more than inadvertent. When we look carefully at the
windows in the photographs of the room we see that bright sunlight is
streaming in. The sun is about as high in the sky as it gets in May at the
latitude of the Washington, DC, area. One can surmise that at least eight
hours had passed between Forrestal’s fall and Corpsman McClain’s photographic
work. Why was it necessary to let so much time pass?
Though they must have
taken a look at the photographs and noticed the barren room and the bright
sunlight in the pictures, the members of the review board failed to note the
contradiction in the later testimony of Lieutenant junior grade Francis
Whitney Westneat when he said that, “... the Navy photographers (plural)
arrived at three fifteen and finished their work at about three
Not only do the
questioners fail to establish when the second photographer actually did his
work, but in using the passive voice in their initial questions to each of the
photographers, they also fail to inform us as to exactly who called upon these
photographers to take these pictures. Who was in charge of things, of the
investigation, if you will, from the time Forrestal was found dead until
the board began its work at 11:45 of the next morning, some 34 hours later?
If we could know that we might also be able to learn who was responsible for
laundering the crime scene of Forrestal’s room.
That Corpsman McClain was,
to some degree, treating what he was shooting as a crime scene comes out in
his volunteered remarks about one of the pictures he is asked to describe:
“This is out of focus. We were shooting for finger prints which we were
requested to get and that is what we have, sir.”
The board never asks who
requested the pictures of fingerprints or what those pictures turned up.
Since the board never asks who that person was, that key investigator is never
examined by the board.
In that same long response
identifying his photographs, McClain reveals the existence of the broken
glass: “The fifth picture is a picture of a rug with some broken glass on it,
taken approximately two feet from the end of the bed. We were unable to get
any identifying marks except the rug; couldn’t pick up the bed because the
glass wouldn’t show. It was room sixteen eighteen.”
Perhaps the mystery
investigator who ordered up the fingerprints also made some effort to
determine how the glass came to be broken, but the board members, none of
whom, as medical men, seem to have any background in the investigation of
crimes, have nothing to say about it.
about the broken glass was no greater when they questioned Nurse Turner next
to last on the third day of the hearing.
Q. What were your particular duties on the
night of May twenty-first?
A. Usually before quarter of two I go down to
tower eight before I write the captain’s log and I had left tower twelve and
went down to tower eight and I asked the corpsman how everything was and he
said he just gave a man a pill. I happened to look up at the clock. It was
just about one fourty-four (sic). I sat there in a chair for a minute and
then I heard this noise. It was a double thud and I said what was that. I
said “It sounded like somebody fell out of bed you better check the wing in
front” and he went to check the beds and said it was alright and so I said
“I’ll check the head” and sent him to tower seven to see if it was something
down there. That’s when I walked in the bathroom on tower eight. I looked
out the window. I just remember thinking in my mind, “Oh my God, I hope he
isn’t mine” and I ran up to tower twelve and told the corpsman to check on
Colonel Fuller’s room so he walked into his room and I walked into room twelve
thirty opposite his room and looked out the window from there and could see a
body distinctly. It was then I really realized it was a body and I thought
of Mister Forrestal. So I went up to tower sixteen and told Miss Harty there
was a man’s body outside the galley window and he wasn’t mine. We both went
into his room and he wasn’t there and we noticed the broken glass on the bed
and looked down and noticed the razor blade and told him he was missing (sic)
and she said it was one forty-eight. Then I walked over towards the galley
and noticed the screen was unlocked. That’s about all.
Examined by the board:
Q. When you found out the body was not that of
one of your patients what made you think of Mister Forrestal?
A. I knew he wasn’t mine and I knew that
Mister Forrestal was up there and was being watched.
Q. You said you saw his slippers and a razor
blade beside them; where did you see them?
A. The bed clothes were turned back and
towards the middle of the bed and I looked down and they were right there as
you get out of bed.
Q. And the razor blade was lying beside the
A. Yes it was.
Q. Did you notice any blood on the bed?
A. No, I didn’t see any and the razor blade
was dry; there wasn’t anything on that. I remember looking and there wasn’t
anything on the glass either.
Q. Where was the bathrobe?
A. I didn’t see his bathrobe.
Neither the recorder nor the members of the
board desired further to examine the witness.
The board informed the witness that she was
privileged to make any further statement covering anything relating to the
subject matter of the investigation which she thought should be a matter of
record in connection therewith, which had not been fully brought out by the
The witness said she had nothing further to
The witness was duly warned and withdrew.
A few comments are in
Notice that when she first
mentions them, Nurse Turner speaks of the broken glass and the
razor blade as though she has told these people, or at least someone in
authority, about these things before. Once again we are made to wonder who
was in charge in the immediate aftermath of the death and what he learned from
the witnesses. The corpsman who was supposed to be monitoring Forrestal and
first noticed him missing from the darkened room, Robert Wayne Harrison, was
also not called to testify until the third day of the hearing (Wednesday).
Surely someone had interviewed him earlier, but it was not part of the
The questioner said, “you
said you saw his slippers and a razor blade...”
The astute reader will
notice that she has said nothing about slippers. Maybe the transcriber just
messed up, but at least as likely, some prior questioning had gone on that was
not officially recorded. And why are they interested in the slippers and the
razor blade when it is the glass, more than anything else, which should
intrigue them? They don’t even ask if she saw broken glass anywhere else,
like on the floor, where they have already seen photographs of it. They had
previously asked Corpsman Harrison if he had seen any glass on the floor, and
he had responded in the negative (but he apparently never turned on the
Nurse Regina M. L. Harty,
who accompanied Nurse Turner to the room, had been interviewed earlier, but
she was never asked to describe what she saw in the room.
The final question
about the bathrobe might have some real significance. We wonder which of the
board members asked it, and if he might have been on to something.
Unfortunately, we will never learn who played what role in the questioning
because the individual questioners on the board are never identified. He is
just a “Q.”
Although the “cord” found
tied tightly around Forrestal’s neck is commonly referred to as his bathrobe
cord, no official connection is ever made between that cord and his bathrobe.
He was wearing only his pajamas when he fell from the window. The cord
appears in the list of exhibits, but the bathrobe does not. This question of
Nurse Turner represents the only attempt by the board to locate the bathrobe,
perhaps to see if it was missing a belt.
The Key Missing Exhibits
Some much more important
things than Forrestal’s bathrobe were missing from the exhibits, though. Have
a look at the complete list, dear reader, and see if you notice what they are:
Introduced on Page No.
body of deceased,
Exhibits 1A through 1J
Rooms sixteen eighteen and sixteen twenty and
building (illegible), National Naval Medical Center,
Exhibits 2A through
record of the deceased, Exhibit
external injuries taken immediately preceding autopsy,
Doctor William C. Menninger, Exhibit
Doctor Raymond W. Waggoner, Exhibit
That’s right, there’s no
autopsy report, a pretty serious omission. Defenders of the investigation
might respond that the autopsy doctor, as we shall see, was questioned at
length and asked many key questions, revealing that in his opinion Forrestal
was not choked to death before being thrown out of the window, but these are
no substitute for the autopsy report itself. One can only wonder why it was
left out. Possibly germane to this omission is the fact that the author’s
FOIA request for all materials connected with the Willcutts Report was not
completely honored by the Navy JAG office. The first set of exhibits, the 10
photographs of the body as it lay on the third floor roof were held back, as
were an unknown number of photographs taken of Forrestal’s external injuries
taken just prior to the autopsy. The reason given was that “...the
unauthorized release of this information would result in a clearly unwarranted
invasion of personal privacy with respect to Mr. Forrestal’s surviving family
members (5 U.S.C.552 (b)(6), as amended).”
The JAG office informed me
that I could challenge the ruling with a formal letter sent within 60 days,
and I did so, on the basis that no family member who knew him and could be
counted as a loved one or a “surviving family member” was still alive (He has
one grandchild who was born many years after his death and is now only of
college age.). On September 14, 2004, I finally received a response. Here is
the key paragraph:
"Please be advised that
these exhibits [1, 4, and 5] are missing from the original investigative
report. Due to an administrative error you were informed on April 6, 2004,
that these exhibits were withheld out of respect to Mr. Forrestal’s surviving
It would appear to this
humble observer that the Navy legal team’s initial error was tactical rather
Readers of the first
installment of “Who Killed James Forrestal?” should also notice the missing
props that played such a key role in convincing the public that Forrestal had
killed himself. For the others, here are the key passages from the front-page
article in The New York Times of Monday, May 23, 1949:
Killed in 13 Story Leap
Nation is Shocked
He Was a War Casualty as If He
Died at Front, President Declares
Copied a Poem on
Had Seemed to Be Improving in the Naval
Hospital–Admiral Orders Inquiry
Washington May 22 - James Forrestal, former
Secretary of Defense, jumped thirteen stories to his death early this morning
from the sixteenth floor of the Naval Medical Center.
Suicide had apparently been planned from early
evening. He declined his usual sleeping pill about 1:45 this morning. A book
of poetry beside his bed was opened to a passage from the Greek tragedian,
Sophocles, telling of the comfort of death.
The plunge that caused Mr. Forrestal’s death
occurred at 2 A.M. and hospital authorities announced it with a brief
statement two hours later.
Pushed Open a Screen
The hospital said that Mr. Forrestal had left
his room, No. 1618 in the white granite tower of the hospital, and had gone to
a diet kitchen nearby. There, clad in a dressing gown, he pushed open a
screen held only by thumb latches and plummeted to the third floor projection
after hitting a narrower projection at the fourth floor.
The sound of the fall was heard by Lieut.
Dorothy Turner, the nurse on duty on the seventh floor almost immediately
after a Medical Corpsman’s check of Mr. Forrestal’s room disclosed he was
missing. An investigation led to the discovery of the body on the roof of the
passageway leading from the third floor of the main building.
There were indications that Mr. Forrestal might
also have tried to hang himself. The sash of his dressing-gown was still
knotted and wrapped tightly around his neck when he was found, but hospital
officials would not speculate as to its possible purpose.
Mr. Forrestal had copied most of the Sophocles
poem from the book on hospital memo paper, but he had apparently been
interrupted in his efforts. His copying stopped after he had written “night”
of the word “nightingale” in the twenty-sixth line of the poem.
The book was Anthology of World Poetry, bound
in red leather and decorated in gold. A red ribbon bookmark was between Pages
278 and 279 where “Chorus from Ajax” appears.
He was widely denounced by persons who felt
that he favored the Arabs over the Jews, and Mr. Forrestal was said to be
particularly distressed by a statement that “he cared more for oil than he did
for the Jews.”
Rear Admiral Leslie Stone
Adm. Stone gave this account of the
circumstances that enabled Mr. Forrestal to elude the attendant early this
Commander R.R. Deen, a staff psychiatrist, was
asleep in the room next to that of Mr. Forrestal. The attendant, Hospital
Apprentice R.W. Harrison made his visit to Mr. Forrestal at about 1:30 and
found him apparently asleep. On his 1:45 check he found Mr. Forrestal awake.
Asked if he wanted a sleeping pill, Mr. Forrestal said he did not.
Apprentice Harrison then went to Commander
Deen’s room to report that Mr. Forrestal had declined to take a sedative.
Back at 1:50, he found that his patient was not in his room.
Commander Deen was immediately roused and a
check of the room begun. A few minutes later the seventh floor nurse, Lt.
Turner, reported the sound of Mr. Forrestal’s body striking the third floor
Admiral Stone said that Mr. Forrestal had
improved to the point where he was being allowed to shave himself and that
belts were permissible on his dressing gown and pajamas. It had been accepted
that continued treatment would have brought Mr. Forrestal to complete recovery
in a matter of months.
So where were the poetry
anthology and the memo page with the transcribed lines from “Chorus from Ajax”
in the list of exhibits? Actually, the handwritten page was included among
the materials that the author received from the Navy, but none of the
witnesses mentions having discovered it or the book in Forrestal’s room, and
no one on the review board asks anything about the circumstances of their
discovery. Nurse Turner, the most likely candidate to have seen them first,
if, in fact, they were ever in the room, mentions only the broken glass, the
turned-down bed clothes, the razor blade, and, with prompting from the board,
Forrestal’s slippers. The book and the transcription were absolutely vital in
the selling of the story that Forrestal took his own life, but they seem to
have materialized out of the ether (Speaking of ether, another thing we learn
from the Willcutts Report, for what it is worth, is that Forrestal complained
on a number of occasions of a strong ether smell in his room.). On the other
hand, broken glass was most assuredly discovered in the room by two separate
individuals, one of whom captured it photographically, and it has taken 55
years for that fact to reach the American public (Actually it remains to be
seen whether the salient facts surrounding Forrestal’s death will ever reach
any significant portion of the American public. Those who were content for
the Report to remain secret all these years will hardly be inclined to
publicize its findings and its shortcomings.).
Something else that is
notable about the account in The Times is the degree of detail about the
goings on in the hospital in the minutes before and after Forrestal’s fatal
plunge. This is information that could only have come from Apprentice
Harrison, Commander Deen, and Lt. Turner. Someone had clearly taken charge of
the investigation right off the bat to elicit this information from them. For
lack of any other name, that of the commanding medical officer of Bethesda
Naval Hospital, Rear Admiral Leslie Stone, the man who gave the information to
the press will have to do. Yet, as we shall see, when the board questions him
they ask him nothing about his actions in the wake of the Forrestal death.
plays such an important role in Forrestal’s last few minutes among the living
that his testimony is produced here in its entirety:
Examined by the recorder
(Lieutenant Robert F. Hooper, Medical Service Corps, U.S. Navy):
Q. State your name, rate and present station.
A. Robert Wayne Harrison, junior, hospital
apprentice, U. S. Navy, Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland.
Q. Harrison, what were your specific duties on
the night of May twenty-first?
A. My specific duties were to take care of
Q. What time did you go on duty?
A. I went on duty at eleven forty-five p.m.
Q. Whom did you relieve?
A. Price, hospital corpsman?
Q. Would you tell the board what happened from
the time you took over the watch at eleven forty-five until the time that you
discovered Mister Forrestal was missing?
A. When I took over the watch at eleven
forty-five Price whom I relieved told me that Mister Forrestal was still up in
his room and that he had been walking around; that he had been reading. Since
I didn’t know Mister Forrestal personally, (I had been on the night before,
and when he woke up the next morning I didn’t get to talk to him very much, I
didn’t know him personally), he introduced me to him and he was very friendly
and said “Hello” to me.
Q. How many times did you speak to Mister
Forrestal between the time you took over the watch and the time he was
A. Approximately three or four times.
Q. Did you notice anything unusual about
Mister Forrestal’s behavior during that time?
A. No, sir, I didn’t.
Q. Did he say anything to you that would lead
you to believe that he was in any way disturbed?
A. No, sir, he didn’t.
Q. At what time did you last see Mister
A. It was one forty-five, sir.
Q. Where was he then?
A. He was in his bed, apparently sleeping.
Q. Where were you at that time?
A. I was in the room when I saw him.
Q. Did you leave the room at that time?
A. Yes, sir, I did.
Q. Where did you go?
A. I went out to the nurse’s desk to write in
the chart, Mister Forrestal’s chart.
Q. At what time did you become aware of the
fact that Mister Forrestal was missing?
A. At approximately one-fifty a.m.
Q. Had you previously spoken to the doctor
regarding Mister Forrestal?
A. Yes, sir, I had.
Q. At what time was that?
A. That was just before one forty-five before
I went back into his room to check to see what he was doing, to see if he was
asleep or resting.
Q. And then you left the room and went out to
the nurse’s desk?
A. To write in the chart, yes, sir.
Q. What did you do when you discovered Mister
Forrestal was missing?
A. When I went back into the room after I had
finished writing in the chart, I went over to my chair where he had been
sitting while I was in the room before and since it is dark in the room, very
dark, my eyes had to become accustomed to the light before I could see
anything. There is a chair sitting directly in front of the night light and
it is very hard to see anything at all when you first walk into the room so I
went over and started to sit down in the chair; by that time I could see
enough to see that he wasn’t in his bed. The first thought that came to my
mind was maybe he had gotten up and gone into the head and at the same moment
the corpsman on duty, Utz, came to the door and told me I had a phone call out
at the desk. I told him Mister Forrestal was gone. I went out to the desk
and answered the phone call. It was Bramley, the night Master-at-arms of the
Neuropsychiatric service. Bramley asked me if Mister Forrestal was alright.
I said that I didn’t know, that he wasn’t in his bed and he told me to make a
thorough check and to find out for sure where he was. So I went back into the
head, looked in the closet, any possible place in the room, and on my way back
out in the hall back to the phone I looked into the galley and I didn’t see
him in there, either. So I went back to the phone and told Bramley that he
was not there.
Examined by the board:
Q. Just prior to discovering that Mister
Forrestal was missing did you hear any unusual noises coming from the vicinity
of the diet kitchen?
A. No, sir, I heard nothing.
Q. Were you close enough to the diet kitchen
to hear if there had been any unusual noises?
A. Yes, sir, I definitely would have.
Q. What is your regular assignment in the
A. I was on night duty on ward 6-D, a
Q. How long have you been there?
A. Approximately two months, a little over two
Q. How long have you been assigned to the
A. A little over two months, sir.
Q. How many times did you say you stood watch
on Mister Forrestal?
A. Part of Friday night and I took the regular
watch on Saturday night.
Q. Did Mister Forrestal do very much wandering
about his room or corridor Saturday night?
A. He was walking around his room and he did
follow me out to the diet kitchen when he asked me for some orange juice and
then once after that he was out of his room to drink a cup of coffee.
Q. Did he go to the diet kitchen for the
A. Yes, sir, he did.
Q. Were you with him then?
A. No, sir, I was not.
Q. He served the coffee himself?
A. No, sir, the corpsman on duty, Utz, was
bringing coffee up in a coffee pot at that time. I was out writing my chart
and he went past the desk where I was sitting and entering in the chart. He
went out towards the galley with his pot of coffee and I heard him mention
Mister Forrestal’s name and say something to him and ask him if he would like
a cup of coffee. Mister Forrestal said “Yes” and then I heard a noise which
would signify he was giving him a cup of coffee and right after that I got up
and went out to the diet kitchen. He was coming out with his coffee in his
hand. He handed me the cup of coffee and said he was all finished with it.
He said I could put it in the galley.
Q. About what time was that?
A. That is one time I don’t remember.
Q. How was he dressed?
A. He was in his pajamas, sir.
Q. Did he have a bathrobe on or not?
A. No, sir.
Q. Did you give Mister Forrestal any
medication at all that night?
A. No, sir, I didn’t.
Q. Did he talk to you very much that night?
A. No, he didn’t.
Q. Didn’t he ask you about yourself and where
you came from and so on?
A. No, sir, he didn’t say much except when I
first came in and was introduced to him. That was when he said “Hello” to
me. When I asked him if he wanted his sleeping tablets he told me no, he
thought he could sleep without them.
Q. Was your station inside Mister Forrestal’s
room or was it outside the door?
A. I don’t exactly understand what you mean by
Q. Were you directed to sit in his room while
you had the watch most of the time or could you sit at the nurse’s desk?
A. I was supposed to be in the room except
when I went out to make entries in his chart or get something for Mister
Q. Were the lights on in Mister Forrestal’s
room when you took over the watch - the overhead lights?
A. No, sir, not the overhead lights; just the
Q. Did you notice a broken ashtray any time
during your tour of duty in Mister Forrestal’s room?
A. No, sir, I didn’t.
Q. When you were at the nurse’s desk is it
possible for a person to go into the diet kitchen without your observing him?
A. I couldn’t have seen him.
Q. Did Mister Forrestal appear cheerful or
depressed in the time that you observed him?
A. He appeared neither, sir.
Q. Did Mister Forrestal do any reading?
A. Not while I was on watch, sir.
Q. After you discovered Mister Forrestal was
gone did you go into the galley?
A. About fifteen or twenty minutes afterwards,
Q. Would you describe the condition of the
window in the area at the time that you were in there, in particular whether
the screen was locked or unlocked?
A. The screen was unlocked at that time, sir.
Q. Were there any attachments to the radiator?
A. I saw none if there were.
Q. Did you notice any marks on the window
A. Sir, at that time I was in such a state
that I didn’t notice any marks on the window sill.
Q. You did state earlier that you had looked
into the galley but no one was there?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. You had no reason to examine the galley
A. No, sir, I didn’t.
Q. Did you see Mr. Forrestal’s body at any
A. Yes, sir, I did, in the morgue.
Q. Did you recognize the body as that of
A. Yes, sir.
Neither the recorder nor the members of the
board desired further to examine this witness.
The board informed the witness that he was
privileged to make any further statement covering anything relating to the
subject matter of the investigation which he thought should be a matter of
record in connection therewith, which had not been fully brought out by the
The witness said he had nothing further to
The witness was duly warned and withdrew.
Notice, first, that there
is a difference in the explanation Admiral Stone gave to The Times from that
of Apprentice Harrison for the latter’s absence from the room at the time of
Forrestal’s disappearance. According to Stone, Harrison had left the room to
inform Dr. Deen that Forrestal had declined his usual sleeping pill.
Harrison’s explanation here, though, is that he had simply gone down the hall
to make routine entries in the log book at the nurse’s desk. Actually, Dr.
Deen in his testimony did say that Harrison had awakened him a few minutes
before to report that Forrestal was not sleeping and that he had told Harrison
that he should remind Forrestal that he should take a pill if he was having
trouble sleeping. Harrison had then returned to Forrestal’s room before his
last trip down the hall to make his log entries.
Second, the account
given by Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley in Driven Patriot, the Life
and Times of James Forrestal (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992) is seen to have some
At one forty-five on Sunday morning, May 22,
the new corpsman looked in on Forrestal, who was busy copying onto several
sheets of paper the brooding classical poem “Chorus from Ajax” by Sophocles,
in which Ajax, forlorn and far from home contemplates suicide. The book was
bound in red leather and decorated with gold.
In most accounts of what happened next,
it is said that the inexperienced corpsman “went on a brief errand.” However,
Dr. Robert Nenno, the young psychiatrist who later worked for Dr. Raines,
quotes Raines as telling him that Forrestal “pulled rank” and ordered the
nervous young corpsman to go on some errand that was designed to remove him
from the premises. (pp. 464-465)
According to Apprentice
Harrison, only the dim nightlight was on in Forrestal’s room from the time
that he went on duty at 11:45 p.m. until the patient turned up missing at 1:50
a.m., and Forrestal did no reading.
Assuming Dr. Nenno was
telling the truth, this account also seriously calls into question the probity
of the psychiatrist in overall charge of Forrestal’s care. The head
psychiatrist in charge of Forrestal’s care, Captain George Raines, depicts
Forrestal as scheming to get Harrison out of the way so he can commit suicide,
but the doctor’s story is flatly contradicted by the Harrison testimony,
testimony with which Dr. Raines had to have been thoroughly familiar when he
gave his account to Dr. Nenno.
Hoopes and Brinkley do
prove to be correct with their revelation–not found in any previously
published account of which the author is aware–that the guard on duty was new
to the job. Here we find that he was spending his first full night on the
Forrestal detail, having spent part of Friday night on duty. The significance
they read into that fact, however, that it made him easily manipulated by a
suicide-bound Forrestal, proved to be off the mark. If, on the other hand,
Forrestal was murdered on orders of the powers that be, Harrison’s newness to
the job might indicate that he was part of the plot, brought in from outside
to help carry out the deed during the hours when Forrestal was most
vulnerable. To allow the accomplice time to get to know Forrestal as a person
would have jeopardized the mission, and it would have looked really bad if the
deed had been pulled off within a few days of Forrestal’s admission into the
hospital when he was ostensibly under heavy guard, expressly to prevent
The timing of the board’s
question, giving Harrison the opportunity to establish that he had worked
previously in neuropsychology elsewhere in the hospital, seems almost to have
as its purpose the forestalling of such speculation. We don’t know if
Harrison was, in fact, telling the truth on this point. Furthermore, he could
have been an operative all along, working for one of the more clandestine
branches of the government. It would have been helpful if the board had
established why the regular night-shift attendant was not there. Hoopes and
Brinkley say that he had gone AWOL on a drunken bender, but this is neither
corroborated by the official inquiry nor is it contradicted.
A couple more revelations
in the Harrison testimony are of interest. We find out that the regular
station of Forrestal’s attendant was not just outside the door of his room, as
one might assume, but in the room itself. Dr. Raines and the other
psychiatrists in their testimony make a big deal out of relaxed restrictions
on Forrestal being an important part of his “recovery” process. At the same
time they have a person violating his privacy on an almost permanent basis.
The picture that comes across is more of Forrestal as a prisoner than as a
patient. We discover further that those detailed periodic log entries that
make up most of the bulk of the exhibits to the Willcutts Report were made at
the nurse’s desk down the hall and that from that location one could not see
anyone going from Forrestal’s room to the kitchen across the hall with its
unprotected window. It almost makes a farce of the story that when Forrestal
was first admitted and his mental state was bad, precautions against suicide
were tight, but were loosened only as his condition improved. Furthermore, we
learn from other testimony that immediately upon admission to the hospital,
Forrestal was sent immediately to the 16th floor room even though
“security screens” would not be installed on the room’s windows for several
more days. Recall, as well, the one clear picture that we have of one of
these “security screens” and we must really wonder how much of a hindrance
they would have been to anyone bent on suicide. The screen is already half
out of the window. The room pictures also reveal Venetian blinds on the
windows with long cords hanging down from them and radiators beneath the
windows. The cords as a noose and the radiator as a perch from which to jump
look to be almost tailor-made for suicide by hanging. One must really wonder
whether the good doctors at Bethesda ever really considered Forrestal much of
a suicide threat or if they did, whether they were expected to make much of an
effort to prevent it.
The Misnamed Witness
The testimony of the
witness who followed Harrison on the stand, but was relieved by him on the
night of Forrestal’s death, is perhaps even more intriguing than Harrison’s,
and it is also reproduced here in full:
Examined by the recorder:
Q. State your name, rate and present station.
A. Edward William Price, hospital apprentice,
339 78 55, U.S. Naval Hospital, National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda,
Q. What are your regular duties at the Naval
A. Taking care of neuropsychiatric patients.
Q. How long have you been taking care of
A. Fifteen months, sir.
Q. What were your specific duties on the night
of May twenty-first?
A. I had the watch on Mister Forrestal from
four until twelve o’clock midnight.
Q. During the time that you had the watch on
Mister Forrestal did you notice anything unusual about his behavior.
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Will you tell the board what this unusual
behavior was during the watch?
A. Well, sir, at twenty-one ten he started
walking the room and it didn’t seem odd at twenty-one ten but when he was
still walking the floor at twenty-two hundred that was the first time he had
ever walked the floor that long and he was walking the floor for a period of
two hours and fifty minutes before I went off watch at twenty-four hundred.
And another thing was he went into the doctors’ room adjoining his room and he
raised the blinds, I would say that was–I don’t know exact time–around twenty
hundred and he raised the blinds and raised the window and at the time I was
at the desk. We had orders we could stay at the desk until twenty-one hundred
so long as we checked on him; so I went back to the doctors’ room and the
patient was standing at the window. He had raised the bottom part of it as
far as it would go. When I walked in the room he jumped aside. He said
“Price, I raised that window. If it gets you in any trouble close it” so he
went back through the head and closed the door so I let the blind down and
walked out of the room. Just as I got to the door I heard the door to the
head open again. He stuck his head out so I went back and closed the head
door and locked it and I went back to the desk. I didn’t make any note of it
because he has opened windows several times in his own room and the doctors’
room. Only difference was I am usually there with him when he does it. Other
than that there was nothing odd that he done that I can think of.
Q. How long had you stood watch on Mister
Forrestal previous to this particular night?
A. Well, sir, I took over the watch the third
day he was up there.
Q. Do you know the date that was.
A. I’d say it was the fifth of April.
Q. And you had stood watches continuously on
him since that date?
A. Yes, sir, I had eight in the morning to
four in the afternoon, then I went from there to twelve to eight, stood that
for two weeks, then went on four to twelve. I have been on four to twelve for
a little over three weeks.
Examined by the board:
Q. These occurrences that you have just
related in regard to Mister Forrestal’s behavior on that night, did you
consider them sufficiently unusual to report them to the doctor?
A. No, sir, I reported his walking the room to
Doctor Deen and I put it in the chart and then Doctor Deen asked me how come
the door was locked back there and I told him I thought I better lock it being
as he raised the blind.
Q. Did you attach any particular significance
to this type of behavior?
A. No, sir, I didn’t at the time.
Q. Had you seen him in the past do things
A. Well, sir, he several times did walk the
room. He hated light and walked over to the window shades and if they were
open a little too far he would pull it closed.
Q. Did Mister Forrestal seem friendly on that
A. Yes, sir, he seemed very friendly. I
introduced Harrison to him as I left the watch and he shook hands with
Harrison and said he was glad to meet him.
Q. Did he meet him the night before?
A. No, sir, he was sleeping when Harrison came
on watch and hadn’t awakened by the time Harrison went off.
Q. Other than the conversation you have given
with Mister Forrestal did he say anything else to you on that night?
A. No, sir, he asked me if I thought it was
stuffy in the room and he asked that several times since I have been on watch;
he liked fresh air. When I was on night watch, twelve to eight in the morning
he always got a blanket out for us to wrap around us because he had the
windows wide open.
Neither the recorder nor the members of the
board desired further to examine the witness.
The board informed the witness that he was
privileged to make any further statement covering anything relating to the
subject matter of the investigation which he thought should be a matter of
record in connection therewith, which had not been fully brought out by the
The witness made the following statement:
He started reading a book at about twenty
hundred and whenever the corpsman would come in the room he would turn the bed
lamp off and sit down in the chair and so far as the writing I don’t know. It
appeared that he was but I couldn’t say for sure.
Neither the recorder nor the members of the
board desired further to examine this witness.
The witness said he had nothing further to
The witness was duly warned and withdrew.
matter-of-fact testimony may be contrasted with the account derived from an
undated outline of an unpublished manuscript, as reported in the celebrated
Forrestal biography by Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley (See “Who
Killed James Forrestal.”):
Nothing untoward occurred during the
afternoon and early evening. Then, late in the evening, he informed the
corpsman on duty that he did not want a sedative or a sleeping pill because he
was planning to stay up quite late and read. The corpsman was Edward Prise
(as they spell it, ed.), the most sensitive (and the one Forrestal liked best)
of the three who rotated round-the-clock eight-hour shifts outside his door.
One of the other corpsmen had chosen Friday to go absent without leave and get
drunk, which meant that Prise was to be relieved at midnight by a substitute
for the fellow who had gone AWOL; the new man was a stranger to Forrestal and
to the subtleties and dangers of the situation. Prise had observed that
Forrestal, though more energetic than usual, was also more restless, and this
worried him. He tried to alert the young doctor who had night duty and slept
in a room next to Forrestal’s. But the doctor was accustomed to restless
patients and not readily open to advice on the subject from an enlisted
corpsman. Midnight arrived and with it the substitute corpsman, but Prise
nevertheless lingered on for perhaps half an hour, held by some nameless,
instinctive anxiety. But he could not stay forever. Regulations, custom, and
his own ingrained discipline forbade it.
The corpsman, by his
own testimony, did not consider Forrestal’s behavior, even the window
raising, sufficiently unusual that he should alert the doctor, though he did
routinely inform him of the patient’s restless pacing. He also says nothing
about Forrestal declining a sleeping pill because he wanted to stay up to read
nor does he volunteer anything about hanging around for an additional half
hour out of anxiety. Tellingly, in neither account, nor in the testimony of
corpsman Harrisonm, do we hear of his passing any sort of warning on to his
successor for the evening. In short, neither in word nor in deed did he give
the impression that there was anything really amiss.
Still, from our vantage
point, it does appear that Forrestal that evening was behaving somewhat
peculiarly, or, at least, showing some signs of anxiety. Recall that it was
reported in the dissenting book, “The Death of James Forrestal” by Cornell
Simpson (Belmont, MA, 1966), that Forrestal’s brother, Henry, was coming the
very next day to take him away from the hospital (This allegation is
corroborated in no way by testimony before the Willcutts Review Board. Dr.
Raines says at one point that he thought Forrestal would be ready for release
in another month or so.). Recall, further, that Hoopes and Brinkley reported
(p. 454) that Forrestal had said that he did not expect to leave the hospital
alive. If, in fact, Forrestal did expect that his brother was going to make
an attempt the next day to get him out of the hospital and he thought that his
life was, indeed, in danger as long as he was there, he had every reason to be
extremely anxious that night, especially with a new attendant whom he did not
know handling the graveyard shift. That might explain why he would have
“jumped aside” from the open window of the doctors’ room when the corpsman
entered the room. As for the opening wide of the window and the raising of
the blinds, the corpsman clearly didn’t take it as an indication that
Forrestal was on the verge of jumping out, so there’s no real reason why we
The freedom with which
Forrestal could open 16th floor windows, hither and yon, even those
in his own room that had “security screens” between the glass and the inside
of the room, further gives the lie to the notion that anyone at the hospital
was ever really serious about the need for suicide prevention. We learn from
Dr. Deen’s testimony that Forrestal was permitted to sleep in the spare bed in
the doctors’ room when it got too stuffy for him in his own. Nothing would
have prevented him from getting up in the night and taking a swan dive out of
an unprotected window in that room.
Finally, there’s the
curious matter of the misspelling of the corpsman’s name. No, this is not
just another example of poor scholarship by Hoopes and Brinkley. In this
case, their source, the undated, unpublished outline of a manuscript by John
Osborne is verifiably correct and the Navy’s official investigation of
Forrestal’s death is wrong. Every time he made an entry onto the medical
chart, Exhibit 3 accompanying the Willcutts Report, he signed his name, and it
is unmistakably the rare name of “Prise,” not the common name of “Price.”
Maybe this is not the
trivial matter that it might seem to be. There are only two possibilities,
either the name was repeatedly typed wrong by the Review Board by mistake, or
it was intentionally written wrong. If it was just a mistake, the overall
competence of the work is called into question. How could they get something
as simple as this wrong, and if this is wrong, how much else is wrong?
And how could the mistake
happen? Corpsman Prise had been on the case from the beginning. He was well
known to the higher-ups involved with Forrestal’s care, and they all must have
read the draft of the report. Surely they would have known that his name was
not “Price,” and would have corrected the manuscript when they read it. It
was hardly rushed into print, so there was plenty of time to set it right.
Furthermore, the likelihood that the name would have been taken down wrong at
the beginning of Prise’s testimony is very small. When he was asked to state
his name, he did it either pronouncing it “Prize” or “Price.” In the first
instance, hearing the strange name, the recorder would likely have asked him
how it is spelled, if he did not volunteer it. In the second instance, the
volunteering of the correct spelling would certainly have been virtual second
nature to Mr. Prise. He would already have done it thousands of times in his
life, knowing that the common assumption would be that the name is spelled
like it is pronounced.
For some reason, the very
existence of Prise was also left out of the account that the hospital gave to
the newspapers in the wake of Forrestal’s death. The newspapers reported at
the time that Harrison’s watch began at nine p.m. and lasted until six a.m.,
which the author, Simpson, repeated in his version of Forrestal’s last hours.
Harrison’s name shows up a number of times in those early stories, but Prise’s
That leaves us with
the greater likelihood that the name was misspelled intentionally, and the
implications of that are quite sinister, indeed. It is a technique that is
used by corrupt investigative authorities when they want to make it difficult
for others to track down witnesses, witnesses whose testimony has been
misrepresented. There was a classic example of it, among others, in the case
of the death of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster in the Bill Clinton
administration. Investigators reported that a Patrick Nolton from Washington,
DC, saw Foster’s car in the parking lot of Fort Marcy Park, Virginia, when
Nolton stopped off for an impromptu urination.
It took a foreign reporter, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the Telegraph of London
to get past the obfuscation:
I grabbed the Fiske Report and flicked to page
28.... The key passage had been expurgated....
Finding this witness was no easy matter.
His name was redacted in the FBI documents. There was a brief mention of him
in a Park Police “incident report”: a Patrick Nolton, with a Washington
telephone number 296-2339. But nobody at the number had ever heard of him–it
appeared to be a doctor’s clinic–and it soon became clear that there was no
such person as Patrick Nolton in the District of Columbia, and never had
been. The Park Police had done a first-rate job of “laundering” the identity
of the witness.... (The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreported
Stories, Regnery Publishing, 1997, p. 159.)
But Evans-Pritchard, using
a bit of detective work, managed to find Patrick Knowlton and interview
him. It turned out that he had seen a reddish-brown, older model Honda than
the light gray Honda that belonged to Foster, and he was quite sure of the
matter, and other parts of what he had told the FBI were also misreported.
“Patrick Knowlton is
convinced that the FBI did not misunderstand him when they wrote up his 302
statement the next day. He believes they knowingly falsified it.” (p. 162)
If any part of Prise’s
testimony is knowingly falsified, what part might it be? My candidate is that
last volunteered part about Forrestal reading a book and perhaps writing. The
passage doesn’t make much sense, but it did manage to get the suggestion on
the record that Forrestal might have been doing some transcribing from a book
at some time on that fateful evening–although the book seemed to have
Whether or not this
speculation is correct, the failure of the poetry book to turn up anywhere in
the testimony of the review board witnesses suggests strongly that the author
Simpson is correct:
The whole overplayed Sophocles-poem angle was
nothing but a red herring that effectively threw the public off the scent of
the significant fact that the prolific Forrestal had written no suicide note
before he met his abrupt and violent death. (p. 18)
The Officer in
When Forrestal’s death
occurred, Captain Raines, and the number two psychiatrist at the hospital and
the number two man on the Forrestal case, Captain Stephen Smith, were both off
to a psychiatric conference in Montreal, Canada, so neither was in a position
to have taken charge of matters in the wake of the death. Commander John
Nardini was the doctor in charge of the care of Forrestal in their absence.
The board interviewed him at length, but they asked him no questions about his
actions in the wake of the death. As a purely medical man, he would have
hardly been the person to take charge of the “crime scene,” at any rate.
That would leave either
Rear Admiral Morton C. Willcutts, the Medical Officer in Command of the
National Naval Medical Center and the man who convened the review board,
itself, or Rear Admiral Leslie O. Stone, the Medical Officer in Command of the
Bethesda Naval Hospital and the man who gave the detailed statement to the
press on the day of the death, to provide an explanation for the initial
conduct of the investigation. If anyone was in a position to explain why
Forrestal’s room was “laundered” before it was photographed, why many hours
were allowed to elapse before the room was photographed, why the regular
graveyard shift attendant had been replaced, and who discovered the book and
the transcription that played such a large role in supporting the suicide
conclusion, it would be either Willcutts or Stone. According to the
aforementioned testimony of Lieutenant junior grade Westneat both of them
arrived on the scene in the wee hours of Sunday morning and began giving
Even though Willcutts had
had dinner with Forrestal on Friday night and was one of the last people to
see Forrestal alive, he was not called to testify. Stone was called.
As you read his entire testimony below, including all the questions directed
to him by the board, you will gain an appreciation for the fact that all of
the members of the board (and the recorder) were his subordinates:
Examined by the recorder:
Q. State your name, rank and present station.
A. Leslie O. Stone, Rear Admiral, Medical
Corps, U.S. Navy; Medical Officer in Command, U.S. Naval Hospital, Bethesda,
Q. Admiral Stone, as Commanding Officer of the
U.S. Naval Hospital what was your connection with the handling of Mister
A. I was aware that he was going to be
admitted on April second of this year, the afternoon of the second of April.
Q. At that time, Admiral, did you leave?
A. No, sir, I was detached Sunday, April
third, and left here at three p.m., checked out with the Officer-of-the-Day
the morning of April third.
Q. What time did you return?
A. I returned Friday, April fifteenth.
Q. From that time on would you tell the board
your connection with Mister Forrestal’s case, if any.
A. Well, I was in constant contact. Captain
Raines, the Medical Officer in charge, kept me daily informed about his
progress and his condition and on numerous occasions, on two occasions, I was
up with the Defense Secretary, Mister Johnson, for a visit and also with
President Truman when he was out to visit with him and I daily was on the
floor but not in the room with Mister Forrestal.
Examined by the board:
Q. What are your feelings in regard to the
type of handling and treatment Mister Forrestal received during the period
after your return and resuming command of the hospital?
A. I feel that Mister Forrestal had nothing
but the best of care; that I have all the confidence in the world in the
psychiatric staff of this hospital and I feel that the statement that Captain
Raines has made publicly is what he believes and I believe that Mister
Forrestal had as good care as he would have received in any institution.
Neither the recorder nor the members of the
board desired further to examine this witness.
The board informed the witness that he was
privileged to make any further statement covering anything relating to the
subject matter of the investigation which he thought should be a matter of
record in connection therewith, which had not been fully brought out by the
The witness said he had nothing further to
The witness was duly warned and withdrew.
So much for that. RHIP.
Rank has its privileges, as they say.
The Suspicious Cord
The general approach of
the review board from the beginning seems to be to take it as a given that
Forrestal took his own life and that it is their job to come up with some
explanation as to how he was able to get away with it. The exception to that
rule is in their treatment of the bathrobe cord that was tied around
Forrestal’s neck. They certainly knew that this had to look very, very
suspicious, that someone might have used it to throttle Forrestal in his bed
and then throw him out of the window. If Forrestal was bound to kill himself,
was he so addled that he did not realize that throwing himself out a 16th
floor window, by itself, would do the job?
The first person to
testify about it was Hospitalman William Eliades:
When the doctor shone the light you could see
one end was tied around his neck and other end extended over toward the left
part of his head. It was not broken in any way and didn’t seem to be tied on
to anything. I looked to see whether he had tried to hang himself and see
whether a piece of cord had broken off. It was all in one piece except it was
tied around his neck.
Eliades and several
succeeding witnesses are asked how tight the cord was, and the consensus seems
to be that it was tight, but not all that tight. One of the doctors who saw
the body when the cord was still on is asked if he saw any signs of asphyxia,
and he responded in the negative. Finally, Captain William M. Silliphant, the
autopsy doctor, is called upon to lay to rest all speculation that Forrestal
was first choked to death and then thrown out of the window:
Q. Was there any evidence of strangulation or
asphyxia by strangulation?
A. There was absolutely no evidence
external or internal of any strangulation or asphyxia.
That still leaves
open the possibility that Forrestal was subdued and quieted by use of the cord
and then thrown out of the window. If both carotid arteries taking blood to
the brain are blocked, unconsciousness can occur within ten seconds. Maybe
this is what happened in Forrestal’s case, with insufficient bodily evidence
remaining for the autopsy doctor to notice. There is also the possibility
that Captain Silliphant was not telling the truth. Those of us familiar with
the performance of the autopsy doctor in the aforementioned Foster case, and
in the John F. Kennedy case by Navy doctors in that same Bethesda Naval
Hospital, are not inclined to believe autopsy doctors implicitly.
It would have helped if
someone had gone to the trouble to determine if there was enough cord left
over after “one end” was tied around Forrestal’s neck for the other end to
have been tied to the radiator below the window for the man to hang himself
out the window. And if an attempt had been made to so attach it, the cord
might have left telltale creases where the failed knot had been. This avenue
of inquiry, needless to say, was not explored.
The Doctors’ Perspective
A substantial part of the
testimony before the Willcutts Review Board, which altogether filled 61
legal-sized pages and required four days to accomplish, dealt with Forrestal’s
psychological condition. It was, for the most part, a defense case against
any possible charge of negligence against the Navy and hospital officials.
The theme followed–and never challenged by the board–was that the patient was
in pretty bad shape when he was admitted, and during that early period
security precautions were stringent. The patient improved, though fitfully,
and eventually he had improved to the point that hardly any security
precautions were necessary. Indeed, medical necessity required that security
be relaxed to the point of virtually inviting the patient to take a fatal leap
from a high level, although it was never stated in just these terms, of
course. The idea, according to the doctors, was that the patient had to
re–acclimated to real-world dangers in order to get used to returning to
Five doctors were
responsible for Forrestal’s care, but the name of only one, Captain George
Raines, appears in the two popular biographies of Forrestal, the one by Hoopes
and Brinkley and Arnold A. Rogow’s James Forrestal, A Study of Personality,
Politics and Power (New York, 1963). There was a definite hierarchy among
the doctors, corresponding, to a degree, to their military rank. Captain
Raines was the Chief of Neuropsychiatry at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. He
was primarily responsible for Forrestal’s therapy, prescribing medication and
engaging in one to three hour therapy sessions on an almost daily basis until
he ceased them early in May. Captain Stephen Smith was his second in command
who talked less formally on a daily basis with Forrestal and provided
“supportive” and “consultive” services to Dr. Raines. Commander David
Hightower was a resident in neuropsychiatry and Commander Robert Deen was a
resident in second year training in psychiatry. They had the babysitting
duties, alternating sleeping over in the room next to Forrestal and making
themselves available at all times for anything that might arise needing a
doctor’s attention. Finally, there was Commander John Nardini, who was called
in to be in charge of the patient when Raines and Smith left on May 18 for the
psychiatric conference. He developed only a nodding acquaintance with the
patient in the short period of his duties.
differences among the doctors and between the doctors and between the doctors
and the press reports come to light with respect to Forrestal’s condition.
The popular notion of what was wrong with Forrestal was captured and
perpetuated by Rogow in his widely-quoted and referenced biography:
Raines diagnosed Forrestal’s illness as
involutional melancholia, a depressive condition sometimes seen in persons who
have reached middle age....
Although some psychiatrists regard involutional
melancholia psychosis as one of the mixed states of manic-depression, and
others feel that it is a form of schizophrenia, there is broad agreement that
the symptoms include anxiety, self-doubt, depression, and nihilistic
A percentage of involutional melancholics
experience paranoid ideation; in Forrestal’s case such ideation was
particularly apparent. The belief that he was a victim of “plots” and
“conspiracies” antedated his visit to Hobe Sound, and despite the treatments
prescribed by Raines in Bethesda, this delusion was never fully displaced in
his mind. (pp. 9-10)
This assessment is
contradicted by the testimony of the Bethesda doctors in almost every
respect. Not once do any of the doctors speak of paranoia as one of
Forrestal’s symptoms, from the time he arrived until his untimely departure.
The term, “involutional melancholia” is never used, nor is there any mention
of manic-depression, schizophrenia, or nihilistic tendencies. They all use
the term “depressed” or “depression,” with respect to the patient, but how
that depression manifested itself and how it was diagnosed and measured is not
at all easy to pin down. Moreover, the consensus of psychiatric community
these days is that there really is no special medical condition known as
involutional melancholia, or a type of depression to which those in middle age
are particularly susceptible. Rather, there is just garden variety depression
which, when it strikes people in middle age, used to be given the special name
of “involutional melancholia.”
In his testimony, the only
special sort of depression that Forrestal might have had, according to Dr.
Raines, was “reactive depression,” or, conveniently for the official story,
one that might lie dormant until touched off by some external factor like,
say, reading a depressing poem.
Reading over the
various doctors’ use of the term “depressed” to describe Forrestal, one is
struck by how fast and loose the term is used. Virtually nowhere is it
explained how the “depression” manifested itself or how it could be detected
or measured, though it is often spoken of as something as discrete and
measurable as heart rate or blood pressure. The only manifestation that might
possibly be separated out from simply the effects of heavy sedation are
verbally expressed suicidal tendencies. These are attested to only by Dr.
Raines, and the testimony of the other doctors and the peculiarity of some of
Dr. Raines’ assertions seem to call his reliability on this matter into
Raines Weighs In
Dr. Raines was the
third person to testify, after the two photographers, and he was the only
person to testify twice. He was the only witness to appear before the board
on the last two days of witness testimony. Here are some key early passages:
Q. Would you tell the board the results of
your observations and treatment of Mister Forrestal, especially in reference
to his mental status?
A. Mister Forrestal was obviously quite
severely depressed. I called the hospital from Hobe Sound on the morning of
the second and asked that they have two rooms available, one on the officers’
psychiatric section and the other in the tower. At that time I had not
examined Mister Forrestal, was not at all sure of how much security he
needed. On the flight up I had opportunity to talk to Doctor Menninger at
great length and to see the patient briefly. As a result, I felt he could be
handled in the tower satisfactorily, provided certain security measures were
taken. Consequently, he was admitted to the tower with a continuous watch
when he arrived here. The history indicated that Mister Forrestal had had a
brief period of depression last summer but that this had cleared very rapidly
when he went on vacation. His present difficulties seemed to have started
about the first day of the year, perhaps a little earlier, with very mild
depressive symptoms beginning at that time and a good many physical symptoms,
noticably (sic) weight loss and constipation. The depression had been rather
marked from about the fifteenth of February nineteen forty-nine but had not
become actually overwhelming until the week-end preceding admission which
would have been approximately March twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth. At that
time he became very depressed and I believe as a result of that relinquished
his office some three days earlier than had been previously planned. He was
seen by Mister Eberstadt on the Monday before admission and on his advice
immediately relinquished his office and went to Florida for rest. The
physical examination was done by Doctor Lang immediately after admission which
showed nothing remarkable except some elevation in blood pressure. The
neurological examination was negative except for small, fixed pupils which, so
far as I know, had no significance. Mister Forrestal was obviously exhausted
physically and we postponed any complete studies until such time as his
physical condition could be alleviated. He was started immediately on a week
of prolonged narcosis with sodium amytal. His physical condition was so bad
we had difficulty adjusting the dose of amytal because of his over-response to
it. About the third night his blood pressure dropped to fifty-five systolic
under six grains of amytal. To prevent any confusion in the orders on the
case I selected two of the residents, Doctor Hightower and Doctor Deen, and
put them on port and starboard watch to begin at five o’clock each evening.
The doctor on watch slept in the room next to Mister Forrestal. On Monday
after admission on Saturday security screens were provided for the room that
Mister Forrestal occupied and for the head connected with it by moving them
from tower five. At the same time a lock was placed on the outer door of the
bathroom and strict suicidal precautions were observed. I saw Mister
Forrestal for interviews daily during the morning of that first week when he
was allowed to come out of the narcosis for short periods of time. These
interviews were devoted primarily to history-taking. His response to that
early treatment was good and he gained about two pounds during the course of
the weeks’ narcosis. The following week, beginning the eleventh of April we
started Mister Forrestal on a regime of sub-shock insulin therapy combined
with psycho-therapeutic interviews. This was continued about four weeks but
his response to it was not as good as I had hoped it to be. He was so
depleted physically he over-reacted to the insulin much as he had to the
amytal and this occasionally would throw him into a confused state with a
great deal of agitation and confusion so that at the end of the second week I
had to give him a three day rest period instead of the usual one day rest
period. I am not sure that that was the end of the second or third week. At
the end of the fourth week again he was over-reacting to the insulin and I
decided to discontinue it except in stimulating doses. From that time on he
was carried with ten units of insulin before breakfast and another ten units
before lunch with extra feedings in the afternoon and evening. In spite of
this he gained only a total of five pounds in the entire time he was in the
hospital. His course was rather an odd one, although in general it followed
the usual pattern of such things. The odd part came in the weekly variation
of the depression. I can demonstrate it and explain. Instead of the
depression lightening, instead of straight up in a line he would come up until
about Thursday and then dip, hitting a low point on Saturday and Sunday and up
again until the middle of the week and down again Saturday and Sunday. Each
week they were a little higher. He was moving upward steadily but it was in a
wave-like form. In addition, he had the usual diurnal variation, the low
point of his depression occurred between three and five a.m. so that the
course towards recovery was a double wave-like motion, the daily variation
being ingrafted on his weekly variation. The daily variation is very common,
the weekly variation is not so common and that was the portion of the course
that I referred to as “odd”.
Q. Captain Raines, I show you a clinical
record, can you identify it?
A. This is the nursing record of Mister
Forrestal. The only portion I don’t recognize is this poem copied on brown
paper. Is that the one he copied? It looks like his handwriting. This is
the record of Mister Forrestal, the clinical record.
In the following
excerpts from the testimony of Dr. Raines, the “Q” and “A” format will not be
strictly adhered to. Rather, the portions relating to Forrestal’s supposed
suicidal tendencies are selected from Raines’ answers to various questions:
As late as the twenty-ninth of April the
patient was still quite suicidal and personnel were reminded of this by an
order in the chart. A week later the insulin therapy was discontinued and
beginning on the eighth of May the patient was placed on the stimulating doses
of insulin which I previously mentioned. He continued to improve in the
irregular fashion which I have described and by the ninth of May I felt it
safe for Mrs. Forrestal to make her plans to go abroad but didn’t think he
should go with her. My reason for objecting to his going was, ironically
enough, that I knew in the recovery period which seemed at hand the danger of
suicide was rather great. The son returned to his work in Paris on May
thirteenth. The family was at all times kept fully advised as to the
patient’s progress but I didn’t warn them continuously of the suicidal threat
nor did I mention it to any one except my immediate colleague, Doctor Smith.
I first eased the regulations as a test on the
twenty-sixth of April but found that the patient was not ready for it and that
resulted in an order on the twenty-ninth of April that the watch was to remain
in the room at all times, that the patient was still quite suicidal. The
relaxation of the afternoon watch was only a few days later, on May first,
which indicates how abruptly his condition would change at times in these
undulating moments in the illness.
He was very close to well actually. When I saw
him on the eighteenth I felt we could, didn’t tell him, but felt
hospitalization for another thirty days would probably do the trick. He was
that close to the end of it. That, of course, is the most dangerous time in
Q. Did Mister Forrestal make any attempts at
suicide while he was under your care?
A. None whatsoever. The matter of suicide in
Hobe Sound, he told Doctor Menninger that he had attempted to hang himself
with a belt. Menninger and I were very skeptical of that and both he and I
were of the opinion that it was sort of a nightmare. The man had no marks on
him and there was no broken belt. Very frequently a depressed person has a
fantasy of dying and reports it as real. So far as I know he never made a
single real attempt at suicide except that one that was successful. He was
the type of individual, fast as lightening (sic), of extremely high
intelligence and one reason I doubt previous attempts I knew if he decided to
do it he would do it and nobody would stop him. He was a boxer in college and
his movements, even when depressed, were so quick you could hardly follow them
with your eye. In the course of psychotherapy he talked a great deal about
his suicide; he would tell me when he was feeling hopeless and had to do away
with himself. At those times we would tighten restrictions. He would tell me
in symbolic language. One morning he sent me a razor blade which he had
concealed. When I interviewed him I said “What does this mean?” He said “It
means I am not going to kill myself with a razor blade.” Of course, he had
the blade and could have done it. A man of that intelligence can kill himself
at any time he desired and you can’t very well stop him. He is my first
personal suicide since nineteen thirty-six, thirteen years ago. The last one
was on a locked ward at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital under immediate supervision
of an attendant. He discussed, whenever he felt badly enough, he would talk
about the possibilities of killing himself and I am sure that when I left here
on the eighteenth he had no intention of harming himself.
Q. Had he, in the course of your interviews,
either symbolically or otherwise, suggested his method if he committed
A. Yes, I am sure he didn’t jump out of the
window. My interviews with him were for one to three hours a day over a
period of eight weeks (sic); can’t go into all the material that makes me
think that but by the time he had been here four weeks I was certain there
were only two methods he would use because he had told me, one was sleeping
pills. He said that was the one way he could do it and the other was by
hanging which made us feel somewhat more comfortable about the period of risk,
knowing that he wasn’t going out one of the windows. I haven’t gone into all
the details of what happened, but personally feel he tried to hang himself. I
don’t think he jumped; he may have; don’t think it was out the window; think
he meant to hang. For some time he had had complete access to the open
windows in the residents’ room and for a short period of time he even slept in
there for two or three nights. There were two beds in the residents room and
he would sleep in one of those until about three o’clock and then go back to
his own bed. That was the one thing that puzzled me, when he called me (sic),
as to what had happened; I couldn’t believe it because of the window, until I
got back and found out about the bathrobe cord.
Actually, he dealt quite well with almost
everything. It is my own feeling from what I know that the period of
despondency which caused him to end his life was very sudden of onset and
probably the whole matter was on an impulsive basis. That was the one thing I
had feared, knowing of his impulsivity. Again, I say, he moved like
lightening (sic), some of those on pure impulse. That is supported by several
things. I talked to Doctor Hightower last night and was glad to hear him say
spontaneously and not just in agreement with me that he felt that this was an
impulsive thing of sudden origin, but one of the main evidences is the
complete absence of any suicidal note or expression of suicidal intent in any
way. He left no message at all except this poem which I am sure was meant for
me and was not a portion of the suicide. That is to say, I think he was
simply writing that out to demonstrate how badly he felt.
Q. Before he came to Bethesda while he was
down south, did he make any attempt to slash his wrist?
A. No, he had a small scratch on his
wrist which he told me was not a suicidal attempt but he was considering it
and he was wondering what he could do to himself and he took a knife or blade
and scratched his wrist, so superficial it was not even dressed, and wouldn’t
come under the heading of “attempt” so far as I am concerned.
Now let’s examine Dr.
Raines’s remarks. He says that he ordered two rooms to be prepared, one in
the officers’ psychiatric suite and the other in “the tower.” After some
deliberation he concluded that Forrestal “could be handled in the tower
satisfactorily, provided certain security measures were taken.” It’s really
not a matter of whether he could be housed on the 16th floor
but, rather, should he be put up there. No one on the panel asks Dr.
Raines or anyone else why they should ever consider putting Forrestal on the
16th floor when they claimed to have believed that he was a danger
to himself. Why take the chance? We also learn that initially there were not
even any security screens, such as they were, on the windows, though there was
a full-time guard to keep an eye on this “fast as lightning,” “impulsive”
The revelation in
Part 1, again from Dr.
Nenno, the future associate of Dr. Raines, that the orders came from
“downtown,” that is, the White House, to put Forrestal up on the 16th
floor, to the general consternation of the psychiatric staff, looks better in
light of these revelations. The board might have known better than to ask why
Forrestal was placed in “the tower,” because they knew there was no good
medically defensible reason that could have been given.
Dr. Raines is wrong about
the reason for the advancement of the date of Forrestal’s departure from
office. It was not Forrestal’s decision, brought on by his “depression,” but
President Truman’s decision. Forrestal’s alarming, almost zombie-like
behavior, was first noticed by his assistant, Marx Leva, and called to the
attention of Ferdinand Eberstadt, some hours after Forrestal had been replaced
by Louis Johnson.
We also learn from
Raines’s testimony that constipation was among Forrestal’s physical symptoms
upon entry into the hospital as well as constricted pupils of the eyes, but he
makes nothing of it. According to the web site on narcotics at we find that
these are both symptoms of someone on heroin. That is not to argue that
Forrestal was necessarily on heroin, but it does raise the question of whether
some of Forrestal’s sudden lethargic and apathetic behavior–a radical
personality change for him–in the wake of his stepping down from the Defense
Secretary’s job might have resulted from his having been secretly drugged.
Drowsiness and apathy are also heroin symptoms. At least one of the doctors
on the panel should have picked up on the constricted pupils and inquired as
to whether Forrestal had been tested for drugs, but the possibility is never
considered by anyone.
If Forrestal already
had an opiate like heroin in his system, sedating him with a strong
barbiturate like sodium amytal could have been dangerous, and might explain
Forrestal’s poor reaction to it. One might question the wisdom of putting
Forrestal on sodium amytal in any case, and it is doubtful that it would have
been done given the current level of medical knowledge.
This comes from
McDermott’s Guide to the Depressant Drugs:
Like opiates, barbiturates are addictive, only
more so. Taken to help you sleep, after a few days, it becomes impossible to
sleep without them. Like the opiates, barbiturates produce tolerance so that
you need to keep upping the dose to get the same effect, but the real
hum-dinger is the withdrawal syndrome. If withdrawal from opiates is cold
turkey, then withdrawal from barbiturates could be cold raven. Besides the
craving, discomfort and inability to sleep, barbiturate withdrawal also causes
major epileptic seizures. Nobody dies from opiate withdrawal, but it is a
strong possibility with barbiturates and you should only think about it under
the supervision of a doctor, preferably as a hospital in-patient. The
possibility of overdose is amplified greatly if barbs are injected into a vein
rather than taken orally. By and large, it is usually only those people who
have had their switches set to automatic self-destruct mode who use
barbiturates because the drug isn't at all pleasant or enjoyable. Barbs lack
the euphoric content of opiates and the social lubricant properties associated
with alcohol. They simply produce a dark, blank oblivion and as such will
always remain popular with those people who hate themselves or their lives so
much that their behaviour is governed by a compulsion to obliterate all
possibility of thought and self-examination. Do yourself a favour. Just say
As we noted, it is sometimes difficult to sort
out what in Forrestal’s behavior was a result of his presumed condition and
what was caused by his medication. For example, if the description of
Corpsman Prise of Forrestal walking the floor restlessly on the night he died
is accurate, he might well have been simply exhibiting a case of barbiturate
withdrawal. In his resistance to taking sodium amytal as a sleep aid, the
patient seemed to exhibit a keener sense of what was good for him than did his
Now let us look at Forrestal’s “suicidal
tendencies,” as related by Dr. Raines. “In the course of psychotherapy he
talked a great deal about his suicide; he would tell me when he was feeling
hopeless and had to do away with himself.”
That statement, along with his two written
orders in the medical chart, first on April 7, “Still suicidal -
keep close watch” (underlining in original) and again on April 29, “Watch
in room @ all times. Suicidal. Don’t get careless,” represent the strongest
evidence that Forrestal was, indeed, inclined toward ending his own life and
Still, there are anomalies and curiosities in
Raines’s testimony and treatment. He says the only person he shared
Forrestal’s suicide talk with was Dr. Smith. One would think that those with
the most need to know about the specifics of Forrestal’s putative “suicidal
tendencies” would be the people right on the front lines guarding against it,
Drs. Deen and Hightower. And much of what Dr. Raines says, especially his
assertion that he took the patient at his word as to what method of suicide he
might use, comes across as self-serving, and just plain strange. If he really
believed Forrestal was considering hanging himself because it is on his short
list of preferred methods, do those Venetian blind cords in the room make any
sense, or the relaxation of rules against cords and belts?
As an example of the self-serving quality of
Raines’s testimony, notice how he volunteers that the poetry transcription
looked like it was in Forrestal’s handwriting. Was there any particular
reason why he would know what Forrestal’s handwriting looked like, or that
this sample resembled it? When had he seen Forrestal’s handwriting? Does he
take special note of what people’s handwriting looks like? Did he place the
paper with the transcription on it beside a known sample of Forrestal’s
writing? Is the good doctor qualified at recognizing forgeries?
As much as he talked about suicide, Dr. Raines does seem
to lay to rest the widely circulated reports that Forrestal had made previous
attempts at it. Even today, at an
Arlington Cemetery web site, one can find the
following passage, based upon no known reliable evidence whatsoever, the
On May 22, after several prior attempts at
suicide, and after copying a passage from Sophocles’ “Chorus from Ajax,” he
jumped from the 16th floor hall window.
We know, of course, that it wasn’t a hall
window that he went out of, either.
Now let us look at the observations of the
other four doctors with respect to Forrestal’s suicidal tendencies. Doctor
Nardini, who only became actively involved in the case when he took over
during the absence of Drs. Raines and Smith on May 18, can be dispensed with
Q. Were you aware of the possibility of
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Did Mister Forrestal make any attempt at
suicide while you had charge of the patient?
A. No, sir, none that I was ever informed of,
became aware of, or suspected.
Q. Did Mister Forrestal indicate in any way
that he might do harm to himself?
A. None whatever.
Notice that Dr. Nardini volunteers nothing
about Forrestal’s lurid musings on the subject. Dr. Raines has told us that
he told no one but Dr. Smith about them, and among those excluded would appear
to be the doctor in absolute charge of the patient in their absence. Now we
turn to the next person to testify, Dr. Hightower.
Q. Were you fully aware of the various phases
of Mister Forrestal’s condition from shortly after he was admitted as a
patient to the hospital?
A. Yes, sir, Doctor Raines, Doctor Smith,
Doctor Deen and I had discussed at intervals various procedures and
therapeutic efforts that were being made during the course of the entire case.
Q. During the period of his stay in the
hospital did you feel that he was making some gradual improvement?
A. Yes, sir, my feeling from the first was
that he was pretty overly depressed, as evidenced by his lack of interest in
his surroundings, interest in personal contact with me on the brief occasions
that I saw him, whereas as the case progressed, particularly during the
insulin period he seemed to become more alert, more interested in his
surroundings, and particularly interested in what was going on about the floor
itself and the hospital.
Q. What was your feeling in regard to the
possibility of suicide during the first few days of his stay in the hospital?
A. My feeling with regard to suicide during
the first few days of his stay in the hospital was that it was potentially
present, that being based on psychiatric experience with depressed patients.
I had no actual factual evidence of any sort which would lead me to be able to
say specifically that suicidal thoughts or ideas were present. However, I did
feel and consider it a possibility on the basis of general psychiatric
Q. What was your feeling in regard to the
possibility of suicide at approximately the time that Doctor Raines left
A. At that time I felt that Mister Forrestal
had made a definite improvement in the overall picture from the time of his
admission and that the possibility of suicide was much more remote than
earlier in the case. There were several observations made during the course
of the case which led me to feel this. About two weeks before Doctor Raines
left I went up to stand the watch one night and stopped by the room to speak
to Mister Forrestal, asked him how he was feeling. He said “About as usual.”
We chatted briefly about my medical education and where I lived and what not;
then later, when I came up to go to bed about twenty-two forty-five, he was
awake and I asked him how he was feeling. He said “About as usual” but he
felt his room was a little stuffy and in view of the fact that two of the
windows were stuck and couldn’t be opened I agreed that the room was a little
stuffy. He said that he thought possibly he would be able to sleep better if
he slept in the room with me, there being two beds in my bedroom and I said I
thought that would be a good idea, it might be more comfortable over there.
My feelings at this time were that the patient was making an effort to broaden
his horizons. I felt that he was lonely and felt the need of friendly contact
with other people and also felt at the time that the suicidal possibilities
had lessened sufficiently to make it safe for him to remain out of his room.
The danger of suicide had been discussed with Doctors Raines and Smith on
several occasions prior to this and we had been encouraging the patient to
broaden his activities even prior to this particular incident.
Q. Did Mister Forrestal, in the times you
would be with him, express anything about international affairs?
A. No, sir.
Q. Do you think he was trying to get away from
A. I didn’t have much feeling about whether he
was or not. He never made any effort to talk along those lines when I was
with him, no, sir. In fact, the basis of most of our conversations were
relatively superficial, having to do with things of the moment; should he take
his sleeping pills or not; was I going to sleep in the room next to him or
not; how was the rose thorn in his finger getting along; or whether his
constipation was being taken care of or not. Another one of my duties in the
case was to write orders for his bowels and I had done that earlier in the
course of the case.
So, although “The danger of suicide had been
discussed with Doctor Raines and Doctor Smith” by Doctor Hightower on several
occasions, he was still able to say that “[he] had no actual factual evidence
of any sort which would lead [him] to be able to say specifically that
suicidal thoughts or ideas were present,” but that, [he] did feel and consider
it a possibility on the basis of general psychiatric knowledge,” at least
during the early stages of the hospitalization. Once again, it is evident
that the specific intimations of suicide that Dr. Raines said Forrestal
communicated to him were not passed along to a doctor on the front line of
Forrestal’s care. Not only that, but it would appear that Dr. Raines’s
specific orders in the medical chart were not getting through, either. The
episode in which Forrestal was permitted to sleep in a room with completely
unprotected windows, at about two weeks before Dr. Raines left, would have
taken place about five days after, “Watch in room @ all times. Suicidal.
Don’t get careless,” with the Raines signature beside it can be found in the
Next we have Dr. Deen, the other doctor on
periodic watch on the 16th floor.
Q. Did the matter of suicide ever occur to
A. It certainly occurred to me ever since the
man has been there.
Q. How did you regard him from that standpoint
for the first few days of his stay in the hospital?
A. Well, of course, on the first few days, it
was much longer than the first few days, on admission to the hospital he was
under almost continuous sedation and constant watch. After a few days they
were able to get screened windows on the room and corpsmen were instructed to
stay with Mister Forrestal at all times and if they needed anything from the
nurse or corpsman on the outside or from Doctor Hightower or me they went
through another corpsman, didn’t leave the room at any time. Following that
he was on sub-shock insulin therapy for a period of something like three
weeks, I believe, and the man was obviously depressed and any time a man is
depressed there is always a consideration of suicide to be kept in mind.
Q. How did you regard the progress of his
condition from the time of admission to the hospital until the time that
Doctor Raines left town?
A. Well, I think it is best to put it this
way. From discussions with Doctor Raines, Doctor Smith and Doctor Hightower
and from the changes in the orders which permitted Mister Forrestal to have
more freedom of movement in that he could go into our bedroom and he could be
in the room alone without the corpsman I presumed, I felt that improvement was
going along or those measures would not have been put into effect. So far as
my personal dealing with Mister Forrestal on his original entry and at the
time he was on insulin therapy it was always quite difficult to talk with
Mister Forrestal, quite difficult because we had been instructed to try to
stay away from things that were on therapy and for a man like Forrestal you
couldn’t very well talk to him about the flowers and bees because he was not
interested in them. I felt he was showing continually more interest in
outside activities but, as I said, in the beginning the way I looked at it I
felt sure things were going on in discussion with Doctor Raines probably I
didn’t know about but which were indications that the man was improving
Dr. Deen’s impressions, as we see, are almost
the same as Dr. Hightower’s. Each perceived, without being very specific
about it, that Forrestal was depressed, but that he was getting better. They
knew from experience and training that depressed people sometimes commit
suicide, but it is clear that Dr. Raines, as he said, did not share with
either of them anything of substance about any actual suicidal tendencies in
this patient. Both say that they conferred with Dr. Raines, but virtually
nothing of what he told the board seems to have made it to these two
primary-care physicians. One must wonder why not.
One thing in all the doctors’ testimony to this
point suggests that Forrestal might, indeed, have some psychological problem,
drug-induced or not. There could not have been a man alive more interested in
the world around him and, specifically of the welfare of his country than
James V. Forrestal. His correspondence from 1948 alone requires five boxes
for storage at the Seeley G. Mudd library at Princeton University, and the 932
names of the list of his correspondents read like a who’s who of power, money,
and influence on public opinion. Winston Churchill, Bernard Baruch, Omar
Bradley, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Thomas E. Dewey, W. Averell Harriman, Henry J.
Heinz, Vincent Astor, Lammot DuPont, William J. Donovan, Edward R. Murrow,
Estes Kefauver, Eugene Meyer, Nelson Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.,
Drew Pearson, Henry R. Luce, Walter P. Reuther, Francis Cardinal Spellman,
Robert A. Taft, William S. Paley, and Frank Wisner, are just a few of the
names that appear. No one had a more imposing Rolodex. Yet he comes across
from the testimony of these doctors as someone who was difficult to talk to
and had little interest in his surroundings. We know that he was deeply
troubled about many things that were going on in the government of which he
was a part. His candor and forthrightness about his concerns were what got
him on the bad side of so many powerful and unscrupulous people in the first
place. Forrestal would have sounded more like himself if one of these
politically unsophisticated medical men had said that he sounded paranoid,
rather than that he was a difficult person to carry on a conversation with.
The Man, Not Just
That brings us to Captain Stephen M. Smith, the
last of Forrestal’s psychiatrists to testify and the one person with whom Dr.
Raines said he shared Forrestal’s suicidal ruminations. It is noticeable from
examining the nurse’s log that, although Dr. Raines might have spent more
total hours with Forrestal, Dr. Smith seemed to have visited him more
frequently. From the excerpts of his testimony that we will give here, the
reader can judge who got to know the patient better and who gave a more candid
assessment of his condition. (The patience of the reader is begged at this
point. Dr. Smith is articulate, but he is also verbose, given to big words
and long sentences.)
Q. Captain, will you please tell the board
what you know relative to the treatment of the late Mister Forrestal?
A. Perhaps I should begin by saying that the
treatment was directed by Captain George Raines who is the chief of the
neuro-psychiatric service and my role was supportive to his therapeutic
endeavors and consultive at any time when it was deemed necessary and
advisable. I first met Mister Forrestal on the day of his admission to the
hospital which, I believe, was April second and subsequently saw him almost
daily until May eighteenth at which time I left on authorized leave and didn’t
return until after his demise. Through Doctor Raines and through my daily
conversation with the patient I acquired some degree of familiarity with the
emotional state which was responsible for his hospitalization. I found him to
be a very cooperative patient and at all times quite willing to accept
opinions concerning his illness and an expressed willingness on his part to
avail himself of all the benefits which might be derived from his
hospitalization here and the psychotherapeutic therapy which might be
instituted. In the nature of our handling of his psychotherapeutic therapy it
was an arrangement between Doctor Raines and myself that he would control all
the therapeutic measures although I can sincerely state that we compared
opinions almost daily, particularly in regard to the reactions of the patient
and their import. Inasmuch as it is considered good psychiatric practice to
avoid confliction and confusion in treatment, especially as it pertains to the
interpretation of psychodynamics, that this rests entirely in the hands of one
individual. As a result of this arrangement my discussions with Mister
Forrestal were on a less personal level than would accrue from therapeutic
endeavors. However, these conversations had a degree of intimacy and resulted
in the establishment of a rapport with Mister Forrestal that I always
interpreted as being friendly and comfortable. We talked of many diverse
matters that had only a casual relationship to his illness as he was a man who
not only was mentally alert but continued to maintain an active interest in
all current matters on a level compatible with his broad public service and
wide experience. These conversations ran a gamut from a discussion of matters
of purely local interest to various philosophies and ruminations that touched
on the behavior patterns of all people under various circumstances of stress
and his astuteness and acumen were such that his comments and discourses were
pregnant with comprehensive significance. As indicated previously, the matter
of discussion of the more intimate aspects of his personal problems was left
for his interviews with Doctor Raines. This Mister Forrestal and I both
understood; that this was the arrangement and for that reason our tendency was
to stay on less disturbing subjects. My interviews with him usually would
last from fifteen or twenty minutes to perhaps an hour. In evaluating the
course of his illness as I observed it he apparently was showing a continuous
improvement with moderate fluctuations which were not incompatible with the
type of emotional disturbance which he showed. He was acutely aware of his
depressed state of mind and at times (illegible) interpretation of his own
reaction to his predicament and (illegible) which might have led up to it
although he not infrequently mentioned impending disaster. They were always
of vague and non-specific character and had to do with matters which had been
of paramount interest to him, namely, the safety of the country. Many times
he expressed uneasiness about the future possibilities and windered (sic)
whether or not people were as alert to these potentialities as they should
be. Each time he would reassure himself by such assertions as, “I really have
no uneasiness about the future of the country, I am certain that that is
assured. But the travail might be easier if people were perhaps more
concerned about some of these things.” We talked frequently of his recovery
and the possible change in his pattern of living which would be possible with
more leisure and greater opportunity for diversification of interest and a
release from the tremendous pressure which his duties had imposed on him over
the previous eight or nine years. He himself offered the opinion that he
should have sensed that his burden had become too heavy many months previously
and should have done something to correct it. He regretted that he hadn’t
done so. Incidentally, he, on several occasions in connection with this type
of thinking had offered the opinion that all men highly placed in public life
should be more concerned about their emotional health and even perhaps come to
a better understanding of the benefits which would result from a more profound
knowledge of the emotional concomitant of continuous tension and strain.
Inasmuch as he was a man who suffered with a depression and an interpretation
of his own predicament through depressive eyes the matter of his recovery or
non-recovery was discussed, even including self-destruction. He, at all
times, denied any preoccupation with such thoughts and even though his
construction of the future possibilities as they affected him were nebulous he
not only agreed but frequently volunteered that he was certain that he would
be able to reach a level of adjustment which would bring him greater
happiness, especially through more intimate contacts with his family from whom
he had felt somewhat separated because of the pressure of work and also
because of the opportunities for less hurried and constructive endeavors which
his new freedom would permit (emphasis added). He was actively interested in
sports and had participated in them to a considerable extent when he was
younger, following the various sporting events, not deeply but enough to be
fully informed about them. He was interested in history, especially, and
enjoyed discussions that pertained to historical backgrounds of various
situations from the time of Alexander the Great on up to the present and often
wove a very interesting course into the fabric of his conversation pertaining
to these historical and philosophical backgrounds and would draw comparisons
and analogies with recent happenings.
Dr. Smith goes on in this vein for another page
or so, describing a patient who was “rather heavily sedated” in the first week
but exhibited substantial improvement and was generally able to sleep without
sedation after a few weeks. Several marathon sentences later Dr. Smith
volunteers, “At no time did I ever hear him express any uncertainty that he
would not recover nor did I ever hear him express any threat to destroy
To make a long story short, something of which
Dr. Smith is utterly incapable, the James Forrestal described here is the old
familiar conscientious, public-spirited, learned and capable man whose
tombstone bears the inscription, “In the great cause of good government.” One
can easily imagine that, true to their sometimes-misguided profession, it was
usually the psychiatrists who steered the conversation around to what was
wrong with James Forrestal. The patient, demonstrating mental health that was
in important ways superior to that of his custodians, wanted to talk about
what was wrong with the country. From what we can read in the surviving,
published portions of his diaries and from his well-known public positions,
Forrestal had demonstrated that he had a better grip on reality than almost
anyone in the country. And if Dr. Smith were the only psychiatrist whose
report we were able to read, we would have to conclude that Forrestal was not
the least bit suicidal.
Whether it was because he was not giving the
responses that were expected of him or because their eyes were glazing over,
the board members had very few questions for Dr. Smith. The last person who
might have vouched for Dr. Raines ended up vouching for hardly anything at all
that Dr. Raines had to say about Forrestal’s suicidal tendencies, and like the
contradiction between the photographs showing a bed without even sheets on it
and the description that Nurse Turner gave, the board members just let it
Another Look at Rogow
Now that we’ve had a chance to hear from
virtually all the key witnesses on the night of Forrestal’s death, it’s time
to look again at what author Arnold Rogow had to say. As we noted in the
first installment of “Who Killed James Forrestal?”, in the absence of a public
official report, the previously-mentioned 1963 book of Arnold Rogow has been
pushed into the breach as the definitive source document on Forrestal’s
death. Let us look again at what he has to say about Forrestal’s last few
Late on the evening of May 21 Forrestal
informed Naval Corpsman on duty that he did not want a sedative or sleeping
pill and that he was planning to stay up rather late and read. When the
Corpsman looked in at approximately 1:45 on the morning of Sunday, May 22,
Forrestal was copying onto several sheets of paper Sophocles’s brooding
“Chorus from Ajax,” as translated by William Mackworth Praed in Mark Van
Doren’s Anthology of World Poetry. The Corpsman went on a brief errand
while Forrestal transcribed:
Fair Salamis, the billows’ roar
Wander around thee yet,
And sailors gaze upon thy shore
Firm in the Ocean set.
Thy son is in a foreign clime
Where Ida feeds her countless flocks,
Far from thy dear, remembered rocks,
Worn by the waste of time-
Comfortless, nameless, hopeless save
In the dark prospect of the yawning grave....
Woe to the mother in her close of day,
Woe to her desolate heart and temples gray,
When she shall hear
Her loved one’s story whispered in her ear!
“Woe, woe!’ will be the cry-
No quiet murmur like the tremulous wail
Of the lone bird, the querulous
When Forrestal had written “night” of the word
‘nightingale,” he ceased his copying, inserted the sheets into the back of the
book, and placed the open book on his night table. He then walked across the
corridor into the diet kitchen. Tying one end of his dressing-gown sash to
the radiator just below the window, and the other end around his neck, he
removed the screen, and jumped or hung from the window. When the diet kitchen
was inspected later, it was found that the windowsill and the cement work
immediately outside were scratched, suggesting but not establishing that
Forrestal had hung suspended for a brief time and had tried to climb back
through the window. But no one will ever know with certainty what transpired
in those final moments. (Pp. 17-18)
*This version of the poetry lines, with the
same skipped lines, 11-20 after “grave,” is repeated by Hoopes and Brinkley.
Maybe both books were following the lead of Walter Millis in The Forrestal
Diaries, who wrote it that way in 1951.
Now we can see why Rogow provides no reference for any
of this. It appears that he has made it up In his effort to persuade us
that Forrestal was moved by morbid lines from “The Chorus from Ajax” to stop
his copying suddenly and go kill himself in a less-than-sudden, peculiar
fashion, Rogow has told us a lot of things that are not supported by the
official record. If Forrestal actually transcribed those lines, it was before
Corpsman Harrison came on duty, because the room was dark the whole time he
was on the job. None of the Navy officials would even speculate about the
dressing-gown cord being tied to the radiator, though Dr. Raines strongly
suggests that Forrestal must have tried to hang himself from something. It’s
an open question as to whether the poem transcriber even made it to the 26th
line, the one with “nightingale” in it. A
single page is included with the exhibits
provided to me. It looks as though the page is torn at the bottom and the
photocopier might have cut off a little of the bottom as well, but it’s hard
to believe that it would have cut off 11 lines. Only the first 15 lines of
the poem are on the page.
Rogow’s very unspecific and un-referenced
assertion that Forrestal “made at least one suicide attempt” (p. 6) at Hobe
Sound also looks pretty shaky in light of the testimony of Captains Raines and
Smith before the Willcutts review board. Even more outrageously wrong was the
assertion of the very influential columnist and radio commentator, Drew
Pearson, that Forrestal had made four attempts to kill himself, three times
while at Hobe Sound and once at Bethesda Naval Hospital (Rogow, pp. 32-33).
Also called into serious question is the claim by the politically connected
Wall Street journalist Eliot Janeway to biographer Douglas Brinkley that
Ferdinand Eberstadt had told him privately that Forrestal had made one suicide
attempt at Hobe Sound.
Upon closer examination we find that there is a
thread that connects these people who are trying so hard to persuade us that
Forrestal’s death was indeed a suicide, and the connecting thread might well
run to those that I have previously identified as likely prime suspects in his
murder. The dust jacket to Rogow’s book says that he is the author of four
other books. It does not name them. Maybe that is because this biographer
who strongly suggests that Forrestal’s opposition to recognizing the state of
Israel was based upon Forrestal’s personal anti-Semitism had previously edited
the collection entitled The Jew in a Gentile World: An Anthology of
Writings about Jews by Non-Jews. His dangerously paranoid, ethnocentric
orientation is well summed up by this sentence from the preface: “Jew-baiters
and anti-Semites of one variety or the other–Greek, Roman, and Christian–have
largely dominated the Gentile world, and as a result that world has been one
in which the Jew has always had to move cautiously and, more often than not,
Later he wrote a chapter on anti-Semitism in
the International Encyclopedia of Social Science. His is the sort of thinking
that gave rise to the modern state of Israel, that is, that Jews can never be
safe living in majority Gentile populations, so they must have a state of
As for Pearson, at the bottom of the article by
John Henshaw entitled, “Israel’s Grand Design: Leaders Crave Area from Egypt
to Iraq,” which appeared in The New American Mercury in the spring of
1968, we find the following:
The late John Henshaw was chief legman for
columnist Drew Pearson, who later broke with Pearson. At that time, Henshaw’s
expenses were paid by the Anti-Defamation League, a lobby for Israel, which
had a “special relationship” with Pearson. Thus Henshaw’s Middle East
insights are unique.
Recall from the first installment of “Who
Killed James Forrestal” that the other powerful columnist and radio
commentator slandering Forrestal over his Israel opposition, Walter Winchell,
also had a very special relationship with the ADL and its domestic spying and
Janeway’s Jewish connections are more tenuous.
Though born Eliot Jacobstein of New York Jews of Lithuanian origin, he changed
his last name in his teens and concealed his Jewishness from everyone around
him, including his children. If he plumped for Israel, it would more likely
have been on behalf of his employer, Time magazine, than out of a sense of
ethnic or religious solidarity.
Occasionally with [Time publisher Henry] Luce
and others, not often, he raised a word or hand on that nation’s behalf, from
the point of view of a power broker toward an ally. But this was never
personal, and he never acknowledged even in a vague way Jewish religion,
culture, or heritage.
— Michael Janeway, The Fall of the House of
Roosevelt, Brokers of Ideas and Power from FDR to LBJ, 2004.
And if Janeway was quite consciously lying when
he relayed what the safely dead Eberstadt had supposedly said about that
Forrestal suicide attempt to Doug Brinkley, it, too, would have been from the
point of view of a power broker toward an ally. It would also have been
completely in character. Janeway regularly did flack work and wrote speeches
for New Deal Democrats while on the Luce payroll as a supposedly objective
reporter on these same Democrats who were running the country. He had a taste
for power and influence and a nose for seeking it out. In spite of having
been expelled from Cornell, probably for selling stolen library books and
having been such an active communist that he wrote for the Moscow Daily News
for a time in Russia, he had been able to use his connections to avoid service
in the military in World War II. All of this we learn from Janeway’s son in
the latter’s new and very revealing book, cited above.
In sum, the sources of the stories that
Forrestal had previously attempted suicide are of a highly questionable,
biased quality. They are as questionable as the stories, themselves, which
lack any details, whatsoever. Pearson’s stories, in particular, are
undoubtedly fabrications. The fact that someone felt the need to make up such
stories suggests very strongly, just by itself, that Forrestal did not commit
suicide. Furthermore, it is very unlikely that Pearson made up these stories
himself. What is more likely is that they originated with the people who were
responsible for Forrestal’s death.
The report of the Willcutts Review Board
reveals additional misinformation in Arnold Rogow’s frequently cited book.
Consider the following Rogow passage:
In the spring of 1949 Forrestal also had
evidence that he was not persona non grata to all Jews and Jewish
organizations. Although he declined to be present, he was invited in February
to attend a celebration at one of Washington’s Reformed Jewish Temples. When
his resignation was announced in March, he received a letter commending him
for his past services and expressing regret from Myer Dorfman, National
Commander of the Jewish War Veterans. Many persons of Jewish extraction,
during his stay at Bethesda, wired or wrote him expressing their hopes for an
early recovery, and several added that his anti-Zionist position had by no
means concealed or confused his great service to the country as our first
Secretary of Defense.
Forrestal, of course, never received
these messages, and in any case it was then too late to relieve by ordinary
means the guilts, fears, doubts, and anxieties that had precipitated his
illness. However history may ultimately judge his opposition to the
establishment of Israel, by 1949 it was clear that Forrestal was, in a sense,
one of the casualties of the diplomatic warfare that had led to the creation
of the Jewish state (pp. 194-195, emphasis added).
Notice how, in a few lines, Forrestal is shown
to have become such a basket case that he couldn’t even be allowed to read his
mail, and the suggestion is made that he should have been wracked with guilt
over the courageous, principled, and patriotic position he took–along with
virtually all the Middle East experts in the United States government–against
U.S. sponsorship of a new, ethnically exclusive, but essentially European
country in the heart of historically Arab territory. But we see from the
testimony of Captain Raines what Rogow would have us believe was a
self-evident fact was not true:
From the very first Mister Forrestal’s mail and
other communications were handed to him unopened. He was allowed to see all
of them on the theory no one can live in a vacuum and might just as well be
exposed to whatever came along; that is the method of dealing with it; it
would depend on how well he was or how sick he was. It was as simple as
that. Actually he dealt quite well with almost everything.
Rogow’s diagnosis of paranoia is not only
undercut by the testimony of all the doctors at Bethesda, but also by a
telling footnote on page 181 in his own book. First we have the passage to
which the note applies:
Finally, [Forrestal’s position on Palestine]
encouraged suspicion in both gentile and Jewish circles that Forrestal
personally was not merely anti-Zionist but anti-Semitic. Nor should it be
overlooked that one consequence of these suspicions was that Forrestal, during
his last months in office, harbored a conviction that he was under
day-and-night surveillance by Zionist agents; and when he resigned as
Secretary of Defense in March, 1949, he was convinced that his resignation was
not unrelated to pressures brought to bear on the Administration by American
While these beliefs reflect the fact that
Forrestal was a very ill man in March, 1949, it is entirely possible that he
was “shadowed” by Zionist agents in 1947 and 1948. A close associate of his
at the time recalls that at the height of the Palestine controversy, his (the
associate’s) official limousine was followed to and from his office by a blue
sedan containing two men. When the police were notified and the sedan
apprehended, it was discovered that the two men were photographers employed by
a Zionist organization. They explained to the police that they had hoped to
obtain photographs of the limousine’s occupant entering or leaving an Arab
embassy in order to demonstrate that the official involved was in close
contact with Arab representatives.
So, in all likelihood, the conviction that
Forrestal harbored that he was under constant surveillance was correct. And
as we saw in part 1 of this essay, intimidation and blackmail were among the
uses to which such surveillance was intended to be put. Naturally, Rogow
takes the culprits’ explanation at face value, putting the best possible face
on it. He also conceals from the reader the name of the shadowed Forrestal
associate, preventing the inquiring reader from learning even more damning
information from that source. He also fails to give us the name of the guilty
Finally, with regard to Rogow’s misstatements,
there is one that we failed to recognize as such in part 1 of this essay. We
observed that, unlike Hoopes and Brinkley, he did mention that the Navy had
conducted an official investigation that had been kept secret, even though the
fact merited with him no more than a passing mention in a footnote. What he
said was that the results had not been made public. In fact, only
the very sketchy results were made public, and, as noted earlier, nowhere
among the short list of results was there a conclusion that Forrestal had
As noted previously, only Navy personnel were
called before the Willcutts Review Board as witnesses, and, even so, a couple
of important ones were overlooked. First, and obviously, there is Admiral
Morton Willcutts himself, although calling him would have been pointless if he
were to receive the same deferential treatment afforded to Admiral Stone. He
had eaten dinner with Forrestal on Friday before the fateful next night, and
according to published reports he had described the patient as in very good
shape and excellent spirits. As a medical man his opinion as to Forrestal’s
emotional condition would have been worth something. More importantly, he
could have answered questions about the larger picture had the board been
inclined to ask them. What role, if any, did the White House and non-medical
considerations play in Forrestal’s hospitalization and treatment? Upon what
legal authority was the private citizen Forrestal put up in the Bethesda Naval
Hospital in the first place? Who was paying for it?
Admiral Willcutts also showed up at the
hospital very early on that fateful, May 22 morning, and as the Commander of
the National Naval Medical Center, he was the officer in charge. Everything
that was done from the moment he arrived, and maybe even from the moment he
was notified of the death by telephone was his responsibility. He was the one
for the board to ask about the laundering of Forrestal’s room and the delay in
photographing it and about any determinations that might have been made about
fingerprints, the broken glass, and the cord around Forrestal’s neck.
Along with Admirals Willcutts and Stone, there
was a third important Admiral who arrived at the death scene shortly after
Forrestal’s plunge. That is Surgeon General of the Navy Clifford A. Swanson.
He was important not for what he might have observed that night, though, but
for what he might have learned from Forrestal early in the hospitalization.
From the nurses notes of 10:00 a.m., April 3,
the first full day Forrestal was at Bethesda, we find this: “Pt. Asked to see
Adm. Swanson; Dr. Smith notified. Pt. states “It is of the utmost importance
for the Navy.” Slightly agitated. Five minutes later we see that he was
given sodium amytal, but that he is “still asking to see Adm. Swanson.”
At 10:10 we have this notation: “Pt. seen by
Dr. Raines @ this time.
The next notation is at 10:40: “Pt. sleeping
Admiral Swanson did arrive to see the patient
at 1700 hours that same day, however. It would be very interesting, indeed,
to know what they talked about. The nurse’s notes also record several
subsequent visits by Admiral Swanson, and his name appears among the Princeton
library list of the 932 people who corresponded with Forrestal in 1948. He
was apparently among the very few old associates who visited Forrestal while
he was at Bethesda, and his observations, if candid, might have been very
There are also a number of non-Navy people
among the missing witnesses. First, there is Forrestal’s wife, Josephine.
The nurse’s notes reveal that she was her husband’s most frequent visitor from
outside. Although their marriage was apparently a troubled one, she would
have known the man better than anyone and likely could have provided great
insight into her husband’s psychological condition. We learn from Rogow’s
book, as noted in Part 1, that Forrestal’s life insurance policy would not pay
in cases of suicide and that through her lawyer she claimed that the death was
accidental. Had she meekly accepted that her husband committed suicide, the
press would certainly have trumpeted it, as they did with Vincent Foster’s
widow. The fact that they didn’t suggests strongly that she no more believed
that Forrestal committed suicide than did that even more important missing
witness among his relatives, older brother Henry.
In Part 1 we heard, through the author Cornell
Simpson, Henry’s bitter denunciation of the government and the press and his
claim that when he visited his brother late in the latter’s stay at Bethesda
that he was as normal and healthy as he had ever been. We also hear that he
was planning to arrive that Sunday and take his brother away from the
hospital. Did he arrive in Washington that day? Are the claims in the
Simpson book true? The nurse’s notes confirm Henry’s one late visit to
Bethesda some days before his brother’s death, but, otherwise, he is not
mentioned. At one point in his testimony, recall, Dr. Raines says that he
thinks Forrestal would have needed only one more month at the hospital
to be completely cured, as though he knew nothing of the brother’s plans to
take him away forthwith.
Not everyone who visited Forrestal got noted in
the nurse’s notes. One such person, who two of the testifying doctors tell us
visited on the afternoon of Forrestal’s last day was his personal financial
manager, Paul Strieffler. So close was he to Forrestal that, along with his
former secretary, Strieffler was the only non-family member to be bequeathed
money in Forrestal’s will. The author, Rogow, tells us on page 46 that he
received $10,000, a substantial sum in 1949. Might not important information
have been gleaned from learning what Forrestal and Strieffler talked about
hours before Forrestal’s death? Was he making plans like a man who fully
expected to be around for quite a few more years? How normal and healthy did
Forrestal appear to this long-time associate, whom Forrestal had mentioned in
1933 Congressional testimony as advising him on some questionable investments
when he was president of the Wall Street investment banking firm of Dillon,
Read (Rogow, pp. 83-85).
Another person that the Willcutts Review Board
should have questioned is Dr. F. J. Broschart, the Montgomery County, Md.,
medical examiner. We learn from the Monday, May 23, newspapers that Dr.
Broschart declared the death a suicide on Sunday. This is not the only
politically charged case in which a government doctor has made a suicide
ruling. Enron executive, Clifford Baxter, and former National Security
executive, Gus Weiss, come to mind, but it cannot be stressed too strongly
that a doctor does not have either the training or the resources to determine,
alone, whether a death is the result of suicide, an accident, or of foul
play. He might be able to determine the medical cause of death with an
autopsy–although in this case Broschart was not even the autopsy doctor–but he
cannot tell us who caused the death. This is a police matter. The police are
supposed to treat all violent deaths as homicides until they have examined all
the circumstances surrounding the death sufficiently to rule out that
possibility. Dr. Broschart should have been summoned by the board and asked
on what basis he made his suicide determination. Why did he do it so
hastily? How could he possibly know that Forrestal was not thrown from the
window? Was he aware of the broken glass in Forrestal’s room? How could he
know for sure that Forrestal had not been rendered unconscious by one means or
another before he took his long plunge?
Very recently, the name of another prime
candidate for interviewing by the Willcutts board has come to light. The
revelation was in a June 20, 2004, Washington Post article on the United Press
Washington correspondent, Ruth Gmeiner. She was eulogized as the first woman
reporter to cover the Supreme Court, among other accomplishments. Here are
the closing lines of that article:
The night of the Gridiron Club dinner in 1949,
[UP] news editor [Julius] Frandsen was alerted to get out to Bethesda Naval
Hospital. He left an after-dinner party and picked up Gmeiner, his reporter,
on the way. While he and other journalists hollered for information outside
the hospital, Gmeiner sweet-talked her way into the 16th-floor room
of former secretary of defense James V. Forrestal and found, next to his bed,
a book of poetry open to Sophocles’ “Ajax,”(sic) which includes the lines:
When reason’s day
Sets rayless–joyless–quenched in cold decay
Better to die, and sleep
The never-waking sleep, than linger
And dare to live when the soul’s life is
Her soon to be husband [the editor Frandsen]
made that the first paragraph in Gmeiner’s story on Forrestal’s suicide.
If the story is true it solves the mystery of
who it was that discovered the book of poetry in Forrestal’s room. The
Willcutts review board, recall, failed to identify that person, and apparently
made no attempt to do so. I made a telephone call to the writer of the
article, Patricia Sullivan, who revealed that her source for this information
was Gmeiner’s family. To her knowledge, she said, the story that Gmeiner got
into Forrestal’s room and discovered the book had never before been
published. She said that she had looked up the UP story on Forrestal’s death
and the allegation was accurate, that is, that those poetry lines led off the
story, not that Gmeiner, herself, had found the book.
It would have been an extraordinarily
unorthodox way to begin a newspaper report, and Sullivan’s claim sent the
author to the library to check it out. The claim is interesting, as well,
because the lines quoted are toward the end of the poem and are not among the
part repeated by the mainstream authors on Forrestal, Millis, Rogow, and
Hoopes and Brinkley, because they were not included in the alleged Forrestal
transcription (Notice that there is no claim in the recent Post story that
Gmeiner also found the transcription.).
The UP story revealing the death that the
author found appears with a Washington, May 22, dateline in the morning San
Francisco Chronicle. It starts like this:
Former Defense Secretary James Forrestal
committed suicide by jumping from the 16th floor of Bethesda, Md.
Naval Hospital early today. He had been reading classical Greek poems keyed
to the theme of death.
Farther down in the article the reporter gives
us the lines that appear in the Post article, telling us that they appear
shortly after the section that Forrestal had transcribed, that is, the first
26 lines, ending after the “night” portion of “nightingale” had been written.
Interestingly, Gmeiner’s son, Jon Frandsen, a Washington
journalist whom I called on July 26, 2004, was unaware that there was any
transcript involved in the story. As the story had been related to him by his
parents, Gmeiner actually brought the book back downstairs and showed it to
her editor, the elder Frandsen, whom she would marry some years later. It was
he, they told their son, who first recognized the significance of the quoted
lines. Jon also volunteered to me what I had already discovered, that is,
that The Post’s Sullivan had stretched the truth a bit in saying that the
lines actually led off the story.
If Gmeiner was, indeed, the poetry book
discoverer, she seems to have failed to get anything resembling a scoop on
UP’s competitors with her intrepid action, a fact that surprised the younger
Frandsen when I told him by telephone. Here’s how the Associated Press
article that appeared in the May 23 Philadelphia Inquirer begins:
Former Secretary of Defense James Forrestal
committed suicide today, plunging from a high hospital window.
In his room he left a book of Greek poetry, a
page opened to a quotation saying “when reason’s day sets rayless–joyless–quenched
in cold decay, better to die and sleep.”
You’d think that Gmeiner was writing for the AP
rather than for the UP, because this beginning accords even more closely to
what was reported in The Post article than does the UP article’s beginning.
Both, like the New York Times and The Washington Post and every other
journalist who covered the story, use the Sophocles poem to promote heavily
the suicide conclusion, not to mention the fact that they all say in a matter
of fact manner that it was suicide, not even using the hedging adjective,
“apparent,” that we saw in the Vincent Foster case.
Two slightly different story lines emerge from
careful inspection, however. The reports that were submitted earliest,
apparently, emphasize the book open to the page with the morbid poem. They
quote these later lines of the poem, the ones seen in the recent Post article,
leading the reader to conclude that Forrestal had surely been reading this
poem and had taken the “better to die” suggestion to heart. That’s what we
see in the Los Angeles Times AP story and in the Chicago Tribune story written
by their reporter, Robert Young (who also wrote, with no evidence presented:
“He was reported to have made at least two previous attempts to kill
himself.”). They make no mention of any transcription of part of the poem
having been discovered as well.
The stories apparently written later, but also
published in the May 23 morning newspapers, reveal that Forrestal had been
actually copying “The Chorus from Ajax,” stopping after “night” in the word
“nightingale.” At the same time, with the exception of The New York Times,
they continue to emphasize in the first part of their stories the later lines,
the ones that were not copied but seem to encourage suicide more strongly (and
also seems to have inspired the sardonic English poet, A. E. Housman, who was
also a great classical scholar, to write the poem, “If it chance your eye
offend you, pluck it out, lad, and be sound: ‘Twill hurt, but here are salves
to friend you, And many a balsam grows on ground. And if your hand or foot
offend you, Cut it off, lad, and be whole, But play the man, stand up and end
you, When your sickness is your soul.”). By the time the book writers,
Millis, Rogow, and Hoopes and Brinkley got around to it, all mention of the
later lines had been dropped.
The addition to the story seems to have
confused the reporter and the editors at The Washington Post. Here is what
they have to say a few paragraphs from the start on the front page:
From a book of verse found lying open on a
radiator beside his bed he had copied several verses of Sophocles’ “Chorus
from Ajax.” In firm and legible handwriting these lines stood out:
“When Reason’s day sets rayless–joyless–quenched
in cold decay, better to die, and sleep the never-ending sleep than linger on,
and dare to live, when the soul’s life is gone.”
Later in the article, on the continuation page,
they reprint the entire poem with the transcribed part, they say, in italics.
The italics duly end with the first syllable of “nightingale,” well before the
lines appear that they had told us earlier stood out “in firm and legible
They would have the reader believe that they
were sitting and looking at the transcription as they wrote, so detailed was
their description, but clearly they weren’t or they could never have made such
This raises anew the question of where the
story of the discovery of the transcription–and the open poetry book as
well–originated. None of the newspapers, as The Times does with respect to
the details of the actions of Forrestal and his attendants on that fateful
night, attribute it to anyone with the Navy or even explicitly to an anonymous
source. They just somehow know that it was “found” (It is highly unlikely
that it was, as The Post says, lying open on a radiator “beside the bed.” As
we see from the photograph, the nearest radiator is more than an arm’s length
from the bed and it is rather narrow and rounded at the top. Rogow has it
more plausibly on the night stand, at the other side of the bed.).
The mystery of the poetry transcription deepens
when we consider the actual page that was included with the medical records in
the Willcutts Report, the one that Dr. Raines said looked like it was written
in Forrestal’s handwriting. As noted previously, only the first 15 lines of
the poem are there.
If what I have been provided with my FOIA
request is all there is, and all there ever was, then the part about Forrestal
ending his transcription in the middle of the word “nightingale,” 11 lines
later, was made up out of whole cloth by someone. Upon making this discovery,
I wrote the Judge Advocate General’s Office of the Navy on June 8, 2004,
asking them if what I was sent is all there is to the transcription, noting
that the newspapers talked of 26 lines. If I never get a response, which as
time passes is beginning to look most likely, I must assume that what I have
is the full transcription and all the newspaper reports were wrong (hardly an
If, in fact, the “nightingale” line was never
in the transcription that was “found” by someone, and maybe even if it was,
what with the growing emphasis placed upon it, the line might have some
significance that has been overlooked up to this point. Hoopes and Brinkley,
citing John Loftus as their source for the speculation, make much of the fact
that “Nightingale” was the name of a secret group of Ukrainian refugees who
had been recruited by the CIA in the post-war period to conduct a covert war
behind the Iron Curtain, and that as a member of the National Security
Council, Forrestal had been among those authorizing the action. The problem
with that, from the perspective of Loftus, who also co-authored The Secret
War against the Jews: How Western Espionage Betrayed the Jewish People,
was that many of the members of the Nightingale force had been collaborators
with the Nazis during World War II and, in that capacity, were guilty of a
number of atrocities against the Jews in the Ukraine. Hoopes and Brinkley
don’t come right out and say it, but there reason for bringing it up seems to
be to suggest that Forrestal might have been overcome by a sudden rush of
guilt upon reaching that word in his writing, prompting him to dash out and
take the poet Housman’s admonition, derived from Sophocles, quite literally.
Now we have seen from the testimony of
Forrestal’s guard that well more than an hour had passed since Forrestal had
done any reading or writing, so it couldn’t have happened that way, and it is
highly doubtful that the fiercely anti-Communist Forrestal ever felt the
slightest pang of guilt over America’s use of Ukrainian refugees, whatever
their personal history, to undermine the Soviet Union.
But there is extremely bad blood between many Christian
nationalists in the Ukraine and organized Jewry, as one can easily learn from
a visit to the former’s web site at
http://www.ukar.org. “Nightingale” may not have
been a particularly meaningful word to Forrestal, but it would have been
heavily freighted with meaning to Forrestal’s enemies in the Jewish
community. Loftus, in his Secret War book, seems to be very closely in
touch with that aggrieved group and cites many covert sources among them for
the information in his book. Maybe with the “nightingale” emphasis, they mean
to send the message that Forrestal’s destruction and death represents the
settling of an old score for them. Perhaps Arnold Rogow knew more than he
told when he characterized Forrestal as a casualty of the creation of the
state of Israel.
The Diary’s Revelations
In part one, we saw that Forrestal had become
something of a lightning rod for the hostile emotions of the partisans for
Israel. For his part, he was absolutely sure that the consequences of our
sponsorship of this alien entity in the midst of the Arab world would
ultimately be disastrous for us. Two February 3, 1948, meetings recorded in
the version of his diary edited by Walter Millis and published in 1951 capture
well his principled position and the risk he was running in propounding it:
Visit today from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr.,
who came in with a strong advocacy of the Jewish State in Palestine, that we
should support the United Nations “decision,” and in general a broad,
across-the-board statement of the Zionist position. I pointed out that the
United Nations had as yet taken no “decision,” that it was only a
recommendation of the General Assembly, that any implementation of this
“decision” by the United States would probably result in the need for a
partial mobilization, and that I thought the methods that had been used by
people outside of the Executive branch of the government to bring coercion and
duress on other nations in the General Assembly bordered closely onto
scandal. He professed ignorance on this latter point and returned to his
general exposition of the case of the Zionists.
He made no threats but made it very clear that
the zealous in this cause had the conviction of trying to upset the government
policy on Palestine. I replied that I had no power to make policy but that I
would be derelict in my duty if I did not point out what I thought would be
the consequences of any particular policy which would endanger the security of
this country. I said that I was merely directing my efforts to lifting the
question out of politics, that is, to have the two parties agree they would
not compete for votes on this issue. He said this was impossible, that the
nation was too far committed and that, furthermore, the Democratic Party would
be bound to lose and the Republicans gain by such an agreement. I said I was
forced to repeat to him what I had said to Senator McGrath in response to the
latter’s observation that our failure to go along with the Zionists might lose
the states of New York, Pennsylvania and California–that I thought it was
about time that somebody should pay some consideration to whether we might not
lose the United States.
The second meeting that day was with very
nearly the most powerful man in America who was not in the government, the
Jewish financier, elder statesman, and adviser to presidents:
Had lunch with B[ernard] M. Baruch. After
lunch, raised the same question with him. He took the line of advising me not
to be active in this particular matter and that I was already identified, to a
degree that was not in my own interests, with opposition to the United Nations
policy on Palestine. He said he himself did not approve of the Zionists’
actions, but in the next breath said that the Democratic Party could only lose
by trying to get our government’s policy reversed, and said that it was a most
inequitable thing to let the British arm the Arabs and for us not to furnish
similar equipment to the Jews.
Baruch clearly did not know his man when he
attempted to influence him by appealing to Forrestal’s own self-interest. He
might have known more than he was telling, though, when he hinted at the
danger that Forrestal faced for the courageous position he had taken.
In part one I speculated that among the
important things that might have been censored out of the Walter Millis
version of the Forrestal Diaries was a detailed revelation of the dirty
tactics, alluded to in the Loftus-Aarons book, that the Zionists had used to
get U.S. and U.N. support for creation of the state of Israel. A hint that
that is the case is found on pp. 507-508 of Millis:
At the National Security Council meeting that
day (October 21, 1948), Forrestal spoke with apparent asperity of another
disconnection in our policy-making. According to an assistant’s note, “Mr.
Forrestal referred to the State Department request for four to six thousand
troops to be used as guard forces in Jerusalem in implementation of the
Bernadotte Plan for Palestine. This unexpected request was an example of how
the Palestine situation had drifted without any clear consequent formulation
of United States policy by the NSC. Mr. Forrestal said that actually our
Palestine policy had been made for ‘squalid political purposes.’... He hoped
that some day he would be able to make his position on this issue clear.”
One must wonder how much elaboration has been
cut after the word “purposes.” Might he have delved into the squalid methods
as well, or was that elsewhere in his diaries, or was he leaving that to that
future day when he hoped he would be able to shed more light on the subject.
As of the end of October 1948, he hardly
sounded like a man who had given up on having an effect on the direction of
his country, whether he was in the government or out of it. Instead, he
sounds exactly like the man with the unfinished agenda that brother Henry
described from his last visit with him in the hospital. Insofar as he was
looking back instead of into the future, it was not to lament any mistakes
that he had might have made but to deplore the errors of the national
leadership, manipulated, as it had been, to pursue policies that were contrary
to the interests of the American people. He comes across, in short, not as a
prime candidate for suicide, but for assassination.
In part one I also noted that President Harry
Truman would have been too compromised by his affiliation with the Kansas City
political machine of Tom Pendergast to have stood in the way of any foul play
directed toward Forrestal. If Truman could have been blackmailed to look the
other way while Forrestal was murdered, though, he could just as easily have
been blackmailed to pursue policies that put the interests of Israel ahead of
those of the United States. If Zionist leader David Ben Gurion would have
employed blackmail against Nelson Rockefeller to get him to use his influence
on Latin American leaders for United Nations votes, as the connected,
pro-Zionist authors, John Loftus and Mark Aarons claim, why wouldn’t they have
used it for the much bigger prize of the support of the United States? It
would have been relatively easy with the great influence over the press that
they wielded. That, rather than his pursuit of the Jewish vote for the
Democrats, would explain why Truman overruled his entire foreign policy
establishment to recognize the new state of Israel.
Two recent books on the Mafia give us an
appreciation of how easy it would have been to blackmail Truman over some of
the things Truman would have had to have done as one owing his livelihood and
career to Pendergast. From Thomas Reppetto’s American Mafia: a History of
Its Rise to Power (2004), we have this:
Missouri boss Tom Pendergast ran up impressive
city and state totals for the party while his administration did business with
Charlie Corallo, boss of the Kansas City underworld. Gambling ran wide open,
nude waitresses served lunch in the 12th Street dives, and drug and
prostitution rings flourished. As [U.S. Treasury investigator] Elmer Irey
noted, “You could buy all the morphine or heroin you could lift in Kansas
City; and the man who wanted to keep his job as a police captain...had better
keep his prostitute file correct and up-to-the-minute so Tom’s machine would
be certain that no girl practiced her ancient art without paying full tribute.
Pendergast’s machine made the career of Harry
Truman. During World War I, farmboy Truman had commanded a field artillery
battery in France that was full of tough kids from Kansas City who hit it off
with their captain. After the war Truman opened a haberdashery shop in Kansas
City. When it went bankrupt, his friends persuaded the machine to elect him
county judge, an administrative post equivalent to county supervisor in other
jurisdictions. Though personally honest, Truman had to hire some patronage
employees whom he later described as “no account sons of bitches.” (pp.
It’s hard to see what’s “personally honest”
about knowingly putting likely criminals in responsible positions in the
government–and who knows what else–at the behest of a mob boss.
This latter term for Pendergast is used
advisedly. On page 41 of his 2001 book, The Ouifit, The Role of Chicago’s
Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America, Gus Russo describes the first
national meeting of the country’s major crime lords that took place at the
Hotel President in Atlantic City, New Jersey, May 13-16, 1929. Present were
Albert Anastasia, Dutch Schultz, Louis Lepke, Frank Costello, Lucky Luciano,
Longy Zwillner, Moe Dalitz, Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, and Al Capone.
“Of particular note was the presence of the
notorious Kansas City machine politician Tom Pendergast, the sponsor of Harry
Truman, future president of the United States.”
Obviously, after all the witnesses had been
heard and the exhibits collected, someone in authority realized that the
Willcutts review board had not made anything like a persuasive case that
Forrestal had killed himself or that the Navy had acted properly either in the
care and protection of Forrestal or in the investigation of his death.
Something more had to be done.
What that something turned out to be was the
solicitation of endorsements from the prominent psychiatric community. The
voice of authority had to be substituted for what anyone with adequate
critical faculties could see for himself. The two short letters supporting
Dr. Raines by Dr. William Menninger, President of the American Psychiatric
Association and Professor of Psychiatry, Raymond W. Waggoner, M.D., of the
University of Michigan, sent from Montreal on May 25 where they continued to
attend the annual ASA convention, which were included among the exhibits, were
apparently deemed to be insufficient. So the first thing one encounters upon
opening the Willcutts file are letters of praise for the clearly inadequate
work of the review board from three more psychiatrists. The first one is
dated September 19, 1949, and it is from the superintendent of the federal
mental hospital in Washington, DC, Dr. Winfred Overholser. After a recitation
of credentials, the letter states:
I have read carefully the report of the very
thorough inquiry conducted by a Board of Investigation convened at the United
States Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland, on May 23, 1949 to investigate and
report upon the circumstances attending the death of Mr. James V. Forrestal at
that hospital on May 22, 1949.
From a study of the report, it is my opinion
that Mr. James V. Forrestal came to his death by suicide while in a state of
mental depression. It is my further opinion that the care and treatment given
to Mr. Forrestal during his stay at the Naval Hospital were entirely in accord
with modern psychiatric principles, and that his death was not due to the
negligence, fault, intent, or inefficiency of any of the physicians, nurses,
or ward personnel concerned in his care.
The second endorsement is addressed to Rear
Admiral G. L. Russell, Judge Advocate General of the Navy (the same office
that furnished the Willcutts Review Board report to me) and is dated September
13, 1949. It is from Dr. John C. Whitehorn, Johns Hopkins Hospital,
Baltimore, Maryland. It begins:
The proceedings and findings of the board of
investigation in the case of the late Mister James V. Forrestal, with
accompanying exhibits, were delivered to me by Lt. Cmdr. Kelly this morning.
In or telephone conversation yesterday you
asked me to study this material and to express my professional opinion on two
essential points of psychiatric principle and practice involved.
The two points boil down to whether it is a
good idea to ease up on the restrictions on a psychiatric patient like
Forrestal in due time and whether that time had arrived in Forrestal’s case.
Dr. Whitehorn’s concluding paragraph was surely everything they could have
wanted from him:
There are risks, therefore, of one kind or
another, in the making of every such decision. In the case of so
distinguished a person as Mister Forrestal, there would have been much
incentive to follow the more conservative, restrictive regime. Dr. Raines’
decisions displayed courage in the application of psychiatric principles to
provide the best chances for good recovery. For this he should be commended.
So, after a quick once-over of the
investigation, Dr. Whitehorn concludes that his fellow psychiatrist was not
negligent, he was courageous.
The third endorsement comes from the Chairman
of the Department of the School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania,
Edward A. Strecker, who also happens to be a professor of psychiatry there.
He claims as well to have studied the proceedings of the investigation and he
endorses it, but his endorsement is couched quite conservatively. He states
only that his “considered opinion is in complete accord” with “The Findings of
Facts,” the review board’s conclusions, the ones that were finally released on
October 11 and buried away in the back pages of the nation’s newspapers.
Then, to make sure that there is no misunderstanding, he summarizes them to
conclude his letter:
(1) The identification of the body of Mr. James
(2) The approximate date of the death of Mr.
Forrestal and the medical cause of death;
(3) The review of the behavior of the deceased
during his residence in the Bethesda Naval Hospital, and the diagnosis of the
mental condition as “mental depression;”
(4) The review of the treatment and precautions
in the treatment of Mr. Forrestal, and an opinion that “they were within the
area of accepted psychiatric practice and commensurate with the evident status
of the patient at all times”;
(5) That in no manner was the death of Mr.
Forrestal due to “intent, fault, negligence or inefficiency of any person or
persons in the Naval Service or connected therewith”.
This belated effort to lend much needed
credibility to the review board’s work by soliciting endorsements by prominent
psychiatrists is not without its comic aspects. Anyone responding that either
the care and treatment of Forrestal or the investigation of his death was
faulty could have been assured that his writings would never see the light of
day, and it could certainly could not have been good for that person’s
career. As it turned out, though, the testimonials did not see the light of
day for another 55 years. They became, in effect, secret testimonials.
The Fruits of
The great American patriot, James Forrestal, was as
badly betrayed in death as he had been in the closing weeks of his life.
Those powerful friends and associates who had failed to visit him when he was
in the hospital held their tongues while the report of the investigation of
his death continued to be kept secret. No hue and cry was raised. Since no
one with any real influence was clamoring for the release of their review
board’s report, the Navy obviously felt that the safest thing to do was just
to sit on it. In the meantime, in the absence of any revelation of the actual
facts surrounding his death, the field was left open to Forrestal’s opponents,
who dominate the country’s opinion-molding business. The last man who stood in
the way of the subordination of America’s foreign policy to the interests of a
foreign country had been silenced, and his reputation all but ruined. The
price that America has paid for the cravenness of its leaders in this matter
has been very high, and if present trends continue, the price is likely to go
much higher (See Alfred M. Lilienthal’s
What Price Israel?).
David Martin, September 19, 2004
On December 12, 2003, I received the following
e-mail from J. Bruce Campbell, commenting on the first installment of “Who
Killed James Forrestal?”:
I finished your excellent article on Forrestal. He has finally been
revealed as a great man who resisted the Zionists and who was murdered by
them. I read the Simpson book in the late '70s and although I was a
hard-core anti-Communist felt there was something missing, especially with
the hints in the sanitized book about his opposition to Israel.
I didn't know much then about Israel. I'd been in Rhodesia for a couple of
years fighting the Communist terrorists there so I was pretty hot. I was in
the police there and my friend Winston Hart in Special Branch told me
confidentially that they had just learned that Israel was supplying the
terrorists against us. I could hardly believe it. Israel?
The Rhodesian leader complained to South Africa's John Vorster, who told
Golda Meir to knock it off. She feigned ignorance of the matter. He got
tougher and she admitted it was a rogue operation. He told her it would
either stop or all aid to Israel would cease (government and private Jewish
aid). She then told him it would never happen again.
The Simpson book was probably sanitized by the Birch Society, which
published it. Western Islands was the Birch imprint. Welch forbade any
mention of a Jewish connection to Communism and Zionism was also off-limits.
JBS was a Zionist front and became virulently pro-Israel in the '70s and
'80s. Any mention of Jews would get a member ousted immediately.
I have since confirmed that Western Islands, the
publisher of the lone book suggesting that Forrestal did not commit suicide,
Cornell Simpson’s 1966 The Death of James Forrestal, is the house organ
of the fringe right-wing John Birch Society. That would explain why it was
completely ignored by the mainstream press. See
one for my assessment of Simpson’s book. In
Campbell related stories of his experiences as a
high-ranking Birch Society member, lending credibility to his observations
about that organization.
Beginning in early August, 2004, I sent the
following e-mail message to a number of organizations:
Through the Freedom of Information Act, I have
obtained the report of the review board convened on May 23, 1949, by Admiral
Morton Willcutts, Commander of the National Naval Medical Center, to
investigate the death of former Secretary of Defense James Forrestal. The
report had been secret for some 55 years. Exhibits accompany it, and there are
no redactions in the text. The report reveals a number of glaring inaccuracies
in the accounts of Forrestal's death by biographers Arnold Rogow and Townsend
Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley. It also reveals that there was broken glass on
Forrestal's bed and on the carpet at the foot of his bed and that his room had
been well "laundered" before the crime scene photographs were taken several
hours after his fatal fall.
I have had all the materials, including
photographs and my transmission letter from the Navy's Judge Advocate
General's office, put on a compact disc, which I would like to mail to you. If
you are interested in receiving these materials and would give them due
publicity, I would appreciate your letting me know.
Those organizations were as follows:
The Harry S. Truman Library
The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton,
N.J., which houses the Forrestal papers.
The Library of Congress
The John Birch Society
The Eisenhower Center at the University of New
Orleans, which is headed by historian, Douglas Brinkley
The Ludwig von Mises Center
The Cato Institute
The Howland Library in Beacon, New York, James
The representative of the
Mudd Library, immediately recognizing the document’s
historical significance, responded enthusiastically and was sent a copy of the
long-suppressed report. Even though no one there responded to the e-mail, the
Library of Congress does now have a copy of the Willcutts Report because on
August 19, 2004, I personally presented the CD to the head of the U.S.
Acquisitions Section of the Anglo-American Division of the library. My e-mail
had clearly never reached the people at that level. Like the representative of
the Mudd Library at Princeton, he and his assistant easily understood how
important the document was, and they were quite pleased to get it.
Larry Greenley, Director of Research for the John
Birch Society responded positively on August 25, apologizing that my original
e-mail had become buried in the volume of correspondence that they get. He
concluded, however, “I can’t promise that we’ll publicize the Forrestal
materials, or if we do, how much; that is up to the editorial staff and others.”
I wonder who the others might be.
September 8, 2004, I attended a lecture in Washington, DC, by David Eisenhower
on the presidential library system. My purpose was to publicize my Forrestal
work with a question for Dr. Eisenhower relating my experiences, both good and
bad, with the Truman Library. As it turned out, the head of the Truman Library
was present, and I personally presented him with a copy of the CD. I felt like
I was serving a summons.
I also gave one to Dr. Eisenhower, the well-known
grandson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Senior Fellow at the Annenberg
School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. In a personal
discussion afterward he volunteered that his grandfather was “tasked [by Truman]
to push Forrestal out.” His tone of voice hardly matched his words, but then,
realizing his faux pas, he clarified that he meant “out of office,” not
“out the window.” In my initial shock and then my amusement I failed to ask for
further clarification of why the retired General Eisenhower might have been
chosen for such a job and how he would have been expected to accomplish it. I
know of nothing on the official record or in the historical literature
connecting Eisenhower to Forrestal’s dismissal as Defense Secretary.
Who Killed James Forrestal?
The Cover-up Continues
On May 23, 1999, The Washington Post
marked the 50th anniversary of James V. Forrestal.’s death with a
lead cover article in its Style section. “The Fall of James Forrestal,” it was
titled, with The Post’s typical inappropriately cutesy word-play, and the
subtitle was as follows: “When America’s first secretary of defense dove from a
16th-floor window at Bethesda Naval Hospital precisely half a century
ago, he left a poem, a mystery, and 50 years to understand what he’d been trying
to tell us.”
Since there was no suicide note from
such a literate man who wrote so much, and since a belt or cord was found tied
suspiciously around his neck, the transcription of lines from the morbid poem by
Sophocles, "Chorus from Ajax," said to have been found near
Forrestal’s bed, loomed large. All the newspapers at the time, in their May 23,
1949, stories, before there had been any sort of investigation, or even an
autopsy, proclaimed Forrestal’s death a suicide, and they cited the poem to
which the book, An Anthology of World Poetry, was said to have been
opened. In later editions they touted his purported transcription of the first
26 lines. No one, it could be discerned from careful reading of the newspapers
of the day, had actually seen Forrestal leave his room, and no one had seen him
go out the unprotected window in the kitchen across the hall.
Political scientist, Arnold A. Rogow,
in a 1963 Forrestal biography, wrote that a hospital orderly had seen
Forrestal transcribing the poem from the book shortly before the fall, but he
gave no reference for his claim. In the first installment of “Who
Killed James Forrestal?” I speculated that
Rogow was wrong, because none of the newspapers at the time had reported that
anyone had seen Forrestal copying the poem, and they certainly would have done
so if they could, so clear was it that they wanted us to believe that the death
was a suicide.
2, with the official investigation report, that
of the review board convened by Admiral Morton Willcutts, finally in hand, I
revealed that my original speculation had been correct. The orderly who went on
duty at midnight said that the room had been dark the whole time he had been on
the job, suggesting that no reading or writing would have been possible before
Forrestal’s disappearance from the room at about 1:45. The orderly who had
preceded him volunteered witnessing some reading of a book by Forrestal
beginning around 8:00 pm, but he had nothing to say about what book it was, and
he couldn’t say for sure if he had seen Forrestal writing or not.
Also, in great contrast to the great
hullabaloo that the press made over the poem and its transcription, the review
board exhibited no interest in the subject at all. None of the witnesses they
called reported having found either the book of poems or the transcription. In
fact, they never even brought up the topic. The only time either is even
mentioned is in the following exchange between the board’s recorder and
Forrestal’s lead psychiatrist, Captain George Raines:
Captain Raines, I show you a clinical record, can you identify it?
is the nursing record of Mister Forrestal. The only portion I don’t recognize
is this poem copied on brown paper. Is that the one he copied? It looks like
his handwriting. This is the record of Mister Forrestal, the clinical record.
The one-page transcription had been
included as part of Exhibit 3, “Clinical record of the deceased,” just as I
received it in response to my third Freedom of Information Act request. The
book of poems, which was described in great detail in the newspapers, down to
the color of its binding, does not show up in the exhibits at all.
But fifty years later, the newspapers
were still playing up the transcribed poem angle for all it was worth. Here is
how the 1999 Post article, written by Alexander Wooley, begins:
hand moved across the paper, copying Greek poetry from a thick anthology. Then,
abruptly, mid-sentence, it stopped. He slipped the paper inside the book and
set it aside. His room was on the 16th floor of the towering
Bethesda Naval Hospital. It was 2 a.m. Sunday, 50 years ago. Exactly 50 years
ago yesterday. His name was James Vincent Forrestal….
who had lived in great wealth, his hospital room was simply furnished—a narrow
bed, a straight-back chair, an Oriental carpet on the floor, a rotating fan on
the wall by a closed window. Closed and locked. Three windows in the room, all
across the corridor to a small lab-like kitchen, with locked filing drawers,
white tile walls, stainless steel and glass cabinets. There, above a radiator,
an open window. He pulled out a screen, stepped onto the sill, leaped into the
after they found him broken, 13 floors below on a low roof, they searched his
room for clues to his last moments. There was the book, “An Anthology of World
Poetry,” still open to an excerpt from Sophocles’ “Ajax,” (sic) still containing
the paper on which he’d copied the poet’s words:
woe!’ will be the cry—no quiet murmur like the tremulous wail Of the lone bird,
the querulous nightingale,” he’d begun, stopping short, in mid-word, “Night—“he
wrote. Then jumped out a window.
And this is how the 50th
anniversary Post article, some 70 paragraphs later, ends:
The date was now May 22, Sunday, the day of [Drew]
Pearson’s weekly broadcast, which had become so agitating to Forrestal.
Forrestal was reading the poetry anthology, and began to
copy from “Chorus From Ajax” on Pages 277 and 278. He stopped after the first
syllable of the word “nightingale” and—apparently during the guard’s five-minute
break—walked out of his room, across a hall, into the adjoining kitchen. He
took off the sash from his robe and tied one end to the radiator under the
window, the other end around his neck, undid a screen and climbed out the
According to the coroner’s report, Forrestal likely then
jumped out the window and hung for some seconds suspended. The report also
notes scuff marks on the cement work underneath the window, indicating reflexive
kicking, or possibly terrified second thoughts. To no avail: The sash gave way
and Forrestal fell 13 floors, landing on an asphalt-and-crushed stone surface of
a third-floor passageway roof. Death was instant.
The coroner noted that the sash was still wound tightly
around his neck. The front of his skull was crushed, his abdomen slit, and his
lower left leg severed. The report notes that his watch was still running.
Why would a man about to kill himself copy an ancient
Greek poem, but not complete it? Was there any connection between the words he
copied and his last, desperate act? [Biographers Townsend] Hoopes and [Douglas]
Brinkley believe that more than mere chance might be at play. They note that
after the end of World War II, the National Security Council authorized the
recruitment of members of former Ukrainian death squads, who had worked for the
Nazis exterminating Jews and Red Army supporters, to work clandestinely within
the Soviet Union assassinating communists. The name of the group was Nachtigall,
or Nightingale. Ironically, while one wing of the CIA was secretly bringing
Nightingale’s leaders to the United States to train them, another wing of the
agency was in Europe working to bring them to trial in Nuremberg. The secret
program, which Forrestal almost undoubtedly helped bring about, failed,
however. The biographers postulate that Forrestal, in his unsedated state, may
have felt a shock of guilt—or, given his reds-under-the-bed delusions,
paranoia—that may have triggered suicide.
But perhaps there is another, less strained connection
between Sophocles’ verse and Forrestal’s tragic end. Perhaps the key was in the
verse that immediately followed the one containing the word “nightingale,” the
verse Forrestal could not bring himself to copy:
Oh! When the pride of Graecia’s noblest race
Wanders, as now, in darkness and disgrace,
When Reason’s day,
Sets rayless—joyless—quenched in cold decay,
Better to die, and sleep
The never-ending sleep, than linger on,
And dare to live, when the soul’s life is gone.
The Cover-up Collapses
The problem with all this, we now
know, is that it is completely made up. Someone else did the poem
transcription. Captain Raines, whose credibility was brought into question by
many of his other statements, as we saw in Part 2, was simply wrong when he said
that the handwriting on the poem written on brown paper looked like
Forrestal’s. It doesn’t look the least bit like Forrestal’s handwriting, as one
can plainly see at James
Forrestal's Handwriting Samples.
One hardly needs an expert to tell
him that the person who transcribed the poem is not the same person who wrote
the various letters there that are known to have been written by Forrestal. The
most obvious difference is that Forrestal writes his words and letters almost
straight up and down, while the poem transcriber writes with a more conventional
consistent lean to the right. Forrestal, on the other hand, is more
conventional in how he writes his small r’s, making either a single hump or an
almost imperceptible double peak, while the transcriber has a very distinctive
exaggerated first peak in almost every one he makes. The transcriber is a very
conventional “archer” in the manner in which he makes his small m’s and n’s.
Forrestal, on the other hand, is a typical "swagger," sagging down between
peaks, as opposed to rounding over arches.
What’s most amazing is the complete
brazenness on display. One can truly say that the transcription of “Chorus from
Ajax” is not a forgery. Not the slightest effort was made to mimic James
Forrestal’s handwriting. The perpetrators must have been completely confident
that no attempt would be made by the Navy to authenticate the note, and, in
fact, that no question would even be raised either by the press or by anyone
with a public forum as to the authenticity of the handwriting in the
Now that the cat is so thoroughly and
obviously out of the bag, one can anticipate that there will be one last,
desperate effort to put it back in. It would not be at all surprising for
someone to claim that what was sent to me in response to the Freedom of
Information Act request was not the actual transcription written by Forrestal,
but a facsimile, obviously written by someone else. But it was right there in
Exhibit 3 along with the nurse’s notes, just as it was when Dr. Raines examined
it and volunteered to the Willcutts Review Board that it looked like Forrestal’s
handwriting. Just as Raines was the only person at Bethesda Naval Hospital to
testify that Forrestal was suicidal at any time, he was also the only one there,
or anywhere else, to say that the handwriting in the transcription looked like
In the final analysis, there was a
distinctly Soviet quality to the destruction of the popular and powerful
American patriot, James Forrestal. First, the press propagandists launch into a
campaign to destroy his reputation. This is accompanied by personal harassment
and intimidation, which is treated as paranoia on Forrestal’s part when he
complains. Then he is confined to a mental ward, driving another nail into the
coffin of his reputation and his influence. Next, he is killed, and with the
active complicity of the propagandists he is blamed for his own murder. The
supposed nature of his death serves further to mute his clarion call of warning
against the dangerous path the country is embarking upon in the Middle East.
Finally, history is re-written. For
The Post in 1999, Forrestal’s destruction is related primarily to the disputes
in which he became embroiled over the reorganization of the armed services:
In the well-received recent biography “Driven Patriot: The
Life and Times of James Forrestal,” authors Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley
argue that conflict with his own secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, a
passionate advocate of the supremacy of air power, played a key role in his
professional and personal decline.
This conflict The Post elaborates
upon at typically great length. When it briefly mentions Forrestal’s opposition
to Truman’s Palestine policy, it changes the subject so fast the reader could
easily miss it. This passage comes on the heels of a discussion of Forrestal’s
objection to rapid military demobilization in the face of the growing threat
from the Communists:
In fact, Forrestal found himself standing against his
president on other key issues—he opposed making the support of the new state of
Israel a pillar of American foreign policy (at least in part because he was
keenly aware of the Navy’s dependence on cheap Arab oil) and fiercely campaigned
against Truman’s desire to curtail the Navy’s independence by unifying all
branches of the military.
That is The Post’s only mention of
Israel in the entire article, although there was general recognition in the
newspapers at the time of his death that Forrestal’s eclipse was heavily tied up
with the prominent position he had taken in opposition to our sponsorship of
Israel. Working as hard as it is to convince its readers that Forrestal was not
assassinated, it’s certainly not going to give them any help in figuring out
what the motive might have been.
November 20, 2004
Who Killed James Forrestal?
Imagine this scenario: A powerful,
radical Middle East movement, with a record of terrorism, decides to embark upon
a program of bombings and assassinations of high government officials in the
home territory of a major Western power. The plot is to be carried out by five
teams infiltrated into the Western country, and the primary target is the
leading government minister opposing the actions and the aspirations of the
As luck would have it, the secret
service of the Western country discovers the plot, and the terrorist movement
has to fall back to a plan of sending 20 letter bombs to various government
officers, including the aforementioned leading opponent of the terrorists as
well as his predecessor. The letter bombs also fail to reach their intended
What would the Western power do in
response to these bombing and assassination attempts? You would be right if you
answered that it would keep quiet about them for sixty years. In the meantime,
it would be a party to giving the terrorist group everything it hoped to get,
and more, from the failed assassination. It would even help the terrorists to
develop their own nuclear weapons.
The scenario is not fanciful.
According to recently declassified British intelligence documents, it actually
happened. The targeted official was British Foreign Minister, Ernest Bevin.
His targeted predecessor was Anthony Eden. The terrorists were the Zionist gang
Irgun Tsvai Leumi, or Irgun, for short. Its leader at the time of
the assassination attempts in 1946, before the state of Israel had been carved
out of Palestine, was Menachem Begin. Begin would later become Israel’s prime
minister and would be awarded the Nobel Prize for peace in 1978 for the
agreement that he would reach with Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat, known as the
Camp David peace accords.
The intelligence documents were
declassified in early March 2006. The assassination attempts occurred in 1946
and 1947; the supplying of plutonium to Israel by Britain first occurred in
1966, but it had supplied heavy water, another nuclear weapons ingredient, in
the 1950s. The Times of London reported on the
failed assassinations on
March 5, and the BBC reported on the
illegal nuclear assistance
on March 9.
These shocking, extraordinarily
important new revelations shed a great deal of light upon what we have virtually
proved to be the assassination of America’s first secretary of defense, James
Forrestal. The parallels in the government careers of Bevin and Forrestal are
great. Although Bevin came up through the labor movement and was a member of
the opposition Labor Party, Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill had made him
his Labor Secretary during World War II. In that capacity, he played a key role
in mobilizing Britain’s economy for the war.
Forrestal was a Wall Street
investment banker whom Franklin Roosevelt made Under Secretary of the Navy. A
tireless worker, Forrestal was the key liaison person between the Roosevelt
administration and the private industrial sector, and he was largely responsible
for the transformation of the economy from production for consumption to
production for the war effort.
When the Labor Party won a majority
after the war, Bevin was appointed foreign secretary in the new government.
Forrestal had been elevated to secretary of the navy when the previous secretary
died near the end of the war. He continued in that position when Harry Truman
replaced Roosevelt upon the latter’s death in 1945. When the National Security
Act of 1947 consolidated the armed services, Truman made Forrestal the first
secretary of defense.
Though both men were very popular and
both were very successful in their government careers, each suffered major
setbacks over the issue of the creation of a state for Jews in the territory of
Palestine. The Labor Party, heavily influenced by its Jewish members, when out
of power during the war actually favored expulsion of the Arab population of
Palestine to clear the way for a Jewish state. As foreign minister of the new
Labor government, Bevin, repulsed by Zionist terrorist actions directed at
British military and government officials in Palestine, steered the British
government toward a position more heavily favoring the rights of the Arab
residents of the region. In doing so, he made himself British public enemy
number one of the Zionists.
As we have previously noted,
Forrestal was enemy number one of the Zionists in the United States. Near the
end of part one of “Who
Killed James Forrestal?” we told of the
December 4, 1948, letter to the New York Times signed by a number of prominent
Jews, including Albert Einstein, warning the American public about Menachem
Begin and his terrorist organization upon Begin’s visit to the United States.
At the conclusion of the letter recounting the Begin organization’s murderous
activities, we asked this question, “Would men like Menachem Begin and his
followers have hesitated at assassinating the most popular, outspoken, and
powerful critic of the nascent state of Israel in the United States if given the
How apt that question was has now
been made manifest. We now know that they had no compunction against
assassinating Forrestal’s precursor and counterpart in Britain. The main
difference seems to be that the powers that be in Britain did not give them the
opportunity, while those in the United States did. Maybe that is a measure of
the relative power of the Zionists in the two countries. The federal government
and the organs for molding public opinion were penetrated at the very top in the
United States by the most extreme and violent elements of the Zionist movement,
and they continue to be so, or, at least,
That is not to say that the Zionists
are exactly weak in Britain. Official Britain hardly reacted with appropriate
fury at the outrage. Rather, the country sat on information about the attempted
assassination, and soon fell into line behind the United States in its
pro-Israel policies. It even got a bit ahead of the United States over the
nuclear weapons issue, as we have noted, and also during the Eisenhower
administration when the British, the French, and the Israelis attempted a power
grab known as the
Even now, the release of the news of
the outrage of the attempted Bevin assassination has been extremely timid. A
search of the Internet some three weeks after the initial revelation shows only
one other major newspaper in the world picking up on the story, the Sydney
Morning Herald in Australia. It has a slightly
different version of
events, though, claiming that it was the Stern gang, rather than Irgun, that
planned the assassinations, though both stories are ostensibly based upon the
same release of British intelligence documents. The Times, itself, has barely
squeaked out the news. When I telephoned the newspaper, attempting to locate
the reporter of the story, Peter Day, the person I talked to was unable to find
Day in their directory, nor could he find the article in the hard copy of the
March 5 Times. The online version of the story lists no page number. The folks
at the Times foreign desk, with whom I was then connected, were familiar with
the story, which the first contact person was not, but they did not know Mr.
Day. They were able to confirm only that he was not one of their own regular
reporters. Perhaps, as has
asserted in the case of the author of the only
critical book on James Forrestal’s death, Cornell Simpson, the name is a
pseudonym.* The topic, after all, is a hot one, and it may not be good for
one’s journalism career to be associated with it. Maybe the publishers of The
Times have had some second thoughts about what they have done in letting this
news out. As of April 5, the article could no longer be found on their web
The veritable radioactivity of the
subject would explain, as well, the complete blackout of this news by the
mainstream news organs of the United States. The news suppression is of a piece
with the complete failure of the U.S. press to report that the long secret
report on the investigation of Forrestal’s death was finally made public in
2004. The Seeley Mudd Manuscript Library of Princeton University even sent out
press release, and the online History News
Network of George Mason University made
of it, but the mainstream press made certain that this very important news, like
the news of the attempted assassination of Britain’s foreign minister, never
reached the attention of the general public.
That the American should vigorously
suppress this news should hardly surprise us. As we have seen throughout this
series, they were a very active party in selling the story that the far-sighted
statesman, Forrestal, the man who saw better than anyone where America’s Middle
East policy was leading it, ended his own life. The last thing such a press
would want would be for the public to learn of the existence of powerful
evidence that undermines the suicide thesis, and worse, points the finger of
blame at Zionist terrorists.
The complete suppression of the news
of Irgun’s assassination attempt on Foreign Minister Bevin for all these many
years is almost as important as the attempt, itself. Imagine how much stronger
that 1948 New York Times
warning letter by Albert
Einstein and a number of other prominent American Jews about the murderous
proclivities of Menachem Begin and company could have been had they know about
Begin’s previous attempt on the life of Bevin. In all likelihood, no such
warning letter would have even been needed. And would it not have been
abundantly clear that someone who was a danger to the life the man regarded as
the leading enemy of Israel in Britain, when Britain had the controlling power
over Palestine, should also be regarded as a danger to the life of the putative
leading opponent of Israel in the United States, when Britain’s power over
Palestine had effectively been passed to the United States?
Although it is apparent that those
signers of the warning letter to the New York Times had no knowledge of the
previous attempt on the life of Ernest Bevin, one must wonder who, outside the
ranks of British intelligence, did know about it. In particular, we have to
wonder if one so connected to the higher reaches of power in the world as
Bernard Baruch, when he warned his friend Forrestal in February of 1949 that he
had already become too identified with opposition to Israel for his own good,
knew more than he was telling about the danger that Forrestal faced. And when
Forrestal complained about being followed and bugged, did he know that the Irgun
crowd had come pretty close to snuffing out the life of his British
counterpart? Could such knowledge have been behind his resistance to commitment
to Bethesda Naval Hospital and his reported claim that he would never leave the
hospital alive when he attempted to get out of the car taking him there? Might
that have been the revelation from Secretary of the Air Force Symington on the
day of Forrestal’s departure from office that drove him into his sudden funk?
And after Forrestal’s death, could
there have been any doubt in the minds of those aware of the attempt on Bevin
who had ultimately been behind the later crime? Might these have included those
powerful friends such as Ferdinand Eberstadt and Robert Lovett, who had failed
to visit him in the hospital and then, when the results of the investigation of
his death were never made public, failed to register any public complaint? At
the very least, those in the know included the contemporary and future leaders
of Great Britain, and the knowledge that the leaders of the United States
government had conspired with Zionist thugs in the assassination of the one
courageous voice of reason in their midst would very likely have animated their
own future Middle East policy.
The Times article on the Bevin
assassination attempt has one particularly intriguing passage, which might fill
in some more pieces of the puzzle. That is that Britain’s foreign intelligence
service, MI6, believed that Menachem Begin was backed in his terrorist
activities by the Soviet Union. One might wonder whether their belief was
founded on solid evidence and, if so, how far this backing went. Did they just
generally encourage him in his murderous endeavors, or were they actually
calling the shots? If MI6 was right, then those like author Cornell Simpson who
argue that the Communists killed Forrestal and those who suggest that the
Zionists did it are probably both right.
The Soviets, as Simpson explains
quite well, certainly had ample reasons to want to be rid of Forrestal. Not
only was he the leading anti-Zionist in the Truman administration, but he was
also the leading anti-Communist. Interestingly enough, the same can probably be
said for Ernest Bevin in Britain’s Clement Atlee administration. Bevin’s
anti-Communism carried a particular potency because he came from a British labor
movement that was heavily influenced and infiltrated by the Communists.
In many instances in the United
States in the 1930s and 1940s pro-Communism and pro-Zionism could be found in
the same individuals. As we noted in the first installment of this series, that
appears to have been the case for the very powerful and secretive adviser to
both Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, David Niles.**
With these new revelations, Niles is
due even greater scrutiny than before as the likely coordinator of the Forrestal
assassination. Some measure of Niles’s power can be gained from the following
passage in the oral history interview of Truman aide, Stephen J. Spingarn:
Niles worked with nobody. He was sui generis. David Niles
was the oldest senior staff man in point of service. He came over from the
Roosevelt administration. His titular jurisdiction was minorities. But,
actually, his main job, I suppose you could say, was Jewish problems on the one
hand, and the intricate politics of New York City, those two things; maintaining
liaison with Dave Dubinsky and Alex Rose and the Liberal Party there, you know,
and keeping the White House abreast of that. But David Niles seemed to me to pay
very little attention Negro and other minority matters, so it seemed to me.
Philleo Nash was his assistant and Philleo paid a lot of attention, but it
didn't seem to me that Dave paid much. And there was another interesting thing,
Dave Niles did not attend the President's morning staff conferences -- ever.
HESS: Can you tell me about those morning staff conferences?
SPINGARN: Yes. The President held a morning staff conference every morning at
9:30 -- I think it was 9:30. It was indispensable to a staff man -- a senior
staff man -- to attend that thing, but it was a very delicate matter as to who
Elsewhere Spingarn makes it clear that Niles was very
much a part of Truman’s inner circle, so it would have been natural for him to
attend these daily meetings. The impression one gets is that he was so
powerful, and confident of his power, that the staff meetings were actually
beneath him. He didn’t have to go in order to stay on top of the issues that
really mattered, and to continue to have the ear of the putative boss, President
Truman. Or perhaps he realized that it wasn’t all that important to have
influence with Truman, when he had influence with the people who really
At this point, the observations of the son-in-law of
President Franklin Roosevelt, Colonel Curtis Nall, as relayed by
Makow, are apropos:
maintained a family loyalty but could not avoid several disheartening
conclusions in his book [FDR: My Exploited Father-in-Law, 1970]. He
portrays the legendary president not as a leader but as a “quarterback” with
little actual power. The “coaching staff” consisted of a coterie of handlers
(“advisers” like Louis Howe, Bernard Baruch and Harry Hopkins) who represented
the international banking cartel. For Dall, FDR ultimately was a traitor
manipulated by “World Money” and motivated by conceit and personal ambition.
If such a commanding politician as Franklin Roosevelt,
a man widely believed to be the most powerful president the United States has
ever had, was really little more than a quarterback executing plays called in by
the coaching staff, what would that have made the former haberdasher and protégé
of the Kansas City machine of boss Tom Pendergast? Certainly it was not
Truman’s idea to have James Forrestal assassinated, and very little was required
of him for the assassination to be carried out and covered up. In matters such
as this, the President would not have been calling the shots.
April 9, 2006
*As I reported in March of 2005,
former John Birch Society official, J. Bruce Campbell asserts that the name
“Cornell Simpson” is a pseudonym. I had suspected as much because this
“Simpson” is clearly a polished professional writer, but the name, to my
knowledge, appears nowhere else in any political writing except as the author of
The Death of James Forrestal. Recently, an acquaintance in Washington
with Birch Society contacts confirmed that “Cornell Simpson” was the name
assumed in this instance by Medford Evans, the father of noted conservative, M.
Stanton Evans. The elder Evans also wrote under his own name an even
more obscure book published by the Birch Society, The Assassination of Joe
**The following passage from Alfred
Lilienthal’s 1953 classic What Price Israel? is very revealing of the
person described by Alfred Steinberg in the December 24, 1949, Saturday
Evening Post as “Truman’s Mystery Man”:
There were many ways in which Niles served the State of
Israel after partition, too. Early in 1950, when the United States first awoke
to the Soviet danger in the Middle East, our Government requested the various
Arab countries for information regarding troops, equipment, and other
confidential military data. These statistics were necessary in order to plan
possible assistance under the Mutual Security Act. The Arab nations were
naturally assured that the figures, supplied for the Chief of Staff, would be
Late that year, military representatives of the Middle East countries and of
Israel were meeting with General [W.E.] Riley, who headed the United Nations
Truce Organization. Trouble had broken out over the Huleh Marshes, and charges
and countercharges of military aggression were exchanged between Israel and the
Arab countries. The Israeli military representative claimed that the Syrian
troops were employed in a certain manner, and General Riley remarked: “That’s
not possible. The Syrians have no such number of troops.” Whereupon the
Israeli representative said, “You are wrong. Here are the actual figures of
Syrian military strength and the description of troops.” And he produced the
confidential figures, top-secret Pentagon information. General Riley himself
had not been shown the new figures given by the Syrian War Ministry to his
When the question of Egyptian military strength was raised, a similar security
leak appeared. It was obvious that top-secret figures had been passed on to the
Israeli Government. Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Army G-2
investigated the security breach but discovered only that these figures had been
made available to the White House. How and through whom they leaked out of the
White House remained forever obscure. However, the Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs, General Omar Bradley, reportedly went to the President and told the
Chief Executive that he would have to choose between him (Bradley) and Niles.
Not to long after this reported intervention, David Niles resigned from his post
as Executive Assistant to the President and went on a visit to Israel. (Pp.
doing some additional research on the September 17, 1948, assassination in the
new state of Israel of United Nations mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte of
Sweden, by the Stern Gang (Lehi), I ran across this intriguing entry on the
Bernadotte discussion page on
Contrary to what you say, Lehi being a terror organization is very much
disputed. Most (or at least many) Israelis (myself included) do not consider
Lehi to be a terrorist organization. Lehi never targeted innocent civillians
(sic) in attempt to terrorize them. All of Lehi's attacks were against military
or government targets (including high-ranked officials such as Bernadotte). This
is very different than what "proper" terrorist organizations do - attacking
random civilian targets such as busses or airplanes.
Avraham Stern's memorial day is attended every year by Israeli political and
government officials. Given Israel's effort to gain international support for
its ongoing war against terrorism of all kinds, you wouldn't expect Israeli
leaders to associate themselves with the memory of someone who led a terrorist
organization. Indeed they don't - like me they believe that Lehi, while
sometimes using extreme measures, was not a terrorist organization.
I'm not really trying to convince you that Lehi was not a terrorist organization
(you are entitled to your own opinion on that) - only that the issue is
disputed. Since it is indeed so, the proper place to discuss it is on the Lehi
page - rather than have is stated on every page which mentions Lehi.
This is a
perfect example of the attitude toward the attempted Bevin assassination
described in the aforementioned London Times article:
Lord Bethell, author of The Palestine Triangle and an expert on Soviet
intelligence, said Bevin was detested by Zionist groups. He added, however:
“Zionists would be very angry if you compared these people with terrorists now.
You have to remember that Irgun were the grandfathers of today’s ruling
“They would say they were at war with the British and behaved well, fighting
under Marquess of Queensberry rules. They would say that they didn’t target
Forrestal, as the leading opponent in the United States government of the new
state of Israel would have been regarded as anything but an "innocent civilian,"
and that would have made this great American patriot fair game for assassination
in Zionist eyes. Hardly anything could be more incriminating of them than their
own words...unless it is their
Copyright David Martin
Republished with the author's
Color highlighting added by Gnostic
For more articles by David Martin (DCDave)
please visit his fascinating web-site at:
history may ultimately judge his opposition to the establishment of Israel, by
1949 it was clear that Forrestal was, in a sense, one of the casualties of the
diplomatic warfare that had led to the creation of the Jewish state." Arnold Rogow, James Forrestal, A Study of Personality, Politics, and Power, 1963
New Forrestal Document
James V. Forrestal was America's first Secretary of Defense. He was also the
leading official in the Truman administration opposing the creation and U.S.
recognition of the state of Israel. President Truman relieved Forrestal of his
position in late March of 1949. Within a few days he was committed, apparently
against his will, to Bethesda Naval Hospital suffering from "exhaustion." In
spite of the invaluable service he had rendered to the country during World War
II, first as Under Secretary of the Navy and then Secretary of the Navy, he had
in 1948 and early 1949 been the subject of an unprecedented press vilification
campaign, led by powerful columnists Drew Pearson and Walter Winchell.
At around 1:45 am, May 22, some seven weeks after his admission to the hospital,
Forrestal plunged from a 16th floor window of the hospital to his death. A belt
or cord, said to be from his dressing gown, was tied tightly around his neck.
On May 23, a review board was appointed by Admiral Morton D. Willcutts, the head
of the National Naval Medical Center to investigate the death. The board
completed its work on May 31, but not until October 11 did it publish a brief,
summary report of only a few lines. No explanation of the delay was given. The
summary concluded that Forrestal had died from the fall, but it had nothing to
say about what caused the fall, except to conclude that no one associated with
the Navy was responsible. In short, it did not conclude that he had committed
suicide, as initial reports stated and the public is still given to believe. No
mention was made in the summary, or in those later October press reports, of the
belt around Forrestal's neck.
The Willcutts Report, itself, was kept secret, and, curiously, no hue and cry
was raised over that fact. After two unsuccessful Freedom of Information Act
tries with the National Naval Medical Center, I was finally able to get the
report of the review board from the office of the Navy's Judge Advocate General,
and my analysis is at
At the time of the death, all the press made much of a book containing a morbid
poem from Sophocles, "Chorus from Ajax," that Forrestal had supposedly been
copying from shortly before his plunge from the window. The press reports all
say that the book and a transcription "were found," but they never say by whom.
Neither does the Willcutts Report. No witness is produced who claims to have
discovered the book or the transcription. Rather, the first person to get a
good look at Forrestal's vacated hospital room found broken glass on his bed, a
likely sign of some sort of struggle. She also described bedclothes half turned
back, but the official "crime scene" photographs taken many hours later, show a
bed with a bare mattress, an obvious sign of a cover-up. One can also see that
articles were moved around from one picture to the next:
http://www.dcdave.com/article4/040916.html . Needless
to say, no news report has ever mentioned the broken glass or the laundering of
the room before photographs were taken.
Pro-Israel writers like Rogow, Winchell biographer, Neal Gabler, Jack Anderson,
Charles Higham, John Loftus, and Mark Aarons have continued the character
assassination against Forrestal, falsely characterizing him as an an
anti-Semitic nut who had made several previous suicide attempts. This claim of
several previous suicide attempts, echoed at this Arlington Cemetery web site:
http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/jvforres.htm , is
virtually proved to be false by the testimony of Forrestal's Bethesda Hospital
doctors in the Willcutts Report. They agree that, from all indications, he had
never before attempted suicide.
The indications are very strong that the Roman Catholic Forrestal kept his
no-suicide-attempt record intact on May 22, 1949, and became another casualty of
the creation of the state of Israel in the same sense that Lord Moyne, Count
Bernadotte, Yitzhak Rabin, Rachel Corrie, 34 crewmen on the USS Liberty, and
Palestinian leaders on a regular basis have been casualties.
Willcutts Report is
available in pdf form on the web site of the Seeley Mudd Manuscript Library at
Princeton University. Copies should also be available for perusal at the Harry
S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, and the Library of Congress. I
have given the appropriate officials at these libraries compact discs of the
September 27, 2004
Copyright David Martin.
Republished with the author's
Color highlighting added by Gnostic
James Forrestal Page
Go to James Forrestal's Handwriting
Go to "Was there a struggle?"
For more articles by David Martin (DCDave)
please visit his fascinating web-site at:
Other articles by
David Martin on his web-site:
and Joseph Stalin
March 9, 2008
"Upton Sinclair and Timothy
Dreyfus Affair, the Case of the Death of Vincent Foster"
for Truth Suppression.
Go to Joseph McCarthy Page I
Go to Joseph McCarthy Page II
Go to "Controversy Of Zion" by Douglas Reed
The command to wipe out
An Absolute MUST READ