Note: I tape recorded this panel on a small microcassette recorder. The audio quality was fair, but there are instances where I am unable to make out exactly what the speaker is saying. Rather than guess, I have inserted [unintelligible]; it is hoped this does not detract too much from the meaning of what is being said.
One of the panels at the Lancer conference which seemed to have the most promise was, in my opinion, a qualified bust. This was the Gerry Patrick Hemming panel, which as far as I could tell provided little more than a measure of comic relief during a weekend that was mostly given over to the unpleasant subject of JFK's assassination.
Hemming is a murky figure, a soldier-of-fortune type, allegedly involved in many CIA-backed activities during the late fifties, sixties and seventies. His exact tie to the Kennedy case is a little unclear. He says that as a Marine, he was assigned to radar operations in Japan shortly before Lee Oswald arrived. He reports intermittent contact with Oswald, and with other figures long suspected of involvement in the Kennedy hit. As John Newman wrote in Oswald and the CIA,
CIA files show that Hemming's background was remarkably similar to Oswald's. His security file, OS-429-229, appears to have been generated after Oswald's OS-351-164. It is possible that these two numbers reflect the November 1959 and October 1960 time frames, respectively, for Oswald's defection and Hemming's debriefing by the CIA in Los Angeles.Newman was one of three panelists to question Hemming at the Lancer conference, before a roomful of conference attendees. The other panelists were Dr. Jerry Rose of The Fourth Decade, and author Charles Drago. The moderator was Gordon Winslow.
As the session began, we were told that no question was off-limits. Hemming's replies, however, were another matter. We were also warned that Hemming intended to speak frankly and freely; anyone who might be offended by a little colorful language should leave the room. No one did. As it turned out, the language was not too naughty.
With those preliminaries out of the way, Hemming said hello to the audience in English, Spanish, German, Japanese, and Chinese. A big, barrel-chested man, Hemming spoke in a measured, almost sleepy voice, but one that is also a basso profundo that can surely shake the rafters, should its owner become enraged.
"I'm not big on public speaking," he said. "I'm big on calories ... Burger King..." This didn't get the big laugh he must have intended, for Hemming gazed about the room for several moments before adding, "Boy, what a bunch of serious faces here."
Serious faces, yes --- appropriate for the subject at hand. We were not, however, treated to many serious answers during the hour or so this panel lasted. In fact, many of his answers were couched in sarcasm, and somewhat condescending irony.
"Everything you've read --- by Weberman ... Marita Lorenz --- could be true. It's entertaining, too. I don't have a book. I don't speak ... I've spent thirty years trying to get things like this [the conference] to happen. I gave stuff to Weisberg ... Bill Turner, and others ... at a time when Turner wasn't even interested, and others weren't even interested in this Kennedy business."
Hemming said one of his favorite TV shows is Jeopardy, a game where contestants provide the questions after being given the answers. He used it to frame this comment: "Yesterday's Jeopardy should have had, 'Who should have been arrested in the immediate aftermath of the Kennedy assassinaton?' And the winning answer would have been, Gerry Patrick Hemming, Mitchell WerBell ... and a long list of other people. When that didn't happen, we knew there was a coverup."
This may have been one of the most substantive comments Hemming made this day. Perhaps somehone should have demanded, immediately, that he explain what he meant by that. But no one did.
"Let's start with an obvious question," Charles Drago said. "Do you have knowledge about this case that, were you to reveal it, would A) either put you in jail, or B) put you in a box?"
"Well, the legal stuff just costs you time, and money, and lawyers, and harrassment, and all that," Hemming replied. "They're declassifying fairly rapidly things that give you clues into these areas, that can cause you to [unintelligible] conclusions as to what was going on..." From here, Hemming's reply moved to a claim that he worked security for JFK during the President's trip to Miami only days before Dallas. But Drago's direct question remained unanswered.
After some more rambling from Hemming, Drago asked, "Let's jump ahead less than a week in time [after Miami] and talk about what most people here are interested in --- what happened in Dealey Plaza, and some directly related issues ... you've talked about the questions that HSCA didn't ask and should have asked ... so let me ask a couple right now, and follow up on them. Who was Lee Harvey Oswald?"
"He was a young Marine that in his career went through boot camp the same place as I did, sixteen months behind me," Hemming said. "Went to airman preparatory school [unintelligible] Jacksonville, sixteen months behind me. Instead of going to Olathe, Kansas for air control school, where I went, he went to Biloxi, Mississippi [unintelligible] to do GCI --- Ground Control Intercept radar."
"What's the significance of this air controller school, and what kind of privileges do air controllers have that might impact on Oswald's Intelligence connections?"
"First," Hemming replied, "[unintelligible] Atsugi, the highest security area on a Marine Corps Naval installation is the ground control intercept radar. Strange people wander around there in khakis with no insignia on them; they're called tech reps ... they're CIA people and they're nuclear weapons specialists. Because it's a high security area, that's where the nukes were stored in Atsugi and [unintelligible] ... that's where the U-2's flew out of. So all the U-2 people, they stayed in the GCI compound too. So you're sitting around --- they got problems getting chow passes; sometimes we'd have to forge chow passes so they could get a meal..."
"Okay, let me jump in, and maybe rephrase the question," Drago cut in. "Thirty three years ago, who did Oswald think he was?"
"Why was he sent to the Soviet Union?" Hemming asked, in an apparent non-sequiter. "Did he ever discover that? No. He was sent there to be the fall guy when they dumped the U-2. So they'd get the financing for the satellites. And the U-2 was coming back with nothing. All those pictures were embarrassing. There was no honor gap. They had contacts --- their big time contact was an MGB General, and a couple of colonels, one of them in Minsk. But as somebody said, How the hell did they get the U-2 profile? Well, let's see. There's this Marine Corps corporal, and we got this Captain in the Navy, and a couple of other suspected people that were hanging around with Japanese communists or something ... and that's where it ends! But he wouldn't have known that."
After several lengthy answers to questions that only peripherally dealt with the JFK assassination, John Newman said: "To keep on task here, we're not talking about 1963, we're talking about the summer of ---"
"This is '62!" Hemming said.
"We're talking about the Lake Pontchartrain training area," Newman continued. "And there, in that locale, you saw Oswald in a hangar. At an airport. Correct?"
"Not to --- the little hairs on the back of my neck stood up," Hemming replied.
"And what happened when you saw him?" Newman asked. "Did you speak to him? What was he doing?"
"I warned [a comrade], he's got a problem with his pilot."
"What was the airfield?"
"It was the old N.A.S. New Orleans, turned into a civilian airport."
"This is what you said earlier," Charles Drago cut in. "You felt Oswald was dogging you, or following you around. Do you mean that as a series of coincidences, or do you mean to tell us that there was some kind of connective tissue between the two of you?"
"One encounter is impolite. Two is rude. Three encounters gets your ass blown away."
"What would you perceive to be the purpose, or function of Oswald being on your tail?"
"They pegged him as a Soviet agent. Who knows what's in these peoples' heads, what they had him doing." Here, Hemming hammed it up in a voice suitable for Mad Magazine's Spy versus Spy: "I want you to penetrate these exile groups, kid, and I'll give you an extra Snickers bar!"
When the general laughter subsided, Drago observed, "I think the Warren Commission established that it was Three Musketeers..."
Ten or fifteen minutes later, after more non-linear questions and answers, Drago asked: "Addressing the concerns of a lot of the people in this audience, about what happened in Dealey Plaza ... when --- what [sic] were you recruited to take part in a plot to kill the president, specifically, in Dallas? When, and where, and by whom?"
"Prior to, probably, March or April, '62, it had always been, Fidel. The money's available," Hemming began. "The first time the conversation shifted, was gonna 'do the guy that has to be done' --- a euphemism for Kennedy --- was at that point in time. But, the conversation was killed, very quick. The first big one, with someone that was persistent, was with Banister, at [unintelligible] house. Frank Bartes was there, Howard Davis was there. And I stepped off to one side. Banister wanted to yak on this JFK business ---"
"When it switched from hitting Castro to hitting JFK, what precipitated the change? Was that timeframe coincident with any change of perceptions on anyone's part, or any event, political or otherwise?" Drago asked.
"Mr. Banister, like his boss, [William] Harvey, was a psychopath. So I took him to one side, over by the fireplace, and I was a little bit perterbed --- and I knocked off one of them Dresden porcelain dolls? Actually I was looking for a place to put his body, for coming up with the subject! I asked him, 'Are you goddam crazy?' Because Bartes ... was connected with Bill Pawley. And I figured this guy is some kind of agent-provocateur. First, we don't like gringos around the Cubans ---"
"Did you say Banister's boss was Harvey?"
"Yeah!" Hemming replied, matter-of-factly.
"The Harvey we know---"
"Yeah! They served together when, FBI had Western hemisphere, kept OSS out. They worked together. Former Bureau. One of the Bureau wanks that played both sides of the fence."
"How long did the relationship continue?" Drago asked. "Did it continue through '63? Between Harvey and Banister?"
"Started in World War Two."
"What kind of contact did Harvey have with Banister in the spring, summer and fall of '63?"
"I wasn't too bright back then," Hemming replied, "and I had Harvey ... pegged as a hood. [unintelligible] kept telling me he was FBI. [But I said] This guy is a thug! Watch your wallet! And I figure Banister, at the same time --- these are Mob guys that have come in with the Batista Cubans, and they've talked about doin' this, and there's money for this --- same thing with Giancanna and the Fontanbleu! They're all picking up the contract to do Fidel, right? No! Wrong! They're setting up so they can burn the team, and gain credits down in Havana!"
"Gerry," Dr. Jerry Rose cut in, "did you ever work for Jim Garrison? And if you did, what did you do?"
"Four weeks. Then I got checks from Truth or Consequences, Incorporated [sic]. But he screwed me out of the twenty-six volumes, so I don't like him anymore." The exact meaning of this is not clear to me.
"Okay. What did you investigate?" Rose asked.
"Everything he wasn't!"
"Well, what wasn't he investigating?" Rose pressed on, adding, "We're going to get you on this one."
"He was hired by Marcello to prove that people associated --- can you imagine --- okay, here's Garrison. Okay? He's District Attorney. And here's this David Ferrie, who's been sitting right alongside Marcello in the courthouse, on a hard wooden bench getting slivers in his ass? And somebody's pointing his finger, to hook up Ferrie? Garrison's gonna hook up Ferrie with the assassination? And automatically hook up Marcello? No! Not at all. The whole deal was to clear Marcello."
"I think in the time we have left," Charles Drago said a short time later, "I want to address the issue of credibility. I think a lot of the people here have mixed emotions, mixed thoughts, about what you're talking about. And I want to get back to something you said at the very begining of this thing --- that you've waited thirty years for this kind of inquiry to start. That allows me to draw the inference that you weren't pleased with what happened on November 22, 1963, and you've wanted someone to step forward and do something about it. Why did you wait for someone else? Why didn't you come forward as early as November 19, '63, to talk about what had almost happened in Miami, to try to put an end to this thing? And, post- 11-22-63, why did you keep your own counsel when you had this information?"
Without a moment of hestitation, Hemming replied, "Well, for about, oh, eight milliseconds I thought about, 'Where's the nearest cop? Maybe I should call J. Edgar Hoover, and tip him off that his boys may be involved in something.' But see, there was no traffic cop around. When the government people have been trying to recruit you to assassinate a president, you really don't go to them and turn yourself in, now, do you?"
"Had you considered, over the years, going to either the public via the press, or---"
"Which ones --- the damage control boys, like Posner?"
"All right --- you mention Posner --- you described him, accurately I think, as damage control boy. And you've also said that within the ostensible research community of Kennedy assassination scholars, that there are damage control boys for the Intelligence community---"
"I've rolled over more than one. They're no longer damage control."
"Want to give us some initials?"
"Well --- these people, uh..." Hemming began. Then he appeared to address the audience in general, his tone shifting to one of ironic sarcasm. "Don't you people realize you're undermining confidence in your government? That we face terrorists today, that could shut this country down with less than two hundred ragheads? And a couple of Molotov cocktails? And that we've got to allow this business to continue?"
By this point, the Gerry Patrick Hemming panel had nearly concluded. A few more questions were asked, and answers --- indirect or otherwise was not plain to grasp --- were provided. The "Angelo" described in the Silvia Odio incident once saved Hemming's life, he said, and later played touch football on Hickory Hill with Bobby Kennedy's kids (!). Silvia Odio was a double agent, working for Castro trying to get her parents out of jail. Oswald was indeed outside of her place in Dallas --- so was Angelo --- but, "I'm not rude enough to ask these people why, even today." He was not in the "Marita Lorenz Caravan." He has taken a human life on more than one occasion --- no details provided.
And on November 22, 1963, he was in Miami.