Chicago - Vietnam GI

Welcome to University of Chicago

             Jeff began classes at the University of Chicago fall ’67, but

 trying to stop the war was very much on his mind, and he withdrew

 a few months later. His priority became helping GIs express

 opposition to the Vietnam War. With the assistance of two seasoned

 left activists, he launched an underground antiwar paper, giving

 voice to inchoate resistance to the war among the troops.

            The first issue of Vietnam GI appeared in early ’68. The

 paper very soon found its audience among active duty troops, and

 circulation rose rapidly. However, Jeff and his editorial crew had to

 constantly hustle to raise needed funds, find willing printers, and

 cope with the difficulties and costs of mailing copies under the 

radar into Vietnam and to bases all over the States.

           Jeff traveled a great deal – for fund-raising and to gather

 stories from combat vets back from Nam. He also represented the

 emerging GI movement at gatherings and conferences abroad – in

 Stockholm and in Kyoto. Though he didn’t seek it, he and VGI 

 began to attract media attention in the national and regional press.

            Alas, a health problem that had first surfaced in Vietnam

 flared up, and Jeff had to seek serious doctoring. Unfortunately, his

 condition proved intractable, and he succumbed in mid-’69. VGI 

 continued on for several more issues, but eventually shut down as

 funding dried up.


Radical Chicago

Distributing Vietnam GI


 #1     In Chicago on the North Side, Jeff shared an apartment with Bill O’Brien, a local guy, as well as his good friend Jim Wallihan from Bloomington who came up to help out on Vietnam GI. Getting the paper out was hard work, and whenever they could, the three guys took a break for beers and music. Bill knew the town well, and they often went to his favorite place. 

Get Me High

          The ‘Get Me High’ was one of a kind. The ceiling and walls were painted black, and the washroom was on the stage. Butchie, the owner, would sometimes be unable to pay the electric bill, so he would operate with an extension cord to the upstairs for a few lights and the PA system (as well as iced coolers for beer, and when that ran out –warm beer).

          Butchie purchased the beer at a liquor store, lacking the credit for a conventional bar supplier. The real ‘Get Me High’ lounge was the alcove off the stage under the stairs to the apartment on the second floor. That’s where the band members would take their break and smoke pot. It was a great place with a real cast of characters.


 #2         In 1969, an obscure incident occurred at Fort Hamilton, an Army post in Brooklyn NY. The post band was on parade with several women trailing behind waving antiwar signs. One was the fiancée of Spec/4 David Cortright, a bandsman. The brass’s reaction eventually led Cortright, later a scholar, to write Soldiers in Revolt (1975), still the definitive book on GI antiwar protest. 

Failure to Control His Fiancée

             Captain X, commanding a US Army band, calls then little known Spec/4 David Cortright (a trumpeter in the Fort Hamilton Army band) into his office, and points to a glossy photograph taken by Military Intelligence, showing several women in non-military hippyish attire following the marching band, waving banners, ‘GI Wives for Peace’, ‘Stop the War’.

            Captain: ‘Do you know that woman?’

            Spec/4 Cortright: ‘Err, ahem, Sir, that is my fiancée’.

            Captain: ‘Tell your fiancée to stop doing that’.

            Spec/4 Cortright: ‘Sorry Sir, I cannot control my fiancée’.

            Cortright is transferred to Fort Bliss TX down along the Mexican border. Written reason for transfer: ‘Failure to control his fiancée’. He became famous throughout the GI antiwar movement as the Spec/4 who couldn’t control his fiancée.



#3         Maria Jolas co-founded and led the Paris American Committee to Stop War (PACS), comprised of a number of long time American expats as well as artists and academics in Paris during the late '60s. But antiwar activism was not her only activity -- as literary executor for James Joyce, she continued her long involvement in French literary circles.

            It was Maria Jolas who championed her friend the French novelist Nathalie Sarraute in English, drawing her to the attention of New York publisher, George Braziller, as he wrote in his memoir.

We Were Introduced by Maria Jolas

            I recall meeting the Russian-born French writer Nathalie Sarraute in Paris in 1962. We were introduced by Maria Jolas, the first translator of Sarraute's work into English. Maria gave me her translation of Nathalie's Portrait of a Man Unknown.

           Through the years I enjoyed visiting Nathalie at her studio whenever I was in Paris. I visited Maria too, but I had to be careful about whom I visited first. When I called Maria to invite her to lunch, she'd say, 'I suppose you've already called Nathalie'. I would say, 'No, no, I called you first'.

           When I called Nathalie, she would say, 'I suppose you've already called Maria'. And of course I would say that I had called her first.


#4        After SDS split asunder in mid-’69, the Weatherman faction went underground and turned to violence, their weapon of choice homemade bombs. Years later in his memoir, Bill Ayers, one of the bombers, claimed it was never the intention of the Weathermen to kill people, a statement strongly contradicted by other Weathermen, including Howie Machtinger who had been the chief strategist and bomb maker in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

We Did Set Out to Kill People

           Working from the Geary Street apartment, Machtinger and the leadership were determined to strike quickly. They decided to mount an attack on the police…. They selected the sprawling Hall of Justice complex in Berkeley as their first target.

            No one involved would remember where they obtained the dynamite linked to an alarm clock. The devices were wiped with alcohol to remove any fingerprints. [‘Days’ 95]

           No one would remember that they had tried to kill policemen. ‘Weather’s history’, Mark Rudd wrote, ‘had been conveniently cleaned’. A myth was born. ‘The myth … is that Weather never set out to kill people, and it’s not true – we did’, says Howie Machtinger. [‘Days’ 123]


#5          Jeff came back from Nam troubled by something that had happened over there, but for the most part he wouldn’t talk about it. However, one of his Chicago friends who helped out on VGI occasionally told me of at least one occasion when Jeff drew back the curtain a bit.

        She and Jeff were having a fling when he told her a story from Vietnam.

 Piano Wire

        He told her with some anguish of being involved in the torture/interrogation of a prisoner suspected of being VC. It sounded like Jeff was possibly interpreting for an American as, presumably, an ARVN trooper was ghoulishly torturing the victim with piano wire.


#6         Jeff and I reunited in the summer of ’64. I was back from Moscow; he had returned from Vietnam. We got together again at our parents’ place in Florida after a longish hiatus.

    I remember him telling me a few light stories of his Vietnam experience, but otherwise we talked about what lay ahead – he was resuming his education at IU while I was headed to the Library of Congress in Washington to continue work on my dissertation.

   I had no idea that the war had impacted him heavily, that it remained very much on his mind, until years later when I interviewed Dave Komatsu.

Never Left the War

Jeff never left the war.
        He never left the military.
        He struggled with it.


#7     Probably no one knew Jeff better in the last two years of his
life than Dave Komatsu. They were brothers in spirit, which gave Dave great insight into Jeff’s thinking.

In the Movement, but Not of It

          Jeff was different than most of the people Bob would probably interview in the movement. Because Jeff was in the movement, but in a certain way he wasn’t of it.


#8        Jeff’s outlook was very dark. He was dead-set against the war, opposing it was his mission in life. But that didn’t mean there were some good times along the way.

He Was Having a Good Time

          We had very different lives, actually, because I was married, raising little kids, and on welfare. Jeff was living the ‘60s young guy movement life, smoking dope, hitting on women, meeting people in coffee houses.

           It was all politics. If you ended up in bed with somebody, even better. He was having a good time. DK


#9         Jeff was into dope – pot and occasionally LSD.

He Was of the ‘60s

           Jeff smoked dope. THAT’S a fact. It was the ‘60s. Lotsa sexual partners, lotsa dope. He was there. Although he was in the left but not of it, he was of the ‘60s – definitely.


#10      Jeff’s outlook was very dark. He was dead-set against the war, opposing it was his mission in life. But that didn’t mean there were some good times along the way.

He Was Having a Good Time

          We had very different lives, actually, because I was married, raising little kids, and on welfare. Jeff was living the ‘60s young guy movement life, smoking dope, hitting on women, meeting people in coffee houses.

          It was all politics. If you ended up in bed with somebody, even better. He was having a good time. DK


#11      Jeff moved around in Chicago and had several addresses.

Starting at  University of Chicago Graduate Dorms

4440 N Clifton 60640 (Komatsu’s place)

4429 N Clifton 60640 (across the street)

2040 N Halsted 60614 (w/Jim W & Bill O’B)

P.O. Box 9273 60690 (VGI box)


#12       Dave Dellinger, the elder and the titular head of the Movement, would sometimes get exasperated with New Left rhetoric.

Up Against the Wall

           In recent weeks, one of the reactions of the Vietnamese to current developments has been to ask, ‘What is the political content of the slogan, Up against the wall, motherfucker?’

          A good question if one is more interested in social revolution than self-indulgence.


#13     Dave K clarifies Jeff’s friendships.

His Best Friend

            Jeff and I were close back then, but there’s no question for me that Jim Wallihan was his best friend. When his very busy life here wore him down too much, Jeff would escape back to Bloomington for relief – to hang out with Jim for a few days.

           In his last few months here in Chicago, Jeff was talking about wanting to get back together more with Jim, working politically in some way with him.


#14       Dave K discusses his relationship with Jeff on VGI.

Tighter than with Anyone Else in My Life

            The reason Jeff and I were so close right away despite our many differences was obviously that we were partners in starting a new exciting venture! We talked every day, compared ideas and notes, chalked up our little triumphs, and pledged to get back at our little reverses.

           For a period of months, I was not only talking constantly with Jeff – and plotting with him – but was tighter with him than with anyone else in my life, including Kit.

   But I think that in the long run, if Jeff had lived, we would have become like old college friends or army buddies you love for having shared a crazy time together but seldom see anymore.

 #15     DK suggests that Jeff largely operated solo.

Much on His Own

           I could barely keep track of what Jeff was doing. There were times when he and I were running together –  like during the MLK riots, we drove around town at night, trying to talk to soldiers andget a sense of where things were at.

          In the early months he was living with Kit and me (and our three kids), and we were obviously talking all the time. But much of what he did was on his own.

 #16     Was Jeff a Maoist or an Anarchist – DK said no.

He Was a Populist

           On reflection, I think the term that would best describe him is populist. Although he was certainly willing to consider big socialist worldviews, he just wasn’t eager to sign up.

          It wasn’t just that Jeff wasn’t into big ideologies, he was very distrustful of the culture of left organizations and tendencies as  being exactly the same kind of manipulative, elitist, let-us-mess-up-your-life people that he had decided to fight in the US military and government. That’s why I say that Jeff was in the left, but not of it.


 #17      When Jeff, Jim, and Bill O’Brien needed relaxation, they headed to Bill’s favorite place, the jazz bar Get Me High (GMH) at 1758 N Honore.

F-you, F-you, F-you

          Back in the day, the GMH was great little spot. The backyard was a favorite place to hang – those moldy old sofas! You had to walk across the stage to get there … it was priceless!

          The bar’s owner, Butchie, was sometimes in such an altered state that he took to the stage, grabbed the microphone, and repeatedly yelled F-you, F-you, F-you! At those times his typically female bartender would have to eject him from his own club.


#18      After Jeff’s death, three ex-military guys took over editorship of VGI, David Patterson aka Joe Harris, John Alden, and Craig Walden. Craig was an ex-Force Recon Marine who saw much action.

Aikido Master

            Craig Walden was an Aikido master and taught it to radicals at UW-Madison.


#19     Bill O’Brien was Jeff’s very good friend in Chicago.

I Considered Him a Brother

           Jeff was my roommate for most of the time he was in Chicago along with Jim Wallihan. I was very close to what was going on, advised him on a daily basis about everything from the paper and political strategy in general to his social life.

           We got loaded together, fought, went out partying, etc. I considered him a brother, and I think he did the same.


#20     Max Watts, a rare individual, worked parallel to Jeff in Europe in the GI antiwar movement.

Kidnapped by French Security

           Watts was born Thomas (Tomi) Schwaetzer into a secular middle-class Jewish family in Vienna on June 15, 1928. His father Emil was a doctor and wrote a medical column for a local progressive paper. His mother, Giza, worked as a journalist on the paper until it was closed down by the Austrian fascists in ’34.

             A few months after Emil and Tomi arrived in England, Emil committed suicide after getting a letter saying his application for an extension of their visas had been refused. Tomi was sent to a succession of foster homes and supported the war effort by plane-spotting. He earned pocket money by gathering spent anti-aircraft shells. After the war, he found out that the letter received by his father had been a clerical error. At 12, he joined the Young Communist League in Britain and six months later was a district organizer in Slough.

           In the mid- ‘60s in Paris, he became involved in supporting US GI resistance to the Vietnam War. At one point, Watts was kidnapped by French security and transported to Corsica. He got away with the help of Danish supporters and, after further arrests and deportation from France, moved to Heidelberg where the US Army Hq in Europe was based.

          He supported soldiers on court-martial for offenses from refusal to cut their hair to refusing to serve in Vietnam.


#21     When Jeff worked on VGI in Chicago, he hung out with Bill O’Brien and Dick Stevens among others. Bill’s sister Anne married Dick. John Paul Stevens was then a prominent lawyer in town. The hippie wedding reception was held on his big spread on the shores of Lake Michigan. 

Awarded a Bronze Star

           He began his Master’s degree in English at the University of Chicago in 1941, [studying under Prof Norman McLean], but soon decided to join the US Navy. He enlisted on December 6, ’41, one day before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and served as an intelligence officer in the Pacific theater from 1942 to 1945.

           Stevens was awarded a Bronze Star for his service in the codebreaking team whose work led to the shooting down of the plane carrying Admiral Yamamoto in 1943.


#22     The Weathermen who staged the Days of Rage in Chicago in fall ’69 got in trouble with both the Mafia and with the Blacks, whom they greatly admired. The Mafia warned them of consequences if they again damaged their property in Chicago, while Fred Hampton, Black Panther leader, was critical. 

We Do Not Support People Who Are Custeristic

        Fred Hampton denounced the Weathermen, who had broken their promise of restraint. “We do not support people who are anarchistic, opportunistic, adventuristic, and Custeristic,” he said.

#23     Speaking in ’66, an ABN (Airborne) trooper recounts how his unit got into the atrocity syndrome.

We Lifted a Couple of Heads

          This war isn’t by the Geneva Convention. Charlie has no facilities for keeping prisoners nor any use for them. Therefore, surrender is not even considered in a hopeless situation.

          He has only got about five men from our brigade. We found two of them that had their privates in their mouth, sewn shut, hanging by their ankles from a tree.

          That’s why they gave us hatchets, and we lifted a couple of heads. Also, tied bodies on fenders of 2 ½ ton trucks and drove through the village as a warning. We haven’t had any mutilations since then that we know about.