On September 20, 1959, a former United States marine officer and the suspect in the John F. Kennedy assassination Lee Harvey Oswald defected to the Soviet Union.
Nineteen-year-old Oswald thoroughly prepared for the trip: he learned the basics of Russian, saved $1,500 from his Marine Corps salary, and submitted several applications to foreign universities to become eligible for a student visa.
On September 20, 1959, he departed from New Orleans to France by ship, then proceeding to Finland through the United Kingdom. In Finland, he applied for a Russian visa in the Soviet consulate and was issued one a month later.
Once in the Soviet Union, he immediately announced he was seeking Soviet citizenship. After he was refused one, he pretended to commit a suicide by slightly cutting his wrist in the hotel bathtub. For that, he was institutionalized for a preventive check-up.
In late October Oswald showed up at the American embassy in Moscow asking to trade his American citizenship for the Soviet one, claiming he had some confidential information in return. Strangely enough, one of the American embassy officials commented after talking to Oswald that he appeared to have adopted an odd behavioral pattern, and his words – albeit spoken properly – did not seem as though they were being understood by the person speaking them. The official suspected there was a mastermind behind him guiding his words and actions.
Oswald was sent to Minsk, the capital of the Republic of Belarus. He was employed as a metal lathe operator at the radio and television plant in Minsk; he was also allowed a subsidized furnished apartment, though cautiously wired by the KGB, and received extra payments from the Red Cross Society, becoming a model middle-class Soviet worker. In Minsk, he earned himself the reputation of a gambler and a lady’s man, falling asleep at work after nights of debauchery. Bored with his dull job and the recreation limited to trade union dances, Oswald filed another appeal to the US embassy, asking them to allow him return to the States.
There has always been speculation as to what the real reasons were for Oswald’s sudden urge to visit the Soviet Union. People gossiped as to why the Soviet government agreed to let the American defector from the secret military base into the country. While in the Soviet Union, Oswald met a Russian girl, Marina, and married her less than six weeks after their first meeting. Marina’s uncle was a colonel of the Ministry of the Interior, a fact which revived the gossip about his secret spy mission.
The couple moved to the United States after a year of paperwork, in 1961, with Oswald later receiving a good deal of media attention for his visit to the Soviet Union and coming back.
In a year he became involved in a group of supporters of Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader, and broadcast himself as the voice of the communist regime on Cuba. In 1963, Oswald went to Mexico City, where he negotiated with the Cuban and Soviet embassies about obtaining visas to these countries. Oswald’s appearance there obviously did not go unnoticed by the American secret services which led them to believe that Kennedy’s assassination was somehow related with the Cuban Missile Crisis. There was a spicier explanation for Oswald’s heinous act. He was said to be very jealous of his wife’s Marina ex-boyfriend, and he thought Kennedy very much resembled his alleged rival. His decision to kill the President was made in a routine fit of jealousy.