Valley Voices

A chance meeting with Watergate’s John Dean, John Lennon and Yoko Ono

John Dean III is sworn in before testifying to the Senate Watergate Committee in Washington, June 25, 1973. President Trump referenced Dean, who served as President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, in a tweet defending his current White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II.
John Dean III is sworn in before testifying to the Senate Watergate Committee in Washington, June 25, 1973. President Trump referenced Dean, who served as President Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, in a tweet defending his current White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II. NYT

The Bee’s Sept. 8 story about John Dean’s testimony at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee brought back a lot of memories. How often does one attend a judicial hearing and leave later that day with a first-name acquaintanceship with Dean, his wife Mo, John Lennon and his wife Yoko?

On June 17, 1972, I was on the faculty at the National War College in Washington, D. C. My afternoon lecture that day was on ethics and morality, and the difference between the two. The discussion that followed lasted nearly two hours. When classes started the next morning, everyone had forgotten about ethics and morality. They were talking about the mysterious bungled, third-rate burglary that occurred overnight when five obviously amateur thugs tried to break into an office at the Watergate, a condominium, hotel and office complex along the Potomac on the western edge of the nation’s capital.

elvin bell
Elvin Bell of Fresno Fresno Bee file

The five men were arrested and hauled off to jail. Two days later, the Watergate break-in was ancient history and the current news in Washington turned to something more interesting: the hotter than usual summer heat, and President Richard Nixon’s anticipated landslide victory in November that could carry every state.

A year later, on June 18, 1973, I was back in Washington, but this time I had two different jobs: War College faculty member, and an adviser to Nixon during his White House negotiations with Soviet Union General Secretary Leonid I. Brezhnev. The four-day session led to the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement. Afterward, when Brezhnev accepted Nixon’s invitation to fly with him on Air Force One to California, I was in the Everett Dirksen Senate Office Building where the Watergate hearings were being held. Thanks to my credentials, I was led up front to a second row bench seat.

My view of the witness, John Dean, was partially blocked because I was sitting directly behind the voluptuous and statuesque Mrs. Maureen “Mo” Dean. She had her blondish hair pulled back into a tight bun and she sat like a glistening diamond in a field of scarecrows. As I was getting accustomed to moving my head from side to side for a view around her head, I was tapped on the shoulder and a lady’s voice said, “Pardon me, please,” as she took the vacant seat beside me. I looked at her. She was Asian and her head was shaven. Her small bald head glowed under the bright ceiling lights. She was followed by a man who also had his head shaven. He sat between me and the lady. I glanced at them again. When I realized who they were, I sat back, closed my eyes, and mentally added two more names to the event makers in my life. They were John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

I remembered reading a news article that reported they had shaved their heads to protest the war in Vietnam.

John Lennon was a talkative type. When a break was called during Dean’s testimony, the Beatles superstar engaged me in a conversation that consisted of a running series of questions. The subjects were about American politics, where I was born and lived, what I did for a living, did I play a musical instrument, am I a baritone or bass when I sing, why did I come to Washington during the hot summer, did I believe in God, why does America insist on having a military, and would I join him and Yoko for lunch? During the break, we were required to stay in our seats while John and Mo Dean were escorted to their respective rest rooms. Afterward, Lennon and I stood side by side at the urinals while his running questioning and dialogue continued. “Why is your country fighting in Vietnam,” he asked. “Did you know,” as one particular question started, “that I am more powerful and popular than God?” I remembered seeing him on TV earlier that year when he said the same thing. I just listened. Our lunch was a continuation of a series of questions; from both John and Yoko. Then we were calling each other by our first names.

Elvin C. Bell resides in Fresno. He is a retired Air Force colonel, and served four terms on the city council, including two terms as mayor pro tem. He is the author of 14 books. His current one “The Feather Dusters,” and will be published in December. He can be reached at colonelabby@comcast.net

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