By Ruwan M Jayatunge –
In 1988 I went to Minsk – the capital city of Belarus to find some facts about Lee Harvey Oswald who was believed to be the lone gunman in JFK Assassination. It had been 25 years after the President John F Kennedy‘s assassination. The Minsk had almost forgotten the American defector who lived in their city. No one talked about him. Moreover the Soviet people had no interest in the JFK saga and they had other things to worry about. Perestroika and economic changes have caused dramatic changes in their lives. People were anxious about market economy and other reforms that rapidly changed the Soviet society.
It was mid January and temperature was about minus sixteen degrees Celsius. My Polish winter coat did not fully help me to fight the Russian winter that defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and Field-Marshal Friedrich Paulus. The cold wind was terrible and it was piercing through my bones.
Near the Minsk train station (Vokzal Minsk) I took a taxi cab- a black color Volga which was popularly known as the Russian Mercedes. The taxi driver was a middle aged man who knew the city of Minsk like the back of his hand. Where to? He asked in a polite manner. I immediately noticed his Belorussian accent. I did not know my destination. It was a frantic effort to look for someone who lived in this city some 26 years ago. I had no address, only had a name: Mr. Lee Harvey Oswald.
I need to find the apartment that Lee Harvey Oswald lived many years ago I told the taxi driver. Who? He asked with a surprise. I explained him again, Lee Harvey Oswald the guy who killed the president of the United States of America. The taxi driver had no clue about Lee Harvey Oswald. But he knew who JFK was. So we reached a Police Officer. I posed the same question to him. Instead of answering my question he checked my documents. I was a medical student on my winter vacation and I had obtained a visa to travel to West Germany. My documents were in proper order. So he returned my documents.
The policemen looked dumb and he had no intention of helping us. The weather was becoming bad and heavy snow fall made me nervous. I had to meet someone who knew the city’s history. Nothing came to my mind. I was about to give up the Oswald mission. But suddenly I decided to go to a museum and meet a curator or someone. I asked the diver to go to the Belarusian National Arts Museum. At the museum I met an elderly gentleman who was a journalist. He had worked for the Literaturnaya Gazeta many years ago.
When I told him about Lee Harvey Oswald he knew who he was. Da Da Amarikanez he replied. The old journalist gave us directions. Oswald had lived in an apartment building near the Svisloch River.
After driving through heavy snow blizzard we reached our destination. It was an old apartment building with a gloomy look. He lived on the 3rd floor. This was the place where that well-known Lee Harvey Oswald had once lived. The weather was bad and we saw no one on the street. There were no sign boards or plaque. The city had forgotten its ignominious adopted son. This place could have been a major tourist attraction. But the city officials wanted to maintain a low profile on Oswald. May be he was an embarrassment to the Soviet officials.
Despite heavy snow fall we spent a few minutes there. I imagined how Oswald and his Russian wife Marina walked through these streets. To me Oswald was not a hero, but an enigma. I could smell him near that old apartment building. Something was in that atmosphere which I could not explain. May be I was superstitious. Who was Lee Harvey Oswald? An unstable insignificant man who changed the modern history?
I went back to the Minsk train station to take a train to go to Kishinev – Moldavian Republic. I tried to forget Oswald completely and concentrate on my exams. But he was in my thoughts. After many years in 2002 this trip inspired me to write a book on JFK. It was the first book about JFK in Sinhala language. The book was titled John F Kennedy Jevithaya Ha Maranaya (JFK Life and Death) published by the Wijesuriya Grantha Kendraya. In 2010 I went to the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn Michigan and saw the ill fated limousine -Lincoln Continental 4-door convertible in which JFK was riding in Dallas.
Now fifty years have passed after the JFK assassination. Still we know little about the assassination and many conspiracy theories are circulating. Who killed John F Kennedy? Did Lee Harvey Oswald pull the trigger? Still there are no satisfactory answers. There are many gaps and unanswered questions.
Lee Harvey Oswald lived in the Soviet Union from October 1959 to June 1962. During this time period Nikita Khrushchev was the head of the state. After his defection to the USSR Oswald was given a job in a Radio factory in Minsk – Belorussia. There he met a Russian girl named Marina whose uncle was a KGB officer. Oswald fell in love with Marina and they got married. He lived in Minsk until 1962.
Oswald claimed that he was a Marxist -Leninist. But he knew very little about Marxism. According to Peter Savodnik- Lee Harvey Oswald biographer his defection was more psychological than ideological. The Soviets expected Lee Harvey Oswald to help in their propaganda effort against the West. But Oswald did not participate in propaganda work.
Some argue that after Lee Harvey Oswald defected to the Soviet Union the KGB found numerous secrets related to the U2 spy plane. In 1960 a Soviet surface to air missile shot down a U2 piloted by Francis Gary Powers. This incident jeopardized the peace talks between the USA and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
To Oswald life in Minsk was becoming monotonous. He was not happy with his life and he decided to come back to USA. Some reports indicate that after coming back to the United States he was involved in Free Cuba Committee which was an anti-Castro organization. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco Oswald became furious and determined to kill the President Kennedy.
On November 22, 1963 President John F. Kennedy was killed by a sniper in Dallas, Texas. The Police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald for the crime. While being escorted to the Dallas County Jail Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. Oswald succumbed to his gun shot injuries. He was 24 years old. Oswald was buried in Shannon Rose Hill Memorial Park Fort Worth Texas. Oswald’s mother, his wife Marina and 22 months old daughter June attend the funeral.
Lee Harvey Oswald’s remains were exhumed in October 1981 following speculations made by a group of people. They claimed that a Soviet spy was buried in place of Lee Harvey Oswald’s grave. Finally the family members gave their consent to open the grave. Oswald’s widow Marina Porter Oswald was present at the exhumation. The remains were examined by a team of Pathologists. They compared Oswald’s dental records and found a positive dental identification. The team leader Dr Linda Norton pronounced that the individual buried under the name of Lee Harvey Oswald in Rose Hill cemetery was in fact Lee Harvey Oswald.