For one local man, Tom Kline, the anniversary of JFK’s assasination has a special meaning to him because he served for about six months in the Marine Corps with Kennedy’s accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.
Kline and Oswald served together as radar operators at the U.S. Naval Air Facility at Atsugi, Japan, in Marine Air Control Squadron 1, which controlled air traffic for the First Marine Aircraft Wing.
Kline said there were about 105 officers and men in the squadron. The work schedule for Kline, Oswald, and the other radar operators was four hours on and 16 hours off. Every other weekend, they got a 96-hour pass. The work of keeping track of the aircraft coming in and out of Atsugi was intense and detail-oriented, so they worked four-hour shifts.
He said they worked about one-half mile from the flight line. The work required a secret clearance.
“I remember being told that someone from the Marines went around questioning my neighbors and friends about me in order to check my character and dependability. I assume they did the same for Oswald,” Kline told Webb Weekly.
Kline remembers an odd fixed-wing aircraft that took off almost vertically at Atsugi. He didn’t know what to make of it. He thought it was some kind of experimental aircraft. It turns out it was the super-secret U-2 spy plane.
Francis Gary Powers, the pilot who was shot down in a U-2 over Russia in 1960, speculated in a book that he wrote that he was shot down because of information that Oswald learned about the aircraft while at Atsugi.
Kline dismisses this speculation. “I don’t see how Oswald could have told the Russians anything about the U-2. We didn’t even know it existed. The only thing we did was trace the paths of the aircraft on a radar screen. We had no access to information about that plane.”
According to Kline, Oswald was pretty much a “loner” who kept to himself.
“Ozzie was not a very friendly guy,” Kline said. “He was kind of a gloomy Gus, sort of a malcontent. He never socialized with the rest of us; when the rest of us went out drinking, he would just stay in the barracks and read.”
Kline said that Oswald seemed to be a “pretty well-read guy.” He said he saw him reading a lot of books and literature related to Russia and Communism.
“We all thought he was pretty odd because we all liked to go out and drink, and he didn’t,” Kline said.
The barracks that Kline and Oswald lived in were divided up into cubicles with four men each, and Kline lived in the same cubicle as Oswald.
“I had a fairly good chance to see him close up, and I always thought ‘Oz’ was a little strange, but then he might have thought the rest of us were strange,” Kline said. “He was very tough to get to know. He never talked of his home life.”
He said that Oswald had a Japanese girlfriend, and when his unit was ordered to maneuvers in the Philippines, Oswald shot himself in the upper arm to get out of the maneuvers. Kline said Oswald still ended up going on the maneuvers.
Kline separated from Oswald and Atsugi in April 1958 when Kline’s father died suddenly, and he came home on emergency leave.
Kline did not think about Oswald until that fateful weekend in November 1963.
“I was watching Oswald being transferred that Sunday morning when Ruby came out and shot him,” Kline recalled. ”They later showed a full frontal portrait of Oswald, and I said to my mother, ‘I know that guy.’ She didn’t believe me. I repeated it again and more emphatically, and then she believed me.”
In the mid-1970s, Kline was contacted by assassination researcher Henry Hurt, who was conducting research for Edward Jay Epstein’s book about Oswald called Legend.
“I had a long conversation with Hurt, and he was able to tell me more about Ozzy than I was able to tell him,” Kline said. “I also told him that I was never contacted by the Warren Commission about my service with Oswald. That conversation helped me find out where a lot of guys from my unit got to and what they were doing.”
Kline believes strongly that Oswald did not act alone in killing Kennedy.
“I don’t think much of the Warren Commission and its findings. I think there are too many loose ends,” Kline said. “I don’t think Oswald was smart enough to have pulled off something of this magnitude on his own.”
He recalled that Oswald had the marksmanship rating of “sharpshooter,” which is only one step up from the minimum rating required to stay in the Marine Corps.
“No one will ever convince me that Oswald shot Kennedy by himself, but of course, we will probably never know the truth,” Kline concluded.