Harv the Warrior

My Air Force life changed 48 years ago on December 31, 1971. I had returned from Viet Nam in July and now had a pretty cushy job at the National Security Agency (NSA) in Laurel, MD as an A1C, Airman First Class (E-3). After approximately six weeks of menial work, ripping papers off of DDP machines and sending them via pneumatic tubes to other departments, I finally had a grown-up job; I wrote reports.

I reported for work with all of my friends at 8:30 in the morning and while they wrote snippets of information and short paragraphs of the previous day’s activities in Viet Nam, I drank a lot of coffee. My workday usually began around 3:00 in the afternoon when the first scraps of paper came to my desk in the back of the room. When I say “back of the room”, I mean waaaaaaaaay in the back of the room. It was a very large room on the fifth or seventh floor (my memory fails me on this) and the front of the room had little cubicles called “shops” where Airmen would gather the information they were assigned to research before it found its way to me. My boss was a civilian, a former Marine Gunnery Sgt., known only as Sarge or Gunny (again, I don’t remember his real name) and was a high ranking civilian, something like a GS-15 (maybe not quite that high, but who knows?). I usually had everyone’s snippets of information by 3:30 and now it was time for me to work my magic on the typewriter. It was my job to compile all of these little pieces of information and write one cohesive, succinct report that I was told went to the Joint Chiefs and the White House. I never knew if that was true, but I know my reports were read because of my habit of adding my editorial thoughts to some reports and the immediate response I received.

My first incident occurred when I commented in a report about “American warplanes once again crossed the 17th parallel and bombed cities in North Viet Nam. However, unlike previous occasions, no hospitals or schools were destroyed and no women or children were apparently killed.” I have written a lot of words in my lifetime, but these words are as clear now as they were more than 48 years ago. The day after I filed this report, I heard someone yell very loudly from the far side of this very large room, “WHERE’S GOLDSTEIN?” Two men in suits, assumedly civilians, came back and told me to keep my opinions out of the report and to retype it. This was before computers, so the entire report had to be done over – at least it kept me busy until that day’s information came across my desk.

Then came what would be the turning point in my Air Force “career”. I had been opposed to the war in Viet Nam before I went there, while I was there and especially now that I was home. I felt that I was part of the war machine that kept it going, even though all I was doing at this point was typing reports. I was truly on the edge of a breakdown; I felt caught between the world of the Air Force and what I felt was just.

On December 31, 1971 I wrote a report that included the shoot-down on December 30 of an F-4 and the capture of Navy Lieutenant Commander David W. Hoffman and Lieutenant Junior Grade Norris A. Alphonzo. Both men were captured alive. This shoot-down and others happened during a “cease fire”, at least that was what the American press was reporting. There was no cease fire for Christmas, the war was still raging. In the report, A1C Smartass Goldstein wished a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Hoffman and Alphonzo. Yeah, he heard about this a day or two later and had to retype his report once again.

Our good friends, the McCarthas, were having a New Year’s Eve party that night. After I finished at NSA for the day, I cleaned myself up, probably bought some gin, and went over to their apartment. However, I couldn’t celebrate the New Year because I thought my head was going to explode. However, I’m sure I got pretty drunk.

Harv with drink




Lit up me

It was that night that I decided, after being back in the States for almost six months and with less than a year to go in my enlistment, to apply for a discharge on the grounds of conscientious objector. I wasn’t trying to get out of going to Viet Nam – I was there and back. Before writing my thesis, I met with a former Air Force lieutenant who successfully applied for and received a CO discharge.

I turned in my thesis in late January 1972. My Top Secret Crypto Clearance was removed immediately and I was ordered to report to a room wearing my Class A uniform (my dress blues). I thought I was in a Grade B movie because it was a small room, there were two men in dark suits and I was sitting in a chair with a spotlight on me. The men constantly walked around the room asking me questions, basically wanting to know if I was a Communist, planning on defecting, was I really a pacifist…. It was surreal.

After my removal from NSA I was initially given the job of handing out sports equipment in our dayroom while going for interviews for my CO status. I saw a psychiatrist at Andrews AFB because if you don’t believe in killing, you must be crazy. I saw a clergyman at Ft. Meade (a minister because there were no rabbis at Ft. Meade or Andrews); both the shrink and the padre said they would write a report endorsing my CO beliefs. My last interview, which was to be with a hearing or investigating officer, never happened. During this time my job changed from handing out sports equipment in the new day room to answering a telephone in a broom closet in the old dayroom. Needless to say, no one ever called the broom closet.

My first two interviews happened quickly, but after waiting for the third for what I felt was an extremely long period of time, I went to see the acting Commanding Officer who told me that my case had been lost. I distinctly remember that this conversation happened on a Thursday and I told him that he had until Monday to locate it and schedule my next appointment. I also told him it was only a 20 minute drive to Senator Ribicoff’s office in DC. He asked if I was threatening him, I told him I was only letting him know the drive time from Ft. Meade to DC.

I never received my CO, but four of my friends and I got an early out from the Air Force in mid-April of 1972 because we were considered “dead wood” and the Air Force was getting rid of people like us. We all received Honorable Discharges with no, zero, nada time to serve in our reserve status.

Over the years I often wondered about the two Navy aviators that were shot down. Did they come home? Did they come home alive? In the spring of 2000 I contacted the MIA/POW organization inquiring about them. I couldn’t remember their names, but I had a pretty good idea of the dates, between December 25 and December 31, 1971. The MIA/POW people told me I was wrong, that there was a cease fire and no Americans flew over North Viet Nam or were shot down during that time period. After receiving this piece of bullshit, I followed my wife’s advice and wrote a letter to Senator John McCain, with the hope that he might know of them because he was a “guest” at the Hanoi Hilton when Hoffman and Alphonzo were shot down. It took a number of months for him to respond (he was seeking the Republican nomination for President in 2000), but I received a letter from him dated January 8, 2001 thanking me for my inquiry and turning it over to the Department of Defense.

McCain letter

A little over two weeks later I received a two-page letter from the DoD telling me that both men survived captivity (as soon as I saw their names in the DoD letter, I remembered that these were the two men). Alphonzo was repatriated in 1972 and Hoffman in 1973. They also contradicted the MIA/POW report by telling me that in addition to Hoffman and Alphonzo, 19 American aviators were lost over North Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia between December 18, 1971 and January 8, 1972.

DoD page 1

DoD page 2

Not many things have haunted me over my many years on this planet, but my written words on December 31, 1971 have bothered me. Yes, I was opposed to the Viet Nam War, but these men were doing what they were ordered to do. Did they believe in their mission? I don’t know, but if they didn’t fly that day, they would have been arrested and two other aviators would have gone in their places. It would not have stopped or postponed the mission – unless everyone refused, and that wasn’t going to happen.

To Navy Lieutenant Commander David W. Hoffman and Lieutenant Junior Grade Norris A. Alphonzo (1971), my most sincere apologies for being so glib in your darkest hour. If anyone knows them or their families, please feel free to pass this along.







LizzPhilip-0203After my Honorable Discharge (really!!) from the United States Air Force in April of 1972, my intent was to return to Quinnipiac College (GO BRAVES!) for one more year to get my Bachelor of English degree. Having spent quite a bit of time in the legal office at Tan Son Nhut Air Base discovering rules and ways to thwart what we considered illegal orders from our commanding officers, I wanted to go to law school after receiving my BA degree.

I attended classes during the summer, taking primarily political science courses. When the fall semester began, my course load was heavy with the remaining English classes that were needed to complete the requirements for my degree. I also took as many political science classes as I could. One class, Government in Connecticut or something like that, was taught by Irv Stolberg who was also Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives. He was teaching at Quinnipiac because as a State Representative, he could no longer teach at Southern Connecticut State University because it was considered double-dipping into the state funds trough. It was a small, intimate class; I believe there were only five students. Stolberg dominated the class discussion, although one of the students, Miss Asher, stated that the only two people who ever spoke were Stolberg and a “fuzzy-headed liberal”. I was never sure who she meant.

Harv the radical

The class was on Tuesdays and Thursdays from approximately 4:30-6:00. After class I would walk to the parking lot with Miss Asher; she would drive home to Branford and I would drive to the New Haven Register building on the corner of Orange and Audubon Streets where I worked in a department associated with advertising called “Dispatch”. My job was to type the ads handed in by the ad staff so that they were legible before going to the composing room.

Miss Asher and I walked to the parking lot almost every Tuesday and Thursday, talking about the class as well as other “stuff”. I thought about asking her out, but I was unsure about it because of our age difference, I was 25 and she was only 20. I was also nervous because I dated very little while in the Air Force and it had been over a year since my last date. I finally got up the courage and asked her out for a bowling date, we were going to double-date with my roommate Eddie Tynes and his girlfriend Monica Lengsfeld (also my roommate because she and Eddie were living together). The three of us shared an apartment in Wallingford. Our first date was going to be on Saturday night, October 28, 1972.

I wanted Eddie and Monica to be there because I needed moral support and if the date went south, I’d have someone to talk to on the way home. They wanted to come along because they wanted to find out how I learned Miss Asher’s first name. Mr. Stolberg never called us by our first name, it was always Miss Asher and Mr. Goldstein; I don’t think he even used Ms.

The three of us drove to Branford on that Saturday night. Miss Asher had given me directions, she had me getting off of I-95 in East Haven and driving up Route 1, but the exit number she gave me didn’t match the one for East Haven so I continued on 95, paid the 25 cent toll and got off at the next exit, finding my way to her house. I parked in front of her two-story gray house, turned off the motor and took a deep breath. She seemed very nice when we walked to our cars together at Quinnipiac; I was hoping she would like me. It was going to be awkward calling her Miss Asher; Eddie and Monica gave me encouragement.

I walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. A young man who I thought was her brother answered the door and let me in. It turns out he wasn’t one of her brothers, just a friend who came for lunch one day and never left. Miss Asher came down the stairs and together we walked to my car. Being a gentleman, I opened the door for her and walked around to the driver’s side and got into the car. After getting in I suggested that everyone introduce themselves. “Hi, I’m Eddie.” “I’m Monica.” Fortunately for me, my date didn’t say, “Hi, I’m Miss Asher”, instead she said, “Hi, I’m Nancy”. We had a great time at the bowling alley and then went out for a bite to eat afterwards. At the end of our date I brought her home, opening the car door for her and walking her to her front door, making sure she was safely in the house. When I returned to the car, Eddie and Monica praised me for my ingenuity in learning Nancy’s first name. Months, perhaps years later, when I finally told Nancy that I didn’t know her first name on our first date, she was surprised because she knew mine. She said that we all introduced ourselves on a trip our small class took to the State Capitol; I was driving and I guess I wasn’t paying attention, something she says I’m still very good at doing.

Nancy (no longer Miss Asher) and my second date was two weeks later on Saturday, November 11 (Google is great with finding actual calendar dates) when we went to the Yale Repertory Theater to see “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been?”, which was a play about the House Unamerican Activities (HUAC) and the blacklisting of actors, screenplay writers, directors, producers and most of Hollywood during the McCarthy era of the early 1950’s. I wanted her to think that I was deep and not just a frivolous bowler.

Nancy and Harvey 1975ish

Not only did we continue dating for the remainder of my last year in college (I never went to law school), but we are still happily dating 46 years later. We are both retired so we get to go on a lot of dates these days.

engagement portrait at beach

We dated for four years until Nancy received her BS degree in Physical Therapy; she began her career and we began our life together as husband and wife in 1976.

We have two amazing children, Eddie and Lizz, a wonderful son-in-law, Philip, and Eddie’s wonderful significant other, Chelsea.

The first 46 years have been GREAT; I can’t wait to see what the next 46 years will bring us.






I’m not positive about the date that I arrived in Viet Nam, but I’m pretty sure it was Sunday, July 26, 1970. Most of the men and women who went to Viet Nam remember the exact date; it is burned into their memory. I, along with 20 of my best friends, went to Okinawa with orders in hand to spend 18 months at Kadena Air Base to fly in the back end of an EC-135 (reconfigured Boeing 707) over China, Russia, North Korea and North Viet Nam eavesdropping on the people talking on the ground – or sometimes in MIGs (Russian-made jets used by the North Korean and North Vietnamese Air Force). I was nervous about the length of our missions – 20-22 hours and refueling in the air and I was concerned that I wasn’t as proficient in North Vietnamese as I should be.

Little did we know that these orders had changed within two weeks of receiving them. We were told we were going “south” after we arrived in Okinawa, three months after receiving our Okinawa orders. I was told when A1C Bob Bressett yelled to me as I walked across the tarmac after landing in Kadena, “Don’t unpack Harv, you’re going south!” Hardly an official notice.

I arrived in Okinawa on Sunday, July 5, 1970 and spent the next three weeks on “the rock”.

Our Top Secret clearances were already in Viet Nam, which meant that we could not go to the 6990th headquarters; we could not fly; we could not work in the operations office. The time spent in Okinawa was going to be our own. Surprisingly, they didn’t have us do menial work around the barracks area.

Although I had never been much of a drinker, that changed while I was in Okinawa. Our day would start around 3:00 pm. Two of us would walk to the liquor store (I believe the Air Force called it a Class 6 store). We would each buy a gallon of gin, two six-packs of tonic and half dozen limes. The good news was that a gallon of gin only cost 95 cents; the bad news was that one person could not purchase more than two gallons a day. The tonic mixer was more expensive at $1.65 for a six-pack. We would return to the barracks (Drink in the barracks? Of course not!) and gather in Mark Nelson’s room. Mark Nelson mixing drinksOthers had the job of getting snacks, chips and dips; it was a team effort. By 4:00 we were ready to toast the day and evening to come. We would get philosophical during these afternoon drinking sessions.

Our cocktail hours usually lasted until 6:00 when most, if not all, of the gin had been consumed, at which time we would go to the theatre on base. The movie was usually over by 8:00 or 8:30 which meant it was time to go to the Enlisted Men’s Club for drinks and dinner. To be honest, I don’t remember the food, but I did consume quite a bit more gin. Some stayed with gin and tonics or other hard liquors, while others may have switched to beer. The EM club had music every night and one of the groups was especially good, the Roses and Thorns from the Philippines. Well, we thought they were good, but in our condition, we may not have been the best judges.Me with an afternoon cocktail

We would leave the EM club a little before midnight and head over to the chow hall for midnight breakfast. Leaving the chow hall at 1:00 am with full bellies, we strolled over to the bowling alley on base (because of the varied shifts everyone at Kadena worked, the bowling alley, movies and chow hall were open 24 hours). We would bowl two or three games, have a few beers and then go back to the barracks around 3:00 am to rest up for the next day’s activities.

As our friends began to fly down to Da Nang and Saigon, the rest of us would go with them to the terminal to see them off. We really weren’t too sure what to expect, what we would be flying or what we would be doing once we got to Nam. It was probably on our second or third trip to see friends head “south” when George “Jesse” Owens from Logan, West “By God” Virginia started talking about our situation. Jesse Ownes“What’s the lowest of the low? What gets stepped on and squished? We’re no better than a worm. That’s what the Air Force thinks of us; we’re just WORMS!” It was on this night at the airport at Kadena AB in Okinawa that the W.O.R.M.S. was born. George, Bill McCartha, Stan Long and a little input from me gave meaning to the acronym: We Openly Resist Military Stupidity. What started as a way of venting became a common cause for all of us that took root in Viet Nam. Word of the W.O.R.M.S. spread and a group of linguists later stationed in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand took on the name. Worms 4

When it was my turn, Bill and I flew together. It didn’t take long after boarding the plane and taking off that Bill fell asleep. I think he slept the entire flight. Never being known for bravery, I was terrified. This was the longest and shortest flight of my life, all rolled into one. Sure, there was danger in the flying missions out of Kadena, but a jet-target at 35,000 feet might be harder to hit than a slow propeller-driven airplane at 8,000 feet. This was one flight where an alcoholic beverage would have been welcomed, but being a military charter, there was no booze to be had.

As we approached Viet Nam airspace, I could see the skies lighting up. Hmmmm, I thought, it’s not the 4th of July and even if it was, they don’t celebrate it here. We were probably 30 miles away from the action, but you could see bright bursts of light where the bombs were being dropped and the gun ships were firing down (and maybe the VC shooting upwards to the airplanes). This did not help to calm my fears.

After landing, we found our way to our barracks area. The barracks were wooden buildings with long “open bays” which translates to no walls. Our barracksAlmost as soon as our group arrived, it was decided (by our group) that we should have little rooms, cubicles, if you will. It was never sanctioned, but the Midnight Requisitioner – thank you Stan Long – went to work late at night, usually after a few drinks – obtaining lumber wherever he could find it. Fortunately, the squadron that was housed next to ours was made up of builders and they always had extra wood around their barracks – at least during the early part of the day. It was amazing that they never questioned where their wood went at night. Before long, we all had semi-private quarters. The walls went up about 2/3 of the way to the ceiling. It wasn’t much, but it was home.

Each “room” consisted of a desk and a chair, a wastebasket and two lockers. I didn’t use the desk a lot, but the chair came in handy getting in and out of my top bunk. The only plus to our housing was that because we were on flying status, our barracks were air conditioned.

Bill and I spent a few days relaxing in the squadron area until we received a chewing out from the First Sergeant about not reporting when we arrived. He told us that our responsibility was to report to him the morning after our arrival. I held my tongue, but I wanted to ask if that was akin to the Air Force not telling us where we were going for three months before we left the United States? We were put to work pretty quickly at our headquarters, which was located in the 7th Air Force Headquarter compound. The squadron was short of linguists, but before we could fly, we had to go through jungle survival school at Clark AFB in the Philippines.

On our first day at Clark AFB we were directed to a classroom to learn about what we would experience during our three days in the jungle. I arrived and sat down, waiting for the room to fill and the instructor to begin the lecture. A young sergeant came in and sat next to me; I turned to him and asked if he was mad at me. He turned towards me and we both starting laughing; it was my hometown friend and high school classmate, Paul Didato. Here we are, approximately 10,000 miles from home and I’m sitting next to someone who lives two miles from my parents’ apartment.

We were taken by helicopters to some remote location with only an open parachute, which would serve as our hammock, and a few provisions. The first thing we were to do when we found a campsite was to tie our “hammock” between two trees – and that it should be approximately four to five feet off the ground. This was so the critters at night couldn’t get us. Lovely thought. Due to my under-tallness I needed some help. One of the taller guys tied my hammock and they were also kind enough to lift me into it at night. Getting out wasn’t so bad, I just couldn’t climb into it, even with a boost. We were shown how to tap a tree for liquid refreshments, which plants and bugs we could and couldn’t eat and how to forge our way through a dense jungle. The jungle at night is VERY dark and is filled with strange sounds and rustlings. Because of the heavy foliage, there was no sky. We were advised that once we were in our hammocks to stay there until at least first light. There was a story, I’m not sure if it was true, about an airman who took off his watch and put it on the branch above him before he went to sleep. Because he was afraid of what might try to climb up into his hammock, he brought a stick to bed with him. He awoke sometime during the night and looking up, saw a face beaming down on him. He grabbed the stick and beat the face to a pulp, only to find out in the morning that he had killed his watch with the luminous dial.

It was now early August of 1970 and I was ready to fly. Because of the shortage of linguists, the Air Force bent a few rules (they were good at that). Technically, in order to do the job that we were trained to do, we were supposed have the rank of E-4, a buck sergeant. Having gone through two technical schools and two survival schools, we only had the rank of E-3, which was Airman First Class at that time. We were low ranking enlisted personnel doing a job above our pay-grade.

Once we started flying, we didn’t stop. Air Force rules say that you can fly five days with two days off (or something similar). Because of the shortage of linguists, we would fly 10 or 12 days in a row and then get a day off before starting all over again.

There were instances where some flew two missions in one day; the first one in the morning and the last one at night. Each mission with a linguist on board was five hours. There were probably 15-20 missions each day. If the flight was scheduled to take off at 7:00 am, we would have to be at headquarters by 5:30 for a briefing.

We would then be driven to the flight line for another briefing, after which we would walk over to our assigned aircraft and wait for the pilot, co-pilot and navigator to set things in order before we climbed on board. Me at Antique AirlinesOur airplane was an EC-47, a Gooney Bird. It may not have been the sleekest airplane, but it was trustworthy; some were built before World War II, but they held up quite well.

Gooney BirdThe Army and Marines recognized C-47s as gunships; ours was strictly for eavesdropping. We flew with three Morse operators, one (X) who served as primary when fixing a location on the ground and the linguist. EC-47 aircraft flying out of Tan Son Nhut did not have a back door, only some straps where the door should be.

Because we normally would not be flying over 8,000 feet, we were not pressurized and did not have oxygen on board. When we boarded the aircraft, we made sure that there was a parachute for everyone; we were supposed to take them out of the rack and put them on the back of our seats, but we rarely did that. We were also issued .38 Smith and Wesson pistols before each flight. Since guns scare me, I thought it was in everyone’s best interest if I didn’t load mine. I flew 100-plus missions, with more than 500 hours of flying time in Southeast Asia and I never touched a bullet.

Our primary function was to get a triangular “fix” on our targets on the ground. If we found a Morse target, the Morse operators would note the dits and dots while at the same time work with the navigator and pilot to get a location where he was transmitting from. If it was a voice target, the linguist (Z1) would turn on the tape recorder to record whatever code was being sent and he would work with the navigator, one of the Morse operators (X) and the pilot to get the transmitting location. Stan Z1The Morse transmitters on the ground must have had small, easily transportable machines, because they were always on the move; the voice targets on the ground must have been using large equipment because they never moved. One location I fixed on my first mission was the same location I fixed on my fini-flight almost a year later. The voice targets were transmitting four or five digit codes; we were told that five digit codes was chatter but four digits could mean something important. After the mission, the linguist would take the recording, even if it was only 20-30 minutes, and turn it in at our operations headquarters. Someone there would transcribe it and send it someplace else for analysis.

Our downtime was spent drinking beer in front of our squadron bar, the Cougar’s Cavern. It was usually Budweiser, which had been sitting in the hot sun, maybe chilled for a while, and then sat again in the hot sun before being chilled again before serving. It tasted terrible and to this day I won’t drink a Bud. Our drinking continued through the day and into the night, because other than going to a movie, there wasn’t much else to do.

I was fortunate to only have a few scary moments in Viet Nam, but it only takes one to be thankful for being alive. Some of this essay was written about six years ago, but I still remember all of these accounts quite vividly, which is remarkable because I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.



Why I write

While on vacation recently, my good friend Bill McCartha, who was once a reporter for the Concord Monitor and an editor for the Valley News in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, asked me this question, “Harv, why do you write?” My answer was simple, “Because”. He then asked me to expand on this thought.

I write, usually, because I have something to say. I am opinionated and I like to share my thoughts. Recently, many of my writings have been political, but they can also be reminiscing thoughts. I have written about my military life, from induction to my honorable discharge (and beyond that with the Viet Nam Vets Against the War). I have written about growing up in Middletown, Connecticut and the many places we lived when I was a kid.

When I was active in the photography world and editor of six different publications, I would write at least two editorials each month and sometimes three or four. Each was different, but all pertained to some aspect of photography.

I write because I MUST. I have words rolling around in my head and I have to get them down on paper. I may go two months between essays, while other times I may write one a week.

With my political essays I am careful to write a warning to the reader before they click on the link to the article; they might not want to read what I think of trump (purposely with a small “t”, like his hands) so to save them anguish, I preface my essay that it is political and liberal in thought.

Writing is also cathartic – it is a great outlet for venting.

I am fortunate that I inherited my mother’s writing gene. She was known for her poetry and song parodies; she even wrote a song (never published) in 1956.

Why do I write? Because I must.




first picture business cardWhen I got out of the Air Force and went back to Quinnipiac College I was living in the New Haven area and got a job in “dispatch” at the New Haven Register. My job was to type up the poorly written text submitted by the admen and women so that those in the composing room could read it before they set it for the presses. I did this for a year until I graduated in May of 1973 and was then promoted to the advertising staff. This lasted about four months when I was hired to work with a new photography venture. My brother was going to be the photographer in a new studio in Ansonia and my job, initially, was to line up stores for the itinerant photographers in New York and New England. Before long I became a “proof-passer”; I was now selling photographs.

It only took a month to discover that the person who owned the company wasn’t very honest. When Nancy and I went out to dinner on Saturday, October 13, 1973 with my brother Alan and his wife Faith to celebrate his birthday, we compared notes and decided that night to go into business for ourselves. What I didn’t know was that Al had been compiling lists of newborns, their parents’ names and addresses and telephone numbers around Middletown, New Haven and the Connecticut shoreline. On Monday, October 15, I drove from my apartment in East Haven to my brother’s house in Chester, sat down at the large desk in the small office and began calling new moms, offering to photograph their baby and the baby’s siblings at no charge – and we would give them a FREE 4×5 Preview. What was interesting was that because we had just started our business, we had no samples of our work, so our first few clients were buying blind. When I talked about a beautiful 11×14 palette, I had to point to a photo in a black and white brochure. Many of our first babies became samples so I could actually show what I was talking about.

Sales were okay, but we only had one photographer and one salesman, whereas our competition was large companies with many photographers and many sales people, therefore selling their products for less than we could. What we had going for us was that Al was a better photographer than anyone else out there doing the same thing. After six months we continued the free session but stopped giving a free 4×5 preview. This cut down on the number of houses we went into, but our sales numbers increased substantially.

Traveling around the state was taking a toll on Al and me and our cars so when a new department store was going to open in Middletown, we approached the Shapiro family about having Alfa Studio in their building. An agreement was arranged with a very good rent; we hired a contractor and in six weeks, we were ready to open. It was a small studio, approximately 500 square feet, most of it being the camera room. In addition to the camera room, which doubled as a viewing room, we had a small office, a dressing room and a reception area. It was mid-October 1974 when Alfa Studio opened on the fourth floor of Shapiro’s Department Store.

The upside was that we had an inexpensive rent in a new department store; the downside was that we didn’t have any traffic because the only other department on our floor was a beauty salon that catered to older women. We requested space in the windows that faced Main Street to display our photography and we rotated the photographs on a regular basis. We also were allowed to display our portraits around the store, giving us more exposure on the lower levels. Al’s style of photography was different from what most in town were used to seeing and because it was different – and very good – we clicked (no pun intended).

Initially, Al used a Mamiya C330 if he photographed a wedding, and for a while he used the RB 67 to photograph groups at the weddings. He eventually switched from the Mamiyas to a Hasselblad for weddings and for his creative black and white sessions. The Mamiya RB67 was his workhorse for the studio; he liked it because it gave him a good sized negative. Our lights were Studiomaster II, and having recently attended a Joseph Zeltsman seminar, he used a bounced lighting system with four lights aimed at the ceiling and he was able to control the power output.

Al in Shapiro's

As the salesperson, I had what I considered the most important piece of equipment in the studio, an Astroscope.


This little box of plastic worked like an opaque projector, allowing me to project the client’s previews on a wall, approximately 30×40. We discouraged our clients from taking the previews home and this was discussed at the time they first scheduled their appointment. We found that when previews went home, sales decreased substantially. I would go through an elimination process with them during the viewing in the camera room and when we got to their four or five favorite images, I would put them on a table in front of them, turn up the lights and we would talk about their photographic needs. I always talked about wall portraits, a wall portrait being 16×20 or larger. When it came time for final decisions and sizes, I would take their favorites and project them to size on the wall so they could see that the smallest size that would work would be a 16×20, or if it was a family group, at least a 20×24. I would never hard-sell anyone, all I did was make suggestions. If someone was unsure and thought they wanted an 11×14 for their wall (UGH!), I would send them home with cardboard to use as a visual on their wall at home – 11×14, 16×20, 20×24, 24×30. In almost all cases, they returned to order a 16×20 or 20×24, sometimes a 24×30, but never an 11×14.

In addition to Al’s style of photography, we wanted to stand out above the rest. We began promoting that we photographed pets: dogs, cats, horses, boa constrictors (which we never photographed). We became the go-to studio if you wanted your pet photographed. Dogs and cats were common in the studio – horses were photographed in the fields because it would have been difficult to get them up to the fourth floor (and down again) and we didn’t have a pooper scooper large enough. Many of the dogs and cats are memorable, especially one mean cat that the owner had declawed, but it still bit her a few times during the session. I remember that she purchased a 16×20 on canvas and a frame; her order was probably around $800 in 1975. What struck me was that she had an 18 month old son who had never been photographed.

Our clients were not allowed to bring their pets through the store, so I would meet them by the rear entrance of the store and take them up to our studio on an old, rickety, freight elevator. This became a bone of contention. The other contention was that the store was open until 9:00 on Tuesday and Friday nights. We would schedule appointments for those evenings for sales or to speak with brides about photographing their weddings. We might be having a busy night, but if the rest of the store was slow, they would decide to close early. On more than one occasion we would be told to close up because the store was closing in 15 minutes and I was with a client or expecting one shortly. We began to look for a new home.

It was late October of 1978 (what was it about October?) when we opened our doors on the street level in Riverview Center, our front door facing the side entrance to Sears (for those of you who live in Middletown, the Middletown Police Department is where Sears used to be and a lawyer’s office occupies our old space). There was plenty of free parking in the lot right near the studio, life was good!

Our business increased substantially almost immediately with the move, which was a good thing because so did our overhead. In the former location, we had photos of all sizes on the wall, but in our new home, the smallest photograph on the wall was 24×30. Our other sizes displayed were 30×40 and 40×60. To be honest, in all the years we were in business, I only sold two 40x60s and a few 30x40s, but 24x30s, 20x24s and 16x20s flew out the door. I had one lab owner comment that we sold more 16x20s and 20x24s of high school seniors than any of her other studios. It was all in showing the sizes and suggesting the proper size for the subject. I never tried to oversell, and in one instance actually told the customer that the size she wanted would be too big based on the subject matter and where it was going to be displayed.

Our new location had a large reception area with plenty of light, a very large camera room, a large dressing room, a designated sales room, an office, a work area and a dark room for black and white photographs. Being on street level increased our exposure ten-fold. When people left Sears they often walked over to us, if only to ask questions. There was a chain studio across the street from us and when people came in to inquire about our work and prices, they often commented that we were more expensive than the studio across the street. I tried to be polite, but I would tell them to really look at what we do and go across the street and look at what they do and if you don’t see a difference, you should have them make your portrait. They would leave the studio and more often than not return to us ten minutes later to schedule an appointment.

ALFA STUDIO February 1980

Al and I had been attending our state meetings and convention as well as our regional convention since 1974, we always came back to the studio with some new information and it wasn’t always from the programs. Networking with other photographers in the hospitality room or in the common areas often offered up a gem or two. In 1978 we began presenting programs to professional photography associations, one on business and the other was photographing pets – and we really photographed pets during the program. We presented programs to most of the New England state photography associations as well as the Pennsylvania state convention, sections in New York State, and in 1979, the Puerto Rico Professional Photographers Association Convention in San Juan. We were also flown up to Montreal for a private seminar.

PPA of PA convention

Puerto Rico Association Newsletter

We weathered the flux in the economy over the years. When we first opened in 1974 there was talk of Pratt & Whitney laying off personnel; the timing was not good for us. The layoffs were minimal and we began to thrive. Whenever there was a downturn in the economy, I worried. We were in a luxury business, people had to buy food and gas for their cars and pay their rent; they could put off their family portrait. I did a lot of advertising explaining the importance of family portraits. If there is a fire or a flood, one of the items the homeowner tries to grab is their family album or those special portraits.

Maybe because of my short stint on the advertising staff of the New Haven Register, I believed in advertising. We advertised regularly in the Middletown Press; we also advertised during the Christmas season on a billboard on a high-traffic road into Middletown, on the local radio station, WCNX, and we even had an airplane fly over the area on a few summer nights with a message that opened with, “Hello Earth”. It then went into a message about Alfa Studio. I can’t say we got a lot of business from the airplane, but we did get a lot of buzz from it. We also did a few television commercials when cable television came to Middletown in the late 1980s.

Headshot composite #1

Headshot composite #2

Headshot composite #3

Our business continued to grow during the 1980s, but we felt the recession that hit late in the decade. People were beginning to hold back on their spending, and not being a necessity business, even though I advertised that family portraits were “priceless”, business was dropping off. Unfortunately, our landlord, someone who owned many office buildings in Hartford and throughout Connecticut, continued to raise our rent. We began to search for a new home once again.

Al and Harv in tuxes

Our final move took place during a snow storm in 1992. We moved from our spacious studio in Riverview Center to a smaller space on Washington Street (Route 66). To give us a wider variety of backgrounds, in addition to the canvas, muslin and paper backgrounds that we used, David Maheu, renowned background artist, came to Middletown from Rhode Island to paint a beautiful background on the wall of our camera room.

Harv and Al on Washington st

It was in the summer of 1993 that Al told me that he and Faith were moving to Tennessee in January of 1994. Oy, what was I going to do? I was always the business side and never had an interest in getting behind the camera, now I had to interview photographers to replace my brother – a tall order (in talent, not height). After speaking with a half-dozen photographers and reviewing their work, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. Their work was not good and they wanted a lot of money. After the sixth interview I drove home trying to figure out what was in my future. Nancy and I discussed the situation that night and she suggested that I take on the responsibility of being the portrait photographer. “You’ve been going to programs, seminars and conventions for more than 20 years, you know what makes a good portrait and if only by osmosis, you can do this.” I gave her words a lot of thought. It was a 45 minute drive from Branford to the studio; I mulled it over on my drive in the next morning. I didn’t say anything to my brother and mulled it some more on the 45 minute drive home that night. Nancy and I discussed it some more and decided I had nothing to lose and I should give it a shot. I drove the 45 minutes into Middletown the next morning, trying to think how I was going to tell Al about my decision.

We met in our office and I told him that I hired a photographer. He asked if it was someone he knew and I said yes. He then began to guess names of friends of ours who wanted to team up with me because they felt I was a good businessman. After the fourth or fifth name I finally told him it was me. I think his first response was an expletive, but he said that he knew I could do it, for many of the same reasons that Nancy had said. I told him that he had to give me a tutorial which was to include, where do I put the lights, what f/stop should I use when photographing, how do I change the lens and how do I load the film into the camera?

On Al’s last day in the studio I began my photography career, but I wanted him in the camera room with me. My very first session was an extended family group of about 17 people. We had posing furniture that came with a video and I spent the night before watching the video over and over and over and over again – probably at least 10 times. The photographer who sold the furniture was the star of the video and clearly and simply explained how to build groups for best results. When the family arrived, we all went into the camera room, including Al. I began chatting and posing them, starting with the large group first, with the intention of doing breakdowns with the various families involved, and even some of just the kids. When the session was done, about an hour later, they smiled and waved as they left the studio. My next session was a smaller group, only seven people. When they arrived I asked Al to come into the camera room for this session, too. It was at this point that Al told me that he wasn’t with me with the first session. When I told him that I knew that he walked in with us, he told me that it was all about making people feel comfortable and I did that right from the beginning, so he left shortly after I began photographing. I was nervous after the fact that my first (and second) portrait sessions were created without supervision. The result was that both sessions were successful and I was able to sell wall portraits and gift photos to both families.

I continued on as the sole owner and operator of Alfa Studio for the next 18 months. During this time I photographed numerous families, children of all ages, executives, a few pets (not easy doing it alone) and high school seniors. I remember two of my memorable sessions, both men’s portraits. One was a politician running for Congress. He came in with his wife who wanted him to be serious in all of his photographs. I tried to explain to her that some should be smiling because he should appear approachable to the voters. At some point I placed a stuffed animal on my head and told him not to let it fall off – a common antic when photographing small children – and when it fell off my head, he broke into a big grin and I made the exposure. This became his primary campaign photo, appearing on billboards all over the area.

The other session was for an actor’s résumé. I did a number of traditional poses but my last one had him facing directly into the camera, using a split light. He told me later that this photo got him many acting jobs; it was a personal accomplishment for me because it was my one and only National Merit image with the Professional Photographers of America (PPA).

Paul Kokoszka

In early May of 1995 I was approached by a friend and photographer who owned four studios at the time. He was looking for someone who could photograph high school seniors in his outdoor area, but primarily run his advertising and be a salesman. After meeting and discussing what he expected of me and what I could expect from him over dinner, Nancy and I went home and discussed it. I wasn’t happy being a photographer, and especially being a one-man show; I felt much more comfortable in the sales room. I decided to take him up on his offer, and after 22½ years, Alfa Studio closed its doors for the final time.

I drove to Middletown, to Alfa Studio, for the last time on Wednesday, May 31, 1995. I went for two reasons; I was the Chairman of PPA’s Nominating Committee and we were going to have a conference call meeting that morning and an empty studio seemed like the perfect place for me to lead it, and to say goodbye to the studio.

After my meeting was completed, I walked from room to room saying my goodbyes, with tears rolling down my cheeks. I was looking forward to my next adventure, while at the same time, sad about giving up something Al and I had started over a Saturday night dinner followed by a Monday morning telephone call announcing, “Hi, I’m Harvey Goldstein from Alfa Studio and we would love to come to your house and photograph your baby.” Alfa Studio was our baby and now it was over. I know we made many people happy with our portraits and wedding photographs; I know this because people still tell me how much they love the portrait we made for them – and it has been 23 years since I closed the doors. Alfa Studio will always be a part of my life.


First you chop the garlic





46 years ago today, April 13, 1972, five Airmen stationed at Ft. Meade, MD climbed into my Chevrolet Caprice and drove to Andrews Air Force Base. Ron Harrington from Athens, GA, David Burnette from Birmingham, AL, Stan Long from Brooklyn, NY, Bill McCartha from Columbia, SC and Harvey Goldstein from Middletown, CT were about to take one final ride as property of the US government.

Our story began in 1971 at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon, Viet Nam. The road to promotion was rocky; we were expected to study a course of books to be promoted to E-4. However, our problem was that the material they wanted us to study had nothing to do with what we did; the material was all about ground sites in Europe and we were a flying unit in Southeast Asia. All 25 linguists were called down to headquarters, which was located inside the 7th Air Force Headquarters compound for a meeting with Col. Barnes, the second in command in our squadron.

This meeting was to instruct us that we would have to study the material or face the consequences, the least of which was that we would not get promoted. I asked why, since we had already been working the job for 6 months, we could not get promoted because of time in service and time at the job. It wasn’t our fault that we weren’t promoted right out of tech school like many other job classifications. The answer we received was, “Because.” We were to report to this large room twice a week to study until we were ready to take the test to become Sergeants and attain the lofty rank of E-4.

The first week everyone sat in the room, but didn’t open their book. The study hours were extended from two to three nights a week. This made some study.

To wear us down, they imposed more study halls and threatened to take away our town pass. The thought of not being able to go downtown caused most of the guys to cave. By mid-late March, there were five holdouts: Bill, Stan, David, Ron and me. We were removed from flying status, lost our town pass privileges and even though we had an in-country R&R coming to us, we were not allowed to take it. We were ordered to report to a room in our compound five days a week, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, with an hour for lunch, to study the material. We went to the study hall, but never opened the book. Initially, we joked and played games, but the sergeant in charge of us told us that we were not allowed to speak, that our job at this time was to study and get promoted. Things were getting tense.

We remained in mandatory study hall for about a month. We weren’t flying and our feeling was that no one could shoot at us in our secure area. When it became apparent that we were never going to open the books, we were relieved of study hall and resumed flying. However, we never got our town passes back and we were confined to base our last three months in Viet Nam. A postscript to this adventure in futility was that although the five of us were never promoted beyond E-3, the rules changed for those who followed us and spent nine months in language school and five to six months in radio school – they were promoted to E-4 right after radio school.

Our next stop after Viet Nam was the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, MD. We initially had menial jobs in the building, tearing reports off of machines and sending them via pneumatic tubes to different departments. Eventually we got “grown-up” jobs; some were tracking and noting air activity from the previous day; some dealt with bombings and casualties – both our side and the North Vietnamese. I was given the responsibility of taking all of the notes and creating a cohesive report that I was told was sent to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the White House. I never knew if that was really true, but that was what they told me. We all arrived on the 7th floor at 8:30 in the morning and most of the guys were able to get their work started by 10:00. I hung around most of the day because I couldn’t do anything until I received their snippets of notes. My real work-day started around 3:00 p.m. as the reports came to my desk. I spent most of the day drinking coffee. I quickly found that the war in the American newspapers was quite different than the war I read about in the notes that came across my desk and my report to the White House.

I did this for a few months until my anti-war feelings would not allow me to continue; in January of 1972 I wrote a thesis and applied for discharge on the grounds of being a Conscientious Objector. I was immediately stripped of my Top Secret Crypto clearance, debriefed and sent to a psychiatrist, because that is where the Air Force sends people who do not believe in war. The three steps in obtaining a CO were to speak with a psychiatrist, a clergyman (I saw a Protestant minister because there were no rabbis on Ft. Meade or Andrews AFB) and finally a hearing or investigating officer. The first two happened relatively quickly and they both endorsed my beliefs.

At the end of March and about six weeks since I had been interviewed by the psychiatrist and the minister, there was still no mention of my final interview. I was beginning to get antsy. I went to see the acting commanding officer on Thursday, March 30 (thank you Google) to ask what was happening with my case. He told me that my paperwork was “lost”. I nicely, but firmly, told him that he/they had until Monday to find it. If they didn’t, it was only a 25 minute ride to Senator Abraham Ribicoff’s office (I loved to play the Congressional Investigation card).

Bill McCartha called me the next day to tell me that we were getting out in two weeks. He said that he was notified of our Honorable Discharge and that my name was on the list. The Air Force was getting rid of “dead wood” and we were certainly dead wood. Not only were we getting out early, our two-plus years of inactive duty were waived.

I drove us to Andrews AFB for the brief “ceremony” and then back to Ft. Meade where David, Ron and Bill gathered their belongings and headed south, either flying or driving, and Stan and I packed our things in my car and headed north. I don’t know when Ron and David enlisted, but it had to be around the same time as Bill, Stan and I, who all went into the Air Force on the same day. Our Air Force career was over after only 3 years, 4 months, 17 days and 20 minutes. It felt like a lifetime.

My intent was to drive Stan to Brooklyn and then head to Middletown, CT. Plans changed, however, because Stan’s mom, Frances, was Italian and she prepared a wonderful lasagna dinner for us and Stan’s dad, Stan, Sr., kept pouring wine. Mrs. Long made sure I called my mother to let her know I was safe in Brooklyn and would be spending the night after a wonderful home-cooked dinner. My home would have to wait one more day.

On Friday, April 14, 1972, I continued my journey on my first full day as a civilian, driving from Quentin Road in Brooklyn to Durant Terrace in Middletown.

I lost touch with Ron and David over the years, but remained in contact with Stan and Bill. Stan went on to become one of New York’s finest, rising through the ranks to detective. Our politics were worlds apart, but we were always good friends, even if we didn’t see each other often. His death a few years ago hit me hard. I miss our bantering and I’m sure we would have had lengthy exchanges on Facebook or via e-mail on the 2016 election. Sadly, I received word that Ron and David have also passed away.

Bill McCartha and I are still close friends, despite the miles between us. Nancy and I and Bill and his wife Vicki have vacationed together many times over the years.



A good friend recently passed away, and although I didn’t actually sit Shiva, I did mourn the loss. We met almost 13 years ago and instantly became good friends. He had lived in the area for approximately two years before we met.

It was shortly after we met that we went on a road trip. My friend came along for the ride on Columbus Day weekend in 2005 with Nancy, Lizz and I when we visited possible colleges for Lizz in Washington D.C. In addition to joining us when we visited American University, Georgetown and George Washington, all of us went to many of the Memorials in the District of Columbia.

Over the years we traveled together around the state of Connecticut as well as other New England states. We may have even driven to New York together a few times. He was always good company driving to photography conventions in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

We were in a few accidents, but fortunately, neither of us was seriously injured, with the exception the one time he had to go to the hospital for a few days. I remember our first accident clearly; I was driving on Route 1 in Branford when a car ran a stop light and broadsided me. I pulled over to the side of the road and called the police; the car that attacked us sped off and was never caught. My friend and I were a little shaken up with minor bruises, but we (obviously) survived. The other accident happened when someone backed out of his driveway into the road without looking and crashed into me on the passenger side; this was the instance when my friend had to go to the hospital for a few days. The docs fixed him up and he was good as new, well almost, after they were done.

I don’t know if it was the accidents or time that finally did him in. Sadly, after only 165,000+ miles, my red 2003 Hyundai Elantra stopped running. The prognosis was not good: he would probably need a new clutch and a new transmission, and it just seemed to be too much money to invest in a 15 year old car. I’m going to miss my little 4-speed standard transmission buddy.

I have donated his body to SARAH with the hope that his parts may help other Hyundais live longer and provide financial aid to this wonderful organization.

Rest in pieces old friend.