Lee Harvey Oswald, Guy Bannister and I in New Orleans 1955-1956
I attended Alcee Fortier High School in New Orleans from September 1954 until June 1956, when I was graduated. In late 1954 Kent and Phoebe Courtney announced that they were holding a public meeting in a pavilion in Audubon Park to enlist citizens who opposed the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy pending before the U.S. Senate. My parents’ residence was only a few blocks from Audubon Park and Tulane University so I decided to attend as our family admired McCarthy’s fighting spirit against communism.
An enthusiastic crowd of about 40 persons attended the Courtneys’ meeting and assignments were handed out. My assignment was to set up a card table in the plaza in front of St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter to collect signatures on petitions that opposed the censure as part of a national petition drive headed by General Bonner Fellers. I had little difficulty in collecting signatures as Catholics regularly attended services at the Cathedral and McCarthy was a prominent Catholic.
A few months later Kent and Phoebe announced they were starting a monthly conservative publication, Free Men Speak, which subsequently became The Independent America. I volunteered to work on the publication after high school. As a result Kent started taking me to meetings, such as Toastmasters International and to a radio station where he had a weekly radio show. Several times during the period of 1955-1956, while still in a high school student, I would accompany Kent to meetings in the office of Gay Bannister, a former FBI agent who was a prominent public figure in New Orleans. The topic at these meetings was the extent of organized crime in the city and more particularly the efforts of the Metropolitan Crime Commission of New Orleans headed by Aaron Kohn to combat it.
So where does Lee Harvey Oswald fit into the picture during this period? Why he was living with his mother in the Vieux Carre section of the French Quarter, less than a 10 minute walk from Bannister’s office. Oswald was then about 16 years old.
Eight years later John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Oswald would be branded the alleged assassination, Bannister would gain fame as someone who had interacted in a mysterious way with Oswald in New Orleans in the period before the assassination, and I many years later would end up representing Howard Hunt, a self-confessed bench warmer in the assassination who claimed LBJ was at the top of the pyramid conspiracy, and also Billie Sol Estes, LBJ’s bagman who maintained to his death that LBJ killed JFK.
Oswald, Bannister and I in 1955-1956 had no inkling what fate had in store for us and for the world.
I departed New Orleans permanently in September 1956 to enroll in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Only after I arrived did I learn that Father Walsh had been one of Senator McCarthy’s closest advisers. So while the Big Easy was no longer a part of my life, the public presence of Senator McCarthy was.
V. OSWALD'S EARLY LIFE: NEW ORLEANS AND ORGANIZED CRIME
During his early childhood and adolescence in New Orleans, Lee Oswald lived with his divorced mother at a number of different locations, usually in small rented houses or apartments in a moderate to-lower-income section of the city. (1) While the record of residences is not complete, one address was 126 Exchange Alley. (2) During her testimony before the Warren Commission, Mrs. Marguerite Oswald indicated that she and her son lived there when Oswald was about to 16 years old, roughly the years 1955-56. (3) They were "living at 126 Exchange Place, which is the Vieux Carre section of the French Quarter of New Orleans." (4) During her testimony, Mrs. Oswald noted that "the papers said we lived over a saloon at that particular address * * * that is just the French part of town. It looks like the devil. Of course I didn't have a fabulous apartment. But very wealthy people and very fine citizens live in that part of town. * * .. (5) While Mrs. Oswald correctly noted that "wealthy" citizens resided in some sections of the French Quarter, Exchange Alley was well known as the location of other elements; it was an area notorious for illicit activities. As the managing director of the Metropolitan Crime Commission of New Orleans, Aaron Kohn recalled, "Exchange Alley, specifically that little block that Oswald lived on, was literally the hub of some of the most notorious underworld joints in the city." (6). He noted further that Exchange Alley was the location of various gambling operations affiliated with the Marcello organization. (7) Noting the openness with which such activities were conducted there, (8) Kohn said, "you couldn't walk down the block without literally being exposed to two or three separate forms of illicit activities and underworld operations." (9)