Nation: The Accused

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Detectives and Secret Servicemen continued to question the suspect—but Lee Harvey Oswald defiantly denied any guilt. Nonetheless, the police charged him formally with the murder of the President. Then, on Sunday morning, as a huge phalanx of guards prepared to transfer Oswald from Police Headquarters to the Dallas County Jail, a man moved toward him, stabbed a revolver toward Oswald's abdomen and fired. About two hours later, 1:07 p.m., the prisoner was dead. Thus the world might never learn what had gone on in that strange mind that had driven him to assassination. There was, however, enough evidence to portray something of the manner of man he was.

Dead-End Streets. Oswald was no raving maniac. Various neighbors, past and present, described him as seeming reasonably intelligent, although generally silent to the point of acting contemptuous. "We finally quit saying good morning to him," said one, "because he would never answer." Said another: "He treated us like we were garbage." More than anything else, Oswald's life was one of heading almost masochistically down dead-end streets.

His father had been dead several months when Lee Oswald was born in New Orleans on October 18, 1939. His mother and older brother Robert moved first to the tenements of Harlem and later to Fort Worth. There Mrs. Marguerite Oswald worked in a candy factory to support her sons. "I saw my mother as a worker," Oswald once said, "always with less than we could use." A below-average student, he nonetheless read alot and at 15 discovered Karl Marx's Das Kapital. In his own words, it was like "a very religious man opening the Bible for the first time." He was, he explained, "looking for a key to my environment."

A sporadic student in Fort Worth high schools, he quit at 17 to join the Marine Corps. A marine who served with him at El Toro Air Station in California remembers him as "a lonely, introverted, aloof boy." Oswald, he recalls, "always said he hated the outfit," was bitter about "the tough time his mother had during the Depression." In boot camp, Oswald qualified as a "sharpshooter," on the rifle range, trained as an electronics-equipment operator.

"Getting Out of Prison." Shipped out to Japan, Private First Class Oswald stayed steadily in trouble. First, he was court-martialed and busted to private on charges of failing to register a personal weapon—a pistol. Then he was court-martialed again for "using provocative words" to a noncommissioned officer. Oswald wanted out of the Corps. Claiming that his mother was ill and that her hospital insurance had lapsed, he applied for and got a hardship discharge in September of 1959. He was assigned to the Marine Corps inactive Reserve, but instead of going home he boarded a ship for the Soviet Union with the $1,600 he had somehow saved. Granted admittance to Russia, he told U.S. reporters in Moscow that he felt as if he were "getting out of prison."

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