Joe Gondar and Jeb Wyman
Recorded February 9, 2021 Archived February 8, 2021 44:16 minutes
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DescriptionJoe Gondar (74) speaks with his friend Jeb Wymann (56) to reflect on Joe's experiences during the Vietnam War as a reluctant draftee, sharing memories of the lead up to his deployment, his time in Vietnam, and the journey of processing the trauma of war in his life since.
Subject Log / Time Code
JG speaks about growing up in Bridgeport, CT. JG mentions that most folks in the 1950s understood they would be going into the military as a part of life and remembers that films showed that the military life was not glamorous. JG remembers reading Beetle Bailey and watching programs like Hogan’s Heroes, etc. and thinking it would be similar. JG says he expected the military to be difficult but thought they could be worked through with humor and solidarity.
JG remembers going into college as the war in Vietnam was starting and people were beginning to enlist or be drafted, and being in a bar after the Tet Offensive in 1968, knowing he would eventually have to go into the military as there were no more college deferments. JG remembers MLK coming out against the war saying it was bad for the soul of America and recalls a friend suggesting that they go to jail instead of being drafted, as a form of protest. JG says he regrets not doing so, thinking that if more people had done it together, so much loss of life could be prevented.
JG remembers “taking the easy way out” by trying to get into military intelligence school for language and translation classes to avoid combat. JG notes he believes his family would have reacted negatively if he had dodged the draft. JG reflects on his reluctance to be involved in military violence.
JG remembers undergoing 12 weeks of Vietnamese Language classes––only enough to be capable of interrogation. JG speaks about the Army sorting people into the Intelligence and Language schools and remembers being driven by bus to the school: “It’s 240 guided tours right through Arlington Cemetery for a bunch of guys going to Vietnam in a few weeks.” JG remembers coping with humor as they all compared each other to characters from the novel Catch-22.
JG remembers going to Vietnam in August of 1969, going to different villages on “civic action programs for winning hearts and minds.” JG speaks about seeking out village leaders to chat with them and write a report.
JG remembers having to go through the rucksacks of the dead NVA soldiers, and finding their documents, including photos of Ho Chi Min, letters from their spouses, and even poems written by these men, thinking, “we’re shooting people who write poetry!” JG says, “I thought that line would end the war but it didn’t.” JG remembers having to fully translate a letter from a dead soldier’s wife and being “rattled.”
JG speaks about studying Buddhism and spending time reflecting on the concept of suffering, finally realizing 25 years later that he’d been disoriented and suffering every day in Vietnam. JG remembers waking up every day in Vietnam, and never feeling oriented with reality. JG speaks about getting through days by reading books from a program in the U.S. called “Books for Vietnam” and them making a library at the base, with shelves made from ammo boxes.
JG remembers finding a copy of Catch-22 in a box from a Quaker Church. JG notes that there were many books from this church with complex nuanced characters and says he had hoped folks would have compassion for him going to war against his morals just like the morally-challenged characters in these novels.
JG speaks about his soul-searching and thoughts on his morality while he was in Vietnam. JG notes that people had moments that changed their minds about the war, one way or the other, but he did not change. JG shares his belief that folks are unwilling to separate the individual acts of violence from a larger, unified, “noble” National effort.
JG recalls coming home from Vietnam and flying with nobody he knew. JG says “regular” American civilians were either welcoming or blasé, not necessarily antagonistic. He said he felt folks at the time were giving the attitude of “glad you made it back” but says that other veterans from other wars did not welcome Vietnam veterans back. JG and JW close with reflections.
- Joe Gondar
- Jeb Wyman