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Profile: John Edward Kelso
John Edward Kelso was a participant or observer in the following events:
Timothy McVeigh during the time he served in the Army. [Source: Viceland (.com)]Sergeant Timothy McVeigh (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990) gives three months of military service in the Persian Gulf War as a gunner on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle before returning home; during his time there, he paints the name “Bad Company” on the side of the vehicle. “He was a good soldier,” Sergeant James Ives, who serves with McVeigh, will later recall. “If he was given a mission and a target, it’s gone.” [New York Times, 4/23/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 34; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; CNN, 2001] McVeigh earns a Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal while overseas, along with a number of citations and ribbons. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 25-26] Staff Sergeant Albert Warnement, the commander of McVeigh’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Kuwait, later recalls: “He was against the National Command Authority’s decision to go to war. McVeigh did not think the United States had any business or interest in Kuwait, but… he knew it was his duty to go where he was told, and he went.” [Stickney, 1996, pp. 110]
Experiences in Kuwait, Iraq - Fellow soldier Todd Regier later recalls that McVeigh was “definitely excited about going to Desert Storm. He was a perfect gunner. He was the best gunner we had.” McVeigh is part of a Bradley crew which spends its first few weeks sitting idly in the Saudi Arabian desert while American aircraft attack Iraqi defenses (see January 16, 1991 and After). Sergeant Anthony Thigpen later recalls that while the other soldiers play cards, write letters, and chat to relieve their boredom, McVeigh spends his time cleaning his weapons. The 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment, McVeigh’s unit, is one of those that makes the initial drive into Kuwait when the invasion begins (see February 23, 1991 and After). McVeigh’s unit sees less intense action than some, and fellow soldier Roger L. Barnett will later recall that McVeigh shows little interest in shooting unarmed and defenseless Iraqis. At one point, McVeigh shoots an Iraqi soldier from some 2,000 yards away in the head, using the Bradley’s 25mm cannon. McVeigh wins a medal for the shot. He later recalls of the shooting: “His head just disappeared.… I saw everything above the shoulders disappear, like in a red mist.” He becomes angry when he learns that many Iraqis do not want to fight, and are equipped with inferior gear. According to an aunt, McVeigh is deeply disturbed about the fighting in Iraq. “When he came back, he seemed broken,” she later tells a reporter. “When we talked about it, he said it was terrible there. He was on the front line and had seen death and caused death. After the first [killing], it got easy.” While posted in Kuwait, McVeigh writes to a friend in the US that he hates Saddam Hussein: “Chickensh_t b_stard. Because of him, I killed a man who didn’t want to fight us, but was forced to.” However, a fellow soldier, Kerry Kling, later recalls McVeigh being proud of the shot that killed the Iraqi. Sergeant Royal L. Witcher, McVeigh’s assistant gunner on the Bradley, later recalls the soldiers’ dismay at their experiences with Iraqi soldiers. “I think it kind of shocked most of us,” he will say. “We had thought that they were our enemies, and then for us to encounter something like that with a mass of people giving up.” After the offensive, McVeigh’s unit is assigned to guard duty, and spends the remainder of the war relatively inactive. [New York Times, 5/4/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 113; Serrano, 1998, pp. 36-38; CNN, 12/17/2007] McVeigh will later recall being angry at the situation in Kuwait. In a letter to a reporter, he will write: “We were falsely hyped up [about the enemy]. And we get there and find out that they are normal like you and me. They hype you up to take those people out. They told us we were to defend Kuwait where the people had been raped and slaughtered (see October 10, 1990). War woke me up. War will open your eyes.” Of the Iraqi soldiers, he will write, “I felt the army brainwashed us to hate them.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 36-37]
Withdraws from Special Forces Training - After returning to the US, McVeigh begins 21 days of Special Services training at Camp McCall, west of Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see October 1990). He is thrilled to be joining Special Forces, and is confident that he will pass the grueling physical and psychological assessments. However, he leaves the training at Camp McCall during the second day. He later tells people he withdraws because of a leg injury. Some military officials will say that preliminary psychological screening shows him to be unfit for Special Forces, leading some reporters to conclude that McVeigh was kicked out of training, but those conclusions are inaccurate: McVeigh’s screenings are not processed until long after he leaves, and his withdrawal is entirely voluntary. McVeigh later says that he begins training with a friend, Specialist Mitchell Whitmire (one source spells his name “Whitmyers,” apparently in error), days after returning from overseas duty. He will say that he is in poor physical condition, mentally and physically exhausted from his time in combat, and unready for the physical demands of Green Beret training. He does not accept an offer extended to him and other combat veterans to take some time off and try again at a later date. Instead, after two arduous days of physical workouts, McVeigh and Whitmire leave the training program before McVeigh’s assessments can be graded and reviewed. On his Statement of Voluntary Withdrawal, McVeigh writes, “I am not physically ready, and the rucksack march hurt more than it should.” Ives will recall McVeigh as being “extremely disappointed.” Thigpen later recalls: “Everybody knew he was highly upset. We never knew the reason why he didn’t make it. We figured, you don’t make it, you don’t make it. But he was definitely angry. He was upset, very upset.” Fellow soldier James Fox later tells a reporter that McVeigh’s withdrawal from Special Forces training was a defining moment for him, saying, “Whether he withdrew or was kicked out, it still was a failure and very easily he could externalize blame.” McVeigh then takes a 30-day leave to visit his sister Jennifer in Florida, and to spend some time in upstate New York, where he grew up (see 1987-1988). [New York Times, 4/23/1995; New York Times, 5/4/1995; New York Times, 7/5/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 115-119; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 41-42] Author Brandon M. Stickney later writes, “It was revealed in confidence to [me] that answers McVeigh gave on the psychological tests were apparently a bit off-center, not the answers of a man capable of long-term assignments with the exclusive and tight Special Forces.” Stickney will also write that McVeigh may be suffering from “Gulf War Syndrome,” a mysterious series of maladies apparently caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 117-118] In 1993, McVeigh will write a letter to his sister Jennifer giving a very different explanation of his reason for withdrawing from Special Forces tryouts (see October 20, 1993). After he returns from active duty, he begins displaying increasingly eccentric behavior (see March 1991 and After). McVeigh will go on to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
Entity Tags: Brandon M. Stickney, Timothy James McVeigh, Todd Regier, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, US Department of the Army, Albert Warnement, Anthony Thigpen, Roger L. Barnett, Royal L. Witcher, Rick Cerney, Bruce Williams, Robin Littleton, James Fox, Catina Lawson, James Ives, James Hardesty, Mitchell Whitmire, John Edward Kelso
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Sergeant Timothy McVeigh, a decorated Army gunner, returns from serving three months in Operation Desert Storm (see January - March 1991 and After). Disillusioned and discouraged by his experiences and his failure to succeed in Special Forces training, McVeigh returns to Fort Riley, Kansas, and begins displaying increasingly odd behavior, always carrying a weapon and talking incessantly about the constitutional right to bear arms. His friend and fellow soldier Bruce Williams later recalls that McVeigh is no longer the “Iron Mike” that he had known during training at Fort Benning. “I’d hang out and go to the parties and drink Budweiser,” Williams will recall. “Tim just stayed in his room playing Nintendo.” McVeigh rents a house off post with two fellow soldiers, Corporal John Edward Kelso and Sergeant Rick Cerney, in Herington, Kansas, some 40 miles from Fort Riley. Kelso later recalls he and Cerney trying to “josh with him” and get him to relax. “It was so easy to put him over the edge,” Kelso will recall. “He was so gullible, so vulnerable. He was so unbalanced about being tough. He was just kind of a nerd.” Sergeant Royal L. Witcher, McVeigh’s assistant gunner during active duty in Kuwait and Iraq, later recalls that McVeigh is uncomfortable sharing the house with the two, and persuades Witcher to let him move in with him instead. McVeigh moves into Witcher’s Herington home and immediately claims the larger of the two bedrooms, blocking the window with a camouflage poncho. Witcher later says he knew better than to enter McVeigh’s room. McVeigh keeps at least 10 guns in the house, Witcher will recall, saying: “They weren’t exposed, they were hidden. He had a couple in the kitchen, a couple in the living room under the couch. I think there was one in the bathroom, behind the towels. As you go up the steps there was a little ledge and he kept one in there, a .38 revolver.” McVeigh also keeps two guns in his car and a shotgun at the home of a sergeant who also lives off post. Witcher never asks why McVeigh keeps so many guns. “I don’t know if he was paranoid or what,” Witcher will recall. “Or maybe he had some friends that were after him. I don’t know.” On occasion, McVeigh sells guns to fellow soldiers. He cleans all of his weapons twice a week, and takes them to a lake to shoot every weekend. Witcher never recalls McVeigh having any dates. On a few occasions, the two have conversations. “He was a very racist person,” Witcher will recall. “He had very strong views against, like, political things, like that.” Witcher will say he does not share McVeigh’s racist views: “He pretty much knew my views and he didn’t talk too much about it around me.” McVeigh constantly complains about government intrusiveness, Witcher will recall, taking umbrage with items he reads in the newspaper on a daily basis. Witcher will remember McVeigh dropping out of the National Rifle Association (NRA) when that organization seems to be softening its stance on the banning of assault rifles. He begins spending more and more time poring over gun magazines, and spends more and more time in the pawnshops and gun dealerships in nearby Junction City. [New York Times, 4/23/1995; New York Times, 5/4/1995; New York Times, 7/5/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 42; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; CNN, 2001]
Becomes Conspiracy-Minded, Involved with Extremist Groups - Ives will recall that after his failed attempt to join Special Forces, McVeigh becomes involved with extreme right-wing political groups off-post. Ives cannot identify the groups, but, he will say, “cults is what I call them.” Witcher will recall nothing of any such involvement. [New York Times, 4/23/1995; New York Times, 5/4/1995] Ives may be referring to a group of soldiers who begin meeting off-base to take action against gun control and government interference in their lives, a group McVeigh meets with at least once. His unit member Robin Littleton later recalls McVeigh becoming increasingly “bitter” and conspiracy-minded, reading books about the Kennedy assassination and becoming “convinced that the government was behind it all. He also started reading a lot of fiction, all of it to do with big business and the military planning on overthrowing the government. He started to rant on about the private armies that were springing up inside the federal government, and how the CIA and FBI were out of control.” At least one local girl, Catina Lawson, shows some interest in McVeigh, but his anti-Semitic rants and his professed admiration for Adolf Hitler quickly terminate her interest. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 120, 125-127] Warnement later recalls corresponding with McVeigh in 1992 and 1993, after Warnement is transferred to Germany. “He sent me a lot of newsletters and stuff from those groups he was involved in,” Warnement will recall. He will say that because the literature is so extremist, he throws it away rather than being caught with it. “There were newsletters from [militia leader] Bo Gritz’s group, some other odd newsletters, some from the Patriots; then he sent that videotape ‘The Big Lie’ about Waco. He seemed quite a bit different after the war than he’d been before.” The Branch Davidian debacle (see April 19, 1993) infuriates McVeigh, Warnement will recall (see April 19, 1993 and After). McVeigh is also angered by the use of Army units for drug-enforcement duties on the US-Mexican border, the deployment of infantry during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and UN command over US forces during fighting in Somalia. “He thought the federal government was getting too much power,” Warnement will recall. “He thought the ATF [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] was out of control. Then, of course, when Waco happened, he really felt the ATF was out of control.… He wasn’t happy about Somalia, that if we could put the United States under basically UN command and send them to Somalia to disarm their citizens, then why couldn’t they come do the same thing in the United States?… It had a kind of logic to it, but it really didn’t take into account the flip side of things. I kind of had the feeling that he might be headed for trouble because he was never the type of person to back down.” [New York Times, 7/5/1995] In February 1992, McVeigh sends Warnement a copy of The Turner Diaries, a racially inflammatory novel about a white supremacist genocide in the US (see 1978). He also includes a news article concerning a black militant politician. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]
Accepts Early Discharge - Like many soldiers, McVeigh is encouraged to leave as part of the military’s postwar “drawdown.” McVeigh soon takes an early discharge and leaves the Army entirely (see November 1991 - Summer 1992). Sergeant James Hardesty, who served in Kuwait with McVeigh, later says that many soldiers such as McVeigh and himself felt like “discarded baggage.” [New York Times, 5/4/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 42-43] Fellow soldier Roger L. Barnett later recalls: “He wasn’t the same McVeigh. He didn’t go at things the way he normally did. It used to be, a superior commanding soldier would tell him to do something and he’d do it 110 percent. He didn’t have the same drive. He didn’t have his heart in the military anymore.” [New York Times, 7/5/1995]
Future Oklahoma City Bomber - McVeigh will go on to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
Entity Tags: John Edward Kelso, Catina Lawson, James Hardesty, Albert Warnement, Rick Cerney, Bruce Williams, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, US Department of the Army, Robin Littleton, Roger L. Barnett, Timothy James McVeigh, Royal L. Witcher
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
On April 17, Timothy McVeigh, planning to carry out the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and apparently casting about for someone to help him (see March 31 - April 12, 1995 and April 5, 1995), calls his old Army friend and roommate, John Kelso from his room at the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, Kansas (see April 13, 1995). McVeigh shared an apartment with Kelso during their days at Fort Riley, Kansas (see January - March 1991 and After). Kelso, living in an Alliance, Nebraska, apartment, does not answer the call; he is at his job as an engineer on the Burlington Northern Railroad. Press reports will later state that Kelso hears a voice on his answering machine say to someone else on the caller’s end: “He’s not home. He’s at work.” On April 21, two days after the bombing, FBI agents, tracing the call to the Dreamland Motel, quiz Kelso about the call. Kelso says he did not even know who made the call until the agents inform him it was McVeigh, and he tells them he has not seen McVeigh since McVeigh left the Army in 1992. Kelso will characterize McVeigh as a “froot loop.” [New York Times, 8/13/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996] McVeigh will later deny placing the call. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]
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