Frightened Forrestal Witness Became War Hero
We might be going a bit far to jump to the conclusion that the concealed witness in the death of Secretary of Defense James Forrestal from a fall from a 16th floor window at Bethesda Naval Hospital was sent off to the Korean War front the next year for ulterior reasons, but the temptation is hard to resist. With some further research into the fate of the young Navy corpsman whose daughter told us lived in fear because of what he knew about Forrestal’s death, we have learned that his life also intersected with another important, but generally hushed-up event in 20th century American history. That is the infamous American military disaster known as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Here is a description of his experience from the December 14, 1950, St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
ST. LOUISAN GETS OUT OF KOREA TRAP, ONLY ONE OF FIVE
Navy Hospitalman Edward W. Prise of East St. Louis made “a suicide march to freedom” with the Marines in North Korea, in which he was “the only one of five of us evacuating patients that made it out alive.”
“Maybe this sounds strange coming from me,” he wrote to his mother, Mrs. Clarence V. Price [sic] of the Samuel Gompers apartments, “but I know that God protected me.”
Prise’s feet were frozen, he said, “and they made me a patient after we reached Hagaru.” That city is about 40 miles northwest of the evacuation port of Hungnam.
“We were completely surrounded by Reds for seven days. It would have done me no good to write, because I wouldn’t have been able to mail it,” Prise wrote. He gave no further details of the withdrawing action he took part in.
Prise, 20 years old, was wounded in action last Sept. 28, a week after he landed in Korea. His father is a Navy electronic technician at the Naval Air Station at Lambert-St. Louis Field.
The Battle of Chosin Reservoir took place from November 27 to December 13, 1950, so the dates are right for this December 14 newspaper article, as is the description of what took place. Here is how I describe it in the beginning of my review of the documentary film, Chosin, in 2010:
Imagine that you were able to interview a number of the survivors of Custer’s battle at the Little Big Horn. Imagine further that some film had been taken of the battle and you were able to get your hands on it. Imagine, as well, that a very realistic Hollywood movie had been made about the battle and you were able to get some choice footage from it. Then you locate a fine composer who can establish just the right mood, as you weave it all together into a documentary movie.
That comes close to what Brian Iglesias and Anton Sattler have accomplished with Chosin, a film about General Douglas MacArthur’s much bigger and more recent debacle. It is known as the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, and it took place in the far reaches of northern Korea in the early winter of 1950, only five months after the Korean War began. As a truly horrible experience, though, Chosin Reservoir was Little Bighorn on steroids. It was anything but a short, sharp decisive battle. It lasted for 17 days, sometimes in driving snow and always in bitter, sub-zero temperatures. The American soldiers were surrounded and vastly outnumbered by several divisions of Chinese soldiers, and, in spite of strong evidence of what was about to happen, their leaders had been taken completely by surprise. Listening to the compelling stories that the interviewers were able to elicit from a truly extraordinary collection of veterans, one is, by turns, heartbroken and inspired. Particularly inspiring, as well, was the actual footage of the rescue of some 98,000 civilian refugees—many of them Christians—who faced almost certain slaughter at the hands of the Communists who suspected them of collaboration. *
A number of the survivors interviewed for the movie display what is left of their hands or their feet from the frostbite that they suffered. Watching the film, as I say in my review, was a very moving experience that brought tears to my eyes on several occasions. You can see the trailer here. I would recommend Chosin to everyone, but I think they should read my review first. The young military men who made the movie, is seems to me, somehow manage to make this truly horrible episode into a war-glorifying experience.
However one might interpret the movie, it is also well worth seeing for anyone interested in gaining some appreciation of what the young Edward Prise must have gone through. What with losing a man he had come to know well and no doubt admire, James Forrestal, to murder by nefarious people connected to the state the year before, and watching how everyone was fed the cock-and-bull story that it was a suicide, his Korean War experience would have been like a haymaker to the head after getting a kick to the groin.
Considering all that he went through just after having reached adulthood and the fear that he felt throughout his life over what he knew about Forrestal’s fall from that window, perhaps we should be surprised at his longevity when we learn that he was 61 years old when he died rather than thinking that he died at a relatively early age. Then again, in view of the number of powerful people who must have been able to rest more easily once he was dead, we would like to know what the actual proximate cause of his death was, which we have not been able to find out. We have heard nothing further from his daughter since that first email. This photo of the war veteran Prise with President Harry Truman did not come from her but from Hugh Turley’s research.
Young Edward Prise’s anguish in Korea might have been even greater if he had known how unnecessary that war was and how the Communists would probably have never gained a foothold on that peninsula after World War II had his friend James Forrestal’s advice been followed. One can read all about that in my “Forrestal Ignored: China Lost to Reds, Korean War Fought.”
The Nurse’s Notes
To appreciate a little bit of what Prise, who would have been only 18 or 19 years old at the time, experienced as one of Forrestal’s guards—and I use the term advisedly—during Forrestal’s seven-week treatment/imprisonment/medical torture, I heartily recommend “Mark Hunter’s” explication of the Nurse’s’ Notes of the Navy’s Willcutts Report. Here is a brief excerpt of his commentary:
It’s worth repeating: Forrestal quickly recovered from his exhaustion and only became temporarily sick during the so-called insulin treatments and then permanently after the highest dosage ones. Also, probably the sedatives (barbiturates) he was given after the initial period did more harm than good. It must be stressed that this sickness was a physical malaise, and quite different from clinical depression.
Observe the increasingly claustrophobic prison atmosphere as the Notes progress. Things start off well enough but reading between the lines, relations do not seem so friendly after the higher doses of insulin begin about three weeks into his stay. And imagine being confined to a room, however VIP-like, for seven weeks, going on eight. After a month or so Forrestal was like a lion pacing a small cage, watched like a character out of Kafka.
Hunter has put together a very good schematic in which one can see that Prise began attending Forrestal on April 6, five days after the patient was committed to the hospital and stayed on that job until the night of May 21. He began on the 8 am to 4 pm shift, moved to the midnight to 8 am shift on April 19, and to the 4 pm to midnight shift on May 4.
Notice that the name of the man who had the midnight to 8 am shift before the pinch hitter, Robert Wayne Harrison, came on the night before Forrestal went out the window was C.F. Stuthers. Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley say that Harrison was brought on the job because the regular guy, whom neither they nor the newspapers at the time name, had gone AWOL on a drunken bender. I rather doubt that. Hunter, as I do as well, thinks that Harrison is likely to have been part of the murder plot.
We have learned that Prise was Catholic, and we can imagine conversations that he might have had with Forrestal similar to this one recorded in the nurse’s notes by J.C. Woods on April 4:
During relief watch Pt asked this corpsman “What religion are you?” After reply – “Catholic” – he said “Don’t lose it.” After a few seconds elapsed, corpsman asked “Are you Catholic.” [Patient replied] “I was, but I lost it. I would appreciate it if you would say a few prayers for me the next time you go to church.”
And this is from Hunter’s conclusion:
There is only one reason to think that Forrestal committed suicide. The contrary, that Forrestal was murdered, is bizarre. That is the only reason, and considering that Forrestal had powerful enemies, not a very good one.
Once someone is labeled “suicidal” the stigma has a force of its own.
Suicide is at least as bizzare as murder.
Per an observation of Medford Evans: Men hang themselves or they jump out sixteenth-story windows, but they don’t hang themselves out sixteenth-story windows.
Men don’t sleep for half an hour, wake up, and immediately kill themselves.
Civilized men leave a suicide note. Forrestal had friends and a family, yet there was no suicide note, no statement, nothing.
Calling part of a Greek play copied by some anonymous person months or years before, of unrevealed provenance, Forrestal’s, then calling this shabby thing his substitute for a suicide note, is a candidate for the most brazen fraud of the century. There is no question, not the slightest, that this is part of a cover-up. And what is there to cover up?
Per the research of Cornell Simpson: The day of his death Forrestal had an appointment with his brother to leave the hospital and complete his convalescence in more congenial surroundings.
Per the Nurse’s Notes, and despite the insufferably pompous Dr. (psychiatrist) Raines’ “double wave-like” claptrap testimony before the Willcutts board, Forrestal never acted suicidal or clinically depressed. Even under the waves of neurological assaults caused by artificially induced insulin shock he was never suicidal or clinically depressed.
Per the research of David Martin: Two days before Forrestal was taken to Bethesda, Stuart Symington, Secretary of the Air Force, communicated to Forrestal – judging from his reaction – a threat of an extreme nature.
Forrestal was, and had good reason to be, suspicious, and suspicion is a consequence of self-preservation, not self-destruction. Even if one were to believe that Forrestal was paranoid – irrationally suspicious – paranoids do not kill themselves, they are afraid others might.
Going to Hunter’s analysis of the Willcutts Report proper, we find this interesting tidbit about Prise and another person working at the Bethesda Naval Hospital as well:
Obscured Witness I
One witness, Edward William Prise, has his unusual surname, a British variant of “prize” and the root of “surprise” (surŠprize = overŠtake), misspelled throughout the report as Price. You can determine that it is Prise from his signature on a phone reception note and on the “watch assumed” and “watch relieved” entries of various Nurse’s Notes in the exhibits. (Also he was wounded in Korea a year or so later and the military’s typed casualty report of October 9, 1950 reads “Prise.”) During the proceedings he says his surname twice, Robert Wayne Harrison says it once and Regina M. L. Harty three times. If he pronounced it price the misspelling might have been a mistake, if prize almost certainly it was intentional.
Obscured Witness II
Another witness, nurse Hardy, has her name misspelled throughout the report as Harty. Furthermore, unlike other witnesses, her name is never given in full. Among fellow workers she used the name Margie (a nickname for Margaret, Margret or Marjorie, presumably one of her middle names), but in her testimony – according to the report – she gives her name as Regina M. L. Harty. During the proceedings the following witnesses say her name: herself, Robert Reynolds Deen and Dorothy Turner. (The fact that her name was Hardy rather than Harty and that she was called Margie, is from the late Connie Riggs, a nurse at the time of Forrestal’s death stationed at Quantico who knew some of the nurses stationed at Bethesda, including Margie Hardy. The two exchanged Christmas cards for several years, so there is no question Ms. Riggs had the correct name.) Because the name Harty is pronounced differently from Hardy and because Harty is an unusual name and Hardy a common one, and considering that how Americans tend to slur their speech any confusion would go in the direction of Hardy rather than Harty, almost certainly the people responsible for the report misspelled the name on purpose.
One must wonder what it was that Nurse Hardy might have known that was a danger to the authorities and if she, like Prise, lived the rest of her life in fear on account of it.
* This amazing Hungnam evacuation is also known as the Miracle of Christmas. The future parents of the current president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, were among those rescued. Ship of Miracles is the apt title of an extraordinary documentary movie on that event.
October 19, 2017