THE LEGEND OF DEALEY PLAZA
by Daniel Borgström
So maybe Oswald really did shoot JFK with an old Italian army rifle -- that now-famous Carcano. But I seriously doubt it. I just can't picture a Marine Corps trained rifleman selecting such a weapon to shoot anybody. That's because Italian weapons of the World War II era had a lousy reputation, and most Marines would've been aware of that.
Lee Harvey Oswald spent three years in the US Marine Corps, leaving it in September 1959. That was shortly after I enlisted, my time in the USMC overlapping his by only a few days. I was in for four years, and received my discharge a few months before the assassination. That was fifty years ago now. At first I believed the official story, that Oswald did it, acting alone; it was only much later, when Bertrand Russell and others started raising questions about the Warren Commission Report, that I began to wonder, then think about it in light of my Marine Corps experience.
That assassination has been investigated by numerous competent and insightful researchers who've conclusively demolished the "Oswald-as-lone-gunman" story. I agree with them, and in this essay I'm not saying anything new that hasn't somewhere been said before by somebody. Nevertheless, having been in the USMC about the same time as the alleged killer, having handled the same weapons, fired on the same type of rifle range, in short, having spent some years in the USMC ambience of that era, I have some thoughts I'd like to share.
"The most dangerous thing in the world is a Marine with his M1 rifle," our Drill Instructors told us from day-one. The M1 Garand was the standard U.S. military rifle at that time, and the Marine Corps took intense pride in training us to use it well. Of course not everyone wound up in the infantry. Oswald was a radar operator. Nevertheless, whatever your military task might've been, truck driver, cook, or office clerk, as a Marine you were first of all a rifleman.
We were issued an M1 during our first week in boot camp, but before we ever got to the firing range, we spent many weeks learning to dismantle and reassemble it, memorizing the name of every part and understanding its function. Terms like "trigger-housing-group" or "bolt locking lug" still come to mind after all these years. We also spent a huge amount of time on the manual of arms, practicing "right shoulder arms," "present arms", and all that. So we all came to know that rifle very very well. All that was down pat before they ever let us fire it.
Actually, weapons training did not generally start there. Most guys I knew in the USMC came from gun culture, typically starting out in early childhood with a BB gun, later a .22 caliber target rifle, and eventually deer rifles and shotguns. So the USMC was kind of like advanced training in weaponry, where guys learned the fine points of marksmanship, also fired light and heavy machine guns as well as pistols. These guys generally liked guns, visited gun shows, and would often spend hours talking about weapons, discussing which firearm they would choose for this or that task. For long range sniper shooting you want a really accurate weapon, the first choice being unanimously the 1903 Springfield rifle. The second choice would've been a Mauser. The Carcano was not in the running.
Oswald apparently had some interest in guns. According to his brother, the two of them hunted rabbits with .22 caliber rifles. While in Russia he reportedly joined a gun club. As for the Carcano that he allegedly owned, some gun buffs do acquire all sorts of antique and exotic firearms, and it wouldn't surprise me to hear that he may have possessed a Carcano. What I cannot believe is that he would've considered it a serviceable weapon for the crime of the century -- or if he had, I'm sure that President Kennedy would've survived the day.
In dismissing the Carcano, I don't mean to say that Italian craftsman aren't capable of making quality products. They are. In all sorts of things from clocks to autos, Italian craftsmen have a reputation for excellence. They make good firearms too. The 28-gauge shotgun with which Vice President Dick Cheney blasted his friend in the face and chest was a Perazzi shotgun made by Brescia, an Italian firm. It's a high quality weapon, and not cheap. But that reputation did not extend to the equipment that was made for the Italian army during World War II.
Nevertheless, the Warren Commission concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the president with a Carcano. Within the brief space of about 5 to 8 seconds, according to the Commission, Oswald fired three shots, two of which hit the president, a moving target. That would've been phenomenal marksmanship, even with a state-of-the-art sniper rifle. Your average Marine is a good shot, but not that good. According to some records that were made public, Oswald was about average.
USMC marksmanship training included slow firing at 500 yards, and rapid fire at 300 yards. Accurate shooting required time and concentration; it was hard to fire both rapidly and accurately. For rapid fire we were given sixty seconds to fire ten rounds. Our task also included reloading a clip since the magazine only held eight rounds. Being semiautomatic, the M1 would fire as fast as you could pull the trigger -- theoretically that is. In reality, the recoil knocks your rifle off target, so each time you fire you have to find your target and line up your sights all over again. That takes time; there are physical limitations on how fast you can shoot and hit anything. With an average of six seconds for each shot, it might seem that there was plenty of time, but in reality, those sixty seconds ran by very, very quickly, and accuracy was greatly diminished.
Unlike the semiautomatic M1 Garand, the Carcano has a bolt action, making it much slower to operate. And, that Carcano was equipped with a telescopic sight, which makes rapid fire even more difficult. It's slower to resight a telescopic sight than an ordinary metal one. (And, the telescopic sight on Oswald's Carcano was defectively mounted -- which would render any sort of accuracy impossible.)
The marksmanship attributed to Oswald in that Texas town is above and beyond anything he could've done on a USMC rifle range. It was more like what we were used to seeing on the silver screen. Shooting from the hip, a Hollywood cowboy could knock a tin can out of the sky; almost every western had a scene like that. And so does the official story of what happened that November day in Dallas. Such are the legendary exploits of superheroes and arch-villains.