The Albany Academy
Jeff attended the Albany Academy, a small country day school in the capital of New York State. The Academy was an old and venerable institution organized in a military style. In his senior year, Jeff was an officer of the battalion. He was also a jock, lettering Varsity Football and Track.
Most of the boys went on to Ivy League colleges in the East, but a setback in the family fortunes put private college beyond Jeff's reach. Instead he enrolled at Indiana University, but found himself adrift on a vast campus amidst thousands of students. He dropped out and landed in the army.
Good Wars, 'Bad War' Three Who Spoke Out
#1 While a young cadet at
the Albany Academy, Jeff, who lived in the suburbs, used to
occasionally stop over and hang out at a classmate's nearby house
after school. Over a couple of years, he became friends with Chuck's younger
sister -- just friends.
When I located her in San Francisco several years ago -- now Lesley Hughes DiCamillo -- we talked a long time, and she spoke of Jeff having been quite gregarious yet very private and solitary. Lesley mentioned an enduring fond memory of him:
I was sitting on the couch in the living room and could see out the picture window. It was a beautiful sunny day, and there, coming up the walk, was Jeff whom I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. He was wearing civilian clothes, was very laid back, and never mentioned being in the army. That vision of him walking by himself stayed with me a long time.
#2 I always marveled at how Jeff found his way to radical politics. We had both been raised in the same home within an apolitical family. And we both went to a military school – uniforms, daily drill, marching in patriotic parades -- hardly fertile ground for political activism as I wrote several years ago. A very conservative place
Brother Jeff went to a small country-day school called the Albany Academy. A very old institution with some historically distinguished grads like Melville the novelist, Joseph Henry the scientist, Learned Hand the jurist – the Academy was a very conservative place. Conservative in the older sense that favored tradition and regarded askance any but minimally incremental change.
I preceded Jeff in the Class of ’53, he was Class of ’60, both of us under the reign of the long serving headmaster, Harry E. P. Meislahn, a man of a certain age and considerable size, a crusty Princetonian with much gravitas who at weekly chapel read the Old Testament from a massive podium resembling the prow of a great whaling ship.
#3 During the summer after Jeff died, I heard from a number of his friends. They wrote very personal letters recounting fond memories of years spent with him at the Albany Academy – on the parade ground, in the sports arena, along the party circuit. A long message from his very good friend, Jeff Albert, was notable.
An Ear for the Significant Absurdity
I had another long session with Jeff after he returned from overseas. We rapped all afternoon into evening – his energy, breadth of comprehension, and dedication had become awesome. His army stories were extremely funny (some were fantastically, grotesquely funny, and you knew they were true – he had a terrific ear and eye for the significant absurdity).
Yet implicit in his stories was a tremendous concern for individuals, American and Oriental, and fine compassion for the EM’s and even for the hard-core lifers, the muddled bureaucrats, and the cool technocrats he was satirizing.
That’s something I remember about him from the Academy too. He could always, with humor, take the sting out of the authoritarian inanities, and thereby make accommodations to them less painful for us, and, when possible, opposition to them more humane.
#4 The Albany Academy was not strictly speaking a military school, but it had a military structure. Jeff and I wore uniforms, marched, drilled, and held rank in the school’s battalion. Every year, especially in the post-war period, one or two boys would go on to West Point.
Two Years in Combat
Heath Twichell ’52 entered the Albany Academy in 1948 when his army officer father returned from post-WWII Germany to head the ROTC program at RPI. Graduating in 1952, Mr Twichell went on to West Point – graduating in the top 5% of his class, beginning a distinguished career as an infantry officer and retiring as a full colonel.
His duties included various staff and command assignments in the United States, Germany, and Vietnam, where he spent two years in combat.
#5 When Jeff’s father’s business failed, he felt he had lost his sense of place, and most definitely a feeling of security. The tumult in his personal life adversely impacted his senior year at the Albany Academy, and contributed to his troubled freshman year in college, culminating in his dropping out.
However, he was not alone in his early troubles. Two of classmates and good friends had similar rocky first year experiences.
A Very Early ‘Sabbatical’
Jon was in the sense of the English public schools, ‘first boy’ at the Academy. The faculty selected him to lead the cadet battalion, he captained the swimming team, edited the school paper, and was cum laude. Off he went to Harvard but it was rocky experience and by the end of freshman year, the university recommended he take a year-long ‘sabbatical’ to find himself.
Jonathan did find himself, took a Harvard BA, went on for an advanced degree, and eventually founded a national company.
Another Jeffrey, a charismatic young man, had a similar record at the Academy, starring in football, selected as a cadet captain, and earning cum laude. Jeffrey headed for Princeton where drug problems plagued him and he dropped out.
After a many-year struggle with addiction, he regained control of his life, earning a Master’s in Social Work, eventually co-authoring a scholarly book on overcoming addiction, and serving as a lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health.
#6 Jeff spent seven years at the Albany Academy. Throughout those years, his fellow students in the Class of ’60 regarded him as a lively, outgoing guy often wearing a blazing smile as seen in yearbook remarks by his peers. The contrast to the later, darker version of Jeff who emerged as a result of circumstance and war was quite striking.
‘A Merrier Man …’
In notes in the yearbook on the ‘history’ of the graduating Class of ’60, Jeff – who joined his peers in the sixth grade – was described as ‘a jocose fellow who improved the spirit of the whole class in a spritely way’. Similarly seven years later on the cusp of graduation, the Shakespearean line chosen to characterize him was ‘A merrier man…. I’ve never spent an hour’s talk with’.
#7 In the course of Jeff’s years at the Academy, several members of the Class of ’60 left the school while new boys joined the class from year to year.
Robert Kaiser – who later became an acclaimed foreign correspondent and ultimately Managing Editor of the Washington Post – left in his middle school years when President Eisenhower appointed his father ambassador to a newly independent African nation, but decades later remembered Jeff.
A Cool Guy
I remember him as a confident, self-possessed guy, a cool guy in the parlance of a slightly later era. He was funny and alive and fun to be around. He was a pretty good athlete and had very good posture, even a little cocky as you can see in his photo from Vietnam.
#8 On the occasion of the 50th reunion of Jeff’s Academy Class of ’60, not many of his teachers were still around for me to interview, but there was one – 87-year old Ernie Steck. Ernie had been Jeff’s teacher as well as his coach.
Jeff was remembered posthumously at the reunion dinner at which Ernie, a special guest, spoke, referring to him as a ‘righteous man’. At the end of the evening, Jeff’s classmate, who had organized the affair, said to me, ‘Ernie was right, Jeff was righteous’.
Veterans for Peace
Ernie Steck was Jeff’s middle school History teacher and later his Varsity Football Team coach. Ernie came to the school the year after I graduated in ’53, an unusual faculty hire in those days.
In a predominantly Harvard, Princeton and Little Ivy League faculty, Ernie was a Big Ten grad. He had served in the South Pacific during WWII and, even more unusual for the Academy of the ‘50s, Ernie was Jewish in a WASP school and a member of the Veterans for Peace, a postwar group of the left.
He told me that in the interest of landing the job at a conservative institution – a very good job – he had kept his involvement on the left to himself.
#9 Jeff was a good athlete, he played football and ran and jumped track. He was a second team halfback and he and his pal Barry, a QB, rode the bench together until the score was run up or someone got hurt. Since Academy won several games by large scores that season, both boys saw playing time.
Barry told me a funny story about him and Jeff in a pre-season scrimmage.
You’re Outta There
In a scrimmage against Cardinal McCloskey HS, Coach Steck put Jeff in at right halfback and Barry at quarterback. He told Barry to just run the ball. So he did, handing off frequently to Jeff who’d pick up 4-5yards a run.
They advanced to their opponent’s 40-yard line. In the huddle, Whiz Albright, a wide end and fastest guy on the team, said to Barry, ‘Throw the fucking ball’. Barry was worried since he wasn’t very tall and couldn’t easily see over the linemen, but he gave it a try. He hit Whiz perfectly who scored a touchdown.
Timeout was called and the Academy guys headed to the sidelines, triumphant. Coach Steck was fuming, and said to Barry, ‘I told you to just run the ball. I didn’t tell you to score a touchdown. You’re outta there’.
#10 Given the large age difference between us, Jeff and I were often like ships passing in the night as I wrote one of his Albany Academy classmates.
I Left Home the Day After Graduation
You and other Academy friends probably knew Jeff better than I. I had left home for Boston the day after my AA graduation when Jeff was 11 and because of bad relations with my father, rarely looked back.
I kept in touch with Jeff by letter (LD calls were considered a luxury then), and still have his many letters about his experiences during Academy years. In effect, I ‘saw’ him grow up, but only from a distance through the written word.
By the time Jeff was 13, I was in the Army. During those three years in the military on the West Coast and in Europe, I saw him just once when the parents brought him out to visit me at the Army Language School in Monterey.
When I returned from Cold War Europe, I was at college in Boston and self-supporting since the old man, who had consistently lived beyond his means, had gone bust. Driving a Boston Checker six nights a week that first year and earning my keep as a half-time researcher my Senior year, I didn’t have much time or discretionary income to visit Albany.
I say all this with regret, perhaps symbolic of how differences of age and life trajectories kept Jeff and me at a distance; I was doing research in Moscow during his Vietnam tour. We could barely communicate, our few letters going the triangular route via our mother, who by then lived in Miami.
Even without the Soviets knowing that my brother was a ‘secret agent’ working against their side in the war, I was the only American exchange scholar at Moscow State University under surveillance during fall term.
Given our Swiss cheese intelligence community back in DC, they were probably aware of my own past intelligence background; hence, sending a letter through the Soviet censorship to a Vietnam APO address would have gotten me declared persona non-grata.
#11 Nine members of the Academy Class of ’60 were in the Vietnam War, including Jeff. They served as infantry officers as well as pilots and of course Jeff in military intelligence. One of the pilots had unusual duty.
Destination Dover Air Force Base
Daniel ‘Jeff’ Slovak became a career Air Force pilot in the Air Transport Command. His run was to fly into Tan Son Nhut outside Saigon, touch down briefly, his plane would be loaded with coffins bearing KIAs, and he’d fly them back to the States – to Dover AFB.
#12 At least one of Jeff’s classmates who served in Vietnam experienced the general hostility felt by young antiwar activists against Vietnam GIs early in the war.
Two Combat Tours
Dave Evans, ’60 was a career Air Force pilot who flew two combat tours in Vietnam. We talked after the 50th Reunion dinner. He had liked and remembered Jeff well. I assumed Dave had not been antiwar.
He commented that he’d had no problem with antiwar attitudes during the war, although one time between tours when he arrived in New York and was walking in uniform to the hotel to meet up with his wife, a young man walking by silently spat in his direction.
In retrospect, Dave said he was more surprised than offended. I asked if the spitter had not said something, but he repeated that the encounter had been a silent one. A sober, well-centered Wall Streeter, I saw no reason not to believe his story, and assured him that Jeff had been against such behavior.
#13 Two other Academy school mates of Jeff had unusual stories to tell of the Vietnam War.
Over 300 Amputations
Adam Schwiekert’60 served in the Army training snipers during the Vietnam War. The training involved remaining hidden and motionless for hours.
Peter Kirsch ’55 was two years behind me at the Academy, but we ended up as fraternity brothers at Wesleyan University. He went on to med school, emerging as an orthopedic surgeon, at which point he was drafted.
In Vietnam he was assigned to an evacuation hospital. On arrival, he met a fellow surgeon who had performed over 300 amputations during the past year, a grim statistic on the WIAs.
#14 Given the contemporary image of the NRA, it is ironic that Jeff was certified a sharpshooter by the NRA twice in the late ‘50s. A rifle range had been fitted out in the attic of the Academy building where the cadets could practice with .22s.
Take Five Shots
Rifle practice? My recollection is dim, but I think I was up on the rifle range three times in my Upper School years. I think they had a week or two in the winter when the privates, PFCs, and corporals would go up – maybe one platoon per battalion drill period – and you’d take five shots and they’d tally your score.
Possibly F Norton Curtis, the Biology teacher and rifle coach, used those one-day-a-year sessions to spot people with some aptitude for his team.
#15 Jeff had been a scholar-athlete at the Academy and something of a model cadet.
A ‘Top Performance’
In the fall, he played football, and in the Academy’s victory over Schoharie HS, his play was rated a ‘top performance’. During the spring, Jeff was on the track team, which won its league championship. He ran relay and was a high jumper. He could clear his own height.
In the battalion, he did especially well in the drill competitions and marched in the ’58 winning Guidon company under Captain Keith Willis. In his Senior year, Jeff was appointed an officer in Company E.
Last but hardly least, he was a top student, earning cum laude honors in his Sophomore and Junior years, and receiving a Letter of Commendation for a National Merit Scholarship in a competition involving 500,000 during his Senior year.
#16 When Jeff’s academic performance dramatically plunged during the fall of his Senior year, I strongly suspected it was due to the understandable emotional reaction of a teenager whose secure, very comfortable world had suddenly collapsed.
I had in mind our father’s business failure – a situation that had been developing for more than a year – which Jeff only learned about mid-fall term 1959. Conversations with his close friends and school mates a lifetime later confirmed my hunch, especially the remarks of Jeff’s longtime friend Phil Voss.
Never Saw It Coming
Jeff told me of his father’s bust. He felt ‘embarrassed’, ‘let down’, ‘shattered’. Being members of the Shaker Ridge Country Club had given him a sense of security and now the lifestyle that entailed would soon be history.
At the Academy he’d never had any interest in politics. Like most classmates he was squarely in the mainstream, but after the bust, he began to change – wearing a motorcycle jacket and boots, driving his car wildly.
#17 Before Jeff’s ‘fall’, his classmates found him a friendly, lively, outgoing guy. He was popular and well-regarded as two classmates related.
He was a good mimic and could be
riotously funny, sometimes chewing on a cigar and satirizing your father’s
For me, Jeff was characterized by a sense of truthfulness and insistence on righteousness.
#18 In addition to Jeff, AA ’60, two other cadets also protested the Vietnam War – Gordon Livingston, AA ’56 and Bill Cross, AA ’58. Both Gordon and Bill had gone on to West Point and intended to make the Army their career.
Neither foresaw they would end up in war thousands of miles away in Southeast Asia, a war that would have a profound effect on each of their post-military lives. Bill Cross, USMA ’62, remembered the first indication that Vietnam would be in his future.
He Mentioned Vietnam
At our graduation from the Point, President Kennedy told us that much was to be expected of us. He mentioned Vietnam.
#19 As we know, the financial crisis at home shook Jeff up. Further confirmation came from his close pal Phil Voss.
A Biker’s Jacket
Phil Voss made a point of saying that he and others were surprised Senior year when Jeff turned up in a biker’s jacket, which was fairly unheard of at the Academy.
He correlated that with Jeff’s father’s dramatic change of fortune and Jeff’s loss of his usual joie de vie.
#20 When their fathers’ business went into a tailspin, Cousin John remembered one notable change in Jeff.
Black Leather Jacket
Most striking was his donning a black leather jacket and dark glasses. Our folks kept all the details leading up to the collapse in the shadows.