Who Killed James Forrestal? Was There A Cover-up?

by DCDave

Photo: Admiral Forrestal shakes hands with Admiral Byrd (far right)

The two highest-ranking government officials in the history of the American republic to have "committed suicide" are Deputy White House Counsel, Vincent W. Foster,Jr. on July 20, 1993, and Secretary of Defense, James V. Forrestal, on May 22, 1949. Actually, Forrestal was not a government official at the time of his death. He had been rather abruptly removed from office on March 28, and after almost immediately suffering some kind of breakdown, he had been kept against his will since April 2, a period of more than 7 weeks, on the 16th floor of the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Since he was no longer a government employee, it is unclear upon what authority he was being "cared for" at this U.S. military facility.

Though technically no longer a government official at the time of his death, Forrestal was a far more prominent and powerful man than Foster. Independently wealthy since his days as president of Dilon, Read, and Company on Wall Street, as Secretary of the Navy he had graced the cover of Time magazine on October 29, 1945. In September of 1947, even though he had opposed the legislation that created the department, Forretal was made America's first Secretary of Defense. Widely acclaimed as an extraordinarily dedicated and effective admininstrator, he rivaled Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, as the best known member of President Harry Truman's cabinet.

Both Foster and Forrestal are said to have been suicidally depressed. Indeed, this is usually the first thing that will be mentioned when the matter of the death of either of these two men is brought up. The evidence that either of them was is such a disturbed mental state that he would resort to such an extreme solution is actually quite weak. In Foster's case, it rests heavily upon the very doubtful authenticity of a disjointed, sophomoric note belatedly "found" in a briefcase that had previously been emptied out in full view of a number of people. In Forrestal's case, the public was told in the very first press announcement of his death that he had stopped in the middle of copying over a classical poem, one that seems to welcome, in certain circumstances, the ending of one's life. We have never been told how anyone knows that Forrestal actually wrote what he is said to have written, although author Arnold Rogow (James Forrestal, A Study of Personality, Politics, and Policy, 1963), the man most

responsible for fixing in the public mind the notion that Forrestal was mentally unbalanced, has written, without the first bit of evidence for it, that Forrestal was seen writing it, Authors, Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley (Driven Patriot, the Life and Times of James Forrestal, 1992) have also stated that Forrestal was seen writing it, but by a different person from the one cited by Rogow, although they give Rogow as their source. Curiously, nowhere on the public record are the actual would-be witness or witnesses themselves quoted directly on this matter.

Defenders of the official line on Foster's death almost never refer to the known evidence. Rather, they allude to the "depression" as though it were a proven fact; they invoke authority, either the authority of the family, most of whom have publicly, at least, accepted the official conclusion, or of the authority of the various official "investigations" that have been made of his death, and they raise questions about the motive. If Foster was murdered, who did it and why?


Is is perhaps a measure of how much more innocent a time it was in America in 1949 that, although such arguments against murder in the Forrestal case are far weaker than in the Foster case, the official suicide line seems to have gone generally unchallenged. Take, for instance, the reaction of the Forrestal family. Perhaps the person closest to James Forrestal in the whole world was his brother; Henry. This is from the obscure book, The Death of James Forrestal (1966), by Cornell Simpson, one of the few people who did question the suicide conclusion.

At his home in Beacon, New York, Henry Forrestal stated to this author that James Forrestal positively did not kill himself. He said his brother was the last person in the world who would have committed suicide and that he had no reason for taking his life. When Forrestal talked to his borther at the hospital, James was having a good time planning the things he would do following his discharge. Henry Forrestal recalled that Truman and [new Defense Secretary Louis] Johnson agreed that his brother was in fine shape and that the hospital officials admitted that he would have been released soon. To Henry Forrestal , the whole affair smelled to high heaven. He remarked about his brother's treatment at the hosital, his virtual imprisonment and the censorship of his visitors. Henry Forrestal had never heard of such treatment and questioned why it should have been allowed. He further questioned why the hospital officals lied about his brother being permitted all the visitors he wanted.

He was bitter when recounting that from the first minute the officials had insisted the death was a result of suicide; that they did not even consider the possibility of murder even though there was no suicide note, though his brother acted perfectely normal when the corpsman saw him only a few minutes before his death, though the bathrobe cord was knotted tightly around his neck.

He considered it odd that his brother had died just a few hours before he, Henry, was to arrive and take James out of the hospital.

Then he repeated his belief that James Forrestal did not kill himself, that he was murdered that someone strangled him and threw him out the window. Henry Forrestal went on to ask why the authorities did not have the decency to admit these thrings and then try to apprehend the murderer. He lamented the fact that the case was hurriedly hushed up in an apparent attempt to avoid a scandal.

He went on to say that he was a Democrat but nevertheless he blamed the Truman administration for covering up his brother's murder, for letting it happen, and for the way James Forrestal was treated in the hospital. He concluded that he was "damned bitter" about it all but did not know what he could do.

When family members of victims don't agree with the official line, whether it be his case or the Oklahoma City bombing, TWA 800, Pan Am 103, the Martin Luther King Jr., murder or 9-11 we seldom hear much about it in our press. The Forrestal death is an outstanding example of that rule.

The press also typically give great attention to the findings of any official body that has been appointed to make an investigation. The heavily-louted Warren Commission is the best-known instance of this phenomenon. In the Foster death it was first a report by Robert Fiske and then one by Kenneth Starr.

So what do we have with the Forrestal death? It's the Willcutts Review Board, named for Rear Admiral Morton D. Willcutts, the head of the National Naval Medical Center. The Review Board took the testimony of all witnesses and finished its work on May 30. It was not until October 11, however, that its conclusions were released to the public, and here's what was discovered, as related on page 15 of The New York Times of October 12, 1949.

  1. That the body found on the ledge outside of Building 1 of the National Medical Center at 1:50 A.M. and pronounced dead at 1:55 A.M. Sunday, May 22, 1949, was identified as that of the late James V. Forrestal, a patient in the neuropsychiatric service of the United States Naval Hospital National Medical Center.

  2. That the late James V. Forrestal died about 1:50 A.M. on Sunday, May 22, 1949, at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, as a result of injuries, multiple extreme, received incident to a fall from a high point in the tower, Building 1.
  3. That the behavior of the deceased during the period of the stay in the hospital preceding his death was indicative of a mental depression.
  4. That the treatment and precautions in the conduct of the case were in agreement with accepted psychiatric practice and commensurate with the evident status of the patient at all times.
  5. That the death was not caused in any manner by the intent, fault, negligence or inefficiency of any person or persons in the naval service or connected therewith.

That' it folks. Notice what's missing. There is no conclusion of suicide. They just tell us that Forrestal died from a fall from a high point in the building and that he had been depressed, but they don't say who was responsible for the fall. They don't even make mention of the dressing gown sash that was knotted tightly around the body's neck, so they don't have to explain it. There was no police investigation, so this is the official last word on Forrestal's death. The findings upon which these conclusions are based were kept secret, and they remain secret to this day. If anyone did, indeed, witness Forrestal transcribing words from a poem onto a notepad shortly before he took his fatal plunge, it would be in the Review Board testimony. The author's Hoopes and Brinkley, in their extensive Forrestal biography, concealed from the readers the fact that this report has never been made public. Rogow mentioned the fact in passing in a footnote and made nothing of it, as though such things were routine and acceptable in this government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Finally, there is the matter of the motive and the likely suspects. It is no mystery at all Forrestal's greatest enemies were and who benefited immensely from his death.


When someone dies violenty and suspiciously, the usual question investigators want to answer is who had a murder motive. Did the deceased have enemies? Had he been threatened by anyone? Was there anyone who stood to gain from his death? If so, did the party or parties in question have anything in their past to indicate that they might be capable of murder, and did they have the opportunity to commit the crime?

In Forrestal's case, the answers are yes, yes, yes, and yes. For over a year he had been subject to a vilification campaign in the press the likes of which hardly any public official has ever had to endure in America. Leading the campaign, from the left and the right, respectively, were America's two best-known and most powerful syndicated columnists, Drew Pearson and Walter Winchell. They painted Forrestal as a corrupt tool of Wall Street and the oil companies who put the interests of is cronies ahead of concern for the well being of refugees from European persection. His big offense was that he was outspoken in his opposition to the creation of the state of Israel. The entire foreign policy establishment, led by Secretary of State Marshall, felt the same way, but the strong-willed Forrestal was the lightning rod for the supporters of Israel. He had received threatening telephone calls and he complained of being followed and electronically bugged. It has also been credibly reported that the Zionists attempted to blackmail him over the financial assistance that his investment banking firm, Dillon, Read, had given to the Nazis prior to WW II.

One might argue that because Israel had already been recognized by the United States by the time Forrestal died, and because he had been removed from the Truman cabinet and discredited by his breakdown and hospitalization, he was no longer a threat to the supporters of Israel. But he was a man of prominence, wealth, and determination who intended to buy a newspaper and to write a book that threatened to expose a number Roosevelt-Truman administration secrets, especially related to the machinations that brought the United States into World War II and the wartime policies that advanced the interests of the Soviet Union. His voluminous diary was confiscated by the Truman White House and its full contents have never been revealed.

Most important, though, it was feared that he would continue to work against the interests of Israel. The anonymous toward Forrestal continues to the present day in Zionist circles, who continue to characterize this most able and dedicated of public servants as an anti-semite and a nut.

If anyone within the Truman White House had anything to do with Forrestal's death, the most likely suspect would be the shadowy string-puller David Niles, a man with connections both to the Zionists and to the Communists. The previously mentioned author, Simpson, sees him as a likely suspect primarily because of his Communist affinities, and Simpson provides us with a laundry list of outrages perpetrated by the Communists in pursuit of world domination. But one should not overlook the ruthless record of the Israelis, from the assassinations of Lord Moyne and Count Benadotte and the bombing of the Kind David Hotel, all of which pre-dated the Forrestal death, right up to the more recent massacres in Qana and Jenin and the systematic assassination of Palestinian leaders.

And although the communists might well have had many infiltrators in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, no one has ever suggested that they dominate America's news media. It is the news media that has vigorously sold the story that James Forrestal committed suicide and has kept silent about the fact that the only serious government investigation of the death has been kept secret from the American public. The news media also heavily publicized the books by Rogow and Hoopes and Brinkley, which sell the suicide line, but they published not one single review of the critical book by Cornell Simpson.

David Martin

The Great Speckled Bird


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