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Oswald's Other Role Model

By Gary Hill

“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.”

George Bernard Shaw

Lee Oswald's father died before he was born. Other than his older brothers, the only father figure in his early life was his step father Edwin Ekdahl. That connection however, was short lived. Oswald's shrewish mother soon destroyed her relationship with Ekdahl as she had many others.

It is well known that Lee's favorite tv show as a child was “I Led Three Lives.” It was the semi-true story of Herbert Philbrick who spied on CPUSA for the FBI while pretending to be an innocent business and family man. A modus operandi was similar to that of Clark Kent. That Oswald was a Herb Philbrick wannabe is a theme I explored a lot in my book, The Other Oswald a Wilderness of Mirrors.[1] But there is another individual that influenced Oswald's actions somewhat later as a role model. LHO identified with this man in his aspiration to become a soldier of fortune and a revolutionary figure. William Morgan was undoubtedly a hero to Lee Harvey Oswald.

William Alexander Morgan was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on April 19, 1928 to affluent parents. Morgan was a bad boy in high school and was expelled four times from four different schools. He was also an habitual runaway. In 1943 at age 14 he joined a circus. His father succeeded in tracking him down in Chicago and brought him home. By the time he was 16 he was arrested on grand larceny charges. He dropped out of high school and joined the Merchant Marines. While working on the Toledo docks he became involved with gangsters affiliated with mafioso.

Morgan joined the Army when he turned 18 years old. After basic and advanced infantry training stateside he was sent to occupied Japan. Like Oswald, he spent time at the Atsugi Army-Air Force base. Like Oswald, Morgan became involved with an attractive Japanese woman who worked in a nightclub.[2] After going AWOL several times, he was court martialed in 1947. He then escaped from the Kyoto stockade by overpowering a guard and stealing his uniform and weapon. He was recaptured, court martialed again, found guilty on charges for his escape, assault, armed robbery and sentenced to five years hard labor. He ended up serving three years in a Federal prison.

As an ex-con with a dishonorable discharge Morgan had few career opportunities when he returned to Toledo. As a result he reestablished himself as a street soldier with the Toledo mob, serving as a driver, runner and lookout for gambling houses. At this point he once again fell back on his childhood fantasies and joined the Ringling Brothers Circus. Reinventing himself as a fire eater or sword swallower, depending on who tells the story, he married a woman snake charmer named Terese Bethel and had two children. In 1954 the family moved to Miami.[3] Morgan was 26. Again the mob became his source of income. He became a clown and bouncer at a famous Miami nightclub. It was from the Miami Cuban exile community that he learned of the revolution taking place in Cuba. The mob was smuggling army surplus weapons into Cuba and Morgan accepted an offer to be part of this operation.

In 1956, Morgan was seen in Tampa, Fla., as well as further south in the Florida Keys. Former numbers runner for the Trafficante crime family, Michael Falcone, said that Morgan “was a familiar face around here in the mid-’50s.” Falcone remembered, “He was with the outfit that was running guns to Cuba, a pretty lucrative undertaking back then.” Falcone was not alone in his witnessing Morgan’s gunrunning. Others have come forward to confirm that for about 16 months, Morgan traveled between Tampa and Miami, and occasionally to Houston, Texas, and Hope, Ark., arranging large shipments of Cuba-bound weapons.[4] One can connect the dots. Gunrunning-Tampa-Santo Traficante.

Transcripts (1978) from the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations reveal that Morgan had dealings with Robert Ray McKeown, a Texas-based businessman and convicted gunrunner who was once approached by Jack Ruby for a letter of introduction to Fidell Castro. Ruby was also running guns to Cuba at the time. McKeown, had been deported in 1957 from Cuba by Batista. A close friend of former Cuban President Carlos Prio Socarras, it was McKeown that allegedly helped spirit $300 million into the U.S. when Prio moved to Miami. McKeown was also quite close with Fidel Castro.

Morgan vaguely alluded to contacts he had in Florida with the militant CIA supported group Directoro Revolucinario. When Morgan was in Florida he had contacts with CIA operatives that included future-Watergate burglars Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis, and Mafia go-between Johnny Rosselli according to former Intelligence officials.

In February 1958, using a made up story of wanting to extract revenge for a close friend who had been murdered by Batista, Morgan convinced a group of exiles to allow him to accompany them to Cuba. Unable to join Castro in the distant Sierra Maestra mountains, he turned up in the highlands in the Escambray Mountains looking to join the anti-Batista rebels of the Second Front of the Escambray, headed by Eloy Menoyo. A Time magazine interview with former rebel Roger Redondo said he suspected Morgan worked “for the CIA or FBI” but that the American was allowed to stay and assist with training anyway.

Morgan helped train the rebels and within a few weeks was leading rebel bands in vicious attacks against Batista’s troops. He was quickly promoted to the rank of major in the National Second Front of the Escambray, and by 1957 the coveted rank of Comandante.[5]He is the kind of American that Cuba needs,” extolled Fidel Castro.

Morgan's exploits were sensationalized in the New York Times who dubbed him “the Yanqui Commandante.” Portrayed as a national celebrity, there was no mention of his dishonorable discharge or prison record. In fact, embellishments were added to his legend, including his Korean War exploits as a master paratrooper. All this was total hogwash of course.

In September 1959 the U.S. State Department revoked Morgan's U.S. citizenship based on a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that forbids U.S. citizens to serve in foreign armies. Said to be devastated by the action, he argued that he had never done anything against American interests.

Known as “El Americano” and “the Yankee Commando,” he painted himself as a freedom fighter to American press and insisted that Castro was not a communist.

Batista took exile in the Domincan Republic with his protector, dictator Rafael Trujillo, and together they plotted the demise of Castro. Likely the CIA was involved in this scheming as well. Morgan was approached and supposedly offered a million dollars to help them pull off a coup that included Morgan killing Castro. Morgan immediately warned Castro of the upcoming coup and Castro decided to use Morgan as bait to set a trap. The trap worked perfectly and Castro's forces crushed the opposition. William Morgan was once again a hero of the revolution.

After the Revolution he settled down, and as weird as it sounds, started a frog farm, shipping frozen frog legs to the U.S. But when Castro changed direction and began nationalizing industries, seizing private property, curbing human rights, and aligning with the Soviet Union, Morgan was vocally critical of him. Approached by anti-Castro exiles in conjunction with CIA, Morgan agreed to lead a group of rebels in the mountains once again as part of the upcoming Bay of Pigs operation. He was, however, betrayed by Castro infiltrators of his own ranks and ordered to return to Havana by Fidell. In 1961, Castro put him against a wall and he was shot. It was one month prior to the Bay of Pigs debacle, in which he could well have been useful in on the counterrevolutionary side.

In an article entitled “The American Comandante in the Cuban Revolutionary Forces: William Morgan,” posted on May 16, 2012, the Comandante's ordeal before Castro's firing squad is portrayed in vivid detail as follows;

“According to eyewitnesses, Morgan was led out into an open field to face a firing squad of seven men. Standing with his hands tied behind his back, several floodlights were focused on him. A voice, out of the darkness, ordered him to kneel down. Morgan refused by shaking his head.

“Kneel and beg for your life,” the voice again commanded.

“I kneel for no man,” Morgan shouted back.

Then an order was given, some say by Castro himself, and a member of the firing squad stepped forward and shot Morgan in his right knee. Morgan still did not go down, and another round was fired into his left knee. Morgan fell to the ground withering in pain. Forcing one of his wrists into his mouth, he bit down hard so as not to cry out in pain. Six years later in Bolivia, Guevara would do the same thing after he was shot as a CIA agent looked on.

With Morgan on the ground, the voice shouted, “There! You see, we made you kneel.”

Morgan spat blood in response, and another marksman fired a round into his right shoulder. When Morgan still made no sound, his left shoulder was shattered by another bullet.

Then the captain of the firing squad approached and fired a full clip from his machine gun into Morgan’s chest. Needlessly, another soldier fired five revolver rounds into Morgan’s head.

A local priest, Rev. Dario Casado, who helped bury Morgan’s body in nearby Colon Cemetery, said that there was nothing left of Morgan’s face.


William Morgan, like Lee Oswald, was one of those illusive soldiers of fortune who are difficult if not impossible to categorize. Sometimes in league with gangsters, sometimes with leftists or rightists and at the same time loosely integrated within the intelligence community. Oswald cited Morgan as a personal hero. Like Oswald, some speculate that Morgan was CIA the whole time, since there are periods of his life, dating back to his days in the military, that can’t be accounted for. Both men were stationed at Atsugi, a CIA base. Both had affairs with Japanese nightclub women. At least in Oswald's case it seemed related to an intelligence assignment. Both were enamored with Cuba and wanted to go there. Oswald didn't make it, Morgan did. Both seemed to be failures with no direction or future in their youth. Both were involved with Cuban exiles and possibly with organized crime figures. Marcello in Oswald's case and Trafficante in Morgan's.

June Cobb, Castro intimate, CIA operative and femme fatale, was friends with William Morgan in Cuba. Like Morgan, she believed it unthinkable that Communism would be embraced by Castro or the people of Cuba. When Castro had Morgan shot, Cobb, fearing for her own life, escaped Cuba. Her next assignment was Mexico City where she monitored Cuban agents, as well as Mexicans who were sympathetic to Castro. One of these was Oswald and her time there coincided with Oswald's visit.

A year after the assassination of JFK, she reported to her CIA boss, David Atlee Phillips, that she had identified a trio of witnesses who could tie Lee Harvey Oswald to Cuban diplomats and spies in Mexico City. FOIA documents show that three sources, including a well known Mexican writer, stated that they had seen Oswald at a “twist party” at the home of Ruben and Sylvia Duran, the woman who Oswald had supposedly spoken to at the Cuban Embassy. Cuban diplomats and others who displayed anti-Kennedy sentiments were also present. The sources indicated that Oswald was not alone. He had two American compatriots with him, apparently traveling companions, who looked like beatniks. If true, this is evidence of Cuban influence in the assassination or an attempt to incriminate them.

The CIA’s Mexico City station, its files reveal, downplayed Cobb’s report. Her report contradicted the official story that Oswald was a lone nut, and that the Agency was powerless to have done anything to stop him. The CIA, therefore, withheld this information from the Warren Commission. A 2013 report by the CIA’s in-house historian, confirms that the agency had conducted a “benign cover-up” in the years immediately after Kennedy’s assassination.

Cobb's main source was a Mexican novelist and playwright named Elena Garro de Paz. De Paz was also a cousin of Sylvia Duran.[6] The FBI interviewed her and rejected her account, even though other witnesses supported her. They also did not pursue other leads Cobb provided. Even if they had wanted to, it was too late by that time since the Commission issued it's final report two weeks before Cobb's allegations were revealed. The investigation was rushed through so as not to have an effect on the upcoming 1964 election.

An interesting side note is Cobb's involvement as translator for a book entitled The Shark and the Sardines, by Juan José Arévalo. The book was an allegory about U.S. domination of Latin America. It was published in Spanish in 1956. An English version appeared in 1961 (translated by Cobb). By strange coincidence, Lee Harvey Oswald borrowed this book from the Dallas Public Library on November 6, 1963. It was never returned.

In April 2007, the US State Department, acting at the behest of Morgan’s widow, declared that Morgan’s US citizenship was effectively restored, nearly 50 years after the government stripped him of his rights in 1959 for serving in a foreign country’s military.

William Alexander Morgan


A Reporter at Large, May 28, 2012 issue

The American Comandante, American Experience documentary, PBS, Nov 17, 2015


Travalanche, April 19, 2021, William Morgan: Comandante of the Carnival

The Yankee Comandante, The New Yorker, David Grann, May 21, 2012



[2]I have not been able to determine if the nightclub was the Queen Bee.

[3] He was a self promoter and often boasted of being a descendent of the murdered anti-Freemason activist with the same name.

[4] THE AMERICAN Comandante in the Cuban Revolutionary Forces: William Morgan, The Cuban

[5]He was one of only two foreign nationals (the other was Ché Guevara) to hold the rank of Comandante in the revolutionary forces.

[6] There is evidence that Duran herself may have been targeted for CIA recruitment.

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