Few events capture the American imagination more completely than the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Ever since that fateful day in Texas, people have wondered if there could be more to the story than the official account suggests, perhaps because of how traumatic losing America’s young and charismatic president was at the time… or possibly because we’ve never truly gotten to hear the whole story.
Recently, over two million documents pertaining to JFK and his killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, were declassified, allowing a never before seen glimpse into the true events of that November day. Now, a team of experts from the History Channel are using those documents as an opportunity to delve back into the tragic event that, in the minds of many, defined a generation. Their mission is to find out the truth about the man who killed a president, and changed the world as we know it, with nothing more than a bolt-action rifle.
The investigation finds the History Channel team traveling the world, tying Oswald to international contacts and unearthing new evidence that shines a light not only onto the man, but into the set of circumstances that led to the most famous assassination of the 20th century.
I sat down with Marty Skovlund Jr., former Army Ranger, journalist, and a member of History’s team tasked with finding out the truth about one of America’s darkest days. His experience in special operations offers the team a unique understanding of military tactics and procedures – an expertise that proved valuable in the course of their investigation.
On the new show, “JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald,” Marty Skovlund Jr. find himself working alongside former CIA agent Bob Baer and former LAPD police lieutenant Adam Bercovici, who lead the investigation into Oswald. I asked Marty how he found himself on their team.
“Bob had an extensive career in the CIA that took him around world on behalf of our nation, and Adam served in almost every high-risk unit the LAPD had during his time as an officer there.” Marty explained.
“As they looked into the newly declassified documents, I think they realized there was a lot of military angles that they weren’t necessarily well equipped to address. That’s where I came in. Throughout the season, I think you’ll see me as the member of the team that offers a point of view on certain aspects of the investigation that only a former military guy could offer.”
Marty’s experiences in the SOF community helped ensure he was well equipped to participate in this sort of investigation, as one of the roles Rangers often play in theater is gathering intelligence to be used to assist in future operations or against a target they captured.
“Obviously, my experience in the Rangers pales in comparison to LEO’s when it comes to true investigative work, but on every target we hit overseas we had to perform what was called “SSE,” which stands for Sensitive Site Exploitation,” Marty told me.
“This is basically gathering evidence and intelligence that could be used against the HVTs [High Value Targets] that we captured or killed. On top of that, I was my platoon’s technical surveillance guy for my last two deployments, which gave me a unique familiarization with leveraging technology to find what you’re looking for.”
Marty knew when he came on the team that he wasn’t a full-fledged expert into President John F. Kennedy or his assassination. Like most of us, he knew only what he had gleaned from history books and popular culture over the years. I asked him what angle of approach he chose to take in preparation for this undertaking, as there has already been a great deal of research into the subject.
“I’ll admit that I wasn’t any more knowledgeable about the JFK assassination than the average American before coming on to this investigation. That being said, once I found out I was being brought onto the team I tried to focus on reading about the psychology of assassins in general and Oswald in particular, rather than the details of things like the Warren Commission’s report.” While some members of the team focused on the mystery from a document standpoint, Marty approached Oswald like a high-profile target that required analysis and a thorough understanding in order to effectively engage.
“Any good hunter must first try to understand his quarry and how they think or approach problems before making a single move. The research of documents and the like would come in due time as we worked our way through the investigation, and I wanted fresh eyes for that.”
Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get Marty to tell me the most dramatic revelations that will come to light over the course of the six episode first season of “JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald,” but he did let me know that the show, and their investigation, involved quite a bit more than simply pouring over never before seen documents.
“I can’t go into details here, but I was most surprised by how many people are still actively protecting the secrets around this assassination. You think, “Oh, this was fifty years ago… this will be easy to talk to people.” Nothing could have been further from the truth, and we had to work for every nugget of information in this show. At some points I and the team were literally in physical danger,” Marty told me.
Finally, before I could let Marty go, I had to ask him what it was like to make the transition from elite soldier to journalist, author, and now, TV personality. In particular, I wanted to know how the world of investigative journalism sized up to his experiences in uniform.
“Like making it into the 75th Ranger Regiment, breaking into the world of writing and film/tv is incredibly difficult. The odds are against you, and you have to stay constantly motivated if you want to even have a shot at it.” Marty, speaks from experience. A published author, his article “The True Story of How Standing Rock Fell,” made waves earlier this year – as his coverage of the Dakota Access pipeline protests earned him the respect of journalists and much of the public alike for its objective analysis, but the ire of folks on both sides of the dispute that would have preferred he chose a side.
“Once you finally break in, like the 75th, your stay is not guaranteed. The minute you start to slip, you’re gone. Done. For every person that breaks in, there are a hundred more that are just as talented as you, and probably more qualified than you who will be happy to take the job if you can’t handle it. Finally, like the 75th, it’s hard work and you are putting in long days. It’s not as glamorous as people make it out to be, especially when you are doing a documentary-series. Like being a Ranger, there are some days that I have a love-hate relationship with this field of work.”
“JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald,” premiers on Tuesday, April 25th at 10PM EST – and if the stuff Marty discussed with me is any indicator, it promises to be an informative thrill ride for the layman and expert alike. If you only know the basics of the story, Marty promises the investigation will provide you with a mind-blowing experience, but even if you’re the most hardcore of amateur JFK investigators around, Marty told me you’re still in for one hell of a ride.
“I think there are a lot of aspects of this story that people never realized, or dismissed as the stuff of conspiracy. You’ll meet people that you’ve only read about or heard about, and you’ll see things that you’ve never actually laid eyes on. This show will offer a unique glimpse of a time in American history that very few know much about.”
Make sure to tune in to the History Channel on Tuesdays at 10PM/9PM central for “JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald,” to find out what their investigation reveals for yourself.
Check out the trailer for the show below:
Images courtesy of History