Jeff’s legacy is that he gave impetus to the rise of the powerful GI movement against the war with Vietnam GI, which inspired the creation of hundreds of underground GI papers and propelled the movement forward.
From the blog Searching for Jeff
"Billowed Like an Arab's Caftan"
It was the summer of
’69, and my brother Jeff had recently died. He was but 27. Jeff had had an
interesting life, and I wanted to recount it in a memoir. But first I hoped to
secure for him a niche in the history of his times, a very public obituary. For
days I holed up in my study writing a long synopsis of his short life, first
his Vietnam tour, then his work as a founder of the GI antiwar movement.
I sent my account off to a senior editor at the New York Times, the paper of record – hoping to get Jeff at least a brief obit. I didn’t know the editor personally, but since we were both experts on Russia, I used our common interest as an entrée. Alas, he wrote back a few days later that he had tried, but the paper had a strict policy limited to current deaths, and, regrettably, I had let too much time pass. That left the task of memorializing my brother exclusively to me, though years hence I would be posthumously grateful to my ex-wife and my father for recording their observations of Jeff and his times. The memoir would not be an easy task; I'd have to write my brother into the ongoing history of the Vietnam antiwar movement even as it was still unfolding. I went through the small archive Jeff had left behind and solicited letters from his friends and professors, but when I sat down to write, to record his days on earth, I couldn't do it. At least not then. Just weeks after his death, Nancy and I had had our first child, a little girl; later there'd be a boy named Jeff. The conflicting emotions of unbridled joy and profound sorrow were too much. I filed the memoir project away for another day.
asking from what perspective Jeff's story should be told - perhaps in the third person, possibly the tumultuous times as 'seen' through
the eyes of a typical high school boy and girl. Or possibly, he thought,
I should personalize the account, adding in a few characters for impact. Of one thing, however, he was quite certain, "Naturally sex
will be there as that change in the period is part of the story."
One part of my father's letter surprised me. When Jeff was in his prime, Irving seemed at best indifferent to his son's deeply felt cause. Sometimes when he called home, Irving would ask, "Jeff, are you still with those anti groups?" - not quite implying disapproval, but more a concern that his younger son should move on, choose a career path.
Written nearly a decade after Jeff's death with Vietnam in the rear view mirror, Irving's letter clearly indicated he had come around on the issue of the war, lamenting the hundreds of thousands of mothers, fathers, and children who would feel the pain of a loved one's loss for "the balance of their lives." And in the same paragraph, he expressed sadness for the former soldiers who returned home scorned, even reviled, and certainly forgotten, now "living as exiles in a foreign country." Had Jeff lived, he couldn't have said it better.
My ex-, Nancy, who, like Jeff, would also die much too young, left behind her memories of him in a private remembrance probably written for the desk drawer sometime in the '70s, a document I saw only many years later. She sketched Jeff's life, describing him as "small, dark skinned, muscular, very black thick curly hair," and then, in a series of near poetic strokes:
Did he know something was wrong with him?
He was tired.
Found out about the cancer in Miami.
We flew back north - I had to teach spring term - counting on chemo for Jeff, but cancer moves very fast in young people. Nancy closed, "but nothing worked" as she brought down the curtain on a life that had been like a luminous comet in the night sky - "His dying was awful and was finished on June 16, 1969."