15: Lee and Admiral Chester Bruton
I Am a Patsy! by George de Mohrenschildt
There was a hiatus in our meeting with the Oswalds as I had to fly to Haiti to sign a contract there and then spent some time in New York preparing for the survey. Jeanne during that time did not see the Oswalds, she was finishing her designing assignments and was packing. We would take a minimum of things to Haiti, leaving our furniture and heavy items in a warehouse in Dallas.
Then I came back from New York and asked Jeanne to invite the Oswalds. They arrived immediately and brought baby June along. I remember this was a beautiful, spring day, warm enough to swim. And so Jeanne called Frannie, the wife of Admiral Chester Bruton, both good friends of ours and incidentally long–time enemies of Richard Nixon, whom they knew from his California days when he made his career ruining good citizens’ reputations.
Admiral Bruton was submarine hero of World War II and I do not recall whether he had four or five naval crosses. He never talked about them and a most humble and charming person.
Frannie Bruton, an ex–school teacher, a painter, an admirable woman in many respects, had invited us that same day to a swimming party. Jeanne asked her if we could bring a couple of friends along and we mentioned the name of Oswalds.
Although we had spoken to her about this unusual couple, Frannie was not sure who they were but asked us to bring them along anyway.
And so we arrived to Bruton’s lovely place with a huge swimming pool and Frannie was delighted to see us. When I reminded her that Lee was an ex–marine, she went to get the admiral who was a congenial man and liked to meet the enlisted men.
In the meantime Marina sat by the swimming pool with the baby. She either did not know how to swim or disliked showing her figure which was not too hot. Jeanne gave her a conservative bathing suit but she refused to use it. Lee sat quitely, immersed in his thoughts. That was frequent with him when he was in new surroundings. Before diving in, I told him jokingly: “Lee isn’t that funny that you get punished for your actions — which are only an appearance — but you don’t get punished for your thoughts, which are the real thing.”
While he was pondering over that, I continued: “this is a nice place, makes you think of oppressed workers etc… but you should see the places of the real moguls of finance. This is a poor admiral’s retirement home.”
Frannie and Jeanne were talking in the meantime with great animation about China. Frannie, a world–traveled woman, of most varied interests, knew China where she spent several years with her husband. She loved the country and the people — so she and Jeanne hit it off fabulously well.
I went back to Lee and told them quietly, so that the ladies could not hear. “Does the wife of the Admiral strike you as an aristocratic, rich woman?”
He just nodded agreement.
“Do you know that she is the daughter of a tenant–farmer’s widow from Oklahoma. In her childhood the mother was so poor that she took washing in. Frannie walked to school four or five miles. She couldn’t afford to buy paper and used the margins of old newspapers to write on or to do her arithmetic. And the Admiral was also a poor farm–boy from Arkansas. He got his education in the Navy and is both a lawyer and an electronics engineer.”
I do not know why I wanted to talk so much, but this time I wished to convince Lee that all is not bad in this world and that comforts obtained honestly are not to be despised. But Lee did not say anything.
Admiral Chester Bruton
At that time came the Admiral Chester Bruton, not tall, broad of shoulders, a typical submariner. “When I was in a submarine in the Pacific,” he used to joke goodnaturedly, “I couldn’t turn around in the tower because I was constantly excited thinking of all those women on the mainland. So I had to forge ahead, and that’s how I got my Navy crosses.”
We used to call him Henri, in the French manner, because he loved to speak French to us and so did Frannie. Both spoke French very well and were well read. Later they went to live in France.
But this day he greeted everybody and began talking disgustedly of his new job with Collins Radio, actually an important position he took after his early retirement from the Navy. He did not like the commercial aspects of his work. “I should have stayed in the Navy a bit longer,” he said irritably, “I am made to be a salesman.”
Then he began talking warmly to Lee, asking him about his duties in the Marine Corps — but my friend remained cool and aloof — although Henri was kind and continued chatting amicably. “That Marine Corps was the most miserable period in my life,” he said disgustedly. “Stupid work, ignorant companions, abusive officers. Boy, was I happy to have gotten out of it. To hell with the Navy.”
Here I saw for the first time his profound dislike for the military and especially for the brass. The term “admiral” irritated him.
“He is somewhat of a rebel and a little bit a Marxist,” I told the admiral, trying to smooth over the disagreeable incident.
I never saw Henri mad, but he was this time and I knew that he could hardly restrain himself from telling Lee to stand at attention first and then to order him out of the house. Instead he just walked away. Lee did not continue being insulting and spoke politely with Frannie about his stay in Japan. “You lived in the compounds there, being officers’ wives, and did to have the chance to meet the real people in Japan, like I did.”
“I wish I could have,” answered Frannie diplomatically.
Marina was the personification of charm that afternoon. We had to translate what she said, of course. But she loved the arrangement of the house, as we took her around, the luxury really quite relative of the furnishings, Frannie’s paintings (she was an excellent amateur painter) — the whole thing. And the surroundings were an incredible contrast to the gloomy apartment of Elsbeth Street. And so she smiled politely and even flirted with the Admiral.
Lee Harvey Oswald and the Marine Corps
Excellent snacks were served later by our hosts, not a real dinner, and nothing out of ordinary happened any more. Henri was a good host and restrained himself while Lee, finally relaxed, told some funny, if slightly derogatory, about his Marine Corps life.
“We had a sergeant in the Marines who was as racist as any German SS trooper,” he began telling us. “But then his sex habits …”
“Please, Lee,” I stopped him.
“I could sing you the Marine anthem but, fortunately, I never learned it,” Lee tried to be funny again.
I cannot say that this evening was a great success. But we left quite late, still amicably, because most of the conversation at the end of the evening was carried on in French between four of us.
Four years later was saw the Brutons again in Washington D.C. They moved to Arlington permanently and we spent a couple of days in their house. Naturally the subject of the assassination came up and the Brutons were absolutely flabbergasted. They did not associate the rude young ex–marine with the “presumable” [sic] assassin of President Kennedy. They probably did not catch [the] Oswalds’ names when they had met them and then they had traveled extensively in the meantime.
Frannie became quite excited that she had entertained “that horrible individual.” Henri, being an adventurous man, was rather amused than appalled by this fortuitous acquaintanceship. “Well,” he said jokingly, “we met Nixon and we also met Lee Harvey Oswald …”
Neither of the Brutons were ever approached by the FBI agents and had never been asked to testify at the Warren Commission, nobody seems to have known of this strange meeting. It seems to me that I had mentioned it to Albert Jenner, of the Warren Commission, but possibly he did not take me seriously and then it may be that the Commission would not bother an American admiral. The “so called foreigners” were to bear the brunt of the suspicions and innuendoes.