Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Searches – Spectacular Shortfalls: The Case of Zeke

A tale to nowhere. As editor of Vietnam GI (VGI), Jeff Sharlet formed a Vietnam Veterans Advisory Committee. They were listed on the masthead by name, rank, and branch of service – GIs, a Marine, and an airman. Several served as associate or contributing editors for one issue or another. A couple of them were already well known public figures in GI protests then emerging against the war. One later became a notorious outlaw, former Marine Lance Cpl. William Harris, better known as a co-founder of the notorious Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

I had hoped to talk with all, but found only a few. By the time I arrived on the scene as Jeff’s memoirist, two of the GIs had long before committed suicide, and one had died just before we learned his whereabouts. The two we did locate have been of great importance to the project, while two others, still ‘missing in action’, sat with Jeff for long interviews on their combat experiences.

Jan Barry Crumb (later just Jan Barry), a founder of Vietnam Veterans against the War in ’67, lent his name to the Advisory Committee and also served as sub-editor for early issues. Joseph Carey, Jeff’s fellow Indiana University (IU) graduate, had been a combat photographer with the 25th Infantry at Cu Chi and brought home a trove of photos Jeff used in VGI, shots much too edgy for the divisional monthly, but that’s a separate story.

Pfc. Jan Barry Crumb, Vietnam, ‘63 and Sp4 Joseph Carey, Cu Chi, RVN, ‘66

Karen turned up another committee member, let’s call him Zeke to protect his privacy, and I followed up. A local Chicago boy, Zeke returned home after Nam, co-founded a coffee house where he and Jeff crossed paths while Jeff was at University of Chicago grad school during Fall term ’67. When Jeff dropped out and used his Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to launch VGI as the first GI-led paper addressed to GIs, Zeke agreed to join the committee and even served briefly as an associate editor. 

Zeke was not easy for Karen to find, he had migrated to the West Coast and there were many men with his surname out there. A friend of his, Jim Wallihan, a very close comrade in arms of Jeff’s at IU and in Chicago, had mentioned the name of Zeke’s wife. Though Zeke couldn’t be found, his wife turned up on the Internet, she’d listed their phone number.

Normally, I tried to approach people by email, introducing myself as Jeff’s older brother and describing what I’m up to – a softer approach since I’m a complete stranger to them seeking memories from the distant ‘60s. We had no email for Zeke, so no choice, called him cold turkey. Up to that point my inquiries had been received in a friendly way, but not this time. Through the phone I felt Zeke’s fury, how did I get this unlisted number? Told him of his wife’s posting which just increased his anger.

Apologized for disturbing him, quickly delivered my pitch, “What can you tell me about Jeff and VGI?” Zeke calmed a bit, said, “Very little,” he’d merely lent his name, wasn’t actually involved. Asked how I could be reached should anything occur to him, I said thanks and was about to sign off when Zeke tossed out, “Look for Suzy Creamcheese, Jeff’s girlfriend.” My three minutes of his time up, Zeke rang off abruptly.

I sat for a moment, bewildered by the violence of his reaction. Knew he was holding out – I’d been told he and Jeff hung out, he’d even helped get an issue to press. Because his father owned a bar popular with the cops, someone even suggested Zeke may have been an informer for the Chicago Red Squad inside the VGI. Was that it, what the hell was going on? Later, someone told me Zeke had become a cop, apparently got caught burgling and did time. He’d left Chicago and his past behind, clearly didn’t want it revisited in a book. Understood, I wouldn’t either if I were him. Hence my phone call to nowhere – well, not quite, as the reader shall see next in the final spectacular shortfall.

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