We had hoped the Bronco would make it to see this book published. He made a major contribution to it, both in editing and writing two excellent pieces while suffering the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease. Bronco was Gaeton Fonzi’s code name. It was coined by Frank King, our investigator, more than 40 years ago at Philadelphia Magazine. Apparently it was an old Irish neighborhood nickname for Italians. It is unclear whether it was a term of derision or respect. Probably a bit of both, and in Gaeton’s case definitely the latter.
Anyway, Gaeton did not quite make it. He died Aug. 30, 2012, several months before this book was scheduled to appear. He did not go silently. Major papers carried his obituary and the excellent one in the The New York Times was picked up as far away as Europe and Australia. The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted Herb Lipson on the contribution Gaeton made to Philadelphia Magazine’s explosive growth in the 1960s. The Miami Herald emphasized investigative pieces that originated in South Florida. The New York Times quoted Robert Blakey, who Gaeton had criticized for putting too much trust in the CIA, when Blakey headed the Congressional committee reopening the inquiry into the death of President Kennedy in the late 1970s. Blakey praised Gaeton’s tenacity and admitted that Gaeton was right in claiming the CIA stonewalled the investigation.
Those of us who followed Fonzi’s JFK odyssey from that first meeting with attorney Vince Salandria in Wildwood, N.J., in 1966, could not help being struck by the irony of his remarkable sendoff. When Gaeton first wrote about the Kennedy assassination in Philadelphia Magazine, few people outside of Philadelphia read it. In that time, those challenging the Warren Commision were often characterized as publicity-seeking sensationalists. Fourteen years later, when he published magazine articles in Gold Coast in Florida and the Washingtonian, there was a bit more interest, especially in Washington where that magazine was sued for $70 million by a CIA officer who thought he had been libeled. The magazine won.
Even as late as 1993, when The Last Investigation was expanded into a book, the response was muted. It was partly because Gerald Posner’s Case Closed appeared at the same time. Posner’s book was incredibly shallow and distorted; there is a suspicion it was commissioned by the CIA to offset both Fonzi’s book and Oliver Stone’s film, “JFK.” And yet numerous sources praised Posner’s book; it even was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Among those dismissing Fonzi’s book as confusing, while praising Posner’s, was The New York Times.
In the almost two decades since, much has changed. Fonzi’s work has been a source for other writers. A number have validated The Last Investigation with the support of recently declassified documents and testimony of witnesses long silent in fear. Paul Vitello, writing in the same The New York Times which ignored him 20 years ago, said “historians and researchers consider Mr. Fonzi’s book among the best of the roughly 600 published on the Kennedy assassination, and credit him with raising doubts about the government’s willingness to share everything it knew.”
The pendulum of time has a way of swinging in the direction of truth, even if takes 50 years and death to make it happen.