Lt. Col. Dan Marvin passed away on January 19th, 2012. Though he routinely misled me and many, many others, even after his death I was still somewhat reluctant to openly criticize him and his "crusades," as he called his efforts to promote what he - to all outward appearances - saw as the "truth." His influence on my life has been both lasting and profound, though not necessarily in ways he would have been proud of. "Colonel Dan," or "Dangerous Dan," as many called him, was a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. As a U.S. Army Special Forces captain in 1966, he was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism in rescuing his wounded men. Though I came to see him as deeply flawed, I initially knew him foremost as a man of honor and I was humbled to have earned his respect. Still inclined to call him a friend, I find myself in emotional conflict while trying to come to terms with his deceptions, and I resist the conclusion that for a brief time I allowed my own ambitions and my need for approval to cloud my judgement and to make me a pawn in his schemes for fame.
In this, the first of a multi part series about recent changes of my perspective, I will discuss Lt. Col. Marvin. In particular I will focus on the allegation of his which I found most difficult to dismiss, and the reasons which I now see it as perhaps the most preposterous of all his claims. Some readers may liken my revelation to someone declaring that they are finally coming to terms with the fact that the world is round, but I am really writing this for myself.
|Capt. Dan Marvin and Maj. Phoi Van Le, Vietnam, 1966|
I first learned of Dan Marvin around 1997 after his appearance on the History Channel series "The Men Who Killed Kennedy." In the 1995 documentary, Marvin described how he was allegedly approached in August 1965 by the CIA to assassinate an American naval officer. He turned the job down, and the CIA man spoke next to a Captain Vanek. Marvin learned decades later that the naval officer, William Pitzer, had indeed been found dead in 1966 and was thought to have been in possession of controversial information regarding the Kennedy assassination, particularly regarding the autopsy of the president at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Marvin attempted to contact Capt. Vanek allegedly after being reminded of the incident by a TV special which displayed Pitzer’s name as one of many to have died under questionable or suspicious circumstances connected to the Kennedy assassination. In the same documentary in which Marvin appeared, Dennis David was interviewed regarding the death of his friend and mentor Bill Pitzer. David, who also worked at Bethesda Naval Hospital, said that Pitzer had shown him still photos and film footage which was in contradiction of the official reports of the president’s wounds.
I was moved by Marvin’s interview and disturbed by many aspects of the Kennedy assassination which I had learned of in books. For several months, I read extensively about the assassination and related subjects, trying to determine what had really happened. I wrote a book on the subject of the American assassinations of the 1960s and distributed several dozen copies of it. My focus then shifted from the assassinations in particular to the political system in which they took place. I continued researching and writing about what criminologist William Chambliss calls "State-organized crime." I wrote and contacted other authors to publish a collection of articles in 2002 called "It’s The Economy, Stupid," the main implication of which was that drug money dominates the economy, rules the world, and either selects or removes our chief executives. I was still relatively young and brash. In one of these articles, I mentioned Dan Marvin. Before the collection was published, I posted my articles on a web site and a researcher from the Netherlands was impressed enough to contact me and offer to introduce me to Marvin.
That introduction took place in 2002 and it was not long before I had agreed to co-write a book with Marvin about his allegations regarding Pitzer’s death. One of the first orders of business was for me to find out what derogatory comments had been made about him on the internet. Unknown to me, Marvin’s story had met strong criticism even among those who found Dennis David credible. Chief among these critics was Marvin’s former collaborator and friend Allan Eaglesham. Though I initially disagreed with Eaglesham’s conclusions regarding Marvin’s credibility, I found him earnest and respectful, and he became a valuable contributor to my 2002 anthology.
As I worked with Marvin on our book, I came to feel that the book would be more credible if I were allowed to have sole authorship and present my findings more impartially. As part of my research, I traveled in 2003 to Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, then to New York to finally meet Marvin.
I was already beginning to have suspicions regarding Colonel Dan’s veracity at this point. As I sat and talked with him, I realized that his memory was less sharp than I would have wished. As I went through the files of past correspondence he offered me, I became aware that his story of how he came to realize William Pitzer’s significance in regard to the Kennedy autopsy was not well-supported by documentary evidence. The timeline just did not seem to fit. He had written to Captain Vanek in April of 1993 regarding an August 1965 mission; this would seem to contradict his assertion that he did not realize the significance of Pitzer’s name until November of 1993, a date he was very specific on during his television interview in April 1995. Other details were contradictory as well. A surprisingly big problem was in identifying the Jack Anderson television special on which he says he saw Pitzer’s name. I searched both any documentary I could find on the subject of the assassination and what I could find of contemporary TV listings, but nothing fit; and this was troubling, because it seemed to me that it should have been simple. At one point I was ready to conclude that this aspect of his story was not credible and called the whole of it into question, but one of his confidants from that time assured me that he had himself seen the very TV show which Marvin says brought back his 1965 memory of the "Pitzer mission." He also saw the list of "80 or 90" names that scrolled at the end of the program; but he recalled it as having aired in 1992, not during the 30th anniversary of the assassination which Marvin very specifically recalled. This former confidant of Marvin’s, Prof. Kelly, held a PhD in psychology and had come to believe that Marvin was delusional: a "confabulator" with a "rich fantasy life."
In the late summer of 2004, Kelly, Eaglesham and I communicated on this issue, and a July 1992 program hosted by Robert Conrad came to our attention, in which Pitzer's name appears. Kelly told me this:
I looked at the still from the documentary Allan sent to me. It shows Robert Conrad, the actor, standing next to a list of names on a separate TV monitor and Lt. Cmdr Bruce Pitzer is on the screen with some other names. Now I know I saw the Robert Conrad documentary in that time period [July 1992]. No doubt. I remember the names being in white as they are in the still . But most important is the presentation of Pitzer's name as "Bruce Pitzer." Both Dan Marvin and I for our first couple of conversations had Pitzer's name as "Bruce Pitzer" without the William. Only some time later did Marvin start calling this guy "William Bruce Pitzer" and I had to go to some books the confirm the "William" when I heard Marvin use [it].
Kelly's recollection of a 1992 time frame for Marvin's alleged November 1993 "epiphany" is supported by the April 1993 letter to Vanek and also by another of Marvin's letters (March 1997 to Rick Russo):
93 Aug 25 I first spoke to you. Prof. Martin Kelly had met with you at an assassination convention and suggested I get in touch with you.
Aug 26 I wrote you a summary of my involvement in SF operations (FILE:II-C-RUSSO.JFK).
Sep 02 You called me, Told me of Nigel Turner's new documentary on the Kennedy assassination. Said he wanted me in it. Probably film in Sep/Oct 93.
Clearly, Marvin had been talking about William Bruce Pitzer before having seen any 30th anniversary special on the Kennedy assassination. After making contact with Kelly, Russo immediately called Dennis David, who recalls this:
I picked up the phone and [Rick] asked, "Are you sitting down? I just completed going through a little seminar in here in Chicago on the assassination.. . . I walked out and a man walked up to me and he asked, 'Have you ever heard of a man named William Pitzer?' . . . that name had not been mentioned or even brought up in the seminar." And Rick said, "Yeah, I've heard it; in fact, I know a good friend of his." And the man said, "Well, I know who killed him . . The guy didn't give me any names, but he told me the name of somebody who could." (Law/Eaglesham, In the Eye of History, p. 27)
A few weeks later, Dennis David says, Rick Russo gave him Dan Marvin's name and telephone number. Russo confirmed to me that it was at a Chicago symposium in 1993 that he was sitting with Prof. Kelly and Robin Palmer (another of Dan's confidants) when the subject of Pitzer was brought up and Dan Marvin's name was mentioned. Palmer and Kelly related their experiences to me, which told a story far different from the one Dan Marvin later presented regarding his "epiphany." Over the course of our correspondence, Kelly offered these recollections:
From the beginning of our conversations, Marvin kept referring to the documentary as having been narrated by Jack Anderson. It is not true. . . . Marvin had this faulty memory when his story was first taking shape because he announced it on [the] local access TV show ... Robin Palmer and I hosted, and I vividly remember his incorrect announcement. . . .Marvin always knew the number of names on the [mysterious death] list shown on the TV documentary. I do remember quite vividly his reporting to me the number as he prefaced his remarks in a couple of our earlier meetings.
Also of extreme importance here . . . Marvin NEVER gave me Pitzer's name by itself. He gave me a list of three names [Robin Palmer confirmed this point to me, saying that at this point he had been as much in the dark as Prof. Kelly as to which of the three names was the significant one]. . . As Dan and I talked over a meeting or two with his rough description of having been given the contract . . . a story which took more specific shape as time went on, I eventually told him that he could only be talking about Pitzer because the other two names were of no consequence in conspiracy lore. At that point, Dan nodded an assent and the Pitzer legend took hold. . . . [B]ecause he was bound by some code of secrecy ethics [h]e had originally told Robin Palmer that he'd taken [the] three names from the [TV] list . . . [F]or a time after he assented to my offering of Pitzer's name, he kept referring to Pitzer as this doctor at Bethesda and Dan reported to me a couple of times, as he described his meeting with the hit assigners, that he was told "this doctor" needed to be neutralized. After I corrected him on two or three subsequent occasions, he stopped referring to Pitzer as a doctor.
It took Dan a while to come up with Vanek's name because he didn't remember who it was initially. How long did it take, I don't remember but it was some weeks at least I would guess. BUT, after he came up with Vanek's name, his memory of the assignment being offered, etc. took on more vivacity and now Vanek was appearing in the recalled scenario as if he had been remembered vividly from the start. Of this, I am very sure. In his later meanderings, Dan even told me he was waiting off to the side for these "assassination assigners" with Vanek; the latter memory flies in the face of Dan's original [and later!] vagueness. He did tell me initially that the person who came up to the contract offerers after him, what at this time wasn't yet named as Vanek, shipped out the next day and nobody ever heard of him again.
I'm dead sure I discussed with Russo the "hit" on Pitzer [in April 1993]. No doubt about it. it was what ... spurred his visit [later, to Ithaca]. . . . Marvin had given me all of the details on his story well before the April '93 conference in Chicago.
At some time in the writing process, I had changed the title of my book from Marvin’s "Smoking Gun" suggestion to "Without Smoking Gun," to reflect the lack of conclusive evidence in the case. Later, after my visit with Dan and some additional interviews with others, I included some of my reservations about Marvin’s credibility in the text, and was pleased that he neither objected nor was offended. The book was published in 2004 by TrineDay in Eugene, Oregon, and it was an experience I very much valued - though sales have probably only now in 2015 reached the point of covering my travel expenses. The book is out of print but available Nook and Kindle as well as on my web site.
Whether Marvin’s tale was true or not, I found the controversy surrounding it and the Pitzer death sufficiently compelling to justify the publication of the book we had initially worked on together. But by the time the book went to press, I had come to believe, as the above-mentioned confidant had, that Lt. Col. Marvin’s psyche was somehow dysfunctional and that he was not as capable as you and I are of distinguishing between what one imagines and what is actual. I still believed him to be sincere, but to be deeply mistaken about many things.
As another former collaborator with Dan Marvin, Allan Eaglesham's misgivings about him are well-founded and well-known. Once Captain Vanek was located, Marvin's attitude and story changed. Eaglesham and Palmer reported Marvin's about-face in a July 1997 letter to Jerry Rose at TFD, noting his sudden evasiveness and his new recollection that he and Vanek had not come any closer than 40 feet in proximity that day, whereas he had always maintained that they had walked out to meet the Company man together. Indeed, his recollection on the matter seemed clear enough in the "Bits and Pieces" article: Vanek "joined me outside the building and we walked together, asking each of the other what this was all about. Neither of us had an inkling except that it must be a covert mission of some sort." The letter to Rose arrived amid a spate of letters regarding Marvin, and was never printed in full, but was given brief mention.
While writing my book, I had listened carefully to what Allan had to say, but not quite carefully enough. In the early stages, I attributed the split between the two men to an unfortunate semantic misunderstanding; then perhaps to an actual error on Marvin's part which did not in my mind discredit his story. Likewise, I was not convinced by Robin Palmer's warning that he had caught Dan in a multitude of "lies." Sometimes one has to learn for oneself. It was not until I dug into Marvin's correspondence files that I saw enough red flags to tip the balance of my opinion. Dan's "sudden realization" (as he characterized it) that he had been asked to kill an innocent man began to take on the appearance of an idea that evolved over time. It became easier for me to notice Dan's ongoing embellishments and exaggerations. I saw him recall with increasing detail incidents which had already been called into serious question. I saw him claim to have helped William Pepper win his case in connection with the death of Dr. Martin Luther King. I read the reaction of another Special Forces officer into whose mouth Dan had tried to put his own words. Some of my reservations were included in the final text of my book, but even given what I knew then, I was negligent - due in part to a conflict of interest which I had underestimated - in leaving the book too sympathetic in its tone. I had begun the work as a co-author with Marvin, still considered him a friend, and believed him to be sincere if not truthful.
|Joe Hill and Dan Marvin, January 1965, Natick MA|
I will return to the subject of LCDR Pitzer in Part Two of this series, relating how I came recently to believe that he died by his own hand. But first, there is more to be said about Col. Marvin. There is one other aspect of my experience with him that has often troubled me during the past ten years, as recently as last month. On December 4th, I sat at my desk with a lap full of ice-cold, inch-thick manila folders I had just retrieved from storage, looking at an 8-by-10 black-and-white photo of a very young-looking Dan Marvin and Master Sergeant Joe Hill at the US Army’s Natick, Massachusetts labs, modeling what appeared to be parachutes and other packs. The photo is dated January 1965 and is connected to an incident which Dan appears to have begun talking about at roughly the same time as the Pitzer case. Its first recorded mention is in connection with his 1994 "Bits and Pieces" story which evolved into the article of the same name in the May, 1995 issue of The Fourth Decade. Of all Dan's stories, this one had been hardest for me to dismiss, for reasons which I will discuss below. I wrote that evening of Marvin on my blog:
What basis in reality did his tales of intrigue have? Were there any secrets which he took to his grave? Sometimes it seems easy to dismiss any of his claims which are not supported by documentary proof, but there is one matter on which he seemed to exercise an uncharacteristic reticence, pertaining to his former acquaintance with a mafia don and his son in the Boston area and having been offered work as a contract killer to eliminate their competition.
Marvin's November 1994 notes refer to this meeting as having taken place in the Spring of 1964. His January 1995 letter to Jerry Rose of TFD reports that after having acquired some old letters to family, he was able to certainly identify the time frame as having been January 6 or 7 of 1965, following his assignment at Natick beginning in November 1964. In December 1964, Marvin had written family regarding his testing of "a new nylon rucksack." Marvin also mentioned the alleged incident twice during his April 1995 interview with Nigel Turner for The Men Who Killed Kennedy, but Turner turned the interview's focus back to matters more directly related to Pitzer's death and did not include any such mention in the final edit. The full TFD article is available at the Mary Ferrell Foundation site. Its key points: In late 1964, Marvin and Hill were selected to test "secret equipment" at Natick Labs. "On our first evening there in late November, 1964" they ate dinner in uniform at a fancy nearby "motel" and grew suspicious that it was a mob hangout. "As Sinatra crooned onstage near our table," drinks began to appear at their table, sent by an anonymous admirer. By threatening the waiter with grievous bodily harm, Marvin convinced him to reveal the source, then confronted the man and asked him why he had been sending them drinks. The man introduced himself and invited Marvin and Hill to join him. He said he was impressed with the camaraderie between Marvin, an officer, and Hill, an enlisted man.
In other accounts, this man would be described as the son of the local mafia don, who would soon introduce Marvin and Hill to the don himself.
One thing led to another, and Joe and I then engaged in a little game of subterfuge: could we infiltrate the Mafia and lead them to think that it was part of our mission in Massachusetts? It was common knowledge in Mafia and CIA circles that Green Berets were tapped by the Company to terminate selected 'targets' in foreign countries, whereas the Mafia provided the CIA's pool of able assassins in the U.S.
They developed a relationship of trust with the man. Marvin and Hill's testing duties "involved parachuting with the new [secret?] hardware [sic], evaluating it, and designing modifications that might take days or weeks to engineer." They would go back and forth from Ft. Bragg to Natick in the meantime. While in Massachusetts, they continued their meetings with "our mafioso 'friend,'" visiting his home. On the 3rd visit on January 6th 1965, "we were invited to meet the 'family' don himself the next evening at his home." At this meeting, they were solicited to enlist as enforcers for the mob, killing off rival gangsters who invaded the don's territory. Before answering, Marvin "used this opportunity to pose a question that had been on my mind for some months: had the don been approached by the CIA prior to the Kennedy killing?" The don replied that he had been asked if he wanted a part in the hit, but refused to participate. Marvin then declined the offer, and "the four of us swore by a blood oath never to disclose the others' identities."
Continuing the blog entry mentioned earlier:
A skeptical person would readily conclude that no such [don] did in fact exist, and that this was simply one of Marvin’s tall tales. But this story nags at me. Maybe I want it to be true, because I think I have puzzled out the identity of Marvin’s secret contacts and deep down I need to show off, even though it could incur the displeasure of the megacorporation which the family now runs. These are the kind of unhealthy thoughts that must motivate many proponents of conspiracy theories. I thought I had put the paranoia behind me, but there it is. It could be a long night. You can see my need to show off in my other writings, can't you? Or is it something other than that: a need to matter, a need to make sense of the world?
Dan opened all his files to me and I have copies of most of them. I have stored them chronologically along with my own work. I am leafing through the earliest correspondence Dan had been able to preserve from his years of "crusading for truth." I notice and recall a very judgmental missive written to his earliest collaborator who was living in sin. I see dim patterns emerging, leading up to his 1995 public revelation that he was asked by the CIA to eliminate a key witness to the cover-up of the Kennedy assassination. I see former allies referred to as enemies. This is a man who saw in black and white. Once again, I am unable to find the letter I am looking for, even by doing a keyword search in my electronic copies of Dan’s files. It’s frustrating because I know I saw it at one time, probably in 2003 when I visited Dan in New York. Every couple of years, I go looking for it, hoping that maybe this time I will be successful.
What was in this all-important letter, you must be wondering. Dan was not the kind of man who used the word "Google" as a verb. When there was something he wanted to find out on the internet, he would ask for help. It was one of the first things he asked of me when I made his acquaintance. In the letter I am once again searching for, Dan (to the best of my recollection) asked one of his confidantes to see what he can find out about the last name Perini in the Boston area. He doesn't make a big deal of it; he is just asking a casual favor in a private letter, some time in the late 1990s. When I saw this letter I was certain that Dan was making a discreet inquiry regarding the current status of his former mafia contacts. So of course I did a search on "Perini Boston."
What I found was very unsettling. Result number one, from BusinessWire.com, May 2004: "Boston Globe Ranks Perini as Massachusetts’ #2 Company." Result number two, from Boston Business Journal, July 2004: "Perini wins $52M Afghanistan project." Result number three, from casinovendors.com: "Perini Building Company provides general contracting, construction management and design/build services to private clients and public agencies nationwide. Areas of specialty include gaming and lodging, entertainment, sport and public assembly, correctional, health care, warehousing and manufacturing, office, retail and parking structures." Even now, I feel a knot in my stomach reviewing these results. Perini’s Massachusetts headquarters are in Framingham, the town neighboring Natick.
From time to time, I am reminded of all this, for example when a New England relative mentions to me some enormous Boston public works project which is being defrauded my the mob, fifty years after Dan first went to the Natick labs to test out gear. When I dare to stop and think about it, I am troubled at the prospect that Dan was right and that I didn't give him enough credit; horrified that I [may have been] right in my thesis that dirty money rules this country as the illegitimate child of high finance and thuggery.
It was apparently not until a year before Marvin's death that any article would appear on the internet discussing Tutor Perini in the context of organized crime. This article, by all appearances, was an April 7, 2011 editorial by the Florida Courier, entitled "When the Federal Government Embraces a Gangster Corporation." It is no longer available on the Courier's site but a link to it was given on the New York Teamsters Local 157 site the following June, along with excerpts of the editorial text, and apparently quoted in full by the National Black Chamber of Commerce:
The Construction Industry has a bad reputation. That reputation is well earned as we are constantly being informed of fraud, cost overruns and safety violations related to big and small construction projects at a relentless and never ending rate. So it was apropos when the federal government along with the State of New York decided to come up with a crime busting task force aimed at the construction activity within the region. They knew they were going after the five Mafia families but they also ended up with a big catch outside the typical organized crime membership. They took the "scalp" of the gigantic firm known as Tutor Perini. . . .
My unease grew after reading this. If not true, Dan Marvin's story at the very least seemed to show remarkable prescience. Could he have been spinning tales about the Pitzer case while still telling some measure of truth about his adventure in Boston? This bothered me enough to contact Allan Eaglesham about it. Though we initially had been in disagreement over Marvin's credibility, Allan and I had come to see eye to eye years ago. I wanted to find the letter in which Dan gave the name, and asked him if he had ever heard Dan mention Perini. Allan's memory was not clear on it, but it seemed to ring a bell. Ironically, I was able to locate the letter weeks later while going through my old emails to Allan. I had actually discussed it with him in 2004 and we had both forgotten about it. Otherwise, my recollection of the letter's content was correct. A long December 13, 1996 letter from Dan to a correspondent in Pennsylvania contains this paragraph toward the end:
...if, during your time on the internet you can attempt to locate any documents or whatever related to an Italian family named Perini located in the Boston, Mass. area - I would appreciate it. Please don't say who you are getting the info for. This could be very important. I do know they have been involved in BIG construction in Boston - all over the US I believe and even - in 1965 for the Russians in Egypt building the ASWAN High Dam on the Nile in Egypt. [sic]
Here we see another aspect of the Boston story that has been intertwined with the "Mafia don" aspect from the beginning: a planned mission to blow the Aswan High Dam using a man-portable atomic device, or SADM. In the above-mentioned January 1995 letter to Rose, Marvin wrote:
I apologize for including the wrong time frame in the article submitted. I wrote that it was in the Spring of 1964 that Hill and I went to Natick. It was a simple error. Three significant events impacted my life in 1964 and none were officially recorded due to their highly sensitive nature. In April, 1964 I received assassination training by CIA instructors at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. That Spring myself and thirty-one other Green Beret volunteers were trained as six-man teams to deploy and detonate a man-portable atomic device. And last, but not least, in November of that same year MSG Joe Hill and I went to Natick to test equipment and, on our own, infiltrated the MAFIA.
From Dan's letter of June 12, 1996 to Col. L. Fletcher Prouty:
In 1964 I commanded one of the six man Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM) teams. Sound familiar? My contingency targets included the Aswan High Dam... At the time being built by the Russians with help from the Perini Construction Company out of Boston. Perini allegedly is a major Boston-area mafia family.
In 2002, Dan wrote a series of articles in connection with the release of his book, The Expendable Elite. This series, called "The Unconventional Warrior," touched on most of the stories Dan had shared over the years. Part Six was titled: "Blow the ASWAN High Dam":
In the summer of 1964 I volunteered to command an eight-man team of volunteers that would take a man-portable atomic device into an objective area by parachute to destroy targets we would be told to neutralize. There were a total of four teams trained to carry and activate the SADM (Special Atomic Demolition Munition) device. As team leader I would carry the 95 lb device and my XO would carry the 35 lb trigger mechanism. Once on the ground in the target area we would first scout out a location within 15 minutes walking distance of the target site and quietly dig or prepare a pre-existing covered location such as a cave for our protection from the explosion and fallout. We would, after scouting the area during daylight hours, move with the device once darkness was again our protector to the detonation location, lock the two parts together, arm the device and return quickly to our own survival site.
The man who brought a device from the Seneca Army Depot in NY State in an unmarked 3/4 ton truck to train us in its operation (short of arming it of course!) told us this first model used the timing device from a commercial washing machine. How true I don't know, but I do know that the maximum time we could set for the blast delay was 15 minutes and that made it absolutely necessary to put together a team of truly optimistic, really daring volunteers. There seemed to be no problem within the ranks of the Special Forces.
If there had been an activation of the contingency mission we would secure the Special Atomic Demolition (SADM) devices in their special canvas containers, similar to the parachutist's adjustable equipment (PAE) bag, along with other PAE bags loaded with sharp entrenching tools, survival rations, skyhook harnesses and special radio equipment that would act as air-to-ground communications and homing signal devices for our after-mission pick up by C-130 aircraft equipped with a "skyhook" system.
. . .
The intelligence we needed to provide us accurate target site information was derived from "'Company" sources, including a Mafia-owned, CIA employed construction company out of Massachusetts in Egypt at the time on an "arranged" contract to help the Russians build the dam using mostly Egyptian labor. Strange bedfellows, I thought at the time, but perhaps necessary to got the job done. If the mob men got it right we'd be honing in on a location about four hundred yards from the fence that surrounded the hydroelectric station with its six huge water tunnels and we would have in hand the blueprints needed to place the device for maximum destructive results.
At the time I thought nothing about the potential loss of lives and widespread contamination downstream where millions of Egyptians lived.
Needless to say, the contingency mission remained just that and the geographies of politics in that region changed sufficiently to remove the ASWAN High Dam from danger of Special Forces actions as was envisioned when I commanded that small team of death-defying volunteers.
This is, as far as I know, Marvin's first public mention of a Mafia construction company in Massachusetts. Not coincidentally, the next article in the "Unconventional Warrior" series dealt with Marvin's Boston adventure, recycling much of the narrative from the "Bits and Pieces" article but also going into greater detail about the field testing of "some new tubular-frame rucksack and armor insole jungle boots" in coordination with the Natick Labs. It is significant, I believe, that this equipment had earlier been referred to as "hardware" and "secret;" as Dan had by this point already conflated this story with that of the SADM training. He was but one step away from equating this "Mafia construction company" with his Boston "don", which he did the following year on a Russian documentary called "13th Version:"
...We [Joe Hill, Dan, the Don] were talking about a lot of different things and I told him [the Don] that we'd heard rumors that some people from Boston were working on the Aswan High Dam. And he [the Don] said, "Those are my people. The Company hired me to go over there to work with the Russians so I could send back intelligence on the hydroelectric plant." The same intelligence of course was the same intelligence that was given me as the leader of the team that would go and bomb it.
Marvin then goes on to say that he had been trying to get in contact with the family; that he understood the father to be dead (Lou Perini died in 1972) but supposed the son was still alive. He wanted to get their permission to release their name in a book he planned to write(!). He also said that he later came to know another man in Syracuse who in 1966 had also trained for a mission to destroy the same dam (with a portable atom bomb).
Once it is examined as a whole, the implausibility of this story grows greatly. Let us review and summarize, setting aside the obvious questions of why on earth the US would want to have a plan in place to blow this dam, and why this American firm would have been contracted to help the Russians build it. We are implicitly asked to believe that one of the Perinis just happened to send drinks to Dan Marvin and Joe Hill in a Natick area restaurant when they were there to test boots and rucksacks at Natick Labs. Then, after playing footsie for a while, toying with the idea of infiltrating the mob, Marvin and Hill are introduced to the don, who also happened to be the intelligence source for Marvin's mission to blow the dam? And, perhaps coincidentally, the owner of the Braves baseball team? And he had been approached by the CIA to kill JFK. And if that weren't enough, Frank Sinatra had supposedly been onstage at this suburban Massachusetts hotel while simultaneously holding down a three-week gig at the Las Vegas Sands.
I believe that important insight is to be had in Col. Marvin's beginnings as a poor Chicago kid who had been abandoned by his father and joined the Army determined to excel as the hardest working man in the service. After his religious conversion in 1984, he exhibited the same determination and zeal in the cause of righteousness. All of his subsequent efforts in the pursuit of "truth" were conducted in the language of evangelical Christianity. His heart may have been in the right place, but he was not right in the head. Most of the last twenty years of his life, as revealed in his writings, were full of fanaticism; unrealistic thoughts of persecution; an unusual fixation on finding names he could list as allies to his cause, whether genuinely or by misrepresenting their sympathy; attempts to make contact with people whom he had implicated in serious crimes; joining forces with other people having serious credibility issues; efforts to attain fame through the publication of books or movie scripts; a deep aversion to cool, objective analysis; and a profound failure to see other points of view. All of this on top of a catalog of personal anecdotes that would make Walter Mitty or Forrest Gump jealous.
That Dan Marvin was an extraordinary man cannot be denied. One does not attain the Bronze Star nor the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by being a flake. I will never be completely certain that even his tallest tales did not have some valuable kernel of truth; though he was certainly not of sound mind by the time he attained publicity, there is the possibility that at least some of his claims - though distorted - arose from some significant fact. The question is the proportion of facts to distortions. This is nowhere more clear than in the following story.
Dan's first "crusade" was in the 1980s. Immediately after his conversion, he began writing a book about his Vietnam experiences; in the process, in 1988, he learned that General Dang Van Quang was living in Montreal under difficult circumstances, separated from his family in the United States, and in danger of being deported back to Vietnam. Dan took up the General's cause. Marvin's reason for getting involved was that he felt that he owed Dang his life due to Dang's intervention in an alleged incident in 1966 (more on this later). According to both Marvin (a story he told innumerable times, referring always to "Quang Van Dang") and Dang's family, Marvin was instrumental in getting the general his permission to enter the US in September 1989, personally driving Dang across the border. According to Wikipedia, the Honorable Matthew McHugh (Marvin's congressman) is credited with having cleared Dang's name of corruption charges. Dang also had the support of former CIA officer Tom Polgar.
All of this really did happen. Among Dan's letters from the early 1990s, I have contact information for half a dozen CIA personnel including, apparently, Ted Shackley's office and home phone numbers. I am still not entirely comfortable with this possession, though Shackley has been deceased for roughly thirteen years. Other, less infamous, contacts are also listed and check out as genuine. Polgar, Shackley's successor as CIA Saigon station chief, is also listed among Dan's contacts, along with a number currently registered to Polgar's widow.
But even this relatively early stage in Dan's civilian career is colored by mental dysfunction. At least as early as the 1980s, his wartime assignment to a quiet Vietnamese backwater became - in his mind - an experience highly reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola's epic 1979 movie in which a renegade Special Forces officer (played by Marlon Brando) is targeted for assassination by the CIA and Army intelligence after setting himself up on the bank of a Cambodian river as the revered leader of an ethnic Vietnamese minority and disobeying the orders of his superiors. When Marvin's book was finally published, the dramatic climax was (perhaps tellingly) titled, "Apocalypse at An Phu."
In brief, the story according to Marvin (and repeated by Dang's family) is this: In December 1965, Marvin (then a captain) was assigned to lead Special Forces A-Team 424 in the An Phu district of Vietnam, among an ethnic minority called the Hoa Haos, and bordering Cambodia on a bank of the Bassac River. While in An Phu, Capt. Marvin was visited by a CIA officer and offered a mission to assassinate crown prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia and to set up the Viet Cong to take the blame. Marvin accepted the mission on the conditions that 1)Lyndon Johnson first admitted the existence of Viet Cong sanctuaries in Cambodia, 2) admitted his refusal to allow US forces to pursue the Viet Cong in these sanctuaries and 3) then publicly reversed this policy. The CIA man left, and when he returned without Johnson having met Marvin's conditions, Marvin refused to carry out the mission. Subsequently, Saigon was informed that Marvin was leading the Hoa Hoas in a civil uprising, and an ARVN regiment was dispatched to annihilate Marvin's A-Team and their Hoa Hao allies. When word reached General Dang, he intervened, saving all of their lives.
This is the story Marvin told a local newspaper even as he worked to get Dang into the US, although details would change over time. In the 1989 article "No Laughing Matter,", "Marvin doesn't remember [the] names [of the CIA man and his female companion], only the CIA IDs that were swiftly flashed and re-pocketed" before the assignment to assassinate Sihanouk was given in June 1966. But Marvin later read of CIA officer Walter Mackem in Douglas Valentine's 1990 book, The Phoenix Program, which concerned a large-scale American program to assassinate or otherwise neutralize the VC. By 2003, Marvin's story had become that Marvin not only knew his CIA mystery man by name as Mackem, but that he had encountered him nearly six months earlier, telling him "we did not need or want his [VC-hunting] team operating in An Phu." Again evoking Apocalypse Now, Marvin reports Mackem's response as: "Who do you think you are, Captain, King of the Hoa Haos?" The much earlier conversation with MacKem appears to have been a later addition to Marvin's manuscript-in-progress, which Marvin then needed to account for in his existing description of the June meeting, lest a continuity problem arose. In the subsequent description of the June meeting, Mackem is re-introduced to the reader as if for the first time, complete with a description of Mackem flashing his ID for Marvin to read:
The sound of the incoming Air America helicopter signaled the arrival of our visitor . . . A short, muscular man, whom I'd guess to be in his mid-thirties, wearing khaki slacks and a short-sleeve, gray shirt slid out of the chopper and walked toward me. A black leather shoulder holster with a .38 special was tucked under his armpit . . . He flashed his ID. It read: Walter Mackem, CIA, and had a photo of his likeness.
The continuity of the story is then set straight:
I'd met him before but didn't recall right off when or where.Then, like a picture out of the past, the time and place suddenly came to mind. It was five months earlier that I'd refused Mackem's counter-terrorist (CT) team entry into An Phu district. It was somewhat confrontational.
Though the 2003 version is thus made consistent, it still greatly contradicts the 1989 version.
General Dang remained a high priority for Marvin for a long period after his victory; at least through late 1991, Marvin campaigned for an official announcement to be made of Dang's innocence and for an alleged $20,000 CIA payment to Dang to be made official and taxable rather than being paid as "hush money." Marvin complained of CIA intimidation efforts made against Dang and of threats coming to Marvin's own family from Matt McHugh's local office; he also complained about the same congressional staffer accusing him of having "fantasies about the CIA." McHugh supported the woman's refusal to have any further dealings with Marvin, and insisted that Marvin make future contact through his Washington office. Marvin then began insinuating that McHugh was taking sides as if "in the employ of the CIA." During this time, an FBI contact allegedly warned Marvin that George Bush had reactivated one or more of the FBI's "Hit Teams" upon taking office, and also asked Dan if he weren't afraid of a bomb being planted under his car. Marvin pressed McHugh to act on evidence Marvin had allegedly provided regarding the CIA's connection to the famous Savings and Loan scandal. Marvin's "Memorandum for Record" of a December 2 1990 meeting in McHugh's office refers to his "July 1990 report to McHugh regarding an alleged shooting in Philadelphia of one-time CIA operative Maxwell Erbe and the alleged torture of former CIA operative John Grey in the Dallas, Texas area," which violence supposedly followed directly after Marvin having named these two men in an earlier communication to McHugh.
After the publication of Marvin's The Expendable Elite in 2003, he and his publisher both became defendants in a suit organized by the Special Forces association. The complaint was one of libel against the members of Marvin's A-Team.
The plaintiffs are soldiers who served under Marvin as well as William Tuttle Jr. of Rock Hill, S.C., a lieutenant colonel who was Marvin's superior.
One of the plaintiffs, James Taylor of Fayetteville, N.C., a sergeant assigned to the forward base, took the stand and for several hours read passages from the book.
"This book does not reflect anything that happened in the camp at An Phu," said Taylor, who served six months under Marvin in 1966. Marvin was then a captain.
The book includes an account of a firefight with enemy troops but that "did not happen," Taylor said. "We did not fire mortars for any hostile reason at all."
Taylor told jurors: "I don't know where he got any of this information other than to fantasize it in his mind."
On cross-examination, Taylor said a veterans group, the Special Forces Association, is paying the cost of the lawsuit. He said the group sent two letters to the publisher, Trine Day Press, asking the book be pulled from the shelves or recast as a novel. Trine Day is also a defendant.
Another plaintiff, John Strait of Jonesville, Mich., a lieutenant and executive officer under Marvin at An Phu, testified the area was considered pacified and he never fired a weapon there.
The libel charge arose specifically from Marvin's allegation that A-424 had fired high explosive shells across the border into Cambodia, an act that would have been illegal. The suit was unsuccessful:
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Green Beret suit ends in draw
Jury decides neither side defamed the other in legal fight over book
BY SCHUYLER KROPF
The Post and Courier
A $700,000 defamation lawsuit over a book that says U.S. Green Berets illegally fired into neutral Cambodia in 1966 and nearly committed mutiny during the Vietnam War ended in a draw Monday.
A jury of four men and four women ruled that neither side in the legal fight over the book "Expendable Elite" defamed the other.
The book's author claimed victory for the truth, while lawyers for the Green Berets said their fight might not be over.
After deliberating for 2 1/2 hours, a jury at the U.S. District Courthouse in Charleston said the seven Green Berets who sued retired Green Beret Lt. Col. Daniel Marvin over his portrayal of their actions failed to prove that his written words defamed them.
In tandem, the jury said Marvin failed to prove his claim the ex-soldiers defamed him when they made public statements that his book is "100 percent lies."
If you are still trying to salvage Dan Marvin's credibility at this point, there is nothing more for me to say but "I'm sorry." Sorry for your dilemma, and sorry for any part I played in propagating his myth.