Strange Life of Lee Harvey Oswald: Adventure Years
by Ron Kurtus (revised 8 December 2013)
As a child, Lee Harvey Oswald showed signs of violence and rebellion. He quit school when he was 16, and when he turned 17, he joined the U.S. Marines.
During his "adventure years", he left the Marines, lived in Russia, moved back to the U.S., tried to kill a right-wing activist, and was involved in a pro-Castro organization before he decided to kill Kennedy.
Questions you may have include:
- What where Oswald's childhood days like?
- What sort of adventures did he have as an adult?
- What happened during and after the assassination?
This lesson will answer those questions.
17-years-old: joined Marines
When Lee turned 17 in October 1956, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and reported for duty in San Diego. In his aptitude tests, he scored 2 points below average. When he later took the marksmanship test during basic training, he scored at the Sharpshooter level.
Given Confidential security clearance
By May 1957, Lee was promoted to Private 1st Class and given a Confidential security clearance. He then completed the Aircraft Control and Warning Operator Course in Biloxi, Mississippi and was given the occupational specialty of Aviation Electronics Operator.
Alienated other Marines
Since Oswald seemed small and frail compared to other Marines, he was sometimes ridiculed. They nicknamed him Ozzie Rabbit, after a cartoon character. Add to this was the fact that he claimed to be a communist, further alienated him from the other Marines. Lee's Soviet sympathies led him to try to learn the Russian language, while serving in the Marines.
Note: It is very strange that the Marines allowed a soldier with political views completely contrary to their values to remain in service, let alone have a Confidential security clearance. The country was in the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the Gaither Report had called for more American missiles and fallout shelters to protect from atomic attacks.
In August 1957, Lee is sent to Japan as part of a Marine Air Control Squadron there.
18-years-old: had problems in the Marines
In October, after he turned 18, Lee accidentally shot himself in the arm with a derringer. After he was discharged from the hospital, he sailed with his unit to Atsugi, Japan.
Court-martialed and sent to brig
In April 1958, Lee was court-martialed for illegal possession of a non-authorized firearm. He was given a reprimand and extra duty as punishment. Two months later, Lee assaulted a sergeant, was court-martialed for the second time, and was sentenced to the brig for a month.
Had nervous breakdown
In September, Lee and his unit sailed for Taiwan. Because of the constant ridicule he received, he suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent back to Japan. After recuperating, he was allowed to return to the United States for a 30-day leave. He was then assigned to the El Toro, California Marine Base.
19-years-old: discharged from the Marines
In February 1959, the 19-year-old Oswald requested a foreign language test in Russian. Unfortunately, he scored "poor" in the test. He then applied to the Albert Schweitzer College in Switzerland. He hated being in the Marines and was searching for something else in his life.
Requested discharge from Marines
In August 1959, Lee requested a discharge from the Marines. Because his mother had been injured, he claimed he would have to take care of her. The request was recommended for approval. In September, Oswald was released from active duty in the Marine Corps.
Wanted to move to Russia
His belief in communism motivated Lee to want to move to Russia. Lee then traveled to New Orleans to make travel arrangements for a trip to Russia.
20-years-old: moved to Soviet Union but had problems
In October 1959, Lee arrived in Moscow and met his Intourist guide Rima Shirokova. She then took him on a sightseeing tour. On Lee's 20th birthday, Rima gave him a copy of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.
After staying in Moscow for a while, Lee was notified that his visa was about to expire. Distraught at the prospect of leaving, Lee tried to commit suicide in his hotel room.
Placed in psychiatric ward
While he was in the hospital, Rima visited him. Lee was placed in the psychiatric ward but later was transferred to a regular area of the hospital. After he was released, Lee met with officials at the Passport and Registration Office, where he requested Soviet citizenship. They told him, he would have to wait until they made a decision.
Renounced his U.S. citizenship
At the end of October, Lee renounced his U.S. citizenship with a letter to the American Embassy requesting his citizenship be revoked. Two American reporters then interviewed Lee concerning his desire to renounce his citizenship, since this was an unusual news event.
Determined to cut ties with his past, Lee even sent a letter to his brother Robert that asked for no further correspondence between the two.
Assigned to work in Russian factory
In January 1960, the 20-year-old Oswald was sent to Minsk, Russia, where he was assigned to work at the Belarusian Radio and Television Factory. In Minsk, he met and befriended several people. One person was Ella German, with whom he fell in love.
21-years-old: gets married
In October 1960, on Lee's 21st birthday, he entertained several friends at his apartment.
Note: It is interesting that Oswald had been such a loner in school and so disliked in the Marines, but now in Russia he was able to make many friends.
Then in January 1961, he proposed marriage to Ella, but she turned him down. Distraught at his prospects and the dreary life, he then rejected Soviet citizenship. But he still asked that his residence permit be extended. He then notified the American Embassy in Moscow that he wanted to return to the United States. They said they would consider the case.
In March, Lee attended dance where he met Marina Prusakova. By the end of the month, Lee proposed to Marina.
Note: At the time they met, Marina was living with her uncle, who was a colonel in the MVD—the Russian Interior Ministry security service. It is strange that there were no suspicions by Soviet Intelligence, since Oswald was an American defector.
They married in April. He then wrote his brother Robert, reopening his correspondence with his family.
Wants to return to U.S.
Lee notified the U.S. Embassy that he was now married and wanted his wife to accompany him to the United States. After talking with an official at the Embassy, they agreed to return Lee his passport.
Note: Why would the Soviets simply give an OK, to an American defector with a new Russian wife to leave the country?
22-years-old: returns to U.S. with new wife
Lee and Marina sent Russian officials the necessary papers to leave the country, but the officials said it would take a long time for approval.
Asks for help to return to U.S.
Lee requested that the American Embassy intervene to help him return. He also wrote Texas Senator John Tower and asked for help with the exit visas. Finally, in December 1961, Lee and Marina were told they would be granted exit visas.
In January 1962, Lee wrote the Embassy asking for a loan from the U.S. Government. He also wrote the International Rescue Committee, asking for $1000.
Note: Does this guy have a lot of nerve, or what? Before, he had snubbed his nose at the U.S. and now he was asking for money.
Since Lee had been discharge from the Marines as "Undesirable", he then wrote Secretary of the Navy John Connally and asked for help to reverse the discharge.
Note: In 1963, Connally was elected as Governor of Texas. He rode in the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas and was injured by a fragment of one of the bullets that killed Kennedy.
In February 1962, Marina gave birth to a daughter. Meanwhile Lee tried to get money for their return from various sources. Although they had been trying hard to get permission to leave Russia, Lee wrote his brother Robert that they were not really in a hurry to leave, since good weather had arrived.
Returns to the U.S.
In June 1962, the Oswalds were given permission to leave for America. Lee and Marina arrived in Fort Worth, Texas and moved in with his brother Robert.
Lee had written a memoir of his experiences while in Russia, so he then hired someone to type it for him. Shortly afterwards, the FBI interviewed Lee about his activities in Russia.
In July 1962, the Oswalds moved in with his mother, Marguerite, and Lee obtained a job at Leslie Welding Co. He soon quit that job.
Then in August Lee, Marina and the baby moved into their own place. The FBI interviewed Lee for a second time. Marina was somewhat isolated, because she did not know English, and Lee would not allow her to learn the language.
Met former Russians
While trying to get his manuscript published, Lee met several members of the local anti-communist Russian émigré community. Although they did not care for Lee, because he was so arrogant, they sympathized with Marina and invited the Oswalds to their gatherings and parties. After they found that Oswald beat Marina but she would not leave him, they abandoned the couple.
In September 1962, the Oswalds met George de Mohrenschildt, who was a well-educated petroleum geologist who was fluent in Russian. It was an unlikely friendship, but de Mohrenschildt enjoyed inviting Oswald to affairs. He liked to provoke his guests with this disagreeable and sullen Marxist (Oswald).
23-years-old: tries to kill right-wing general
At the age of 23, Lee went to Dallas, Texas to look for work. Marina and their child June stayed with friends in Fort Worth. After getting a job and finding an apartment in Dallas, Marina and June joined him there.
Arguments with wife, Marina
But then Lee and Marina had a violent argument and she moved out. Marina and June stayed with some friends. Lee called and talked Marina into returning to him.
Lee and Marina spent 1962 Thanksgiving at Robert's home in Fort Worth. Lee's half-brother John Pic was also there. Lee and John met for the first time in over 10 years.
In January 1963, Lee ordered a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver by mail.
In February, the Oswalds attended a dinner party at the home of the de Mohrenschildts. They also attended a dinner party at the home of Everett Glover, where they met Ruth Paine. They became fast friends with Ruth.
In March 1963, Lee took photographs of the home of General Edwin Walker, a right-wing activist. A few days later, Lee ordered a mail-order sniper rifle. After he received the weapons in the mail, Marina took the infamous photo of Lee with his weapons.
Oswald with mail-order weapons
Tried to kill General Edwin Walker
In April, Lee was fired from his job. The Oswalds then attended a dinner party at the home of Ruth and Michael Paine, where the conversation turned to right-winger General Edwin Walker. A few days later, Lee apparently tried to shoot General Walker with his sniper rifle. The shot missed Walker.
Oswald later admitted his attempt to shoot Walker to his wife.
Lee was having trouble getting unemployment compensation. The next week, Lee took a bus to New Orleans alone and moved in with his aunt Lillian Murret. He found a job at Jaggars-Chiles-Stovall graphics arts company and got an apartment. Then he sent for Marina and daughter June.
Distributed pro-Castro literature
In May 1963, Lee wrote to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), an organization supporting the Castro government, and requested a charter. He then ordered 1,000 handbills for the FPCC. The next month Lee distributed FPCC literature near where the USS Wasp is docked. Lee also applied for a new passport.
On many of the leaflets was the address 544 Camp Street, New Orleans. From October 1961 to February 1962, this had been the address of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, an anti-Castro group. Perhaps it was a joke by Oswald to bait the opposing group.
Interestingly, in the same building addressed on the fliers was the office of a detective agency run by Guy Banister, a former FBI agent. An associate of Banister in the agency was David Ferrie, who had been the leader of the Civil Air Patrol that Lee had joined when he was 15.
Although Banister and Ferrie were rabid anti-communists and were against Castro, they were also angry at Kennedy because of his failure to support the CIA Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba and his recent moves for a peace settlement in both Cuba and Vietnam.
Note: This is a strange coincidence. Although it is not recorded, it is very possible that Oswald ran into Ferrie during the time he was passing out pro-Castro handbills. It is uncertain how people of such opposite political views could relate, but both were known to be devious to promote a cause. Later, Ferrie would be accused of talking Oswald into killing Kennedy.
In July, Lee was invited by his cousin Eugene to speak to a group of students at the Jesuit House of Studies in Mobile, Alabama, where Eugene was studying to be a priest. Meanwhile, Ruth told Marina that she could stay with her if she separated from Lee.
Fired from job
Also, Lee was fired from his job and was refused unemployment benefits because of the being fired. Lee then went to Mobile. Alabama and spoke to the Jesuit group for 30 minutes on the subject of "Contemporary Russia and the Practice of Communism".
Note: For a 23-year-old high school dropout, this guy certainly had been involved in a lot of things.
Arrested for fighting
In August 1963, Lee offered to help anti-Castro Cuban Carlos Bringuier in his struggle against Castro. But later Bringuier saw Oswald distributing FPCC literature and realized he had been duped. They started fighting, both were arrested, and they spent the night in jail. Lee was fined $10 for the disturbance.
Lee was then offered a chance to debate Bringuier on a live radio program. Lee debated Bringuier and Ed Butler, director of a right-wing group, on the program Conversation Carte Blanche.
Wants to go to Cuba
In September 1963, Lee decided to go to Mexico City in an effort to travel to Cuba. Marina was pregnant and moved in with their friend Ruth in Irving, Texas for the birth of the baby.
Lee took a bus to Houston, Texas where he phoned an official of the Texas Socialist Labor Party. Then he took a bus for Laredo, Texas and crossed the boarder into Mexico, where he took a bus for Mexico City. Lee then visited the Cuban Embassy and filled out an application for a visa to Cuba. But he was told that the visa could take up to four months and was not possible without a Russian visa as well.
Lee was angry and returned to Dallas. He started to look for work. It is now October, and Lee went to visit Marina. When he got back to Dallas, he got a room and looked for work. Lee made a favorable impression at a printing company but was not hired because of poor references.
Note: Perhaps he had been burning too many bridges behind him by getting fired often and alienating so many people.
Then his landlady told him that she did not want him rooming there anymore.
Got another room and a job
Ruth helped Lee find another room to rent in Dallas. She then told neighbors that Lee was having trouble finding work. One woman told of a possible opening at the Texas School Book Depository. He applied for the job and was hired on October 16, 1963—five weeks before he allegedly shot Kennedy.
24-years-old: FBI made inquiries about Oswald
On October 18, 1963, Lee got a ride to the house of Ruth and Michael Paine, where they had a surprise birthday party for him. Lee was now 24-years-old. A few days later, Marina gave birth to another daughter.
Lee then attended a right-wing rally where General Walker is a speaker.
Note: It is uncertain what he had in his mind, especially since he had previously tried to assassinate Walker. Perhaps he was thinking of trying again.
The next day Michael Paine and Lee attended a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Several days later, FBI agent James Hosty made inquiries in the Paine's neighborhood regarding Lee. He also interviewed Ruth and Marina at the Paine home. Meanwhile, Lee sent letters to the ACLU and the American Communist Party.
In November, FBI agent Hosty returned for another interview with Marina. Lee then delivered a note to the FBI building addressed to Hosty. He warned the agent to leave his family alone.
Marina advised Lee not to come the following weekend to celebrate his daughter's birthday. When Ruth called Lee's rooming house the next day, they said they didn't know of anyone by the name Lee Harvey Oswald. Apparently for some reason, he was using an alias.
Oswald joined the Marines, got in trouble, was unhappy in the service, and sought a discharge. He then moved to Russia and got married. But he soon became unhappy there and sought to move back to the United States. Once back in America, he became involved in pro-Castro activities. He tried to shoot a right-wing advocate General Walker. Then he unsuccessfully tried to go to Cuba. His activities aroused suspicions of the FBI.
Peace is better than violence
Resources and references
Chronology of Oswald's life - Marquette University
Lee Harvey Oswald - Famous Texans
Lee Harvey Oswald - Spartacus Schoolnet, United Kingdom
Lee Harvey Oswald in Russia - Conspiracy theory
The Assassination Goes Hollywood - Refuting "facts" of Oliver Stone movie JFK
The Mystery of Marina Oswald - Questions about the "real" Marina
Questions and comments
Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.
Click on a button to bookmark or share this page through Twitter, Facebook, email, or other services:
Students and researchers
The Web address of this page is:
Please include it as a link on your website or as a reference in your report, document, or thesis.
Where are you now?
Strange Life of Lee Harvey Oswald: Adventure Years