OK, I've finally read through this monster, and wanted to post a few observations/comments. I've also been reading more into Forrestal's
background, trying to put things in perspective, but I am by no means an expert on this topic, and welcome any and all thoughts or corrections.
Apologies in advance for the length of this post.
First of all, a bit about James Forrestal. He attended Princeton University, but left in 1915 before he received a degree, apparently because of
"academic and financial difficulties." In 1916, he joined the investment banking house of Dillon Read, where it was later discovered that he
indulged in a little tax evasion and share manipulation. There were also accusations that he owned shares in Naxi companies and used his influence to
stop the bombing of German cities during WWII.
In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt named Forrestal as one of his advisors. He moved steadily up the government totem pole until his eventual stint
as the first Secretary of Defense began in 1947. Forrestal was rabidly anti-Communist, and was instrumental in the dismissal of Secretary of Commerce
Henry Wallace, who disagreed with his hard-line foreign policy.
After President Truman came into office, he was unhappy with Forrestal's performance. Truman demanded a balanced budget, and Forrestal could not or
would not keep military spending in line. He "locked horns" with Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington over defense spending, leading Symington to
embark in "a kind of personal guerilla warfare" against the Secretary of Defense. Throughout the latter part of 1948, Forrestals mental health,
physical condition, and authority as Secretary of Defense deteriorated. During this time, he became increasingly paranoid, claiming that
"foreign-looking men" were following him, and that Symington was spying on him. As the weeks progressed, he also claimed that he was "being
followed by Jews or Zionist agents," and that the FBI was watching him.
Pres. Truman forced Forrestal to resign on March 28, 1949, in a public ceremony -- his last public appearance.
What followed after the ceremony remains mysterious. "There is something I would like to talk to you about," Symington told Forrestal, and
accompanied him privately during the ride back to the Pentagon. What Symington said is not known, but Forrestal emerged from the ride deeply upset,
even traumatized, upon arrival at his office. Friends of Forrestal implied that Symington said something that "shattered Forrestals last remaining
defenses." When someone entered Forrestals office several hours later, the former Secretary of Defense did not notice. Instead, he sat rigidly at
his desk, staring at the bare wall, incoherent, repeating the sentence, "you are a loyal fellow," for several hours.
Within a day the Air Force flew Forrestal to the Florida home of future Sec. of Defense Robert Lovett. Forrestal's first words to Lovett were "Bob,
they're after me." He met with Dr. William Menninger, of the Menninger Foundation, and a consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army, and later
with Captain George N. Raines, chief psychologist at the U.S. Naval Hospital at Bethesda.
On April 2nd, this group of men flew Forrestal to Bethesda, where he was diagnosed by Raines as suffering from severe reactive depression; basically,
he was mentally exhausted and depressed due to his "exhaustive work with a lot of very difficult responsibilities." Upon his arrival at Bethesda,
Forrestal declared that he did not expect to ever leave the place alive.
In a highly unusual decision for a suicidal patient, Forrestals doctor was instructed by "the people downtown" (e.g. national security) to
place him in the VIP 16th floor suite.
This brings us to the newly-released documents referenced in my first post. The first file listed includes the legal documents and transcripts of
testimony from the Board of Investigation proceedings into Forrestal's death. The second file contains the doctors' and nurses' notes of his time
at Bethesda, many of which are unreadable. Also included are photos of Forrestal's room, the window in the kitchen area from which he fell, and the
In reading the deposition, I was struck by Dr. Raines' evaluation of Forrestal's condition.
...Forrestal was suffering with a recoverable illness, that recovery could be expected in a reasonably short period of time, three to six
months, that recovery probably would be complete....
He also stated that "[s]o far as I know he never made a single real attempt at suicide except that one that was successful," denying the rumored
suicide attempt a few days earlier in Florida and stating that both he and Dr. Menninger "were of the opinion it was sort of a nightmare." In fact,
Raines was so confident that Forrestal would not truly attempt to take his own life
that he left town for "temporary additional duty" on May 18th with no qualms.
It is worthwhile to mention here that Forrestal was suffering from some unusual physical symptoms when he was admitted to Bethesda. Among these were
lack of appetite and weight loss, severe insomnia, paranoia, elevated blood pressure, chronic constipation, and constricted, fixed pupils. These can
all be symptoms of various types of drug use.
Also, Forrestal had serious over-reactions to both sodium amytal (a sleeping pill) and to insulin (used at that time to treat both depression and
schizophrenia); the amytal caused a severe drop in blood pressure, and the insulin caused "a confused state with a great deal of agitation and
confusion." Another item of note is that Forrestal's depression included regular weekly cycles; Tuesday and Wednesday were "good" days, while
weekends were invariably "low points," a variation that Dr. Raines found "odd."
I'll let Dr. Raines' own words make my next few points:
...I am sure that when I left here on the eighteenth he had no intention at that time of harming himself.
...I am sure he didn't jump out of the window....[B]y the time he had been here four weeks I was certain there were only two methods he would
use because he had told me, one was sleeping pills...and the other was by hanging.
Actually, he dealt quite well with almost everything. It is my own feeling...that the period of despondency which caused him to end his life
was very sudden in onset...
...the complete absence of any suicidal note or expression of suicidal intent in any way. He left no message at all....
After Dr. Raines left town on May 18th, the care of Forrestal fell to Dr. John E. Nardini. Dr. Nardini saw Forrestal for the last time about 10 AM on
Saturday, May 21st. In his deposition, Nardini stated that he saw "no evidence of any undue disturbance or agitation or depression." When asked if
Forrestal had indicated in any way that he might harm himself, Nardini replied, "None whatever."
David Hightower, a neuropsychiatric resident at Bethesda, testified that during Raines' absence Forrestal "appeared less preoccupied, worried,
disturbed, and particularly less agitated." He also stated that Forrestal's need for sleeping pills seemed to be declining; "...Friday night, he
had slept the entire night with no awakening periods that I know of at all without a sedative." In fact, Forrestal was in such good shape that
Hightower was in favor of granting him more privileges: greater freedom to walk about the hospital, etc.
A very interesting part was played by Robert Wayne Harrison, a Navy corpsman and hospital apprentice. Since entering Bethesda, Forrestal had been
under a suicide watch; therefore someone was required to stay in his room at night. On May 21st, Harrison was that someone. It was his first night
assigned to Forrestal; the regular night watchman was apparently AWOL. Under oath, Harrison stated that he last saw Forrestal at 1:45 AM, and that
Forrestal was in his bed, apparently sleeping. He left the room at that time and "went out to the nurse's desk to write in [Forrestal's] chart. He
returned to the room at 1:50 AM, took his seat, and as his eyes adjusted to the darkness noticed that Forrestal was no longer in his bed.
The first thought that came to my mind was maybe he had gotten up and gone into the head and at the same moment the corpsman on duty...came to
the door and told me I had a phone call out at the desk. I told him Mr. Forrestal was gone. I went out to the desk and answered the phone call. It was
Bramley, the night Master-at-arms.... Bramley asked me if Mr. Forrestal was alright.
The depositions of other Navy personnel on duty that night tell us that a broken ashtray was found on Forrestal's bed, and that a razor blade was
found on the floor next to his slippers by his bed; neither item had bloodstains on it, nor was there any blood on the bed. Dorothy Turner, the night
nurse on duty, stated that she saw these items while looking for Forrestal; the time was 1:48 AM.
So we are lead to believe that in the course of 3-5 minutes Forrestal, who by all accounts was showing no signs of the depression which put him in the
hospital in the first place, woke up; realized he was conveniently unguarded; decided to kill himself; located (in the dark) the ashtray; broke the
ashtray, presumably to slit his wrists; decided against it; dropped it to the bed; thought about the razor blade; located it (once again in the dark);
decided against it; dropped it to the floor; decided to hang himself; located (yep, again in the dark) the belt of his bathrobe; snuck across the hall
to the kitchen area
without being heard/observed; tied one end of the belt loosely around his neck, but with a very tight knot; tied the other end around a nearby
radiator, this time with a not-so-tight knot; opened the window screen; and climbed through the window. At this point the not-so-tight knot slid free
(there were no marks on the radiator, nor were there any remnants of the bathrobe affixed to it, indicating that it was not broken by the weight of
Forrestal's body; also there was no damage to his cervical vertebrae), causing Forrestal to plunge 13 floors to his death.
Is this possible? Probably. Is it likely? You decide. I rather think not.
My instinctive response to reading these documents was that this sounded like no depression I've ever heard of. Forrestal's physical condition upon
entering Bethesda leads me to speculate that he was under the influence of some unknown substance or substances (symptoms of '___' use include extreme
changes in mood, delusions, hallucinations, loss of appetite, increased blood pressure, sleeplessness, schizophrenia and/or severe depression). His
rapid improvement once in the hospital could be said to show a direct correlation to these drugs leaving his system. Did Symington slip him something
in the car back on March 28th?
Why were Forrestal's diaries -- all 3,000 pages of them -- confiscated by the Truman White House upon his hospitalization at Bethesda? Why was Dr.
Raines sent out of town when he was supposed to be treating a suicidal VIP? Where was Forrestal's usual night watchman, and why was Harrison, who had
only 2 months experience on the neuropsychiatric ward, given guard duty on that night?
Sources for background information: