Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Good Life at the Presidio

Late March ’56. The Army shipped me from the East to the West Coast. In a matter of hours I escaped the cold and slush of the Northeast for sunny, balmy California. Although I was outfitted in khaki gabardine with the signature ‘Ike jacket’ of the old brown-shoe Army, it was the Army Security Agency (ASA) that put me on the plane. ASA was a semi-secret intelligence outfit housed within the US Army solely for logistical purposes since it reported to the National Security Agency (NSA) in Washington DC.

Six years later in the dead of winter, my younger brother Jeff Sharlet made the same journey. Each in our own time had gone through Basic Training at Fort Dix in northern New Jersey. Dix was a small city of 30,000 troops complete with mid-rise buildings (barracks), parade grounds, and firing ranges. The only diversion – with permission – was Wrightstown just outside the gates, a regular grimsville. There, as members of ASA, the military arm of NSA, we were taught elementary martial skills such as marching, the M-1 rifle, and how to thrust the bayonet along with a few days of throwing grenades and firing the .30 cal machine gun. I can’t say either one of us emerged from Dix as well trained soldiers – that wouldn’t have been possible in our short time there, just eight weeks. Besides, that wasn’t ASA’s purpose in the case of those of us destined for California.

I was transferred to Fort Devens in New England, an ASA processing center where it was decided how I might be of use. Jeff was processed at the end of his Dix course. Both he and I had committed three years of our young lives to the military in return for extensive language training, but there was a caveat. One had to qualify by passing a language aptitude test. We both did and were ordered to report to the Army Language School (ALS) at the Presidio of Monterey on the California coast – an idyllic place in a universe of grim military bases.

Arriving at the Presidio late that March day, my travel mates and I quickly shed our heavy Army overcoats and beheld rows of well-kept WWII wooden barracks and well-tended lawns amidst shady trees. Quite improbably one approached the headquarters building along a path lined with bright flowers. All was set high on a vast bluff overlooking beautiful Monterey Bay. It was as if we had transferred overnight from a large, impersonal state university to the campus of a small, elite liberal arts college. In a letter, Jeff’s first reaction, “This doesn’t seem like the Army.”

ALS Barracks

And ALS was something of a college, but skewed toward a single discipline, the Modern Languages, the full array from Arabic to Russian. Back at Devens, I was promised Czech and ASA delivered. Years later, Jeff too was promised a Slavic language, but got Vietnamese. Though we lived and studied in different parts of the Presidio – Jeff in the Oriental languages section at the peak of the hill while I was midway down in the European languages area – we both followed the same curriculum of six hours a day language training, five days a week, 11 ½ months. As military duty went, it was a great posting – academic study with a break for lunch and few military obligations other than standing Retreat at the end of the week as the flag came down and the loudspeakers gave forth the sad strains of Taps.

Well, I should qualify that because Jeff told me life wasn’t that easy in the ‘60s. My barracks sergeant, a fellow student and long-time professional soldier, was always just glad to get back to his private room after evening chow. A master of the parade ground, sarge was not at home with language drills, grammar study, and homework every night. We rarely saw him outside of class and the mess hall and he in turn rarely took an interest in our college boy-like barracks where we bunked two to a cubicle. Being under the Army’s roof, we were obliged to have our bunks with their regulation woolen blankets drawn tight and brown wooden footlocker squared away, but not much else. It was the mid-‘50s, a quiet time in the Cold War.

While Jeff lived in a more modern barracks with semi-private rooms, tiled bathrooms, and piped-in music, his NCO-in-charge, a non-commissioned officer, was a young by-the-book Marine who ran a tight ship, including periodic footlocker inspections, after class chores, and occasional formations. While I and a few buddies studying Russian and other languages maintained our cubicles in good order, we actually lived off-post, illegally. Down the hill below the Presidio lay the small seaside town of Monterey, but we chose to rent a house across the peninsula in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a lovely place of fine shops, quaint pubs, and charming bungalows. As long as we made it to class on time in the morning, no one knew the difference.

Sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away…
…wasting time*

In mid-’62 Jeff’s social life began to look up when his fellow Albany Academy grad, Keith Willis, turned up at ALS. Keith too was shunted into Vietnamese along with Jeff, Ken Yonowitz, Vachel Worthington, John Buquoi, Steve Shlafer, David Elliott, Harvey Kline, and others training in the expanding program. Though Vietnamese was never as big as Russian and Chinese, the languages of America’s two major Cold War adversaries, the Kennedy Administration had begun stocking up on interpreter/translators; in time they would serve in our increasing involvement in the North-South civil war underway in former French Indochina. Like my instructors in Czech, the Vietnamese teaching staff were also refugees, mostly from Communist North Vietnam. In both departments, the majority of staff were not professional teachers. As individuals from a spectrum of occupations, civilian and military, fate had landed them on the shores of the Monterey Peninsula.

Jeff and Keith Willis (fresh out of Penn’s Wharton School), bought a used British motorcycle. It carried them up and down the California coast, south to Big Sur, north to San Francisco where they’d roar up to the front of the Mark Hopkins, premier hotel of the day; Jeff would dismount and hand off the cycle to the doorman to park. During our respective tours at ALS, Jeff and I also took in the pleasures of the peninsula, including funky eateries on then run-down Cannery Row of Steinbeck fame; the way off-Broadway theater on the Monterey Wharf; 17-mile Drive along Pebble Beach; fine restaurants like Gallatin’s; and great pubs like Sade’s on Ocean Avenue, Carmel’s main drag running down to a wide Pacific beach. Once classes ended for the week and uniforms gave way to civvies, life at the Presidio and its environs was very pleasant.

Off-duty at ALS, Keith Willis going high for a Frisbee

Occasionally those of us enjoying the tranquil life of the military college on the hill were reminded of the Cold War underway across the globe.  In my day, it was the Hungarian Revolution of October ’56. The Hungarian language department was next to mine, and I knew some of the guys. In Budapest, Soviet armor, temporarily pulled out, swept back into the city igniting heavy street fighting with the Hungarian Freedom Fighters. Students from the several Hungarian classes disappeared suddenly from one day to the next. Their classmates were puzzled. Later we learned the missing GIs were Special Forces troops, then a little known outfit, who were abruptly and secretly sent to units in Europe on stand-by should the United States intervene. Six years later to the month, October ’62 during Jeff’s ALS tour, it was the Cuban Missile Crisis. Similarly to '56, other than the officers and NCO's for whom the possibility of military action meant career advancement, the dramatic events in the Caribbean made barely a ripple in the placid routines of the Army Language School. 

As students finished their respective 50-week courses, ALS mounted a graduation ceremony and everyone was given 30-days leave. Then the top ASA language students received orders for advanced intelligence training at Fort Meade MD while the rest of us were dispatched abroad to various theaters of operation. In spring ’57 I flew off to Europe, exactly where I wanted to be, while in early ‘63 Jeff headed for Southeast Asia, a reluctant warrior, eventually finding himself drawn into the maelstrom of the emerging Vietnam War.

*”Sittin’ on the the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper, 1967

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bad Intelligence, Sorry 'bout That

Vietnam GI (VGI) led off each issue with a long interview with a combat veteran talking about gritty aspects of the war rarely seen in the more sanitized national media. Jeff Sharlet, an ex-Vietnam GI, conducted most of the interviews, identifying an especially dramatic quote and running it across the front page as the header. In Vietnam, mainstream foreign correspondents worked under constraints. If they were too aggressive in their coverage of a combat unit’s embarrassments, a commanding officer (CO) might deny them transportation to the battle scene next time around. Similarly, their home editors in the States soon learned that consistently critical coverage of the war could get their domestic reporters shut out of White House backgrounders on other news stories. Hence, the field correspondents of necessity practiced a degree of self-censorship, and for those who didn’t, the home office would do the cutting.

In sharp contrast, the interviews in VGI with the combat troopers revealed the darker undercurrents of the war not seen on CBS or in the Washington Post – the inevitable command failures, communications breakdowns, and general foul-ups of war. Most often the result was loss of American lives. Here are excerpts from a typical VGI interview with Marine Cpl Craig Walden who served two tours as a recon and weapons specialist and a squad leader. Severely wounded, he was evacuated to the States in spring ’68. He tells the story of a post-Tet battle just below the border with North Vietnam in a calm, understated manner:
VGI:  How did you get hit over there?
Cpl Walden: This last fiasco we were in. I was with Bravo Company of the 1/3. We were sitting across the Qua Viet River last May [‘68] and we got a call there was a platoon of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) – a platoon of theirs is approximately 40 men at most – building up in this village, Dai Do. We were sitting up on the other side of this river, so Lt Norris, our CO, wants this great reputation for himself as a hero – he was gung ho … He says 'my men will go get them'...

Cpl Craig Walden, Vietnam, ‘68

So we got a couple of amtracks, amphibious track vehicles, we got our company on them, started going across the river and got halfway there when we started taking machine gun fire from the village. … So we hit the beach and got off the thing and they just started hitting us from all over. I’m thinking, man, this is some platoon they’ve got …. We started pushing across an open field to this one small little hill right before the large village. We had lost over half the company by now, so we decided this wasn’t a  platoon they had in the village.
All night we were losing people and getting rocket rounds and mortar rounds. Well, the next morning the shit was still flying, we’re still firing back and forth. … We had this one [amtrack left] and we were going to charge across this field and attack the village with about half our company. … We got halfway across the field and then it really started. We had two tanks come down along the shore line, which were blown up immediately, everybody in the tanks was killed. And they were still insisting this was an NVA platoon. …
Well, we kept pushing through until finally everybody was shot, everyone was out of ammunition and everything. We tried pulling back, all the corpsmen were shot. I was shot myself. We dragged back to the river so we had the river to our backs. Wehad 11 of us left now out of approximately 237 people. [AnotherMarine unit took the village a few days later] …they estimated final body count was over 1500. That was what we attacked with 200 something men.
It was in Time magazine.* They wrote up … that this Marine Company had attacked this full division, the 320th NVA Division. Said casualties were ‘light to moderate’, they said we had won and everything. They didn’t mention the fact that only 11 guys survived. I got medevac-ed out of there.
Craig Walden lost an arm and spent months in hospital at Great Lakes Naval Facility. Once again one marvels at the raw courage of Marines, continuing to attack against wildly superior forces with most of their men dead or wounded. And Craig was an impressive story teller, telling the hair-raising tale with the utmost dispassion. As he healed, a Navy doctor asked him if he was going back to his unit in Nam. Craig said, What could I do with one arm; the doc replied, Fire a pistol.

Later, returning to his native Chicago, Craig along with two other ex-Vietnam GIs, John Alden and Joe Harris, became a co-editor of Vietnam GI following Jeff’s death in mid-’69.

*Time, May 10, 1968, p. 32

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Elvis and the New Left at Indiana

Elvis Jacob Stahr Jr was a person of considerable accomplishment. His life had been a string of consecutive successes – BA Kentucky ’36 where he was Cadet Colonel of the ROTC regiment, Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, prestigious law firm in New York, distinguished WWII record, dean of law at Kentucky, vice chancellor of Pitt, president at West Virginia, and Secretary of the Army under Kennedy (JFK). In ‘62 he became President of Indiana University (IU), and his luck ran out.

Stahr succeeded Herman B. Wells, IU’s long serving, legendary statesman-president, admittedly big shoes to fill. In his inaugural address, President Stahr spoke eloquently of further enhancing the university’s international research reputation while simultaneously accommodating the wave of Baby Boomers pouring into American higher ed. He also seemed preoccupied with the Cold War. Fresh from Washington where he’d played an important role in the Berlin Crisis of ’61 as Secretary of the Army, President Stahr said: “Military power of the most advanced kind will be essential to protecting freedom so long as the forces of antifreedom themselves have such power and are not content to stay at home."

In his long address, the students got short shrift, a paternalistic nod, “they are questioning, debating, impatient, ambitious, sometimes confused, always expectant, never wholly good, never really bad ….” If any students were in attendance – I was not, studying for my PhD prelims – they might have been a bit put off by the all too familiar in loco parentis rhetoric.

By the time brother Jeff Sharlet finished his Vietnam tour and returned to IU in the fall of ’64, the placid waters of academe were stirring as troublesome events far away were coming into focus. JFK had escalated US involvement in the Vietnamese civil war. South Vietnam’s president had been assassinated in a coup on Jeff’s watch in ‘63. Political instability and social unrest followed. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was building membership on the nation’s campuses. Watching and listening, a small group of ‘questioning’ and ‘impatient’ students at IU, including ex-GI Jeff, were becoming angry and restive.

Several months later during spring ’65, President Johnson (LBJ) escalated the Vietnam War even more dramatically, and the IU cohort, along with students at many other schools, reacted in protest. Jeff and compatriots began gathering Friday afternoons on Dunn Meadow, a great lawn officially designated as a ‘free speech’ zone, where the air was filled with talk of civil rights, economic disparities, and the burgeoning war halfway across the world. A teach-in was launched at the University of Michigan -- faculty experts leading students in discussion of the war. The Ann Arbor event was broadcast, and concerned students at IU and elsewhere listened in via a telephone link. SDS organized an April antiwar march in Washington DC that exceeded all expectations; the IU group sent a delegation.

President Stahr’s record in dealing with ‘questioning’ students at IU was a mixed one. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of ’62 an ad hoc group of IU students announced its intention to demonstrate against “US aggression;” an IU student writing in The New Republic (TNR) reported that Stahr had urged the student body to ignore the dissenters, saying “The most effective way to deal with minorities with whom we disagree in the present … situation is to ignore them completely.”* In a letter later published in the local Bloomington paper, the TNR writer followed up, criticizing Stahr’s belief that it was “his function as President to use his office and means of communication to militate against a group of his students before the group has fully stated and defended its ideas.” The small group did protest the US naval blockade of Cuba by marching from the county courthouse to the IU campus; campus security stood by while a large, angry mob of conservative students threw punches and objects at them.

The following spring of ‘63, three student leaders of IU’s Trotskyist Young Socialist Alliance (YSA) were arrested and bound over for trial under Indiana’s anti-communist statute. Stahr earned high praise for himself in a New York Times editorial for refusing to take university action against the ‘Bloomington 3’, as they came to be known, declaring, “We have far too much to lose ultimately if we unleash the forces of suppression under the guise of protecting freedom.”**

By the academic year 1966-67, a strong SDS chapter was functioning at IU, trying to educate the student body on the war and mounting demonstrations against a series of prominent pro-war speakers appearing on campus. President Stahr in turn was rapidly losing patience with the ‘impatient’ critical minority on campus. In his remarks to incoming freshmen for the academic year 1966-67, he criticized an impending student demonstration in language suggesting subversion of “basic freedoms” was at hand.

Then at the end of the Fall term, in his annual ‘State of the University’ address to the faculty, Stahr singled out the campus New Left for sharp criticism, saying, “We are fortunate in knowing a good deal about the motives of the leadership of the so-called ‘New Left’,” and used terms like “dogma”, “conspiracy”, “deceit”, “puppets”, and “propaganda”. In February ’67, with the university budget in jeopardy in the conservative state legislature, the president issued a statewide release of his text, which also included a sly reference to the Hitler Youth in universities of Weimar Germany.

To say that Stahr’s public remarks were intemperate and inappropriate for an institution of higher learning would be an understatement, and Jeff, by then the elected SDS president, took note and responded. First, he and SDS vice president Bob Tennyson wrote an open letter asking President Stahr to either retract his attack or substantiate his charges. The president responded, effectively denying that he had made an attack; thus, there was nothing to retract. Jeff and Bob replied, quoting verbatim the offensive remarks in the president’s text and suggesting that perhaps he hadn’t read his own speech.

In a fuller response to the president on the following day, March 9, 1967, Jeff gave a 2500 word counter-address, “The Role of the New Left on Campus: The State of the Student”, at a weekly gathering to an audience of over a hundred activists; his remarks received wider circulation in the campus alternative paper where he was introduced as president of IU SDS, a senior Honors student in Government, and a veteran of the Vietnam War. Jeff began, “The presence of the left on campus is by no means a new phenomenon,” but, he added, time and circumstances had changed the thrust of its stance. The Old Left had critically engaged the larger society while the New Left across the nation was taking on the university itself and its role in society at large. Not surprisingly, Jeff continued, New Left criticism was evoking a harsh response from university administrators hoping to silence, “discredit and render ineffective student action on the campus”; he illustrated, quoting some of President Stahr’s choice phrases such as “enemies of freedom” and “a cynical effort to exploit the idealism of students.”

Jeff commented that “these are not the statements of a lunatic right-winger but of the president of our university whose professed concern is the education of our country’s youth.”  The main body of his speech followed – the prevailing New Left critique of the “corporate liberalism” of the modern university, its broader implications for American society, and a call for ‘Student Power’. Closing his remarks, Jeff called for more faculty and student participation in the intellectual life of the university and a more balanced convocation policy on a campus where only pro-war advocates such as Richard Nixon, General Taylor, and General Hershey were invited. Jeff stated that, absent anti-war speakers to engender debate, the New Left would continue presenting alternate views on the war and other issues of the day to the campus community at large.

President Stahr introducing General Maxwell Taylor, ‘66

We have no way of knowing Stahr’s reaction to the ‘State of the Student’, but we can guess he was extremely displeased because a little over a year later he fled academe, abruptly tendering his resignation as president, citing “presidential fatigue.” It was a convenient euphemism for a person acknowledging the first setback in a long succession of career achievements. As a man more suited to positions where no one pushed back, Stahr had clearly been temperamentally unsuited to lead a major university through turbulent times.

At Indiana University, by no means the most restive campus in the country, Elvis Stahr, in spite of his inaugural rhetoric about ‘questioning’ students, was well beyond his comfort zone. He had served only six years as president, a relatively short tenure. In an interview in Time marked by bitterness and vitriol a few months later, Stahr referred to activists as bigots and zealots “determined to destroy” and denied he had deserted his post.*** Moving on, he became president of the National Audubon Society, a quiet venue where he reburnished his laurels, generally receiving high marks. At his death 20 years later, Elvis Jacob Stahr Jr was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

* Jay Neugeboren, The New Republic (9/21/63), 14.
** New York Times (5/21/63), 15.
*** Time (9/27/68),,9171,902330-2,00.html

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Namesake as Co-Author

There’s a second ‘Jeff’ in my brother Jeff Sharlet’s story. He’s my son, the namesake. Born three years after the death of the uncle he never knew, he was destined to become a best-selling author, a writer for Rolling Stone, and my co-author. Sure I had pictures of my brother in the house, but for a small child they didn’t mean much. I had stored the modest archive of papers and photos my brother left behind in the basement. Of course there were copies of his underground GI antiwar paper, Vietnam GI (VGI).

Sometime later, my son, a curious teen rummaging around the basement, came across the archive. On top was VGI for August ’69 with a grainy photo of my brother within a black border. As my son Jeff would write years later, it was of “a skinny, frowning man with his hands stuffed into the pockets of Army fatigues, a cigarette glued to his lip, a black eyebrow arched as if he’s saying, ‘Get a load of this’. Behind him, Vietnam.” Across the page in bold was Jeff Sharlet Dies. It began: “Many good men never came back from Nam. Some came back disabled in mind. Jeff Sharlet came back a pretty together cat. And he came back angry.” At last, his namesake had made the connection – the pictures on my wall and my younger brother he never met.
Jeff Sharlet Dies

Time passed, Jeff the younger went off to college. A year earlier he and his sister had lost their mother, my ex-, to illness. As I had readied Nancy’s house for the market, I came across numerous writings of hers – in drawers, cupboards and cubby holes, an astonishing volume of material which, as it turned out, she had never shown to anyone. With my daughter off in college, her brother still in high school, I packed the writings into a small trunk for another time. Several years later Jeff was casting about for a senior thesis topic and out of curiosity opened the trunk containing his mother’s trove of essays, character sketches, story fragments, diaries. Dubbing her ‘a secret writer’, he wrote a thesis based on her work. Jeff’s mentor judged his thesis exceptional, good enough to get him a reading by a New York literary agent who took him on. The secret writer had launched her son’s career.

The young writer served his apprenticeship on various publications, including a stint as editor-in-chief of a small magazine, before he decided it was time to write a book. Soon after, his first appeared to excellent reviews. As he worked on his next book, Jeff became a regular contributor to Rolling Stone, Harper’s, and Oxford American. His second book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, struck a chord in the national political discourse and became a New York Times non-fiction best seller.

One afternoon in New York while having drinks with the chief editor of a major publisher, Jeff happened to casually mention the memoir I was writing on my brother. Her eyes lit up, and she asked for details, saying “If your father will let you on the book, I’ll give you a contract.” Jeff called and very hesitantly broached her idea, sensitive that it was my book project. Listening for a few minutes, I interrupted, saying, “This is a no-brainer, you’re an established writer, I’m a social scientist. You’re on as co-author.”

The two of us have brought complementary skills to the project – I as a long experienced researcher who for years taught courses on the Vietnam era; Jeff the younger as a quick study and gifted story teller. Witness his ability to weave a compelling narrative from a set of facts, a character’s voice, and the mood and texture of the scene in the opening of his Rolling Stone profile of Jim Webb. Webb was a much decorated Marine officer in Vietnam; author of Fields of Fire, a stirring novel of the war; and, on this occasion, the newly elected senator from Virginia:

As night settles between the two mountain ridges that rise on either side of Lebanon, Virginia, a rough little strip of a town in the state’s southwestern corner, Senator James Webb’s people assemble in the Russell County Courthouse. They’re coal miners and miner’s wives, a third of them in the camouflage strike gear of the United Mine Workers, many of them wearing ball caps declaring them veterans of Korea, Vietnam or Iraq. A leather-skinned veteran named Eldridge tells me in a raspy whisper that he voted for Webb because Webb, a novelist and historian, had gotten these people, mountain people, right in his most recent book,a best-selling history of the Scots-Irish in America ….‘We’ve got our own ghosts and goblins,’ Eldridge says, and he thinks Webb sees them. ‘He has the Second Sight’.*
His latest book, his fifth, published this summer, now behind him, Jeff the namesake is bringing his considerable literary talents to bear on the story of brother Jeff and his times. Together we’re determined to create for Jeff a niche in the history of the Vietnam antiwar movement.

*Jeff Sharlet, “James Webb’s Never-Ending War,” Rolling Stone, June 14, 2007, pp. 79-80.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Waiting for War

After graduating from the Army Language School on the California coast, Jeff Sharlet was ordered to Clark Air Base in the Philippine Islands (PI). He couldn’t have known that the Administration was quietly stockpiling lingys for the conflict in Vietnam, a larger war they must have foreseen when they began escalating US involvement shortly after John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration, January 1961.

For Vietnamese linguists, lingys for short, the Philippines was the waiting room for the guerrilla war underway in South Vietnam across the South China Sea. While they waited, theirs was the life of college boys on extended vacation in the South Pacific.

In early ’63, Jeff set off for the Far East via Honolulu from Travis Air Base north of San Francisco. Enroute he wrote home, “Hawaii is beautiful and warm. I’m on a Super Constellation. It will take 30 hours to get to the Philippines. The South Pacific looks enchanting.” Arriving at Clark, he reported to the 9th ASA, an Army Security Agency Field Station. There he did top secret, highly classified work, discreetly tucked away in a corner of the air base. Jeff’s first letters reflected his initial enthusiasm.

He described the base as “a little piece of America” with the pool “across the street, tennis courts … nearby, and the enlisted men’s (EM) open mess, called the Coconut Grove … next door.” He wrote of the pop culture ambiance of the place: 
You hear music everywhere on base. It’s from Armed Forces Radio (AFR) which we get on our transistors, and … through speakers in the clubs and rec areas. It’s a strange combination of Country Western and Rock ‘n Roll, everything from Your Cheating Heart and Oklahoma Hills to Little Richard’s Good Golly, Miss Molly and lots of Ray Charles.
When tears come down like falling rain,
You'll toss around and call my name,
You'll walk the floor the way I do,
Your cheatin' heart, will tell on you...*

At first the work was interesting. Jeff was on the late night shift so days and evenings were his. Just before midnight, he’d catch the ASA shuttle to the Ops building, a windowless concrete structure in a heavily-guarded, and barbed wire enclosure in the middle of an enormous field. At night, the perimeters of Ops were brightly illuminated by large flood lights so the sentries could see anyone approaching at a distance.

Although the work went on 24/7, the 9th ASA was doubly over strength in Viet lingys, so Jeff and buddies had plenty of time on their hands. Days were spent lounging at the pool, evenings drinking at the Airmen’s Club on base. Or they go into the town outside the base, Angeles City, which he described as “something out of Susie Wong’s world, just like those Far Eastern army towns you read about in war novels.” The place was a huge collection of bars with American names like Plaza Bar, Skylight, Keyhole, and Jeff added, “whores, beds, Jeepney drivers, horse and buggy conveyances, and the most poverty stricken people I have ever seen."

        Jeff—tough life in the Philippines                                  Downtown Angeles City

Otherwise, life in the islands was good. The military facilitated leave-visits all over Asia, although there were restrictions for ASA troops given the sensitive nature of their work. While there were daily and space-available military flights to various exotic destinations, as well as leave-ships to Hong Kong several times a year, ASA personnel weren’t allowed to go to Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia, or even Australia because they’d have to fly over rebel-held parts of Borneo. But in the PI Jeff and friends enjoyed weekend sojourns at white sandy beaches on the South China Sea, and trips to Baguio, a cool mountain resort away from the heat of the plains, as well as visits to Manila just 65 miles from Clark. The PI capital held many attractions, including clubbing with his buddy Peyton Bryan, or a day at the racetrack with an old chum from school days in upstate New York, Keith Willis.

Road to Baguio, Philippine Islands

But as the months wore on, the secret work became repetitious and less interesting, and the drinking routine at the base club or in Angeles City tiresome. Late spring ’63 as the rainy season approached, Jeff was finding life increasingly boring and despaired that “My only useful activity is singing in the Clark Glee Club.” Then came the heavy rains turning the monotonous brown of the cane fields and rice paddies green, and he began to spend more time reading. I had been sending him paperback novels and books on Southeast Asian politics.

His letters home showed more awareness of the political news from the States, and of the situation in his part of the world. Commenting on violence against Negroes seeking civil rights in the South, he wrote: “I think about all the hypocrites who say we need gradualism and moderation. I say we need agitation. Filipinos ask about these incidents and there is little you can say.” By summer he was reading a great deal on the politics of Southeast Asia, pondering, as Jeff put it, “a way of offsetting Chinese Communist influence and keeping the states [of the region] non-communist,” when the Vietnam War abruptly interrupted.

Late August ’63 in a hurried note from the flight line, Clark Air Base, Luzon, PI, Jeff wrote briefly and cryptically: “I’m leaving for Vietnam for…some ‘field work’.” But that’s another story.

*”Your Cheating Heart”, written by Hank Williams, 1952