Ron Woods Remembers Early FBI Experience

Ron Woods w/J Edgar Hoover

Former NAFUSA Executive Director Ron Woods began his career with the FBI fifty years ago. His reminiscences were published on February 15, 2015, on xboys network, an email group of 3300 ex FBI agents. The photo was taken when Ron was invited to J. Edgar Hoover’s office for a private meeting when he was admitted to the Supreme Court in 1967. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a photo of Ron with the famous fedora.

Fifty years ago today, 22 young males, most in their twenties,  met in an FBI office on the fifth floor of the DOJ Building, where we were introduced to our Class Counselor, GERALD D. COAKLEY, a poster image of an FBI agent and a good man, along with Training Supervisor SI ‘THE SPY’ TULLAI, famous for his involvement in the RUDOLPH ABEL Russian spy case (arrested and convicted in 1957; traded for U-2 pilot Gary Powers in 1962)

We were sworn in, filled out all of the paperwork, took the language aptitude test, and received our official Bureau names.  The next day, 20 of us were on the navy gray school bus to Quantico.  It was never explained what happened to the other two.

In 1965, the FBI was still using its original Academy, opened in 1940 on the Quantico Marine Base. After several additions during increased agent training in WW II and the Korean War, the Academy was then a three story building with a basement, which housed the gym and the gun cleaning room.  We began our defensive tactics and firearms training under GEORGE  ZEISS, a giant of a man and a truly legendary FBI Agent. His defensive tactics training and firearms training mantra was “It’s better to be judged by 12 in the box rather than be carried by 12 in a box.”  Of course, we had all seen him in “The FBI Story” and were eager to follow his instructions. His pistol shooting demonstrations were truly spectacular. He could shoot a playing card in half edgewise by pointing the .38 special revolver over his shoulder and using the stone in his ring to sight in. Another trick was splitting a bullet on an ax and breaking targets on both sides.  In the summer of 1968, GEORGE and KEN BOUNDS were sent by DIRECTOR HOOVER to London to bring back JAMES EARL RAY, who had been arrested there for the April 1968 murder of MARTIN LUTHER KING,JR.

Our firearms training focused on the .38 Special Smith and Wesson revolver, the 1903 .30-06 Springfield rifle (never understood why the Bureau was still using this WW I rifle), the .45 Thompson Submachine gun and the Remington 870 shotgun. The FBI had great outdoor ranges for each of the different weapons. For some of us, this was the best part of the 14 week training.

Our counselor explained to us that everyone must wear a hat while in Washington because DIRECTOR HOOVER believed that all professionals wore a hat with their dark suits and white shirts. We all bought pretty much the same fedora at a clothing store in Quantico. When we returned to Washington, we were the only ones in town wearing hats. When we made the frequent walk from the DOJ Building to the Old Post Office and back to attend classes, we stood out like a sore thumb with our identical hats, dark suits, white shirts and all carrying identical leather government briefcases.  This scene was later parodied in a 1967 James Coburn movie, “The President’s Analyst”

Four of us rented an apartment in Arlington and drove in every day for classes in Washington, which were held in the DOJ Building and The Old Post Office, which was in a terrible state of disrepair before its first renovation in 1977. Our class alternated between Quantico and Washington during the 14 weeks training.  EFRAM ZIMBLAST, JR attended several of our classes in Washington and firearms in Quantico as he was preparing for the television show, The FBI, which started in September 1965.

The most memorable teacher during this period was CHARLIE DONELAN, who led the legal training.   He was very humorous with his melancholic (his favorite word) factual situations calling for a legal solution. He was an excellent teacher. The 20 member class ultimately met and shook hands with DIRECTOR HOOVER in his office, making sure we had dry palms as the DIRECTOR did not like damp, clammy handshakes.  The only time that we observed the counselor become nervous.  A few days later we heard the rumor that in one of the classes, after the ritual hand shaking, DIRECTOR HOOVER had told the counselor to “get rid of the guy with the funny shaped head”. Since the counselor had no idea which agent HOOVER meant, the counselor looked at all of the hat sizes to find one out of the ordinary. At any rate, we did not lose any class member and we chalked the story up to the numerous HOOVER rumors.

We eventually received our first office assignments, following DIRECTOR HOOVER’S mandate that each agent was sent to a different part of the country from which he came; i.e. north to south and vice versa. This was especially so since the NOVEMBER 1964 flare up between MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR and DIRECTOR HOOVER. KING had publicly claimed the FBI was not doing its job on civil rights in the South because all of the agents there were from the South. DIRECTOR HOOVER responded by publicly calling KING the “most notorious liar in the country” and pointed out that his policy had long been to assign northern agents to the South. True to form, the Yankees in our class all got assigned to southern offices and we southerners were sent north. Only one was sent west, to San Diego.

Times were much more simple fifty years ago.



Cincinnati; Columbus RA; Defense Language Institute, Monterey, CA; New York City; San Juan, P.R.