- Indiana days
- Destiny Chicago
- Journey’s end
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Snapshots from a Short but Interesting Life II
Prologue: This is Part II of the final two-part post of Searching for Jeff, a blog history of my long trek to trace and reconstruct the last decade—1959-1969 – of my brother Jeff Sharlet’s short but interesting life. Bringing the blog to a conclusion will enable me to devote full-time to completion of the memoir on Jeff now well underway.
After five years and 125 posts, we have hit all the major moments of Jeff’s trajectory through the ‘60s. In these closing entries, we present a pictorial perspective on his journey – a slide show lite – from cradle to grave. A number of the photos were taken by Jeff himself. As the saying goes, pictures speak for themselves, so we’ve only appended brief commentaries.
We thank those tens of thousands who have followed the blog for your readership – either regularly or periodically. As we sign off here, for those who might be interested, we will be posting in the near-future from time to time excerpts from the memoir in progress at our Yola Web site, http://jeffsharlet-and-vietnamgi.com.yolasite.com/
The second installment of the last picture show covers the last phases of Jeff’s life as follows (Nb. The first installment on February 10th covered the preceding phases of his trajectory.):
Logo of Indiana University
Gateway to the campus
Jeff departed Vietnam spring ’64. By August, he was back in college. Jeff returned to Indiana University (IU) where he had dropped out three years earlier.
Jeff, once again a college boy
More mature this time around, Jeff buckled down to study. That first term back in college was a lonely time for him. IU was a Big Ten university with many thousands of students. Jeff knew no one. His parents were broke and he had little money. To support himself, he took a job as a house boy at a sorority. He made it around campus – the size of a small town – by bike.
The Gables, popular soda bar just off campus
Initially, Jeff had little leisure time. Classes demanded his full attention. Then he was off to his daily job at the sorority house, serving meals and cleaning up the kitchen. Now and then he dropped by the Gables for a soda or ice cream. Around mid-term, Jeff met a young woman, Karin Ford, a classmate in Sociology. Weekends he’d bike out to Karin’s house for dinners with her and her two young kids.
Dunn Meadow at Indiana University
As the Vietnam War rumbled on, Jeff watched closely from afar. As a Vietnamese linguist, he worried he might be recalled to duty if things got hotter. In early spring of Jeff’s second semester, President Johnson dramatically escalated America’s involvement in the war. Fortunately, Jeff, a reservist, was not recalled.
Bernella & David Satterfield, antiwar activists
As the weather warmed in Bloomington, Dunn Meadow became the site of antiwar rallies and counter-protests. The university had designated the area as a kind of free speech zone where students could express themselves. Through Karin Ford, Jeff had met other critically-minded people concerned about the growing US presence in Vietnam’s civil war.
Bernella and David Satterfield were talented country and folk musicians. They were also at the center of rising activism against the war. As an ex-Vietnam GI opposed to the war, Jeff was of great interest to the small but growing circle of campus radicals.
Civil rights demonstration & pro-Vietnam War rally, Dunn Meadow, 1965
Not long after Washington’s escalation, the small number of IU antiwar activists began holding weekly rallies in Dunn Meadow. The first rally immediately followed a demonstration supporting the Selma civil rights marchers in Alabama. Soon pro-war students were mounting counter-protests in response.
The first major antiwar demonstration in Washington, 1965
In late April ’65, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) organized the first great response to LBJ’s war. Thousands of students from the nation’s campuses descended upon Washington. The IU delegation was in prominent view.
Jeff (l) with Karin on the road, Mexico, 1965
Jeff had a good first year academically. Classes over, he and Karin Ford took off on a long road trip across the West and down into Mexico.
Indiana SDS’s first newsletter, 1965
The momentum of spring antiwar protest at Indiana carried over to the new academic year. During fall ’65, student radicals established the IU SDS chapter and issued their first newsletter.
Jeff protesting Nixon’s talk on campus, 1965
Former Vice President Nixon was invited to IU in October. His pro-war talk gave the fledgling IU SDS chapter a chance for campus-wide attention. SDS members turned out to protest Nixon and the war. Jeff joined the march although not yet a member of the chapter.
Jim Wallihan addressing the Governor of California, 1964
Since returning from Vietnam, the problem of how to stop the war had preoccupied Jeff. He wasn’t sure that idealistic student marches and protests would do it. His focus was on fellow GIs – the guys in harm’s way, the guys with the guns – as the solution.
Jim Wallihan arrived at IU for grad school that fall. A radical activist, he was a veteran of the ’64 Free Speech Movement (FSM) at Berkeley. When the mass arrests occurred there, Jim managed to escape and became FSM’s representative to Governor Brown, appealing for the students’ release. Jim had joined SDS and persuaded Jeff to lend his authority as an ex-Vietnam GI to the chapter for the struggle at IU. The two guys became best of friends.
Nick’s, a favorite hangout
When Jeff, Jim, and the SDS crowd weren’t gathered in the Satterfield’s living room or at Peter and Lucia Montague’s house, they were at their unofficial headquarters, Nick’s, a block from the campus gates.
General Maxwell Taylor at Indiana, 1966
Nationally, SDS was a famously loosey-goosey organization. Accordingly, the IU chapter had little structure. Jeff and Jim drew up a reorganization proposal to make it more effective. Both became part of a new rotating leadership team.
Spring term provided SDS with opportunities and challenges. IU’s president – the former Secretary of the Army – invited Maxwell Taylor to campus. As a former ambassador to South Vietnam, the general gave a gung-ho speech for the war.
Anti- and prowar protesters at the Taylor talk
SDS rose to the occasion, leading a substantial demonstration against General Taylor. However, supporters of the general and the war assembled a much larger student turnout. Cops were present, and the occasion was generally orderly and peaceful.
Jeff, campus activist, 1966
Jeff hit the books hard. He also devoted much time to SDS. His special interest was giving dorm talks on the war – the idea being to politicize students, drawing them into campus protest.
General Lewis Hershey speaking at IU, 1966
A few months later, President Stahr hosted another Pentagon pal at the university. Another general, this time it was Lewis Hershey, long time director of the Draft, which delivered up the bodies for the war. His was a rousing do-your-duty speech.
Jeff played an even bigger role as SDS brought forth a very large group in protest. Jeff spoke at the rally, taking on a raucous crowd of pro-war student hecklers.
Antiwar & prowar demonstrators outside Hershey’s talk
The conflicting demonstrations outside the auditorium with their speech on a stick and chants dueled to a standstill, but SDS again gained campus-wide publicity. The student daily paper covered the event as front-page news.
Bernie & Betty Morris at their Cape Cod summer place
Having become a top flight student, Jeff worked closely with his mentor, Professor Bernard Morris of Political Science. Jeff also saw a lot of him outside of class since Bernie was campus advisor to the student New Left.
War memorial, Indianapolis IN
Summer ’66 – Jeff needed to earn some money. He landed a summer job in the railway freight yards in Indianapolis (Indy), just 50 miles north of the Bloomington campus.
The Indianapolis freight yards Karlis Zobs’ house
He worked as locomotive fireman on a yard engine shunting freight cars. Since it was a diesel engine, his job was mainly keeping an eye out for collisions and climbing down from the cab to throw track switches. He rented an inexpensive room in an old house owned by a young Latvian man.
Karen Grote, Indiana senior
Karen Grote (now Ferb) and Jeff had been an item since they met in January. She too was in SDS, and they worked together in the campus New Left. On weekends, Karen took the Greyhound bus up from Bloomington to Indy to spend time with Jeff.
President Johnson at the Indianapolis War Memorial, 1966
In July, news reached the IU activists that LBJ would be speaking in Indianapolis later in the month. A call went out for volunteers, permits were granted, antiwar signs were made, and a peaceful protest planned. Karen was staying with Jeff in Indy that weekend. Before he had to go to work, he dropped her off at the protest site on Monument Circle. Karen was waiting for the IU contingent driving up from campus. A few local protestors were already there.
The Secret Service had other ideas and preempted the demonstration. Indianapolis police arrested nearly everyone involved before the President’s arrival. Karen was the first to be arrested. All were falsely charged with misdemeanors. When Karen was released later that evening, Jeff was waiting for her outside the lockup.
IU’s alternative paper with Jeff’s speech, 1967
Jeff became president of SDS spring term his final year. He was a pro-active leader. In remarks to the faculty, President Stahr had sharply criticized the IU New Left. Jeff promptly took up the challenge, responding to Stahr in a speech entitled the ‘State of the Students’, which was widely publicized in the alternative campus paper, The Spectator.
House Jeff shared in Bloomington
Jeff shared a house on the edge of campus with Jim Wallihan and Bob Johnson. The place became a combination strategy center, meeting place, and, not least, party venue.
Jeff at the Indianapolis War Memorial, 1967; Robin Hunter (smoking), IU grad student, Indianapolis
As wintry weather began to lift, Jeff spoke at an antiwar rally from the steps of the Indianapolis War Memorial. His IU comrade-in-arms, Robin Hunter, was in attendance.
Woodrow Wilson Foundation logo
Mid-semester, Jeff received the welcome news he had been selected for a coveted Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship for outstanding students going on for a PhD and an academic career.
A rally at President Stahr’s residence, Jeff presiding
Early spring, Jeff took SDS’s antiwar campaign to the steps of the IU president’s campus residence. He opened the rally noting that it was the second time he found himself under Elvis Stahr – first in Vietnam serving under Army Secretary Stahr, now a student under President Stahr. He posed a rhetorical question – What is a honcho of the war machine doing running a university, a place of higher learning.
Guy Loftman (l) & Jeff, student elections night, 1967
During Jeff’s tenure as SDS leader, it was decided to run a candidate for student body president. Jeff worked behind the scenes on the platform. Guy Loftman ran and won – the New Left gained power and legitimacy at IU.
An afternoon dip, Jeff & Miki Lang, Bloomington
Jeff’s last term at IU wasn’t all coursework and protests. The activist crowd enjoyed a lively social life.
Vietnam Veterans Against the War march, New York, 1967
Upon graduation, Jeff chose to take his Woodrow Wilson fellowship to the University of Chicago. But first he headed East to hook up with the newly founded Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Still dwelling on how the war could be stopped, Jeff wanted to make contact with fellow ex-Vietnam GIs before entering the groves of academe.
Back in the Midwest, Jeff went up to Chicago summer of ’67 to settle in before the school year. The city was intensely political, overflowing with protest of all kinds. For Jeff, there was just a single issue – the war. He ran into another Vietnam veteran, an ex-sailor, and the two of them made contact with a draft resistance group. The group was run by an antiwar Green Beret reservist, Gary Rader.
University of Chicago campus
Jeff moved into the university graduate dorms, and classes got underway. Good student though he was, his ambivalence got in the way. Should he bear down and work toward a PhD or make a major commitment to the antiwar struggle? Both directions required singular concentration and were mutually incompatible. Opposing the war was winning the day, Jeff’s academic work suffered.
Vietnam vets run an ad against the war
Veterans of the Vietnam War now had an organization, VVAW, and began to speak out. In a full-page ad in the New York Times, which Jeff signed, they called the conflict a civil war between North and South Vietnam and demanded that American troops, their buddies, be brought home before anyone else died.
Latter-day photo of Tom Barton, left activist
Restless at the university, Jeff went to New York for a weekend. He looked up Tom Barton, a long time man of the left whom he knew from Indiana days. Jeff was more focused on stopping the war than his coursework. He had a plan – to create an organization of active duty GIs, not just ex-GIs, to oppose the war. Jeff sought Tom’s advice as an experienced organizer.
Dave Komatsu at a Chicago protest, early ‘60s
Tom Barton put Jeff in touch with Dave Komatsu in Chicago. Tom and Dave had been comrades in the Chicago chapter of the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL), the youth affiliate of the Socialist Party. Dave, who had briefly attended the University of Chicago, was also a seasoned man of the left.
Banner of ‘Vietnam GI’ coiled in barbed wire
Jeff and Dave Komatsu brainstormed the idea of an active-duty GI group. The obstacles were formidable – the authoritarian structure of the military for one, harsh military law for another. Dave suggested Jeff start with a newsletter for GIs. Late fall ’67, the idea became an underground newspaper called Vietnam GI or VGI for short. Jeff could write in the authentic voice of someone who’d been in Nam, while Dave had the technical know-how and editorial experience for putting out a tabloid-style paper.
Dave Komatsu’s apartment building
The funding question came up. How to finance the launch of a newspaper, especially the hard costs of typesetting, paper, printing, and mailing. Jeff decided to withdraw from the university and use his Woodrow Wilson fellowship to launch VGI. To save money, he moved out of the dorm and crashed with Dave and family.
Talking with a friend about his decision, Jeff unwittingly foresaw his destiny, telling him that Vietnam GI “would be the most important thing he had ever done in his life.”
Vietnam GI coming off the press
The first issue of Vietnam GI came off the press in late January ’68 just as the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive. Jeff was the editor with Dave as associate editor; a pro bono staff of Dave’s Chicago comrades as well as volunteers from CADRE, Gary Rader’s Chicago Area Draft Resistance group, lent a hand.
Early on they found a printer in Chicago, but soon the local FBI urged area printers to refuse ‘subversive’ material. VGI had to go far afield, locating an obliging printer well up the western shore of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin.
From the VGI masthead
In addition to the paper’s staff, Jeff persuaded fellow Vietnam veterans to lend their time and/or names. As contributing editors, Gary Rader had never deployed, but Jan Crumb, co-founder of VVAW, and Dink McCarter both served in Vietnam. Other veterans lent their names to VGI including Peter Martinsen, a POW interrogator; Francis Rocks and David Tuck, combat riflemen; and James Zaleski, an Air Force Vietnam veteran.
A typical VGI front page
Typically, Jeff led off a monthly issue with a long interview with a combat veteran about what was really going on in the field below the radar of sanitized national media coverage. The second lead, such as the article entitled “Phuc-A-Truc” above, was related to Jeff about how motor pool troops on the QT sabotaged trucks and military vehicles as a form of protest.
A key player in getting Vietnam GI to Vietnam beneath the radar was Jeff’s friend Tom Barton. At the end of Tom’s pipeline, VGI had an informal sub-rosa distribution net in Vietnam – GIs who requested extra copies to pass around their units in defiance of the brass.
As VGI rapidly gained an increasingly larger readership among serving troops in Vietnam, the ‘Mail Bag’, or letters-to-the-editor on page 2, became a big feature. Sailors, Marines, and GIs wrote to Jeff with incredible stories of what was actually going on in the war behind the smokescreen of military PR. At last, Vietnam GIs and their brothers in arms had a voice in the war.
Fred Gardner, founder, GI antiwar coffee house network
While Jeff had been pondering his near-term future at the University of Chicago, Fred Gardner, an Army reservist, had been setting up the first GI antiwar coffee house near Fort Jackson, a large infantry training base in the South. Fred’s idea was to provide an alternate place for off-duty GIs who usually gravitated to grungy bars and rip-off joints.
GIs with doubts about the war were drawn to the coffee house where they could read material critical of the US mission in Southeast Asia and rap with guys of similar views. Once Vietnam GI began to appear, free copies were available for reading over coffee or carrying back to the barracks, a riskier maneuver.
Waynesville outside Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri Ozarks
Fred had established a second GI hangout near Fort Leonard Wood, another huge base for training Vietnam-bound troops. Named for a Revolutionary War hero, Mad Anthony Wayne, the coffee house opened in tiny Waynesville deep in the Missouri Ozarks. As would take place elsewhere, the military brass and the local authorities colluded to harass the volunteer staff.
Jeff had begun touring base camps to collect stories and locate returning combat troopers for VGI interviews. He stopped by Waynesville where he met Fred who was helping out at the coffee house. They became fast friends.
1st Armored Division troops sent to Chicago, 1968
On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis TN. Riots broke out in Black ghettos across the country. Violence in Chicago was severe. Federal troops were dispatched to the city to restore order. Jeff traveled the streets of ‘occupied’ Chicago taking photos. The next issue of VGI was headlined, “The War at Home.”
Sp4 Joe Carey, combat photographer, 1967
Back in the States, ex-Vietnam GI Joe Carey, arriving in Chicago, heard that Jeff was putting out a GI paper. Joe and Jeff knew each other from Indiana University. In Vietnam, Joe had been a combat photographer based at Cu Chi.
He’d come back with a bunch of his photos not suitable for military publications. Jeff published several of the pix in various issues, including one of an American officer interrogating an alleged Viet Cong suspect at knife-point.
GIs posing with their grisly trophies
After a firefight, GIs decapitated dead VC. A GI snapped pictures and quietly slipped the film to Joe Carey. Stateside, Joe passed it on to Jeff, who ran the shocking photo prominently in the next issue of VGI. It was the first atrocity photo to surface, and it caused a sensation.
Madame Maria Jolas, grande dame of Paris
Jeff arranged for Joe to fly to Paris to display his trove of rarely seen images to a French antiwar audience. In the French capital, his hostess was Maria Jolas, grande dame of the American expatriate community in Paris.
Shinto shrine , Kyoto, Japan
During summer ’68, Jeff was invited to represent the GI antiwar movement in Kyoto at an international peace conference. He was glad to revisit Japan. At the conclusion of the proceedings, Jeff’s hosts insisted he join them in a protest march on city hall. As a foreign guest they put him in the front rank. Arms locked, the marchers took off toward the massed riot police. Heads were busted, but fortunately Jeff escaped unscathed.
Off-duty GIs at the UFO antiwar coffee house, 1968
VGI’s circulation grew exponentially. Its readership even more so since troops in Vietnam often passed a single copy surreptitiously through an entire unit. The paper was also read throughout the extensive GI coffee house network at bases across the States. The New York Times devoted a front page article on the emergence of a GI protest movement illustrated by the photo above of GIs reading VGI at the UFO coffee house in Columbia SC.
Conscripts with VGI at the Cambridge MA Induction Center, 1968
Jeff and his staff were assisted by the Boston Draft Resistance Group (BDRG), an active outfit back East. Borrowing the VGI templates, BDRG would run off several thousand additional copies. Volunteers in turn would distribute the paper at the Cambridge Induction Center, the vast South Boston Army Base, and at various Army camps in New England as well as at bus stations through which GIs passed to and from their bases.
Bill O’Brien of Chicago
The VGI staff got a valuable assist in politically navigating Chicago. The city was awash in myriad protest groups, but the counter-forces to keep them in check were formidable, including the FBI field office, Chicago PD’s Red Squad, Army Intelligence agents, and the shadowy Legion of Justice.
Jim Wallihan moved to the city to help Jeff on the paper and brought him together with Bill O’Brien, long time Chicagoan and a go-to guy on the left as well as around Mayor Daley’s Chicago. Jeff, Jim, and Bill shared an apartment on the city’s North side.
The guys’ favorite after-hours place
Jeff put in long days and nights on the paper. He needed to unwind from time to time with a little booze and diversion. Bill had a favorite hangout, ‘Get Me High’, a terrific jazz joint where he, Jeff, and Jim would go to relax.
Bernardine Dohrn, Chicago Police files
Along with Bill O’Brien’s wide circle of contacts, Jeff was well connected with the New Left, including SDS national leadership headquartered in Chicago – Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, and Jeff Segal, as well as Bernardine Dohrn, who would eventually lead SDS’s successor, the violent Weather Underground.
Toll from a bitter battle
There was rarely a shortage of dramatic headlines for VGI. Military briefers in Saigon would spin the after-action reports, and VGI would subsequently publish the true account.
The GI movement on the move
As the first GI-led antiwar paper addressed to serving GIs, Jeff’s Vietnam GI gave impetus to the emerging GI antiwar movement. Although Jeff personally avoided publicity – better to operate in the shadows, he said – the media found him. He and VGI were written up in the New York Times, Esquire, and by a couple of national wire services whose dispatches ran in a number of regional papers.
Vietnam GI expands
By late summer ’68, VGI had inspired many stateside GIs to create base or unit underground antiwar papers. Much more information from inside the training camps now got out despite local editors having to watch out for disapproving brass and NCOs. Jeff and his team decided to create a separate ‘Stateside Edition’ to circulate stories of particular interest to military personnel still training before deployment to Vietnam.
Fall ’68: Jeff flew to Stockholm. Thanks to Swedish sanctuary policy, the city had become a magnet for deserters from the Vietnam War, most, but not all, of whom had left their units out of opposition to the war.
The CALCAV delegation in Stockholm, 1968
(Jeff standing left, hand in pocket)
In Stockholm, Jeff was the GI rep on a delegation of clergy, theologians, academics, and writers sponsored by the organization Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam known as CALCAV. Their mission was to counsel with the isolated deserter community, much maligned stateside, and bring them into the big tent of the antiwar movement writ large.
The Oleo Strut, Jeff’s last stop on the circuit
In early fall, Bill O’Brien had arranged jobs for Jeff and Jim. They needed cash for living expenses. The job entailed hard and heavy work, and it began to take a toll on Jeff. He had an undiagnosed health problem dating back to its first appearance in the Vietnam bush in ’64. He had to quit the job.
Still committed to the cause, Jeff traveled to the most noted outpost on the GI coffee house circuit, the Oleo Strut in Killeen TX outside the gates of Fort Hood. He followed his usual routine, rapping with off-duty GIs, staying on the lookout for stories for VGI.
Tom Cleaver, the ex-Vietnam sailor Jeff had met earlier in Chicago, was volunteering at the Strut and noted that Jeff didn’t look well, tired easily, and slept a great deal. Jeff could no longer ignore his health problems in the interest of the grand struggle. He told his VGI comrades he was taking a leave of absence and headed south to his parents’ place for some doctoring.
Veterans Administration (VA) hospital, Miami FL
Jeff’s journey landed him in a hospital in Miami. Exploratory surgery found that the malady plaguing him for the past couple of years had spread and was inoperable. In effect, it was a terminal diagnosis, but he didn’t give up. There were still new experimental treatments to be tried. One of them appeared to work, and his condition went into remission.
Jeff’s last picture, 1969
Though he was frail and weak, the VA doctors agreed to let Jeff stay at his parents’ place in nearby Coral Gables. Many of his friends from Chicago, New York, and Boston drove down in relays to visit him. They’d listen to music, drink wine, and talk about the continuing antiwar struggle.
At spring break in my teaching schedule, Nancy and I flew down to spend the week with him. We’d drive him back and forth to the hospital for his outpatient treatments and generally hang out and talk about better times. One afternoon I took the above photo of Jeff with Nancy and our parents, the one that became our last picture of him.
Courage from His Courage
Unfortunately, the remission waned, the pain reoccurred, and Jeff had to return to the hospital. Two months later, on June 16, 1969, he died, dead at 27. We buried him in a cemetery outside Miami where my parents would be able to visit the grave. The day of Jeff’s funeral remains the saddest moment of my life.
What was to be the last SDS convention opened in Chicago just a few days after Jeff’s death. The first order of business was a minute of silence in his memory. The nearly two thousand people rose to their feet to honor Jeff as a founding leader of what was becoming the powerful GI movement against the war.
With Vietnam GI, Jeff had achieved his destiny.
Jeff remembered, 2005
Decades later in ’05, the first award-winning documentary on GI opposition to the Vietnam War, Sir! No Sir!, was premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The director, David Zeiger, called to tell me that he had dedicated the film to Jeff “for starting it all.”
RIP Jeff, you did well.