The latest reviewer of my book, The Assassination of James Forrestal, one “Robert Buckley,” (kin to William F.?) en route to giving it just two stars—compared to the 4.5 out of 5 average of 205 customer reviews—has the following to say on Amazon.com:
I agree with the other commenters who said that the book needs a good editor. There’s too much information of doubtful relevance. Martin makes a pretty good case that the Zionists had a motive to kill Forrestal, but as any lawyer knows, motive by itself does not prove a case. There must be other evidence. Martin, for example, fails to give us any suggestion of how the “murder” could actually have been carried out. Forrestal was in a military hospital with personnel assigned to attend to him. While those attendants were not with him constantly, they were nearby. He was observed sleeping at about 1:45 a.m. and was reported missing five minutes later (p. 118). It would appear that if someone had attacked Forrestal and pushed him (or his body) out of the 16th floor window, there would have been some noise and other evidence of the attack. The person assigned to watch over him testified that he was close enough to hear any such noises and heard nothing (p. 119). No other evidence of a physical struggle is cited.
His suggestion that I have gone heavy on motive while slighting the actual details of how the likely murder might have been carried out is simply not true, as anyone who has read the book will know. He speaks of “personnel assigned to attend” Forrestal and references, without naming him, the testimony of the actual person, Navy corpsman Robert Wayne Harrison, that appears on pp. 118 and 119 of the book. Actually, the full testimony goes from page 117 into the top of page 122. (Buckley is referring to the first edition. Add fifteen pages for the page numbers in the second edition.)
Right there at the end of Harrison’s testimony on page 122, I note that in their 1992 book Driven Patriot: The Life and Times of James Forrestal, Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley revealed for the first time that Harrison was new to the job, having gone on duty on the midnight-to-8:00 a.m. shift just the night before, when Forrestal had been asleep the whole time. They say it was because the regular guy had gone AWOL on a drunken escapade, but they don’t tell us how they know that. Harrison confirms that the previous night was his first on the job, but no one on the panel asked him why that was so, and if he was just meant to be a temporary fill-in.
Shortly after the testimony, on page 123-124 I write:
If…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 the 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 suicide.
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 speculation as to the possibility that he was a ringer. 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.
We learn from the Nurse’s Notes accompanying the witness testimony in the Willcutts Report that the person that Harrison relieved was one C. F. Struthers. He is one of a number of people who should have been called as witnesses by the board but were not. We could have learned from him if the Hoopes and Brinkley account is true, for what it is worth. The board also should have been interested in learning about Forrestal’s demeanor at that time of night in comparison to that final night.
Further on, at the bottom of the page and into page 125 I write:
The authorities also didn’t seem to have a problem letting us know that [Harrison] was the corpsman on duty when Forrestal went out the window. The newspapers name him freely, as does Cornell Simpson [in the 1966 book The Death of James Forrestal], who presumably got his information from the newspapers. They never name the person who preceded him, though, and go even further to reduce that person’s significance by telling us erroneously that Harrison’s shift began at 9:00 p.m. rather than at midnight, a falsehood that Simpson repeats.
Earlier in the chapter we note that that attendant who went off duty at midnight, Edward Prise, had had his name misspelled as “Price,” throughout the report, apparently intentionally so that it would be hard for an inquiring researcher to locate him, and earlier in the book we reported on an email we had received from his daughter telling us she heard “whispers” between her parents about the case for years and that Prise was fearful about possibly having to testify again about what he knew about Forrestal’s death. Only after Prise was safely dead did Hoopes and Brinkley in their 1992 book make him the person who vouched, in abstentia, for Forrestal’s “suicide.”
The reviewer, Buckley, hangs his hat completely on Harrison’s saying that he didn’t hear any sound from across the hall in the kitchen after returning to his station on a chair in Forrestal’s darkened, vacated room. That was after returning from down the hall around a corner at the night nurse’s station where he was making entries in a logbook. He was never asked if he had heard any sound from Forrestal’s room at that time. As we report on page 133, neither was Nurse Regina M. L. Harty, who was at the desk where Harrison would have been making his logbook entries, asked if she had heard anything.
Harrison’s questioners are making the assumption that perhaps Forrestal, though missing from his bed when Harrison had returned to his station, had not yet gone out of the window of the room across the hall. Even if that were true and the attack and defenestration had not been accomplished while Harrison was down the hall, one could argue that throwing an unconscious, successfully throttled Forrestal out of the window would have produced no more noise than Forrestal hanging himself out of the window with the sash affixed to the radiator beneath the window until it somehow “gave way” (without breaking, according to eyewitness testimony of the body).
Actually, though, it’s pretty clear that I should have been more definite in stating that Harrison had to have been a ringer. The fact that he was new to the job is really the big giveaway, along with the fact that the newspapers freely gave his name and not the names of Prise and Harty while failing to report that he was new to the job. The fact that the review board did not ask Harrison why he was there replacing the regular attendant while never calling the regular guy is also telling.
What about that Transcription?
The Jewish chauvinist Arnold Rogow, writing in his influential 1963 book James Forrestal, a Study of Personality, Politics, and Policy also failed to tell his readers that Harrison (whom he does not name) was new to the job, but he could have just been relying upon what the newspapers reported, or failed to report. Where he clearly was not relying on news reports was when he wrote—repeated as fact by Hoopes and Brinkley—that he had looked into Forrestal’s room at 1:45 and saw him copying something from a book, which turned out to be that celebrated morbid poem, “Chorus from Ajax” by Sophocles that the news reports and everyone else who has since written about Forrestal’s death have made such a big deal over, taking it almost as a suicide note. As I write on page 15, I suspected when I first read the account by Hoopes and Brinkley sourced to Rogow that Rogow had made it up, precisely because the news accounts had all either merely said the transcription had been found or left out the transcription part and just said that the book was found open to that page. I first speculated that Rogow had made the story up in 2002 in the first installment of “Who Killed James Forrestal?” two years before getting the confirmation in Harrison’s testimony, precisely because the newspapers had not reported that anyone had witnessed Forrestal transcribing the poem.
Harrison’s testimony establishes that it was never a case of his “looking in” to Forrestal’s room because his regular station was on a chair in Forrestal’s room. He was there to guard him. That fact makes it all the more certain that Robert Wayne Harrison, if that is his real name, had to be part of the murder plot. He was out of sight of Forrestal at only brief intervals, and the assailant(s) had to be certain that he would not thwart their efforts. There is, in fact, a very good chance that Harrison, himself, was the sole assailant.
For Robert Buckley (if that’s his real name) to insinuate that my book is short on evidence while ignoring the whole question of that poem transcription takes a lot of chutzpa. I provide handwriting samples to show that the transcription was written in a hand that is markedly different from Forrestal’s, about as solid a piece of evidence as you could ask for that the story we are being given about Forrestal’s death is false.
Evidence of a Struggle
The real death knell for Buckley’s case, though, is in his last sentence, “No other evidence of a physical struggle is cited.” I would remind him that the first section heading of the chapter that he cites is “Signs of a Struggle?” I note that the witness Nurse Dorothy Turner, who had come up from the seventh floor after hearing Forrestal land on a third-floor roof after his fatal fall, who was the first recorded person to observe Forrestal’s vacated room in the light, reported that there was broken glass on Forrestal’s bed. Also, a photograph of the room, which is reproduced in the book, showed broken glass on the carpet at the foot of Forrestal’s bed. The review panel demonstrated no interest in that broken glass. If it’s not a sign of a struggle, I can’t imagine what it might be. I also wonder in the chapter why the photographs of the room were taken by a different photographer from the one who photographed Forrestal’s body, why the second photographer did his work several hours later, and why the room had been stripped clean with no sign of the “bed clothes half turned back” that Nurse Turner described on the bed that showed only a bare mattress in the photograph. The review panel, as I note in the book, showed no interest in these questions.
It would appear to me that the reviewer Buckley is simply continuing the cover-up work of that board, a board that was made up, with one exception, of Navy doctors at the Bethesda Naval Hospital and all were subordinates of the convener of the panel, Admiral Morton Willcutts. But, as I point out in the book, even they did not officially conclude that Forrestal committed suicide, but only that he died from his fall and that no one in the Navy was responsible for it.