Elaine Holstein’s son Jeffrey Miller became a symbol of the nation’s anguish over the Vietnam War on May 4, 1970, when he was killed during a demonstration on the campus of Kent State University.
The 20-year-old Plainview High School graduate’s death was captured in an Associated Press photo that showed his body lying facedown on the ground, with a young woman kneeling over him, sobbing.
In the nearly five decades since, Holstein made her life a testament to her youngest son’s legacy.
Holstein, who died on May 26 from cancer at age 96 at the Stanley R. Tippett Hospice Home, in Needham, Massachusetts, made frequent visits to the Ohio campus to help remember her son and three other students who died when National Guardsmen opened fire on war protesters.
“You can’t let it define who you are for the next 50 years,” said Russ Miller, 71, of Sudbury, Massachusetts, Jeffrey’s older brother and Holstein’s son. “We’re happy people. We didn’t let it ruin our lives.”
Elaine Brody was born in the Bronx on Feb. 16, 1922. She and her first husband, Bernard Miller, a World War II veteran, raised two children and moved to Plainview in 1960, Russ Miller said.
She worked for many years as a secretary in the Plainview High School guidance office. She and Miller divorced, and in 1971 she married Arthur Holstein, a guidance counselor and later Plainview High School principal.
Holstein joined the families of other Kent State shooting victims in a lawsuit alleging Ohio Gov. James A. Rhodes was negligent in allowing armed Guardsmen on campus. Holstein received a $15,000 settlement in 1979.
Miller, whose son is named after his brother, said his family championed the anti-war cause in Jeffrey Miller’s memory.
“We do feel that we helped to contribute to the end of the Vietnam War,” he said.
Holstein visited Kent State roughly every five years to take part in observances marking anniversaries of the shooting, Miller said. She was to have spoken at the campus last month, but became too ill to travel, he said.
In 1995, Holstein traveled to Ohio to mark the shooting’s 25th anniversary and met Mary Ann Vecchio, the young woman seen in the photo kneeling over Jeffrey Miller’s body.
In a Newsday story, Holstein said meeting Vecchio did not help her achieve “closure.”
“I don’t think that could happen,” she said. “And, honestly, I don’t want it to happen.”
In addition to her son, she is survived by two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Plans for a private memorial for Holstein, who was cremated, were incomplete, her son said. Her remains will be buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, Westchester County, where her son’s ashes are interred.