The Activists

 #1     When I began this memoir of my brother, I had no idea how vast a quest I was embarking on. It became an extended journey of discovery – I ‘found’ my brother and sometimes along the way long forgotten aspects of myself.

          Travelling through cyberspace on millions of words and crisscrossing the country for thousands of miles, I tracked Jeff’s trail through life. As Karen, my tireless researcher, would locate an old friend of his, I would mount up and head out in pursuit. Often the person found would mention another name, and on and on I went collecting memories. In the course of the quest, I was sometimes amazed at how the shards of Jeff’s life intertwined with my own.

Back in college at Indiana University (IU) after Vietnam, Jeff had a long fling with Karin, a young German woman born in the USA but raised abroad. I knew a fair amount about Karin from interviews with others at IU. Her father, an anti-Nazi in sentiment, was conscripted into the German Army and fought honorably, but, thoroughly disaffected near war’s end, took off for Denmark in civilian clothes. A Danish family took him in, but a neighbor informed and he was caught. Karin’s father was executed on Hitler’s final birthday, spring ’45.

             After the war by reason of her American birth, young Karin was permitted to emigrate to the States. She grew up and married an up and coming Physics grad student – he had worked on the H-bomb at Los Alamos. Upon earning his PhD, Ken Ford’s academic career took him to Brandeis University outside Boston. At the time, I had just returned to Brandeis from Army duty in Germany. I was finishing up my BA work.

            My field was American Studies, far removed from the Physics department, but Karin, a junior faculty wife, and I happened to cross paths on campus. The coincidence was unbeknownst to either of us until nearly a half century later. It was during my senior year when Brandeis introduced its first Russian language course. I was headed for graduate school in Russian Studies, but it was a large and unwieldy class, so I sat in the back. Like ships passing in the night, so did Karin.

            The couple eventually divorced, and Karin landed in the Midwest where she met Jeff. By the time I sought her out to interview, she had retired from the university and moved to Florida. Karen eventually traced her from there to a nursing home in northern California where Karin was approaching the end of her life.

          We talked by phone over several weeks. She told me a great deal about Jeff in the immediate aftermath of his return from Vietnam and mentioned another person to contact. Karin died not too long after, her last thoughts of the tragic death of her father a lifetime ago.

           I emailed her friend Amy, now a professor at a university in the Southwest. She too had studied at Indiana, then married a local guy and stayed on in Bloomington for a time. Amy had known Jeff and was familiar with his time at the university. After he moved on to grad school in Chicago, Karin became involved with an English professor, but just before the event Amy refers to in this excerpt, Karin had broken off the relationship:

Shirley Temple at the CIA   

                    I’m sorry to know that Karin is deceased. I would have liked to re-establish contact with her. It was generous of her to give you my name. I had other associations with her as well. You might be aware that she was involved for a long time with a member of the English department faculty, Charlie Eckert, who committed suicide by putting a shotgun in his mouth. Horrible thing.

           I cannot imagine how much Karin suffered. I knew Charlie, too. He had lived for a time in a guest house on the property of my former mother-in-law, the widow of Raintree County author Ross Lockridge, Jr, who himself committed suicide decades earlier in the garage next door to the house Charlie rented for a time. 

          As a former grad student at IU, I hadn’t known Professor Eckert – I was in the field of Political Science – but from the memoir research I knew that he had performed a great service to the university community. Shortly after Jeff graduated, there had been a sit-in protest against Dow Chemical.

           Police violence occurred, two activists were hospitalized and 37 others arrested, many of them Jeff’s friends and fellow activists. On behalf of the university, Charlie Eckert wrote a lengthy fair, balanced, and thorough report addressing all issues involved in the incident. The report, which had literary merit as well, was subsequently published nationally and became part of the literature of the antiwar ‘60s in America.

          I was also aware that Charlie Eckert had published a brilliant critical essay on the sociocultural phenomenon of the child superstar Shirley Temple and her films during the Depression era of the ‘30s. Sadly, he took his life two years later. Aside from its scholarly qualities, his study had special resonance for me, which speaks to the interconnectedness and even the circularity of my research quest in search of Jeff.

           I wrote back to Amy that although I had avoided contact with the CIA during my career as a Soviet specialist, after the Wall came down in ‘89 I felt it was then professionally acceptable to agree to an invitation to speak at Langley. The Agency invited me down to brief their analysts on post-communist East Europe:

            I flew to Washington, and as I began speaking to a roomful of earnest men with pocket protectors, I noticed a lone woman in the first seat of the front row. I glanced over, and to my utter astonishment it was Shirley Temple Black sitting there taking notes.

           After I finished, I got the straight story. I had been invited under false pretenses. The CIA’s analysts did not need any advice. My task that morning was to brief Shirley Temple for her upcoming Senate confirmation hearing as the President’s ambassador-designate to Czechoslovakia.

          Of course I didn’t mind seeing the dream girl of my earliest years. The Agency chiefs had set up a luncheon for her in the executive dining room. She insisted I sit on her right so we could continue discussing East Europe. I fielded her thoughtful questions – a career diplomat, she was a smart, pleasant person – but by the time we got to dessert I asked if she would mind if put a few questions to her.

             She consented, and as a table full of spooks, all too young to remember, listened politely, Shirley and I had a lighthearted talk about my favorite Shirley Temple movies, “Wee Willie Winkie” and “The Little Princess.” 


  Sorry Charlie Eckert, RIP. 


#2      Of Jeff’s many friends and activist comrades at Indiana University (IU), Paulann Groninger, nee Hosler, was especially interesting. Paulann had arrived on campus in 1959 a politically conservative young woman with a few liberal caveats. Her father, like most Americans at the time, approved of Castro’s recent overthrow of the Cuban dictator. Though a good Republican daughter, within a year Paulann would become radicalized and end up a leading Trotskyist at IU. As she wrote in an earlier autobiographical sketch:

I was a Goldwaterite

           I was a Goldwaterite Republican in 1959, the year I enrolled at IU, and shook the Great Man’s hand in a campaign swing he made for Nixon through Indiana. Barry G. appealed to me because he said he stood for principle and individual conscience, above all else – the importance of which my family had drilled into my bedrock. [But] given my father-instilled positive views about unions and Fidel Castro, I came to campus with some fractures in the otherwise “solidly” conservative mantle of opinions laid down by my family. …
            [During spring semester], I conspicuously participated in a demonstration by student Republicans against the appearance on campus for JFK by Angie Dickenson, a then popular movie actress. Our favorite chant (to counter the Democrat’s “Tricky Dicky” moniker for our guy) was: “If you trick our Dick, we’ll flush your John.” Just sophomoric enough to delight us spirited freshmen.


 #3     Bernella Satterfield was a founding leader of the SDS chapter at Indiana University. She was an undergraduate Music major who, with her partner David, was a prominent New Left activist on campus. She, David, and their young child Cordelia lived in an apartment just a block from campus on a corner of the main drag. She describes how the FBI would drop by from time to time.

As Much as to Intimidate Us as Gather Information 

          The FBI used to visit me at 102 North Dunn on a fairly regular basis. I got to be familiar with the agent, whose name escapes me now. He would show up in his suit and tie. I wouldn’t let him into the apartment, but would go across the street to the donut shop on Kirkwood to talk to him.

          He would try to pry information out of me, but I would never give him anything that he didn’t already know. One time he showed up while someone was smoking pot in the apartment. It might have been David. I remember hustling him out of there as fast as I could before he could smell it.

            I think he was probably sent around at least as much to intimidate us as to gather information. We were not going to be deterred by him.


 #4      The Satterfield’s living room, a stone’s throw from campus, was the gathering place for the small group of New Left activists who came together at IU during spring ’65. Some of the sessions were musical, some political, all were interesting. Karen Grote Ferb vividly remembers Bernella and her cousin singing a song, their harmonious voices soaring a capella: Mother’s not dead, she’s only sleeping/… Yes mother is sleeping way back in the hills. 

A Classic ‘Red Diaper Baby’

            Jeff Sharlet, one of the coterie that formed the IU SDS chapter, was part of the small, intimate group that held political discussions in the Satterfield living room. They were young, fired up about politics, culture, and the war, and met frequently, often nightly.

           Bernella claimed quite a radical legacy from both sides of her family – her parents were Socialists, her grandfather a Russian anarchist, and an aunt was in the American Communist Party – as well as excitement over the possibilities, a classic ‘red diaper baby’.

           She thought Jeff, who by fall of ’65 was leading the SDS chapters’ Dorm Education Project on the Vietnam War, was a strategic realist and tactical pragmatist, not a Marxist theoretician like Robin Hunter, who often led those ‘struggle sessions’.

          The group itself was more interested in the Port Huron Statement, the SDS founding document, Camus, and C Wright Mills than in Marxist theories.  


#5      Jim Retherford and other students founded the Spectator, a lively political-cultural alternative to the official university paper. It gave ample coverage to the spirited IU New Left, of which the university president was highly critical.  In Jim's own words:

Univ, a Loco/Crazy Parent

         The Spectator’s story of survival — a small bright light from the Klan-infested backwoods of southern Indiana — and its role both as a vehicle of Hoosier student activism and as a target of heavy-handed university, state, and federal government repression, is an extraordinary one.

          At its best, during the psychedelic early years of the underground press, the Spectator followed its own path, committed to integrity, intelligence, and a fierce will to survive.

         In the beginning, the Spectator’s conscientious — and, let me say, balanced — coverage of student affairs, including the ongoing struggle over women’s hours and the university’s banning of the W.E.B. Du Bois Club and the Sexual Freedom League, quickly got the paper in hot water with the administration. The oligarchs weren’t used to having students challenge their decisions — even less their authority to make such decisions. These were arguably the last days of in loco parentis, the idea that the university should act in place of a parent in controlling young adult behavior. To many students in 1965-66, the university had become a loco/crazy parent.


#6      University authorities had become quite irritated with the Spectator's  criticism of their policies and decided to silence Editor Jim Retherford and his irreverent paper by ordering the staff to vacate its campus premises.  Having become impatient with the slowness of the move, the dean of faculty, a former CIA Far East station chief, moved to expedite the eviction.  With fire axe in hand, he broke down the door, destroyed the equipment, and scattered the files in the snow.  In Jim's opinion, that action was one of a long list of repressive measures instituted by government from Washington DC down to the local level.  As Jim described the situation in the first issue following the debacle:

The Dirty Thought Remains

           Joe ("Cess") Poole and his silly colleagues of the House Un-American Activities Committee are planning mass hearings to investigate Liberation News Service, the Underground Press Syndicate , and such newspapers as the Rag (Austin), the Berkeley Barb, and the SPECTATOR. Several other crack investigating teams are reportedly sharpening up their weapons for similar work. In Bloomington, the repression began in December when The SPECTATOR was disrupted by an "armed" invasion by Indiana University personnel, headed by the employee who informed its publisher of the true nature of the SPECTATOR -- i.e., "dirty".  We offered to expunge any words that he might find objectionable.  He said that "even if you take out the dirty words, the dirty thought remains.


#7         In ’67, IU President Stahr continued his program of bringing major pro-war speakers to campus – Dean Rusk. Campus SDS, frustrated with the war after a couple of years of peaceful protest, decided to escalate their rhetoric.

A dozen of them scattered among Rusk’s large audience and in a kind of random cacophony heckled the speaker, shouting out ‘Murderer’, ‘Fascist’, ‘Lies’. Rusk maintained his dignity, and the audience turned against the hecklers as an annoyed listener struck Dan Kaplan. 

Hit Him Again Harder!

       When a little old lady in the audience smote a bearded heckler with her umbrella, a chant went up, ‘Harder, harder, hit him harder!’



#8       Ginny Hill was an IU activist and knew Jeff back in the day. She provided some interesting information on those times, along with occasional reports from deeply conservative Idaho where she and husband made their home. 

An Armed Stand-off

        As I write, there is an armed stand-off nearby in Burns, OR where the feds are allowing the militia occupying a government museum to riffle through Paiute artifacts.