by Bernard McCormick Friday, July 07, 2023 1 Comment(s)

The presidential candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is hard to read, given the division within his own family, but one positive effect is already apparent. He is calling attention to the CIA’s role in the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy. It may lead to something rare in today's climate: The truth. 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Kennedy gives confirmation of what this writer and most of those who have followed this crime since it happened in the 1960s have long believed. There is no doubt that the CIA was involved in both the execution and the decades-long cover-up. And that may be the principal reason we have never seen all the documents locked away in government vaults. Successive administrations, even after they promise to release information, apparently decide the truth is too damaging to our intelligence community to admit. And while it delays, most of those prominent in researching that historic murder have died, along with those who actually authorized or committed the crime.

 

As a bit player from the first challenges to the Warren Report in the 1960s, we have intense interest in anything a Kennedy says about the assassination. At the time of JFK’s murder, the Kennedys were notably quiet. Both Robert and Ted Kennedy issued identical statements about the Warren Commission report which concluded that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. Both said they had not read the report but had no reason to question its conclusion.

 

We have since learned that the brothers knew more than they said at the time. Within days of JFK’s murder, Bobby Kennedy through private channels got word to the Soviet Union’s Nikita Krushchev that he knew the Soviets were not involved – that this was a domestic murder. And RFK quietly followed events relating to his brother’s death – such as the highly publicized work of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, who uncovered suspicious individuals linked to the CIA but ultimately resulted in the acquittal of the man he accused of being part of a plot.

 

There aren’t many people left who were close to the original assassination doubters. We became one accidentally shortly after the Warren Commission Report in 1965. Our colleague at Philadelphia Magazine, Gaeton Fonzi, was contacted by a Philadelphia school board lawyer named Vincent Salandria who was one of the few people who had actually read the 26 volumes of the report.

Vincent Salandria, left, advised Gaeton Fonzi on his mission to get to JFK truth.

We sat in on Fonzi's first meeting with Salandria. A gaunt, unnervingly intense man, he pointed out the glaring inconsistencies in the Warren report regarding the wounds to JFK. He showed how “the single bullet theory” that had been conceived by Philadelphia attorney Arlen Specter, later a U.S. Senator, was impossible. The whole Warren Commission Report hinged on that element.

 

After presenting his compelling case, Salandria said, “Don’t you see it, boys, don’t you see it? There’s only one outfit who could have pulled this off.”

 

He meant, of course, the CIA. Fonzi was doubtful about going that far – until he interviewed Arlen Specter – and was shocked that he could not explain his own single bullet theory. Fonzi wrote as much in Philadelphia magazine and followed up with other articles. Fonzi’s Philadelphia work caught the attention of Richard Schweiker, who later as a U.S. Senator was a key figure in reopening the investigation of JFK’s death in the mid-1970s. Schweker hired Fonzi to look into CIA/anti-Castro activity in South Florida. He was convinced that Oswald was more than a lone gunman, saying he “had the fingerprints of intelligence all over him.”

 

Fonzi by this time was a partner in our Florida Gold Coast Magazine. He took the assignment confident that the assassination would be solved, especially when Richard Sprague, a brilliant and hard-nosed Philadelphia prosecutor, was selected to head the investigative committee. But Sprague quickly ran into trouble when he refused to sign a secrecy agreement with the CIA. He was in fact investigating its connections to Oswald. Right-wing politicians ganged up and forced Sprague to resign. To Fonzi, that was further proof that the CIA had something to hide.

 

He had already fulfilled Schweiker’s hunch that South Florida might be fertile ground. A prominent Miami anti-Castro leader, Antonio Vecianna, not knowing Fonzi was on the JFK case, casually told him he had seen Oswald in the company of his own CIA handler in Dallas not long before the assassination. Fonzi was stunned and pushed hard to discover that the CIA man, who used the alias Maurice Bishop, was actually David Atlee Phillips, a high-ranking CIA officer who was coordinating people involved in anti-Castro plots.

 

Despite the importance of his CIA discovery, Fonzi was ordered to spend time checking out possible Mafia involvement, which he could never establish. CIA operatives, notably Frank Sturgis of Watergate fame, made a game of sending him on time-consuming wild goose chases with tantalizing but bogus information that eventually led to CIA tricksters. Fonzi often worked out of our Gold Coast office so we followed his every step over several years.

 

He was disappointed in the committee’s final report, which he helped write. It did say JFK’s death was a conspiracy but was vague about the nature of the conspiracy. He decided to write a dissenting opinion. “The Last Investigation” first appeared in three installments in Gold Coast Magazine and a cover story in Washingtonian magazine. It detailed his findings about the CIA, including its motive. It represented a deep state that hated Kennedy, considering him a traitor who wanted to lessen tensions with the Soviets and wanted us out of Vietnam. These articles resulted in a lawsuit against the Washingtonian, which it won, but received little press at the time. However, the book has gone through several printings, and the New York Times has called it one of the best books on the assassination.

 

Fonzi’s work has influenced other researchers over the years. Mentioning all their revelations is too long and complex to appear here, but several government agencies were clearly involved. For starters, the disgraceful Warren Commission was never run by Chief Justice Earl Warren. It was controlled by Allen Dulles, the ex-CIA chief who had been fired by JFK after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The very man who should have been investigated ran the investigation. He was helped by the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, no fan of the Kennedys, whose bureau withheld important information from the Warren Commission, including CIA connections regarding Jack Ruby, the man who murdered Oswald.  And even the Secret Service was negligent in taking usual precautions for protecting the president and seemed a partner in the subsequent cover-up. Talk about a wide conspiracy. As Vince Salandria said in 1965, “There’s only one outfit that could have pulled this off.”

 

There aren’t many of us still around who had early exposure to the important critics of the JFK assassination. Just about all the people mentioned in this essay are gone. But we assume that Robert Kennedy is familiar with all these details and a lot more. Through necessity, the torch has been passed to a new generation. And Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is not a bad torch bearer.

 


by Bernard McCormick Friday, June 09, 2023 1 Comment(s)

The new civil war, that is the war to revise American history regarding slavery and the Civil War, has defined extremism on both sides. Florida Republicans want to remove the idea of slavery, and its aftermath, from our school curriculum. At the same time, leftists are steadily removing the idea of the Confederacy from the American consciousness by taking down statues and other reminders that it ever existed.

But until recently, the latter movement has only offended those who understand the Civil War in the context of the time it was fought. Lately, however, it has become personal. They have been changing the names of streets and places named after men once considered Southern heroes. These moves have not forced us to change our address or anything else. Now, however, our personal history is under attack.

Among the names of military posts recently changed from the Confederates for whom they were named, is a place where we spent one of the more memorable months of our youth learning the art of jumping out of airplanes. It was, at the time called Fort Benning, named after a Confederate general who isn’t remembered for much else.

The name was deeply rooted in history. It was at Fort Benning, an army infantry post, that our airborne force was begun in 1940. Over the years, thousands of paratroopers trained here. It just doesn’t seem right, or consistent with history, to say you trained at Fort Moore. That is the new name for Benning. It is named after a military couple, a Vietnam-era general, and his wife, an elite army mother.

The reason for the change of military bases is to dishonor men who once were honored – in a sense to deny the reality of the Civil War on the grounds that the men fought to preserve slavery. That itself is a distortion of history. Slavery was the economic factor which divided the states, but the average Confederate general, and almost all the grunts, fought for their states, their neighborhoods. Robert E. Lee is a prime example. The same for the north. Ordinary soldiers, including two of our great-grandmother’s brothers, died not to abolish slavery, but to preserve the Union and establish their worth as Irish Immigrants. The South thought states’ rights trumped the national government. And, as we see, states still often feel that way.

Back on topic. Some of the men, for whom military posts were named, were not deserving. Braxton Bragg, for instance, was hardly one of the Confederacy’s more successful generals. It would not bother us to see a better leader honored. But Fort Liberty? That’s the new name for Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Pre-war army buddy of Grant, General James Longstreet.

If the name changers wanted to be politically correct, they might have chosen to name Fort Benning after a different and far more noteworthy Georgian. James Longstreet was one of the most able Southern generals. He was second in command to Lee and advised Lee against the disastrous Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. He also was one of the first men to recognize the reality of firepower by entrenching his infantry. Moreover, Longstreet was a friend of Ulysses Grant, and did what he could to help Grant’s efforts to reunite the bitter country after the war. For that, he was resented in the South. It is no coincidence that he was ignored when it came to honoring Southern leaders. That alone should make him acceptable to those who wish to change history. For those who preserve the reality of slavery and the Civil War, he is a man worthy of honor. And it would not bother us to have done a little jumping in his name.


by Bernard McCormick Friday, April 21, 2023 2 Comment(s)

“Hello, this is Fox News calling with a new service – Make the Press.  Fox News management and star broadcasters have admitted that we tell our viewers what they want to hear, regardless whether it is true or not.  We don’t want to offend our viewers by telling them what they don’t want to hear.  So what news would you like to hear tonight?”

Viewer: That’s really thoughtful. Do you ask all your millions of viewers to participate?

“No, just the most stup – I mean the most faithful; People like you. It’s a very exclusive honor.”

Viewer: “Well, I’m flattered. Do you have any ideas that I should suggest?”

“No, that’s up to your own dumb – I mean your astute preferences about what most turns you on and keeps you watching Fox.”

Viewer: “Well I love anything that makes Donald Trump look good. And Biden bad. Like him and his son being Chinese pedophiles.”

“Do you want news on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas?”

“Who?”

“Clarence Thomas”

“Never heard of him.”

“Oh, I forgot. You watch us exclusively, and we don’t give such stories much play. We don’t want to disrespect the good people who watch us by telling woke stuff. That’s why we aren’t saying much about our multi-million settlement of the Domin - oops, I’m not supposed to mention that. Please redact that comment.”

“What does redact mean?”

***

Okay, Fox has not gotten this creative yet, but most observers think it will go right on, paying the settlement as a business cost, and continue, at best, distorting every political story, and at worst, lying so blatantly that it contributed to the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s capital.

Over the last 60-plus years, we have known a lot of journalists, from small-town newspaper reporters and editors to nationally known magazine writers, and we doubt if a single one of these pros has any respect for Fox News – at least the opinion broadcasters who attract most of their following. We consider them a disgrace to our profession.

Our distaste for these scoundrels may be greater than most – for good reason. This writer is among the declining few who saw Fox develop from a germ in one man’s mind and got to know one of its future stars long before he reached that role.

In 1969, Joe McGinniss, based in Philadelphia, wrote “The Selling of the President – 1968.” It was a number-one bestseller that introduced the world to Roger Ailes. Ailes was the young producer of the popular Mike Douglas Show, then broadcast out of KYW in Philadelphia. Ailes met former President Richard Nixon when he was a guest on the show and so impressed him with the power of TV in political campaigns that he hired Ailes to help manage his 1968 presidential campaign against Hubert Humphrey. McGinniss, who was just in his early 20s, in a bold move, quit his juicy job as the featured columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. An ad man told him the campaign would reinvent Nixon, and McGinniss thought that would make a highly readable book. He gave up his column to follow the campaign.

Roger Ailes in 1970s

Was he ever right, and Roger Ailes was the reason. He gave McGinniss, who conned him somewhat into thinking he was an unbiased observer, an extraordinarily intimate look at political manipulation. He openly shared his technique of exposing Nixon only to favorable press who asked programmed softball questions. Behind the scenes, he hilariously ridiculed his own candidate. It was a cynical performance, and McGinniss chronicled it all. Ailes was stunned by the exposure of his own candor, but his sense of betrayal was balanced by the fact that he looked like a media genius when Nixon won. He and McGinniss became friends.

Not long after the book appeared, we interviewed Ailes for Philadelphia magazine. It was not a long meeting, less than an hour in Ailes’ small office at KYW. But in that short time, Ailes defended his slanted presentation of Nixon by saying the mainstream media was pro-liberal Democratic and his goal was to establish a format that would even things up by being slanted toward conservative Republican causes.

Now his premise was suspect in the era of Huntley-Brinkley and Walter Cronkite, balanced newscasters who keep opinions to a minimum, but Ailes' goal seemed fantasy. There were only three big networks. But few people in 1969 saw cable news coming.

Just a few years later we got to know a future superstar of the new network Ailes would start. We had bought Miami Magazine, and Bill O’Reilly, who, fresh out of college and teaching high school in Miami,  freelanced briefly for our magazine. He came across as a can’t-miss kid – good-looking, talented, witty, and ambitious. We never talked politics with him but he hardly seemed like the right-wing commentator that made him famous at Fox.

A young Bill O'Reilly

He became friendly with our editorial partner, Gaeton Fonzi, and stayed in touch as he moved upward rapidly in various broadcast roles around the country. He was especially interested when, after O’Reilly had moved to Dallas, Fonzi, in the mid-1970s, became an investigator for the government committee that reopened an Inquiry into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was initially hired by Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker, who recalled Fonzi’s 1966 article in Philadelphia challenging the Warren Commission conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald alone murdered JFK. Schweiker was convinced Oswald was a U.S. intelligence operative, and Fonzi went a long way toward proving it when he discovered a contact between Oswald and a top CIA officer involved in anti-Castro activities in South Florida.

That story was a natural for O’Reilly, who was logging his own credits as an award-winning TV investigative reporter. He later co-wrote “Killing Kennedy.” By then, he had risen to become the star of Roger Ailes’ dream – the “fair and balanced” Fox News. It was never that, and those of us who admired O’Reilly’s success were puzzled by his seeming embrace of Fox’s slanted reporting. Fonzi, who remained friendly with O’Reilly until his death 10 years ago, summed it up tersely: “Bill took the money.”

So did a number of other Fox personalities, and the network finally paid a huge price for its kind. For the late Roger Ailes, who like O’Reilly was ousted from Fox on sexual harassment charges, today’s Fox may be a little too much. A recent New York Times history of Fox said at one point Ailes, who always wanted his baby to have a veneer of legitimacy, realized he had created a monster. Its thirst for money made it a servant to ratings, which dipped whenever Fox actually tried to be fair and balanced.

What now? The principal liars on Fox have not been forced to admit their behavior, and most media observers seem to think they will go on as before, a propaganda machine catering to a right-wing audience.

It seems to this writer, and many others, that what they are doing is borderline criminal. Charges could range from obstruction of justice to outright treason by poisoning the minds of millions of viewers, to the point of encouraging insurrections. Or, as some very recent moves have suggested, Fox ownership may decide to clean up its act. But that likely would mean honesting itself out of business.


by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, March 28, 2023 1 Comment(s)

FA who? That is one of the jokes associated with Florida Atlantic's historic rise from basketball anonymity to the upcoming NCAA final-four showdown in Houston next weekend. The Owls season, almost miraculously elevated by its arrival at the pinnacle of college basketball, has certainly put our local Boca Raton on the map for a lot of people. Many sports fans likely never even heard of the school before this season. Well, it may come as a surprise to them that FAU was not exactly born yesterday, nor is this its first exposure on the national stage. One needs only a bit of memory and knowledge of the right sports.

FAU was founded in 1964, initially with graduate programs only, and had grown impressively on its 850-acre modern campus, but it was not until 2001 that it gained real national attention. And that came with the announcement that Howard Schnellenberger, who lived nearby in Palm Beach County, was coming out of retirement to head and coach a new football program. Schnellenberger was already a South Florida legend, having been a key part of Miami Dolphins' 1972 season and later taking the University of Miami from football mediocrity to a national championship. It would be interesting to watch him build a team from scratch, and that began with the first opponent with a quaint name - Slippery Rock. FAU had little more than an intramural team and lost, 40-7, but the game drew 26,000 fans. Schnellenberger improved the quality of opposition as fast as he could, moving up to Division One and joining the Sun Belt Conference. By 2007, the Owls were good enough to beat a Big 10 opponent - Minnesota, and make its first bowl game appearance. Schnellenberger's calm, pipe-smoking style concealed his energy, and he found time to raise money for a campus stadium which opened in 2011. The program continues to seek higher status. This year's schedule includes Clemson and Illinois.

While football may not yet have gained NCAA playoff identity, the NCAA tournament is no stranger to another sport. College baseball gets far less press coverage than football and basketball, but FAU's name has long ranked among the top baseball programs. Going back to 1985, the Owls have made 14 NCAA regional tournaments and advanced to the super regional (equivalent to basketball "sweet sixteen") level in 2002. The current coach, John McCormack, who we have known since he was in grade school at St. Anthony in Fort Lauderdale, has been with the program 33 years, 15 as head coach. Under him, FAU has made the NCAA tournament six times. Like basketball, the NCAA tournament opens with 64 teams, but unlike basketball, it does not generate the same national frenzy.

FAU's John McCormack is not a stranger to the NCAA tournament in baseball.


So, instead of broadcasters saying FA who, they could say the Owls are familiar with post-season NCAA play, making the tournament 14 times. Just don't tell them what sport.


by Bernard McCormick Thursday, March 23, 2023 No Comment(s)

In this the season of St. Patrick, the Irish understandably take pride in their success in this country. But they had to fight their way in. There are only two clearly Irish names among the signers of the Declaration of Independence. One of them, Charles Carroll of Maryland, was one of the wealthiest men in the young nation, but there isn't a Sean, Kelly, Ryan, Brian, or Liam in that roster. The large immigration of the mid-1800s enabled the Irish to gain power in the big cities, and they have grown from machine politics to represent the nation with distinction in the highest capacities. Many former Presidents, including Barack Obama, have a least a dash of Irish blood, but today the ethnic group is largely defined by the mostly Catholic famine Irish of the mid-1800s. Foremost are political figures such as JFK and Robert Kennedy, Jimmy Byrnes (FDR's trusted secretary of state,) Ronald Reagan (sort of), Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the colorful Thomas (Tip) O'Neill and half-Irish George Mitchell, the man who largely brokered the treaty which ended the centuries-old Irish Troubles. Oddly, Bill Clinton claims Irish blood but can't prove it. But he and his wife are credited with aiding the Irish peace treaty, and, of course, there is our current president, Joe Biden, who wears his green as proudly as any of them. Our former haunt, Philadelphia, was proud of the Kelly family. John B. Kelly was an Olympic Rowing champion who built a construction company and was long a power in Democratic politics. He is also the father of Princess Grace. They are dozens more families like the Kellys, including a number of congressmen and governors serving today who hold promise of further success.

JFK enjoyed Irish pride.


We suspect we are not alone in checking the backgrounds of these individuals, their parents, schools, etc. to confirm Irish authenticity. And we wonder how many others share our concerns about the flip side of this equation - namely prominent figures with conspicuously Irish names who bring dishonor to the nationality. Anyone who lived through the era can vividly recall Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin. Irish Catholics initially embraced him proudly as a devoted anti-Communist out to save the country from the Soviet menace. That made their disappointment all the greater when he was revealed as a man drunk with power - alcoholism was suspected of his early death -who ruined lives with his reckless accusations. He died in disgrace.

Which brings us to today's contentious political atmosphere. Some Gaelic names stand out, like Joe McCarthy, as being on the wrong side of history. The two most obvious are Fox News broadcaster Sean Hannity and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy. Their Irish names could not be more flagrant, nor could their actions that besmirch the Irish reputation. Hannity, who appears to be Irish Catholic on both sides, is among those responsible for the legal problems facing Fox. His statements contributed to the distortions which have caused so many people to believe the big lie about Trump winning the election and their subsequent distrust of government in general. Among Fox's various defenses against lawsuits is the absurd notion that Hannity and other Fox stars are not really journalists, but rather opinion makers - sort of entertainers who should not be taken seriously. This from the cable outlet that from its origins claimed to be "fair and balanced." Hannity has disgraced an Irish name.

Kevin McCarthy's name seems just as Irish, but he is only Irish on one side. Although both his parents hail from traditionally Catholic roots, he is not a Catholic. And he surely does not share the values of the aforementioned Irish leaders, most of whom worked for the common good. He seems to have no principles, except the law of self-interest. His lust for personal power has compromised him to the extent that he is beholden to those who would overthrow Democracy as it has been long practiced in this country.

These two men appear to be so far gone that there seems little hope for redemption. We don't expect them to change, but we do wish they would change their names to some terrible ethnic group more deserving of their shameless conduct.


by Bernard McCormick Monday, March 13, 2023 No Comment(s)

The latest angle in the teaching of slave history in Florida schools is a semi-recant by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell for misstating Governor Ron DeSantis’ position on the subject. But she added that the governor “opposed the teaching of an African-American studies curriculum, as well as the use of some authors and source materials that some historians and teachers say makes it all but impossible for students to understand the broader historic and political context behind slavery and its aftermath in the years since.”

Ms. Mitchell likely refers to slavery in America, but she might have added that, contrary to some popular opinion, slavery was not invented in the American South. And the guilt complex that seems to annoy DeSantis should be properly distributed. So let us clarify the record. As a recent letter writer to the Sun-Sentinel pointed out, Europeans did not capture Africans and ship them to the Americas. White men were afraid to venture far from the West African coast because, among other things, they feared malaria, for which they had no immune protection. The slaves were captured by Africans themselves and brought to the coast and sold to the slave traders for transport. Often they were already slaves, captured in tribal warfare. One suspects that if the Africans had the ships, they would have cut out the European middlemen.

If brothers selling their racial brothers sounds abominably cruel, it wasn’t that unusual when Transatlantic Slavery began in the 15th century. Throughout recorded history, slavery had been a fact of life. European colonists did not introduce slavery to the Americas. It was already here. Some warlike American Indian tribes enslaved tribes they conquered, just as African tribes did.

In the old world, Greeks took slaves, often from North Africa. The Roman Empire was built on slavery. The Romans made slaves of much of Western Europe through their conquests, including the Bretons when they invaded what is now England.  With time, the slaves became Romans.

The fact is that most people worked all day just to survive, and if you could force somebody else to do your work, well that’s just the way it was. Late in the western world’s slave era, Europeans appear to have justified slavery on the grounds that the slaves came from less culturally advanced societies. You might call it systemic racism. It was the case when Europeans encountered American Indians, whose tribes has no sense of European nationhood and had not yet learned to employ the wheel. Indians were not enslaved in any numbers in North America, but they were deprived of their lands.

The industrial revolution was the beginning of the end of slavery in most of the world. Machines did the hard work, and gradually slavery was viewed in moral terms. Still, it was legal in most of the world until the early 1800s, about the same time as the debate began which ultimately led to the American Civil War.

And, since this is the season of St. Patrick, we might note that at the same time southern slavery was leading to war, the English domination of the Irish, which led to the great famine in which 1.5 million died, amounted to a polite form of slavery. The west of Ireland was dirt poor and survived on one breed of potato. The Irish had other crops, but when the potato crop failed, that potentially lifesaving food was forcefully exported to England.

And, of course, Germany and Japan in World War Two both enslaved many of the people they conquered. Nothing in the history of slavery rivals the Holocaust. Nor has slavery become extinct. Those who document such things say 40 million people today are effective slaves throughout the world.

This is not intended to endorse DeSantis’ pandering to the Trump cult and their prejudices, or the abuses of the prolonged Jim Crow era. But it does respond to Ms. Mitchell’s call for historical context – unpleasant as that may be.


by Bernard McCormick Thursday, February 16, 2023 No Comment(s)

Sunday, February 19, will mark 78 years since the wake of hundreds of landing crafts foamed the sea off a place most Americans had never heard of. It was a small island called Iwo Jima, and it was taken by the U.S. Marines in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific in World War Two. Before it was over, 7,000 Marines had been killed and 20,000 wounded, along with 22,000 Japanese defenders, almost all dead.

This painting by the late Fort Lauderdale artist Bob Jenny set off a remarkable chain of events.

Those American casualties were largely Marines, but other services took some losses as well. One of them was a Navy pilot, flying perhaps the only Navy plane to go down the day of the invasion. He was Lt. JG Thomas McCormick, my cousin.  There was a certain mystery about his death, one that was not explained until six decades had passed. We will get to that.

Tommy was a special man. His father, a year younger than my dad, had married young, my father not until 37. Thus the 15 years between us. I was eight years old the Christmas of 1944 when he came home on leave, less than two months before he died. I remember him as if it were yesterday, sitting around our breakfast table in his Navy blue uniform, a big, athletic and strikingly good-looking guy who was held in affection by all his relatives. He had grown up between Atlantic City and Philadelphia – his father was an alcoholic and separated from his mother. He had been a high school football star and played for what is now La Salle University, on the last team the school had before it dropped the sport in 1942 because so many of its students had left for the war.

 Tommy McCormick in his practice uniform at La Salle University in 1942.

Tommy flew a Chance Vought Kingfisher, the Navy’s float plane used for aerial observation and water rescues. It was catapulted from large ships, in his case the battleship USS Tennessee. He was lost during the Iwo Jima invasion, and for years that’s about all the family knew. The standard telegram to his mother in Atlantic City said he was missing in action, and the family waited a year hoping that, like a number of Navy pilots, he might show up on some remote island. In fact, he was never missing. Hundreds of men on ships saw his plane go down, and the Tennessee listed him as killed in its monthly report. It was also strange that Tommy’s mother never got a visit from a Navy representative, the usual protocol in such circumstances.

The mystery deepened decades later when my brother Frank, a Navy officer in Admiral Rickover’s nuclear program, decided to check the log of the Tennessee on that fateful morning. It revealed that Tommy’s plane broke apart without an explosion or signs of battle damage. Its tail assembly missing, it plunged quickly into the sea. Tommy and his observer never had a chance to bail out.

That struck us as strange, for the Kingfisher was a sturdy machine, capable of taking the stress of catapult launchings and rough water landings. The explanation came through a remarkable coincidence. The late Fort Lauderdale artist Bob Jenny, who loved painting aircraft, did a painting of a Kingfisher over the Tennessee the day of the invasion. It hangs in my office.  When I learned about the USS Tennessee Museum in Huntsville, Tennessee, I sent a copy, thinking it might interest them. The response was startling. The museum founder and curator, Paul Dawson, knew exactly who Tommy was. He even had photos we never knew existed, including one of Tommy flying his plane. It turned out his father had been the ship’s photographer and knew the handful of pilots aboard. He even flew with them to take aerial shots. He identified Tommy in photos he saved for decades.

USS Tennessee Museum curator Paul Dawson found this photo, never seen by the family, of Tommy McCormick piloting his plane.

Dawson took over from there. He searched the ship’s records and found that Tommy had crashed a plane in a rough water landing on his first tour to the Philippines in late 1944. Then came the bombshell. He discovered a confidential Iwo Jima “after battle” report that said that a projective had been seen to hit Tommy’s plane and knock the rear completely off. And in its concluding paragraphs, it said that it was possible that an errant shell fired from a long-range Navy gun may have been that projectile. It recommended that steps be taken to assure spotter stayed above the trajectory of the guns they were directing.

The first hint of the strange circumstances of Tommy's death was found by Frank McCormick in the log of the Battleship Tennessee.

That explained why there was no explosion when Tommy was hit. A large caliber shell would easily go through a small plane without exploding. And if the Navy suspected that happened, you can be pretty sure Tommy was killed by friendly fire. That also helped explain why the family never knew what happened. The report was confidential, and even after the war the Navy would not want to tell his grieving mother that her boy was killed by friendly fire.

This "after battle" report, supplied by Paul Dawson, was confidential and probably not seen since 1945. It suggests death by friendly fire.

But somebody obviously made a big mistake on that day. It was already standard procedure for pilots, even at relatively low altitudes, to keep well above the gunfire they were observing. And, by Iwo Jima, Tommy was experienced in obeying that rule, as were the gunners on the big ships.

So, as the fog of war lifts, a new mist appears. We can’t find an exact timeline, but Tommy was in the air an hour before the first marines hit the beach at 9 a.m. The Japanese deliberately let the landing site become crowded with men and equipment, who had a hard time moving across the surprisingly soft volcanic ash. Then, they put their clever plan into action. The initial opposition the Marines encountered had been at ground level, until they were surprised by devastating fire from hidden positions in caves on Mount Suribachi which overlooked the beach. Many of their casualties occurred in those first hours. Several days later the Marines captured it, memorialized in the famous flag-raising photo.

It would seem obvious that the supporting Navy ships would quickly shift from nearly direct fire on ground targets to the new higher ones on Suribachi. Tommy’s plane was hit about 10:50.  It went down off Suribachi, suggesting he was in position to observe that target. Could it have been that the big Navy guns were elevated to hit the higher targets before Tommy’s Kingfisher could gain the necessary altitude to stay above their trajectories? What we may have here is a failure of communication. We probably will never know.

After 78 years, the fog of war can be persistent.


by Bernard McCormick Thursday, February 16, 2023 4 Comment(s)

Sunday, February 19, will mark 78 years since the wake of hundreds of landing crafts foamed the sea off a place most Americans had never heard of. It was a small island called Iwo Jima, and it was taken by the U.S. Marines in the bloodiest battle of the Pacific in World War Two. Before it was over, 7,000 Marines had been killed and 20,000 wounded, along with 22,000 Japanese defenders, almost all dead.

This painting by the late Fort Lauderdale artist Bob Jenny set off a remarkable chain of events.

Those American casualties were largely Marines, but other services took some losses as well. One of them was a Navy pilot, flying perhaps the only Navy plane to go down the day of the invasion. He was Lt. JG Thomas McCormick, my cousin.  There was a certain mystery about his death, one that was not explained until six decades had passed. We will get to that.

Tommy was a special man. His father, a year younger than my dad, had married young, my father not until 37. Thus the 15 years between us. I was eight years old the Christmas of 1944 when he came home on leave, less than two months before he died. I remember him as if it were yesterday, sitting around our breakfast table in his Navy blue uniform, a big, athletic and strikingly good-looking guy who was held in affection by all his relatives. He had grown up between Atlantic City and Philadelphia – his father was an alcoholic and separated from his mother. He had been a high school football star and played for what is now La Salle University, on the last team the school had before it dropped the sport in 1942 because so many of its students had left for the war.

 Tommy McCormick in his practice uniform at La Salle University in 1942.

Tommy flew a Chance Vought Kingfisher, the Navy’s float plane used for aerial observation and water rescues. It was catapulted from large ships, in his case the battleship USS Tennessee. He was lost during the Iwo Jima invasion, and for years that’s about all the family knew. The standard telegram to his mother in Atlantic City said he was missing in action, and the family waited a year hoping that, like a number of Navy pilots, he might show up on some remote island. In fact, he was never missing. Hundreds of men on ships saw his plane go down, and the Tennessee listed him as killed in its monthly report. It was also strange that Tommy’s mother never got a visit from a Navy representative, the usual protocol in such circumstances.

The mystery deepened decades later when my brother Frank, a Navy officer in Admiral Rickover’s nuclear program, decided to check the log of the Tennessee on that fateful morning. It revealed that Tommy’s plane broke apart without an explosion or signs of battle damage. Its tail assembly missing, it plunged quickly into the sea. Tommy and his observer never had a chance to bail out.

That struck us as strange, for the Kingfisher was a sturdy machine, capable of taking the stress of catapult launchings and rough water landings. The explanation came through a remarkable coincidence. The late Fort Lauderdale artist Bob Jenny, who loved painting aircraft, did a painting of a Kingfisher over the Tennessee the day of the invasion. It hangs in my office.  When I learned about the USS Tennessee Museum in Huntsville, Tennessee, I sent a copy, thinking it might interest them. The response was startling. The museum founder and curator, Paul Dawson, knew exactly who Tommy was. He even had photos we never knew existed, including one of Tommy flying his plane. It turned out his father had been the ship’s photographer and knew the handful of pilots aboard. He even flew with them to take aerial shots. He identified Tommy in photos he saved for decades.

USS Tennessee Museum curator Paul Dawson found this photo, never seen by the family, of Tommy McCormick piloting his plane.

Dawson took over from there. He searched the ship’s records and found that Tommy had crashed a plane in a rough water landing on his first tour to the Philippines in late 1944. Then came the bombshell. He discovered a confidential Iwo Jima “after battle” report that said that a projective had been seen to hit Tommy’s plane and knock the rear completely off. And in its concluding paragraphs, it said that it was possible that an errant shell fired from a long-range Navy gun may have been that projectile. It recommended that steps be taken to assure spotter stayed above the trajectory of the guns they were directing.

The first hint of the strange circumstances of Tommy's death was found by Frank McCormick in the log of the Battleship Tennessee.

That explained why there was no explosion when Tommy was hit. A large caliber shell would easily go through a small plane without exploding. And if the Navy suspected that happened, you can be pretty sure Tommy was killed by friendly fire. That also helped explain why the family never knew what happened. The report was confidential, and even after the war the Navy would not want to tell his grieving mother that her boy was killed by friendly fire.

This "after battle" report, supplied by Paul Dawson, was confidential and probably not seen since 1945. It suggests death by friendly fire.

But somebody obviously made a big mistake on that day. It was already standard procedure for pilots, even at relatively low altitudes, to keep well above the gunfire they were observing. And, by Iwo Jima, Tommy was experienced in obeying that rule, as were the gunners on the big ships.

So, as the fog of war lifts, a new mist appears. We can’t find an exact timeline, but Tommy was in the air an hour before the first marines hit the beach at 9 a.m. The Japanese deliberately let the landing site become crowded with men and equipment, who had a hard time moving across the surprisingly soft volcanic ash. Then, they put their clever plan into action. The initial opposition the Marines encountered had been at ground level, until they were surprised by devastating fire from hidden positions in caves on Mount Suribachi which overlooked the beach. Many of their casualties occurred in those first hours. Several days later the Marines captured it, memorialized in the famous flag raising photo.

It would seem obvious that the supporting Navy ships would quickly shift from nearly direct fire on ground targets to the new higher ones on Suribachi. Tommy’s plane was hit about 10:50.  It went down off Suribachi, suggesting he was in position to observe that target. Could it have been that the big Navy guns were elevated to hit the higher targets before Tommy’s Kingfisher could gain the necessary altitude to stay above their trajectories? What we may have here is a failure of communication. We probably will never know.

After 78 years, the fog of war can be persistent.


by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, January 31, 2023 1 Comment(s)

Sunday’s Sun-Sentinel column by Steve Bousquet – huge insider contracts in a previously obscure entity known as the North Springs Improvement District, which operates in Coral Springs and Parkland. Contracts worth $16 million have gone to companies owned by the man who apparently controls the purse strings of this quasi-government entity that has little oversight.

Bousquet credits the story to Bob Norman, a long-time investigative reporter who has broken or collaborated on some of the biggest scandals of the last 30 years. Not surprisingly, a spokesman for the embattled district used the Trump/DeSantis style defense – attacking the messenger.

Bob Norman joined TV Local 10 in May 2011 after 13 years as a print journalist in South Florida. 

In Bousquet’s words, the spokesman attacked a “blogger who does not work for a reputable news company.” This suggests Norman is some sort of gadfly who can’t be trusted. Woah. This is a writer who, beginning in the 1990s when he was the star reporter for Broward New Times, was deeply involved in the Scott Rothstein Ponzi scheme financial fraud case, caused a major shakeup in the North Broward Hospital District which had been beset with political manipulations and led a number of other high profile investigations which won him numerous journalism awards. Hardly a nobody.

Norman today is editor of the Florida Center for Government Accountability, a watchdog organization. If one wonders how he wound up with the current investigation, the reason traces to the decline of major newspapers. Constant staff cutting has left them without the resources to act on tips that lead to investigations. The Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald both do an admirable job of reporting on the attempted dictatorship of Governor DeSantis and other major events, but their small staffs are too busy covering daily murders and immigrant drownings to adequately cover all the lesser-known entities such as the North Springs Improvement District, which are ripe for insider exploitation.

Norman’s work is part of a national trend. Top reporters for major papers, who have been forced into early retirement or been laid off, have formed independent groups filling the void left when papers came under financial pressure. These organizations operate on a shoestring, often use highly motivated volunteers, and rely on contributions from those interested in good government. These watchdog organizations rarely have large online followings, but they reach influential figures, as well as mainstream media. The Sun-Sentinel’s Bousquet picking up Bob Norman’s work is an example.

Other organizations doing similar work locally are Florida Bulldog, headed by Dan Christensen, which has broken stories of national importance such as high-placed Saudi Arabians involved in the 9-11 attacks, and Broward Beat, Buddy Nevins’ blog, which concentrates on local politics.

Media, especially print, is in sad shape these days. Whole networks are devoted to distortion of the daily news or direct misinformation. Nonsense abounds, to the point that some people think God is calling them to overthrow their demonic government. In such troubled times, blessed are the messengers.


by Bernard McCormick Wednesday, January 25, 2023 3 Comment(s)

A phenomenon of our time is that things we once took for granted, such as history, are now being challenged. Florida leads the way in making sure our schools, at least the public ones, are not poisoning young people’s minds with woke nonsense, such as that slavery once existed in our country and the residual effects have taken a long time to overcome.

In investigating this controversial subject, we have discovered that among the many myths long promulgated in our history books was that there once was a Civil War. Admittedly there was a problem, back in the 1860s, when what started as a peaceful protest in South Carolina got a little out of hand. But like the more recent Jan. 6th Washington event, it was really just patriots exercising free speech. And when General Sherman, if he ever really existed, marched across Georgia, it was just typical tourists from Minnesota wanting to see how their southern neighbors got on.

Over the years, various commercial interests have taken advantage of the Civil War myth to make money. Battles that many people still believe actually happened are products of local chambers of commerce, aided by willing Hollywood filmmakers and other media. As columnist George Will has noted, visitors to Gettysburg have been heard saying there could not have been much of a battle there because there are no bullet holes on the monuments. In fact, many of these so-called battles appear to be concocted just to attract visitors to our national parks.

We can trace the Civil War myth back to the 1920s when Margaret Mitchell wrote a book called “Gone With The Wind” which later became a wildly popular movie. With characters such as Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, and Mammy, none of whom ever existed, it made war seem so romantic that writers have been enlarging the theme ever since. You might call it systemic fairy tales, whatever that means.

The 1939 film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone with the Wind’ starring Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel as Scarlett O’Hara and Mammy.

Once these historical myths get rolling, they are hard to contain. Getting the Civil War out of our history books altogether may be a hopeless task. There is too much money being made by producers of Confederate flags and politicians keeping their names alive by arguing about woke stuff. But as long as Republicans control Florida, we can expect them to give it the old college try. Although, they aren’t likely to permit the topic to be discussed in college.