Private Schrand

The death of Private Schrand is one of the more interesting incidents that the Warren Commission investigated.  While on guard duty at Cubi Point in the Phillipines, a shot rang out on January 5, 1958.  The responding servicemen found Private Schrand shot by his own weapon(1).  He was on guard duty outside of a hanger which housed a U-2 airplane.  Private Schrand would die on route to the hospital from the wounds sustained from the M-12 shotgun(2).

In reporting to his post for guard duty, Private Schrand was inspected, his weapon was empty, and he was given five shells which he stored in his pocket.  His orders and training were very clear, he was to keep his weapon unloaded and the safety on unless ordered to arm the weapon or to protect the hanger(3).  At the time of his death, he had four unused shells in his pocket, and one used shell in the chamber.  The investigation into his death was conducted and  concluded that Private Schrand had disobeyed his orders, had armed his weapon,taken off the safety,  and that he had accidentally shot himself in the line of duty.  His fellow soldiers stated that he had a “bug” for practicing the manual of arms.  The weapon discharge went through his right armpit and exited through the left side of his neck.  The conclusion of the investigation was that he dropped the weapon on the butt plate causing the weapon to discharge(4).

Lee Harvey Oswald had been stationed with Pvt. Schrand during his military career.  They trained together in Biloxi, MI, Santa Ana, CA and they were stationed together at Cubi Point, in the Phillipines (5).  Rumors that Oswald was responsible for the death of Shrand circulated.  The Warren Commission reopened the investigation, but never actually questioned Donald Camarta, who served with both men.  We do have the following affadavit:

The following affidavit was executed by Donald Peter Camarata on May 19, 1964.

PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION
ON THE ASSASSINATION OF AFFIDAVIT
PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY

STATE OF CALIFORNIA,
County of Santa Cruz, ss:

I, Donald Peter Camarata, 601 Burlingame Avenue, Capitola, California, being first duly sworn, depose and say:
That Lee Harvey Oswald and I were concurrently stationed at the following military installations while we were both members of the United States Marine Corps: Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi; the Marine Air Stations at El Tore and Santa Ana, California, and possibly the Naval Air Station at Jacksonville, Florida. Although I served in the Far East, Oswald and I were not in the same unit at that time.

While in the Marine Corps, I heard from other Marines that Oswald was studying Russian. I personally observed that Oswald had his name written in Russian on one of his jackets, and played records of Russian songs so loud that one could hear them outside the barracks.

Either en route back to the United States or subsequent to my return, I heard a rumor to the effect that Oswald had been in some way responsible for the death of Martin Schrand. I have no personal knowledge of any such involvement. I do not remember who told me of this rumor, and am not even certain that I heard it from more than one person.

Oswald seldom, if ever, left the post in the company of other Marines. I would not characterize Oswald as an extremely unfriendly person; he simply did not often choose to be with his fellow Marines off post.
Oswald was not particularly prone to fighting. Although he apparently resented the orders of his superiors no more than does the average Marine, he was more outspoken than average in his resentment. However, he generally followed such orders.

Donald Camara came forward almost immediately after the assassination on November 28, 1963 (6),   His coming forward triggered a teletype inquiring to find out if Oswald was on guard duty with Schrand on November 29(7).   Within 48 hours the FBI had a response indicating that nobody was on duty with Schrand (8), contrary to the statements in the investigation of 1958, which indicated there were other people on duty at different points.  Mr. Camara was not the only Marine to reach out to the Warren Commission about this incident, another Marine, Richard Call provided information to the commission, causing the Commission to request the Office of Naval Intelligence to look into the situation.  It is interesting that the request from the Commission for these men to be interviewed by ONI was cancelled.  They furnished the Warren Commission with copies of the investigation conducted in 1958.  In addition they conducted a study on the M-12.  That study demonstrated that the gun would fire almost on- third of the times when it was dropped on its butt plate (9).

The Warren Commission did question a third Marine who was stationed with Oswald and Schrand.  His name was Daniel Patrick Powers.  Donald Camara had claimed that Powers may have more to say about Oswald being involved in Pvt. Shrand’s death(10). Powers had this to say about this incident:

Mr. Powers.Yes; he was–this happened after I arrived from the Japanese mainland. He was on guard duty one evening and he was shot to death. Now, I have never seen the official report or anything, but the scuttlebutt at that time was that he was shot underneath the right arm and it came up from underneath the left neck, and it was by a shotgun which we were authorized to carry while we were on guard duty.

Mr. Jenner.Were these also sometimes called riot guns?

Mr. Powers.Riot guns; yes. And that is the only thing that–significance I attach to it other than he was either leaning against the shotgun or was fooling with it, but he was shot anyway.

Mr. Jenner.Was there you don’t know what the official finding was with respect to—-

Mr. Powers.No; I do not. I never had access to anything of this nature.

Mr. Jenner.Was there any scuttlebutt about it?

Mr. Powers.No; other than that he was fooling with the weapon. Other than that, we couldn’t–as I recall, we could never realize how a ‘guy could have shot himself there other than he was leaning on it this way [indicating], and “boom,” it went off.

Mr. Jenner.As far as you boys were concerned at that time, was there any scuttlebutt or speculation about anyone of you being involved in that incident?

Mr. Powers.Not to my recollection at all.

Mr. Jenner.When I say “you,” that includes Oswald.

Mr. Powers.Not that I know of; no, sir. (11)

The Warren Commission did not look any further into this.  The office of ONI never interviewed the men in Oswald’s unit.  The Warren Commission interviewed one man about the Schrand incident and concluded that there was nothing to this story. Ultimately, the House Select Committee on Assassinations revisited this and there was more detail in the rumors.  The report to the HSCA included a tidbit that Oswald was attempting to get into the hanger that held the U-2 spyplane, resulting in the death of Pvt. Schrand(12)

There are a few things that make no sense.  The Marines were not to put a shell into their weapon unless there was a reason to, an intruder attempting to access the hanger, or if they were ordered to.  The explanation that Pvt. Schrand placed a shell into the weapon to do the Manual of Arms, makes no sense at all, as any soldier knows, you do not need to arm the weapon to complete this drill.  In addition, the safety was taken off the weapon in order for it to fire.  This would indicate that since he was not ordered to arm the weapon, he armed it for a purpose.  The examination conducted by ONI dropping the weapon to determine if it would misfire was completed with the safety off.  Something does not make sense here if he was doing the Manual of Arms.

In The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dick Russell hypothesizes that Oswald was indeed involved in this incident(13).  He ties this into the testimony of James B. Wilcott, who worked for the CIA in Tokyo.  He wrote a report detailing what he understood to be the truth and testified before the HSCA.  James Wilcott brought to light the fact that at the Tokyo station is was well known that Oswald was recruited to be a double agent from the military.  Was this incident the “handle” that Wilcott mentions below?

Wilcott passed the stress test administered to him and passed (14).  One wonders if this is another example of the Commission not following leads because of operational secrecy?  This would fit with the lack of investigation into Mexico City, and other leads, for example Oswald’s cousin who may have been operating on behalf of an intelligence agency.  There is no doubt the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations were guided away from the CIA involvement.

One thing is for certain, those that think the Warren Commission was about setting up Oswald, should think long and hard about this.  They had the golden opportunity to make him look like a killer here and they decided he was not.  This would be strange behavior from a group that wanted to set him up as the lone assassin.

(1) Commission Document 492 – DOD Bartimo Letter of 11 Mar 1964 with Official Records of Schrand Death

(2) Statement of Robert Holt

(3) Statement of Herbert Cherrie

(4) January 9, 1958 Report

(5) The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dick Russell

(6) FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 41

(7) Urgent FBI Teletype, November 29, 1963

(8) FBI 105-82555 Oswald HQ File, Section 41

(9)Commission Document 1042 – Navy Hearn Letter of 27 May 1964 re: Naval Intelligence Report on Oswald

(10) Testimony of Daniel Patrick Powers

(11) Testimony of Daniel Patrick Powers

(12) VOLUME I: HSCA REVIEW AT HQ – OSWALD’S CHRONOLOGY BASED UPON WARREN CO

(13)  The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dick Russell

(14) HSCA Security Classified Testimony, James Wilcott, 3-22-78

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