Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Flight From McGuire

The Man Named Oswald - Flight from McGuire
By William Kelly

In October 1959  Mrs. Louise Steenbarger and her eight year old son David boarded a Military Air Transport (MATS) plane at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey bound for Phalsbourg, France, where her husband was a civilian auditor with the Auditor General, so the military issued their travel orders.

As a Congressional Committee report described:

On the airplane her son sat in the window seat and she sat in the middle. The man sitting in the aisle seat said his name was Lee Oswald; she doesn’t remember him using a middle name. He seemed tense and didn’t say much; he gripped the arms of the seat so tightly that his knuckles were white. She thought he was merely afraid of flying. He was quite taciturn and actually seemed hostile when she tried to talk to him.

The young man relaxed after they had a meal. He seemed to her like he had a lot of pent-up emotion. He said he had served in Japan and the Philippines. He was wearing a Marine Corps uniform. He said he had fallen in love with a Japanese girl and had been imprisoned in either Japan or the Philippines because he wanted to marry her. He said he was being shipped to Germany by the military; the departure had been so hastily arranged that he had not even been able to see his mother.

Mrs. Steenbarger described the man as having light to sand hair, light eyes, with sharpshooter medals on his uniform, a name plate saying “Lee Oswald” and a slight Southern accent.

He said his father was named Robert E. Lee Oswald. He talked about putting down the American system. He said he was being shipped to Germany because they needed him right away and that he had a skill he could use there, but she doesn’t recall if he specified what skill.

The plane landed in Preswick in Scotland. Mrs. Steenbarger and her son deplaned to use the restroom. Oswald said he was ill. He stood at a distance and seemed to be watching her coldly and suspiciously. After that, he didn’t speak to her any more.

When they got back on the plane the man named Oswald sat across the isle from her and her son and a couple of rows up. Another man in nice civilian clothing sat next to her. He let a cigarette dangle on the armrest but appeared distracted and did not smoke it. There may have been other civilians on the plane, but she is not sure.

The man named Oswald told her that he was still under surveillance from his trouble with the military police. The man sitting next to her after Oswald moved behaved oddly that she wondered if he was in fact the person who was watching Oswald.

Their plane landed….That was the last time she saw the man named Oswald.

It is not yet known if the HSCA investigators followed up on this report and actually checked the MATS flight manifests out of McGuire to Germany in October 1959, to see if the names of Louise and David Steenbarger and Lee Oswald are on there, but I intend to follow up on this and check to see if such records still exist, and if the names are on there, and if so, what does it all mean?

On October 15, 1959 Lee Harvey Oswald entered the Soviet Union, renounced his American citizenship, offered the Soviets sensitive information and defected. As a man named Oswald who was born in the South, spoke with a southern accent, had a father named Robert E. Lee, was an ex-Marine who had been stationed in Japan and the Philippines, fallen in love with a Japanese girl and spent time in the brig, and specially trained in radar, communications and the Russian language, it seems like our boy Oswald, the accused assassin of President Kennedy.

The problem is that the historic Lee Harvey Oswald did not hastily depart for the Soviet Union but planned it out many months in advance, did stop and see his mother before leaving as a registered passenger on a tramp steamer out of New Orleans for France.

According to the Warren Report (p. 614) “…Oswald went directly home after his discharge, and arrived in Fort Worth by September 14. He told his mother that he intended to get a job on a ship or possibly in the ‘export-inport business.’ …..Three days after his arrival in Fort Worth, he left for New Orleans. While he was in Fort Worth he had registered his dependency discharge and entry into the Marine Reserve at the Fort Worth Selective Service Board, and visited his brother Robert and his family. He also gave his mother $100.”

“On September 17, Oswald spoke with a representative of Travel Consultants, Inc. a New Orleans travel bureau; he filled out a “Passenger Immigration Questionnaire,” on which he gave his occupation as a ‘shipping export agent’ and aaid that he would be abroad for 2 months on a pleasure trip. He booked passage from new Orleans to Le Havre, France, on a freighter, the SS Marion Lykes, scheduled to sail on September 18, for which he paid $220.75. On the evening of September 17, he registered at the Liberty Hotel. The Marion Lykes did not sail until the early morning of September 20. Before its departure, Oswald wrote his mother a letter, which was her last news of him until she read stories of his defection in Fort Worth newspaper….The Marion Lykes carried only four passengers. Oswald shared his cabin with Billy Joe Lord, a young man who had just graduated from  high school and was going to France to continue his education….The other two passengers were Lt. Col. And Mrs. George B. Church, Jr., who also found Oswald unfriendly and had little contact with him. Oswald told them he had not liked the Marine Corps and that he planned to study in Switzerland; they observed some ‘bitterness’ about his mother’s difficulties, but did not discuss this with him. No one on board suspected that he intended to defect to Russia.”

“Oswald disembarked at La havre on October 8. He left for England that same day, and arrived on October 9. He told English customs officials in Southampton that he had S700 and planned to reamin in the United Kingdom for 1 week before proceeding to a school in Switzerland. But on the same day, he flew to Helsinki, Finland, where he registered at the Torni Hotel; on the following day, he moved to the Klaus Kurki Hotel. Oswald probably applied for a visa at the Russian consulate on October 12, his first business day in Helsinki. The visa was issued on October 14. It was valid until October 20….He left Helssinki by train on the following day, crossed the Finnish-Russian border at Vainikkala, and arrived in Moscow on October 16.”

According to Mrs. Steenbarger, she sat next to a young man who had many of the same attributes as the accused assassin of President Kennedy:

1)      In USMC uniform with
2)      Nameplate Lee Oswald
3)      Sharpshooter medal on uniform
4)      Light sandy hair
5)      Light eyes
6)      Slight southern accent
7)      Appeared ill, cold and suspicious
8)      Said his father Robert E. Lee Oswald
9)      Talked about putting down the American system
10)  He said he had served in Japan and Philippines
11)  Fallen in love with Japanese girl
12)  Spent time in prison
13)  Being sent to Germany by the military
14)  Departure so hastily arranged he didn’t see mother
15)  Needed right away in Germany because he had special skill
16)   Under surveillance by military police

The historic Lee Harvey Oswald was a US Marine, he was an average sharpshooter in the Marines, had light sandy hair, light eyes, spoke with a slight southern accent, was often standoffish, had a father named Robert Edward Lee Oswald, he talked about putting down the American system, he served in Japan and the Philippines, he dated a Japanese hostess, he spent time in prison for minor infractions, but there the parallels end, as his departure wasn’t hastily arranged and he did see his mother, spent three days with her and his brother Robert, who had also served in the Marines.

From his U.S. Air Force base in Texas, Billy Joe Lord reported his shipmate association with Oswald, as did U.S. Army Col. George B. Church, Jr. and his wife who filed affidavits as to their associations with Oswald and all give the same impression of Oswald, an ex-Marine upset about his mother’s situation, who didn’t enjoy being a Marine and was going to school in Switzerland.

Did Oswald take the freighter out of New Orleans or did he fly the MATS flight out of McGuire?

Were there two Oswalds? Or was Oswald being impersonated?

Or did Mrs. Steenbarger, in 1976, seventeen years later, misremember the entire incident and entwined aspects of the real Oswald’s life that she had read about or seen on TV or learned through the media?

The most plausible explanation is that there was a US Marine who flew to Germany on the MATS plane whose name was very similar to Lee Oswald, who was from the south and whose father was named Robert E. Lee, who had served in Japan and the Philippines and got in trouble and was being sent to Germany on a mission because of his special skills, as there were probably many Marines who fit that category.

The recommended follow up in the HSCA report was to “Request from Air Force travel manifest for flight taken by Mrs. Steenbarger to see if Oswald’s name appears,” but there doesn’t seem to be any records of any official follow up, and I have contacted the McGuire AFB historian and sent a FOIA request to see if the passenger manifest records for MATS flights out of McGuire for Germany in October 1959 still exist.

There is a reference to Mrs. Steenbarger among the records of John Armstrong, whose book “Harvey and Lee” clearly demonstrates that there were many instances of the historic Oswald being intentionally impersonated, and Armstrong may have followed up on this line of inquiry. [Will check]

Since David Steenbarger was only eight years old in 1959, I considered that he may still be alive, and found him teaching math at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, and also learned that as of a few years ago, Mrs. Lola Louise Steenbarge – age 91, was living in Indiana, but the contact phone numbers listed to them no longer work. [Sinclair CC might have a contact number for him, will check]

An officer in the JBMDL (Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst) is checking to see if they still have the passenger manifest records for MATS flights from McGuire to Germany in October 1959.


Henry Hurt mentions that Billy Joe Lord also mentioned that there was someone in France who took a particular interest in Oswald.

 (Affidavit of George B. , Jr. Church)

1. I am a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army and am now n Junior High School teacher in Tampa. I am attending the University of Florida this summer.
2. My wife and I travelled to Europe on the S.S. Marion Lykes which departed New Orleans, Louisiana for LeHavre, France, on or about September 20, 1959. This vessel was a freighter with accommodations for 12 passengers assigned two to a room. On this particular trip, there were but four passengers aboard. One of them was Lee Harvey Oswald, who shared a state room with an individual named Billy Joe Lord. The trip from New Orleans, Louisiana, terminated at LeHavre, France. The entire trip was approximately 16 days.
3. Before this trip, I had never before see. n nor heard of Lee Harvey Oswald.
4. All of the passengers ate at one table; however, Lee Harvey Oswald missed quite a few meals because he was seasick much of the time. Furthermore, there was no fixed schedule for meals. When we did have meals with Oswald, he sat cater-cornered from me. However, Oswald was rather withdrawn, and thus I did not converse with him a great deal. Oswald did state during our discussion of our destinations, that he was going to attend a university in Switzerland. Oswald did not give the name of the university and did not indicate that he had a clear cut schedule as to his course of study.
5. I recall having discussed with Oswald the Depression of the 1930's. Oswald appeared quite bitter as to the hard time his mother had suffered during this period. I tried to point out to Oswald that I had lived through and survived the Depression and that millions of people in the United States also had suffered during those years. This, however, made no impression on Oswald.
6. Oswald spent much of the time by himself. He did not participate in any of the social activities, nor in any conversation. He did mention his service in the Marine Corps, and he stated that he did not like the military service. Generally Oswald was not friendly, and he did not make much of an impression on me since I was not particularly interested in him.
7. The ship had a receiver in the ward room which was off and on during the voyage. I did listen to it occasionally, and I did understand German. I do not know if Oswald listened to the receiver or not, and I have no idea as to his knowledge of any foreign language.
8. Oswald did not indicate that he was going to go to Russia.
9. After the trip I never saw nor heard from Lee Harvey Oswald again. Signed this 27th day of June 1964.

(S) George B. Church, Jr.,
Mrs. George B. Church, Jr.
Affidavit of Mrs. George B. , Jr. Church

The following affidavit was executed by Mrs. George B. Church, Jr., on June 27, 1964.

County of Hillsborough, ss:

I, Mrs. George B. Church, Jr, being duly sworn say:

1. I live at 2427 Sunset Drive, Tampa 9, Florida. I travelled to Europe on the S.S. Marion Lykes which departed New Orleans, Louisiana for LeHavre, France, on or about September 20, 1959.
2. I recall that besides my husband, there were two other passengers: Lee Harvey Oswald and Bill Lord. My husband and I sat at the same table with Oswald for meals, but outside of meals, we did not have much contact with him. While I had endeavored to get acquainted with Lee Harvey Oswald, he did not enter into friendly conversation. He stayed to himself, and I considered him peculiar.
3. Oswald indicated that the purpose of the trip was to attend a university in Switzerland, but he evaded giving the name of the university and, he did not indicate any clear cut or positive courses of study other than a statement to the effect that he might study philosophy or psychology. His attitude seemed to be one of resentment. His roommate, Bill Lord, was going to attend a university in France and was studying French during the trip. Lord was quite exuberant about his course of study and purpose of life, in contrast to the attitude of Lee Harvey Oswald.
4. I do not recall Oswald doing any reading. However, I gave him a book which he never returned.
5. Upon completion of the voyage aboard the S.S. Marion Lykes, I obtained the address of Bill Lord for the purpose of perhaps later writing him or sending him Christmas cards. I also requested Oswald's address and he questioned the purpose of my request. He later reluctantly furnished his home address as, C/O Mrs. M. Oswald, 3124 West Fifth Street, Fort Worth, Texas. I wrote this in my address book.
6. At no time did Lee Harvey Oswald indicate that he was actually planning or attempting to defect or go to Russia. There was no indication that Oswald had any Communist leanings. I did notice that Oswald spoke with the Chief Engineer who was then aboard the S.S. Marion Lykes. The Chief Engineer indicated to me that he felt that Oswald was a smart boy.
7. This was the last I ever saw or heard from Lee Harvey Oswald. Signed this 27th day of June 1964.
(S) Mrs. George B. Church, Jr.,
Mrs. George.


Billy Joe Lord
Affidavit of Billy Joe Lord

The following affidavit was executed by Billy Joe Lord on June 26, 1964.

County of Travis, ss:

I, Billy Joe Lord, ,being duly sworn say:
1. I am an Airman Third Class in the United States Air Force, and I am in the 340th Bomb Wing, Combat Defense Squadron at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas. I am 22 years old and .my parents live at Midland, Tens.
2. After graduating from Midland High School in 1959, with the financial assistance of my parents, I made plans to continue my education in France. During August, 1959, I made an application for a passport, and on or about September 15, 1959, I departed Midland, Texas via train for New Orleans, Louisiana, arriving there about September 17, 1959. I spent the next three days touring the city of New Orleans and making several trips to the ticket office of the Lykes Lines. The cost of passage aboard the ship S.S. Marion Lykes amounted to slightly more than $200. I registered and stayed in the LaSalle Hotel on Canal Street, which was near the city library. I visited the library several ,times during this stay in the city. During this period I did not know Lee Harvey Oswald.
3. On September 20, 1959, I boarded the freighter S.S. Marion Lykes at New Orleans. Upon ,boarding the ship, I was shown to my room, and when I got there, Lee Harvey Oswald was already there and moving in. We were to share this room. I had never before seen nor heard of Lee Harvey Oswald. Lee Harvey Oswald and I shared this cabin for the duration of the trip to France which was fourteen days.
4. In our first conversation, Oswald said that he was recently discharged from the Marines and that he had worked in some technical field while in the Marines. He indicated that he was somewhat bitter about the fact that his mother had to work in a drugstore in Fort Worth, Texas, and was having a difficult time. He also said that he would probably return to the United States to work. He gave no indication of this ultimate destination, although he said he was going to travel around in Europe and possibly attend school in Switzerland if he hurl sufficient funds. Also in this first conversation, we discussed religion. I do not know why we discussed religion except that possibly he noticed that I had a bible. Oswald maintained that he could not see how I could believe in God in view of the fact that science had disproved the existence of God, and that there was only matter.
5. After the first day, I hardly conversed with Oswald at all. Oswald was not outgoing and neither was I. We just were not very friendly.
6. Besides Oswald and myself, there were two other passengers aboard the ship. They were a retired U.S. Army Colonel and his wife, Colonel and Mrs. George B. Church, Jr. All four of the passengers generally ate their meals together in the ships officer's mess. Oswald ate most of his meals with us. I do not recall Colonel Church and his wife associating very much with Lee Harvey Oswald.
7. I shared a closet with Oswald, but I did not notice anything out of .the ordinary among Oswald's possessions. He did show me either his military identification card or his passport.
8. Oswald did not indicate that he might defect to Russia. To the best of my knowledge, Oswald did not receive any correspondence or communications while aboard the ship, nor did he associate with any of the ship's crew. Oswald never mentioned any contacts or friends in Europe.
9. Lee Harvey Oswald appeared to be a normal, healthy individual, mentally alert, but extremely cynical -in his general attitude.
On October 5, 1959, our ship arrived in France, and I disembarked from the ship. I never saw or heard from him again. It is my recollection that he departed from the ship subsequent to my departure. I had written my mother about all the passengers. When Oswald defected, she sent me a newspaper clipping about it.
10. Oswald spent a great deal of his time during ,the trip on the deck. I do not recall him doing any reading. I do recall, however, that there was a radio speaker which received programs from Europe and that Oswald and Colonel Church seemed to understand a little bit of the foreign language that came over on the speaker. I thought it was German, but I am not sure.
11. I attended the Institute of French Studies at the City of Tours, Province of Touraine, France, from October, 1959 to February, 1962 intermittently while auditing courses at the University of Poitires, Tours, France, and at the Sorbonne, University of Paris, France. I returned to the United States aboard the French ship, Liberty, in June, 1960. I went to France again in February of 1961 .for further education, and returned to the United States in February of 1962.

Signed this 26th day of June 1964.

( S ) Billy Joe Lord,

No comments: