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Gary Underhill was born in Brooklyn on 7th August, 1915. He graduated from Harvard in 1937 and during the Second World War he served with the Military Intelligence Service (6 July 1943 to May 1946). After leaving the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) he worked on specific projects for the Central Intelligence Agency. He was also military affairs editor for Life Magazine.

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Underhill told his friend, Charlene Fitsimmons, that he was convinced that he had been killed by members of the CIA. He also said: "Oswald is a patsy. They set him up. It's too much. The bastards have done something outrageous. They've killed the President! I've been listening and hearing things. I couldn't believe they'd get away with it, but they did!"

Underhill believed there was a connection between Executive Action, Fidel Castro and the death of Kennedy: "They tried it in Cuba and they couldn't get away with it. Right after the Bay of Pigs. But Kennedy wouldn't let them do it. And now he'd gotten wind of this and he was really going to blow the whistle on them. And they killed him!"

Underhill told friends that he feared for his life: "I know who they are. That's the problem. They know I know. That's why I'm here. I can't stay in New York."

Gary Underhill was found dead on 8th May 1964. He had been shot in the head and it was officially ruled that he had committed suicide. However, in his book, Destiny Betrayed, James DiEugenio claimed that the bullet entered the right-handed Underhill's head behind the left ear.

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I looked for info on Underhill a while back, but never found anything that indicated what Underhill did for a living. Does anyone know? Perhaps we should start a list, beginning with Underhill and Albert Osborne, of people connected to the JFK assassination who had no visible means of support.

Ron

Ron, among other things Underhill worked as a free lance writer on security and international/and intelligence topics for the New Replublic, Esquire and Colliers.  It was in his position for Colliers that he was approached by Axelbank offering to sell him the Soviet military photos - he reported that to the FBI and CIA.

It was his writing work and the contacts he made through it that made him of interest as a domestic contact for the CIA.

Although the CIA memos don't mention it I seem to recall that he also did consulting work for Civil Defense in the 1950's.

-- Larry

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Gary Underhill was found dead on 8th May 1964. He had been shot in the head and it was officially ruled that he had committed suicide. However, in his book, Destiny Betrayed, James DiEugenio claimed that the bullet entered the right-handed Underhill's head behind the left ear.

I checked the view on the McAdams site on this, and its Underhill article says that if what DiEugenio says is true, it still doesn't mean that Underhill could not have shot himself.

Well, it's conceivable that Underhill shot himself, but how many people shoot themselves in the head in a deliberately awkward fashion, as if hoping they might suffer only brain damage and permanent disability instead of death?

Ron

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For reference, this thread should also have the following:

Those interested in Underhill might check the following: RIF 104-10170 and 104-10180-10401

These documents are a) a CIA internal analysis of the Ramparts article mentioning Underhill and an internal study of names sufaced during the Garrison investigation to determine which one really offered an exposure to CIA operations. It was this internal investigation that confirmed that Clay Shaw was a domestic contacts informant (the list of such in the 50's was pretty huge).

The second memo states that Underhill was in military intelligence from 43-46 and became an expert in enemy weapons, photography and related technical specialities. It states that he was an infrequent contact with CIA Domestic Operations in their New York office, that the contacts were routine information collection and that he was not a CIA employee.

The first memo describes a staff citation for superior work in military intelligence during WWII. It gives more detail on his Domestic Contact stating that in 1949 the CIA contacts office in NYC became interested in using Underhill as a contact for foreign intelligence. Background checks with various military members of the intelligence community "yielded insufficient information" and the office was advised that contact with Underhill be developed "with caution" on a limited basis and no information above "confidential" was to be shared with him. In 1957 national agency checks were again requested on him because of interest by the Office of Security. The Office of Security reported in 1954 that Underhill had contacted one Herman Axelbank who was trying to sell photos of Soviet military subjects and Underhill had reported those contacts to both the FBI and CIA. Underhill discussed Axelbank with Ricky Haskins of CIA.

Namebase entry for Gary Underhill

http://www.namebase.org/xtwa/Gary-Underhill.html

DiEugenio, J. Destiny Betrayed. 1992 (27-30)

Gritz, J. Called to Serve. 1991 (512)

Groden, R. Livingstone, H. High Treason. 1990 (143-4)

Hepburn, J. Farewell America. 1968 (339)

Marrs, J. Crossfire. 1990 (202, 559)

Stich, R. Defrauding America. 1994 (439)

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I have had an email from Ron Williams with the following information:

In the book, The Sin of Henry Luce: An Anatomy of Journalism by David Cort (who was one of the original editors of Life magazine) I was very surprised to find extensive information on Cort's assistant on weaponry and military affairs at Life in the years 1938- 1942, John Garrett "Gary" Underhill, Jr.

Students of the JFK assassination will remember Gary Undherhill as one of those intelligence agency connected people who died under suspicious circumstances not long after the assassination. One of the places he is mentioned is in the famous Playboy interview with Jim Garrison:

QUOTE

PLAYBOY: Do you lend no credence, then, to the charges of a former CIA agent, J. Garrett Underhill, that there was a conspiracy within the CIA to assassinate Kennedy?

GARRISON: I've become familiar with the case of Gary Underhill, and I've been able to ascertain that he was not the type of man to make wild or unsubstantiated charges. Underhill was an intelligence agent in World War Two and an expert on military affairs whom the Pentagon considered one of the country's top authorities on limited warfare. He was on good personal terms with the top brass in the Defense Department and the ranking officials in the CIA. He wasn't a full-time CIA agent, but he occasionally performed "special assignments" for the Agency. Several days after the President's assassination, Underhill appeared at the home of friends in New Jersey, apparently badly shaken, and charged that Kennedy was killed by a small group within the CIA. He told friends he believed his own life was in danger. We can't learn any more from Underhill, I'm afraid, because shortly afterward, he was found shot to death in his Washington apartment. The coroner ruled suicide, but he had been shot behind the left ear and the pistol was found under his left side --- and Underhill was right-handed.

END QUOTE

He is mentioned in a number of JFK case books, but (except for DiEugenio, pp 27-30) always very briefly, so I was excited and surprised to learn more about him. David Cort, who started out with Time magazine in 1932 and moved over to Life as one of the original editor's at its creation in 1936, only had good things to say and high praise for Underhill. He described their combined work at Life as being indispensable in encouraging U.S. rearmament and helping prepare the country for the war that they knew was coming. Here is how he described his first meeting with Gary Underhill:

QUOTE

An important event in Life's history was the appearance at the reception desk of a slightly cross-eyed young man with a scrapbook in which Life's military captions were pasted, followed by statements about the weapons. (We were usually wrong.) As soon as I saw this work, I demanded that John Garrett Underhill, Jr., a Harvard man, one of the Harvard Lampoon crowd that raised the Soviet Flag on the White House lawn, be put on the payroll. I do not know when this took place. I suppose that he was first hired as a consultant, and later full time.

My dream of being infallible about the weapons shown in pictures suddenly became possible. Probably Underhill was already the world's No.1 expert on comparative weaponry but, with the benefit of Life's pictures, he soon became so. His grandfather had been a general and founder of the American Rifle Association, as I recall. (John Shaw) Billings never accepted him but I cherished him. With him, Life's Foreign News department became one of the most knowledgeable centers of military intelligence in the world. All my subsequent feats of military reporting owe 60 percent of the credit to Underhill, and I think my retention of even 40 percent is pure conceit.

After Pearl Harbor the army grabbed him for G-2. Interrogations there were by five colonels and one sergeant (Underhill). A colonel would ask a stupid question. The sergeant would add, "What the colonel wants to know is . . ." I lost touch with him after I left Time Inc. Much later, I discovered that he had committed suicide in Washington, D.C., lying in bed, shooting himself behind the ear, the pistol dropping beneath the sheet, so that a friend looking in on him on two separate visits did not realize he was dead. For his peculiar specialty had gone out of fashion; his kind of thinking (and to some extent mine) had become anathema. I am sure that his execution of his own murder was ballistically perfect, with consummate awareness of what the weapon could perform. Anything less would have shamed him. For both selfish and patriotic reasons I revere his memory. In his function on Life, he helped steer America into the correct courses of rearmament. At least in one magazine, the intuitions of the German and British general staffs were available to any American who would trouble to read.

A truly queer thing is that, for some years after I began using his services, Time ignored Underhill and took on an amateur military expert or so. At long last-I don't remember when-Time borrowed his services and bent beneath the shock of meeting the pure military classicist. This was part of what was wrong with Time. (The Sin of Henry Luce, ps 126-128)

END QUOTE

It seems strange that Cort fully accepts Underhill's death as a suicide and does not mention anything about his knowledge of the JFK assassination.

The following is a letter Cort received from the friend that found Underhill's body:

QUOTE

Dear David Cort,

Although I was involved in the incident, I don't find, unfortunately, any note of the exact date of Garry's death in my papers. It was midsummer of 1964, about two months after I had emerged from the hospital following a serious illness.

He had been coming to see me about weekly. When he missed a week-end and then some I walked over to his place on M Street.

His door was at the top of a flight of stairs.

When there was no response to my knocking I tried the lock and found it unbolted. One could see without crossing the threshold that he was apparently asleep. This was late in the afternoon, but he was a man of irregular hours, so I backed out, hoping the door would close silently.

Since I was myself still convalescent and not working, I returned the following day. He still appeared to be asleep, from the doorway.

On the next day following I tried his door and this time walked into his bedroom for a closer look, because he still seemed to be sleeping in the same posture. He was lying on his side with his face pressed into the pillow. I didn't see the wound. The weapon was one of his pair of Belgian revolvers-the model with recessed chambers for rimmed ammunition.

I throw in this detail because he would have noticed and mentioned that, had he been in my place.

He was a wonderful person. Oh yes, the date: it was June, about, 1964.

The Washington Post carried his death as a small news item; no mention of suicide.

Finally, you say you have a note from him on the Soviet Air Force. I dare say he knew more about it than most of the certificated experts in the Pentagon. What interested him wholly in that final year of his life, however, was the mystery of the Russian missiles in Cuba. He insisted it was a mystery, so far as U.S. knowledge of them was concerned. He never believed the official story.

In a manner of speaking he was a casualty of McNamara's war gamers, the operations research pedants who stole the show away from the generals with whom Garry-despite their occasional stupidity-could have discussed the future of the military. He was full of the future. He kept reminding me and other military outsiders that it grew, that is, everything usefully novel in it grew out of the past. Now that the military mathematicians have fallen out amongst themselves (the Wohlstetter - Weisner - Rathjens - Lapp - Weinberg quarrel which has just been refereed by the Operations Research Society of America), we'll have need for Garry's kind of intelligence in the present "future."

With all good ASHER BRYNES,

Here we have not only a corroboration of my opinion of Underhill's importance, but also an indication that history is less what happens than what people think has happened. (The Sin of Henry Luce, ps 465-466)

END QUOTE

Here is more of the author's praise:

QUOTE

…Underhill's enormous value was demonstrated in this issue (Dec 12, 1938). The essay (14 pages) was: "U.S. is weak in arms and industry is unprepared. . . . Among the armies of the major powers, America's is not only the smallest but the worst-equipped. . . AND-if America should be attacked it would be eight months before the nation's peacetime industry could be converted to production of the war supplies which the Army would need. Whether there would be any army left to supply at the end of those eight months is disputable.

"These are the facts. There is no cause for hysteria in them. If there were, the U.S. War Department would not have allowed Life to take the photographs and print the figures…which prove them. …U.S. industry sold about $50,000,000 worth of essential manufactured munitions products (excluding aviation) to the Army last year" (a fantastic contrast to the military-industrial complex of recent times). Conclusively, the essay showed the explicit weapons for war and gave the numbers in existence, in one case the only example possessed by the army. When one remembers that four years later this army was facing Rommel in North Africa, the importance of this story becomes majestic. And, without Underhill, it would have been more or less meaningless. I would suppose that Kay wrote the story. I did not. I would think that this story influenced American history, and helped some Americans to survive in North Africa four years later. (The Sin of Henry Luce, ps 157-158)

…Spain was finished (April 10, 1939) in the lead showing the fall of Madrid, and Franco as the dictator: "In a country of impatient, arrogant and hot-tempered men, he is slow, thorough and endlessly patient. . . . He notably did not join in the angry political debate which has divided and ruined Spain." But now, with Underhill's knowledge, we showed a Spanish panorama on which a Rebel battalion could be faintly made out (an ostensibly dull picture), and labeled the various deployments in the attack on a Spanish village.

Then, pointing toward World War II, came a detailed analysis of the weapons on both sides. "Biggest lesson is that the nation with the best factory workers, mechanics and chauffeurs will probably win the next war…sound, well-made models that are easy to use and easy to repair in the field. American method of mass production of standard models is a winner…. The Russians had a good idea in tanks but everything they manufacture is likely to have fatal mechanical flaws…. The probabilities for the next war are that the totalitarian states will have the advantage at first, because of training. and organization. But the democracies have the best mechanics and factories. In Spain the cannon mounted in the Russian tanks was able to drive all the other tanks off the field. (Germany has frantically begun to mount small cannon in tanks.) …Loyalist troops were ruined by political interference and atrocious command…. France has good tanks. Anti-tank guns: Germans have plenty. Russians have the best….The best truck in Spain was the latest Ford….Russian Chato fighters could outclimb, outfly, outmaneuver Italian Fiats…. French multi-seat bomber was a terrifying flop…. Czech Mauser was best rifle in Spanish war. Czech 'Bren' light machine gun was mainstay of the Loyalists."

This fairly unpictorial spread, published in 1939, relying solely on John Garrett Underhill, Jr., may have been a fairly important factor in the outcome of World War II, and I do not want to hear any Pentagon donkeys saying they knew it all the time. Perhaps Patton and Bradley did, but maybe they read Life… (The Sin of Henry Luce, p 167)

END QUOTE

The following is a letter from the author to Life General Manager, C. D. Jackson regarding Underhill:

QUOTE

At this point I sent a key memorandum to C. D. Jackson highlighting the stupidity of Time Inc. It follows:

First, congratulations on your new job.

Secondly, my data on the strange case of Gary Underhill who is, I understand, in grave danger of disappearing into the armed forces.

Underhill has done a lot of work for me. Nobody else has seen anything but the end result of that work. My testimony is that his help was indispensable and unduplicatable. If Underhill goes, I would be in the spot of either having to adopt a completely yes-man approach to our war effort or of running the risk of being incorrect, naive and half-cocked in any realistic account of war events. I believe the same thing applies to everybody else who writes about the war for Life.

Any notion that our Washington office can get equivalent information out of the armed forces is absurd. They never have, perhaps because nobody in Washington has it. In fact, the Army and Navy frequently approach Underhill for identifications of enemy weapons. With Underhill, we are all set. Without him, we gradually and imperceptibly lose 50% of our authority in war news, perhaps more.

I do not believe there is any job in the armed forces where Underhill could do for the U.S. what he is now doing, on Life. Our most valuable contribution in this political war is to give the armed forces expert needling now and then. As things stand, however, I do not believe we will have Underhill another two months.

…This memorandum hides a sense of desperation about the functioning of Life. Realistically, C. D. Jackson showed it to Longwell who, sensing the desperation, saw that this was the way to cut me down and win his little intramural war, which was his specialty. A degree of cynicism about his patriotic obligation is inevitably implied. In any case, Underhill was thrown to the armed forces. Yes, we had traitors, and they were not all Communists. These are, of course, very belated thoughts. (The Sin of Henry Luce, ps 322-323)

END QUOTE

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  • 6 years later...

This thread caught my interest for two reasons.

It's mentions Time-Life and Underhill's statement that he believed a "far eastern group in the CIA" was behind the assassination. Now, we know that Time-Life was intimately connected to the China Lobby, that was so important in McCarthyism and also the beginnings of the US War in Vietnam. Time-Life's ties to the CIA are myriad.and as we know, it was C.D. Jackson who organized the purchase of the Zapruder Film the weekend of the assassination.

Henry Luce himself was from an old American Chinese missionary family.

How interesting, then , the mentioning of C.D. Jackson as,apparently, a key man in the decision to cut Underhill loose from Life, (in 1941) and Underhill's transfer to Army Intelligence. It almost sounds as if Underhill may have already been playing some sort of formal intelligence role when he was still at Life. This is certainly thinkable, when one remembers the way C.D. Jackson moved back and forth between Luce and Eisenhower during the 1950s.

I wonder if Gary Underhill possessed any knowledge of C.D. Jacksons' role in obtaining the Zapruder Film, the weekend of the assassination?

Also, did Underhill's old relations at Time-Life combine with that magazine's critical role within The China Lobby, to lead to Underhill's conclusion that it was a "far eastern group in the CIA" who had planned the assassination?

"Yes, we had traitors, and they were not all Communists." Was this merely a jocose remark about co-workers?

Edited by Nathaniel Heidenheimer
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This thread caught my interest for two reasons.

It's mentions Time-Life and Underhill's statement that he believed a "far eastern group in the CIA" was behind the assassination. Now, we know that Time-Life was intimately connected to the China Lobby, that was so important in McCarthyism and also the beginnings of the US War in Vietnam. Time-Life's ties to the CIA are myriad.and as we know, it was C.D. Jackson who organized the purchase of the Zapruder Film the weekend of the assassination.

Henry Luce himself was from an old American Chinese missionary family.

How interesting, then , the mentioning of C.D. Jackson as,apparently, a key man in the decision to cut Underhill loose from Life, (in 1941) and Underhill's transfer to Army Intelligence. It almost sounds as if Underhill may have already been playing some sort of formal intelligence role when he was still at Life. This is certainly thinkable, when one remembers the way C.D. Jackson moved back and forth between Luce and Eisenhower during the 1950s.

I wonder if Gary Underhill possessed any knowledge of C.D. Jacksons' role in obtaining the Zapruder Film, the weekend of the assassination?

Also, did Underhill's old relations at Time-Life combine with that magazine's critical role within The China Lobby, to lead to Underhill's conclusion that it was a "far eastern group in the CIA" who had planned the assassination?

"Yes, we had traitors, and they were not all Communists." Was this merely a jocose remark about co-workers?

Good questions. I didn't think much of Underhill's job at Life but it certainly fits his profile neatly.

As I mention in the article on Luce at CTKA: Citizens for Truth about the Kennedy Assassination there was more going on at Life than just the Zapruder film, and I think it was Clare Booth Luce who was the primary connection to the assassins rather than her husband.

Also, it is noted that Underhill's connection to the CIA was via the Domestics Contacts Division, the same branch as J. Walton Moore in Dallas, who handled both DeMohrenschildt and Hugh Aynesworth. There's also records related to Moore's WWII OSS assignment to China with Charles Ford, which certainly qualifies as part of the far east group.

I don't know why I didn't include Underhill among the list of related unsolved homicides, unless it is officially considered an unsuspicious suicide.

JFKcountercoup: Related Unsolved Homicides / Jurisdictions

Bill Turner is one of the few investigators who seriously looked into the death of Underhill and wrote about it in Ramparts.

Edited by William Kelly
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  • 8 years later...

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