So how good a shot was Oswald? Could he have pulled off the feat of marksmanship attributed to him by the Warren Commission and the various lone-nut theorists?
Let’s look at the evidence. The Warren Commission’s Anderson Exhibit 1 is the best documentary evidence available of Oswald’s tested abilities with a firearm. It was prepared by Lieutenant Colonel A.G. Folsom, Jr. of the United States Marine Corps. It’s a 3-page document. On the second page, you’ll find that Oswald was tested twice with a rifle, on 12/21/1956 and on 5/6/1959. The first time he scored a 212, just above the minimum sharpshooter qualification score of 210. On his second try, near the end of his stint in the Marines and after more that two and a half years in the Corps, he barely qualified as a marksman, the lowest designation available. He scored 191, just above the minimum qualification score of 190. There are three overall levels of ability, marksman being the lowest, sharpshooter the middle, and expert the highest. This means that in his first M-1 qualification he scored at the low end of the middle level of sharpshooter, and in his last qualification he scored at the very low end of the lowest designation of marksman.
Lone-nut theorists and Warren Commission apologists will say “see, he was a good shot, or at least an average shot for a Marine, which would make him an excellent shot compared to the average person”. They’re failing to read what Folsom says in the document:
The Marine Corps considers that any reasonable application of the instructions given to Marines should permit them to become qualified at least as a marksman. To become qualified as a sharpshooter, the Marine Corps is of the opinion that most Marines with a reasonable amount of adaptability to weapons firing can become so qualified. Consequently, a low marksman qualification indicates a rather poor “shot” and a sharpshooter qualification indicates a fairly good “shot”. (WC Vol. XIX)
Translation: Anyone who follows instructions and can walk and chew gum at the same time should be able to qualify as a marksman, and most Marines with any adaptability to firearms ought to be able to become a sharpshooter. You’ll notice if you read the document carefully that on his first test with the M-1 Oswald required 2 weeks on the course and 400 rounds of ammo. By his 3rd year in the Marines, Folsom is indicating he was a “rather poor shot” with the M-1 rifle, based on his very low “marksman” score of 191. Again, he’s at the very low end of the lowest possible qualification.
Nelson Delgado was one of the people closest to Oswald during his last year in the Marines and may have known him better than any of his other colleagues. Delgado was interviewed extensively by the Warren Commission, and he provides some fascinating insight into Oswald’s shooting abilities, or lack thereof. He testified that Oswald was not proficient with his rifle and kept getting “gigged” at inspection for the poor condition of his weapon; that he could never be bothered to clean or maintain it. Delgado was present at Oswald’s second firing-range qualification:
Mr. Liebeler: Did you fire with Oswald?
Mr. Delgado: Right; I was in the same line. By that I mean we were on line together, the same time, but not firing at the same position, but at the same time, and I remember seeing his. It was a pretty big joke, because he got a lot of ‘Maggie’s drawers’, you know, a lot of misses, but he didn’t give a darn.
Mr. Liebeler: Missed the target completely?
Mr. Delgado: He just qualified, that’s it. He wasn’t as enthusiastic as the rest of us. We all loved – liked, you know, going to the range. (WC Vol. VIII, pg. 235).
Delgado further elaborates on Oswald’s shooting abilities in this interview with Mark Lane in 1966. He was hardly alone, though, in denigrating Oswald’s shooting ability. Author and researcher Henry Hurt interviewed dozens of Oswald’s fellow Marines:
In 1977 the author [Hurt] located and interviewed more than fifty of Oswald’s Marine Corps colleagues … . On the subject of Oswald’s shooting ability, there was virtually no exception to Delgado’s opinion that it was laughable. (Hurt, Henry, Reasonable Doubt, An Investigation into the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1985, pg. 99).
Hurt quotes Oswald’s fellow Marine Sherman Cooley:
“If I had to pick one man in the whole United States to shoot me, I’d pick Oswald. I saw that man shoot, and there’s no way he could have ever learned to shoot well enough to do what they accused him of. Take me, I’m one of the best shots around, and I couldn’t have done it.” (Ibid).
Hurt says that many of Oswald’s Marine colleagues noted a “lack of coordination” in Oswald that factored into his difficulty with firearms:
Repeatedly, as an illustration of his ineptitude, the former Marines harked back to the time Oswald managed to shoot himself in the arm while fooling with an unauthorized pistol he had stashed in his locker. (Ibid, pg. 100)
Oswald’s inability to drive a car is also very well documented. On October 13th, 1963, less than six weeks before the assasination, he received a driving lesson from his wife Marina’s friend Ruth Paine. Here is how she described it to the Warren Commission:
It became clear to me in that lesson that he was very unskilled in driving. We practiced a number of the things you need to know, to back up, to turn, right angle turn to come to a stop. (WC Vol. II, pg. 505)
I noticed when we got to the parking lot when he attempted to turn in a right angle he made the usual mistake of a beginner of turning too much and then having to correct it. He was not familiar with the delay of the steering wheel in relation to the wheels … (Ibid, pg. 506)
If it seems harder and harder to imagine this same Oswald as somehow managing to turn himself into the Action-Jackson stud capable of pulling off the assassination with multiple hits on a moving target, consider the rifle he was supposed to have done it with. Oswald’s 6.5mm Mannlicher Carcano, made in Italy in 1940, is considered, even by Warren Commission apologists, to be a piece of garbage. Author and researcher Barry Ernest got up-close and personal with this weapon when he visited the National Archives in July, 1968:
One thing I determined after nearly an hour examining the Carcano was that, even at the $12.78 purchase price, Oswald had paid too much for this thing.
It was cheap in cost, even cheaper looking. … In its present state it appeared better suited as a club to thwack its intended victim rather than shoot him. … (Ernest, Barry W., The Girl On The Stairs, My Search for a Missing Witness to the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, 2010)
Ernest further elaborates that the trigger was “tricky” and became hard to pull back, and that the manual bolt was “sluggish and sticky”. It’s a key point that none of the shooting experts consulted by either the Warren Commission or the House Select Committee on Assassinations were able to duplicate Oswald’s shooting feat using that particular rifle. If these expert shots couldn’t do it, how could Private “Maggie’s Drawers” have pulled it off?
Finally, I’d like to leave you with one last item I came across while researching this topic. It’s a 1993 article from the Los Angeles Times titled, “Oswald’s Ex-Captain Takes Aim at Single-Shooter Theory”, and it seems to sum up the general feeling in the Marines at the time on Oswald’s abilities with a rifle. It’s an interview with Robert Block, who was Oswald’s Captain from late 1958 until Oswald left the Marines in the fall of 1959, the same period Nelson Delgado knew him. In 1963, when his unit heard that Oswald was Kennedy’s alleged assassin, they were incredulous:
Block went back to his unit headquarters. “Everybody was talking about Oswald. Everybody’s first thought was, ‘No way’,” Block said. “It was a disbelief that he would have been able to accomplish something like that and even further disbelief when the mechanics of it were broadcast. I don’t care what kind of rifle he had. I don’t think it would have been within his capability.”
Oswald’s marksmanship has been a key part of the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination. His Marine rating was “sharpshooter”, and while that is the middle range of three levels of expertise, Block said, “Really, you see a sharpshooter badge on a Marine – I’d be ashamed to have it on my chest.”
Many argue the fatal shots were well within Oswald’s capabilities, but Block disagrees. “You’ve got a moving target there, and when you’re talking about hitting somebody in the head from that distance and that angle, it just boggles my mind that he would even have that capability.” (Dana Parsons, Oswald’s Ex-Captain Takes Aim at Single-Shooter Theory, Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1993)
It seems, then, that among those who knew him best, the verdict was virtually unanimous: Oswald was a poor shot and, therefore, an unlikely assassin.