Colonel Dan and Brother Joseph (Part One)

My friend Lt. Col. Dan Marvin passed away on January 19th, 2012. Though he routinely misled me and many, many others, two years after his death I am still somewhat reluctant to openly criticize him and his “crusades,” as he called his efforts to promote what he saw as the “truth.”  His influence on my life was profound, though not always in ways he would have been proud of. “Colonel Dan,” as many called him, was a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. As a U.S. Army Special Forces captain in 1966, he was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism in rescuing his wounded men. Though deeply flawed, I knew him foremost as a man of honor and I am humbled to have earned his respect. He was an enthusiastic, witnessing, born-again Christian; but he nevertheless played a key role in my disillusionment with all religion, particularly the Mormon sect of Christianity to which I once belonged. That disillusionment in turn eventually led to the failure of my marriage of 14 years and my divorce from the mother of my four children.  Due to a compassion born both of respect and of pity, and also due to feelings of estrangement, I never mentioned this to Colonel Dan while he was alive.

I first learned of Dan Marvin around 1997 after his appearance on the History Channel series “The Men Who Killed Kennedy.” In the 1995 documentary, Marvin described how he was allegedly approached in August 1965 by the CIA to assassinate an American naval officer. He turned the job down, and the CIA man spoke next to a Captain Vanek. Marvin learned decades later that the naval officer, William Pitzer, had indeed been found dead in 1966 and was thought to have been in possession of dangerous information regarding the Kennedy assassination, particularly regarding the autopsy of the president at Bethesda Naval Hospital.  Marvin attempted to contact Capt. Vanek allegedly after being reminded of the incident by a TV special which displayed Pitzer’s name as one of many to have died under questionable or suspicious circumstances connected to the Kennedy assassination. In the same documentary in which Marvin appeared, Dennis David was interviewed regarding the death of his friend and mentor Bill Pitzer.  David, who also worked at Bethesda Naval Hospital, said that Pitzer had shown him still photos and film footage which was in contradiction of the official reports of the president’s wounds.

I was moved by Marvin’s interview and disturbed by many aspects of the Kennedy assassination. For several months, I read extensively about the assassination and related subjects, trying to determine what had really happened and what kind of country I really lived in. This pursuit dominated my free time over the next several years. My passion was fueled not only by patriotism and a need to know, but also by the immediate connection I saw between the secret operations of the corrupt and powerful and the “secret combinations” which had been warned of in the Book of Mormon and in the teachings of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith.  I also came to feel that the assassinations of the president, his brother, and Dr. King very closely fit a prophecy attributed to Joseph Smith just before his own assassination in 1844 as his own presidential campaign was underway. According to one Mosiah Hancock, Smith had allegedly predicted that the Republican and Democrat parties would go to war, and that the Independent American Party would subsequently emerge from the chaos. The actual emergence of George Wallace’s American Independent Party in 1968 seemed tantalizingly close to Smith’s “Hancock Prophecy” and so I organized the writing of my first book around this theme and around the assassinations (or attempted assassinations) of six American presidents or presidential candidates: Joseph Smith, Abraham Lincoln, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and George Wallace.  I self-published 100 copies of “The Hancock Prophecy” in 1998.

My focus then shifted from the assassinations in particular to the political system in which they took place. I continued researching and writing about what criminologist William Chambliss calls “State-organized crime.” I wrote and contacted other authors to publish a collection of articles in 2002 called “It’s The Economy, Stupid,” the main implication of which was that drug money dominates the economy, rules the world, and either selects or removes our chief executives. My viewpoint has changed a little since then, but not much.  In one of these articles, I mentioned Dan Marvin. Before the collection was published, I posted my articles on a website and a researcher from the Netherlands was impressed enough to contact me and offer to introduce me to Marvin.

That introduction took place in 2002 and it was not long before I had agreed to co-write a book with Marvin about his allegations regarding Pitzer’s death. One of the first orders of business was for me to find out what derogatory comments had been made about him on the internet. Unknown to me, Marvin’s story had met strong criticism even among those who found Dennis David credible. Chief among these critics was Marvin’s former collaborator and friend Allan Eaglesham. Though I initially disagreed with Eaglesham’s conclusions regarding Marvin’s credibility, I found him earnest and respectful, and he became a valuable contributor to my 2002 anthology.

As I worked with Marvin on our book, I came to feel that the book would be more credible if I were allowed to have sole authorship and present my findings more impartially. As part of my research, I traveled in 2003 to Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, then to New York to finally meet Marvin.

Dan Marvin’s home was only minutes away from the place where the Mormon church was founded. As it was my first trip to New York, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the places where Joseph Smith lived, received his visions, and unearthed and published the Book of Mormon. The church has a temple and visitor’s center in Palmyra, and I stopped there before visiting the Marvins. As I watched the visitor’s center’s film, I was overcome with emotion, and tearfully wished I could convince Dan of all the wonderful things that had happened in this place.

I was already beginning to have suspicions regarding Colonel Dan’s veracity at this point. As I sat and talked with him, I realized that his memory was less sharp than I would have wished. As I went through the files of past correspondence he offered me, I became aware that his story of how he came to realize William Pitzer’s significance in regard to the Kennedy autopsy was not well-supported by documentary evidence. The timeline just did not seem to fit. He had clearly attempted to contact Captain Vanek in April of 1993 regarding an August 1965 mission; this would seem to contradict his assertion that he did not realize the significance of Pitzer’s name until November of 1993. Other details were contradictory as well. A surprisingly big problem was in identifying the 1993 Jack Anderson television special on which he says he saw Pitzer’s name. I searched both any documentary I could find on the subject of the assassination and what I could find of contemporary TV listings, but nothing fit; and this was troubling, because it seemed to me that it should have been simple.  At one point I was ready to conclude that this aspect of his story was not credible and called the whole of it into question, but one of his confidants from that time assured me that he had himself seen the very TV show which Marvin says brought back his 1965 memory of the “Pitzer mission.” He also saw the list of “80 or 90” names that scrolled at the end of the program; but he recalled it as having aired in 1991 or 1992, not during the 30th anniversary of the assassination which Marvin very specifically recalled. This former confidant of Marvin’s held a PhD in psychology and had come to believe that Marvin was delusional: a “confabulator” with a “rich fantasy life.”

Much earlier, I had changed the title of my book from Marvin’s “Smoking Gun” suggestion to “Without Smoking Gun,”  to reflect the lack of conclusive evidence in the case. After our visit and some additional interviews with others, I included some of my reservations about Marvin’s credibility in the text, and was pleased that he neither objected nor was offended.  The book was published in 2004 by TrineDay in Eugene, Oregon, and it was an experience I very much valued – though sales have probably only now in 2013 reached the point of covering my travel expenses (the book is out of print but available here on Kindle).

Whether Marvin’s tale was true or not, I found the controversy surrounding it and the Pitzer death sufficiently compelling to justify the publication of the book we had initially worked on together. But by the time the book went to press, I had come to believe, as the above-mentioned confidant had, that Col. Marvin’s psyche was somehow dysfunctional and that he was not as capable as you and I are of distinguishing between what one imagines and what is actual. I still believed him to be sincere, but to be deeply mistaken about many things. This impression would set a precedent for a subsequent life-changing realization, as I will tell shortly.

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