(b.1945 – d.1971)

At age 18 when Ted was called to the draft in the Vietnam War, he wrote a letter to his Draft Board: he did not mind serving his country like other young men, but that he needed to serve as a peace worker. And with that Ted, a pacifist, became a conscientious objector who served as an agricultural worker in Vietnam. He volunteered with the Vietnam Christian Service (VNCS) for two years in Di Linh (pronounced zee-ling) working with a Montagnard hill tribe. He helped them with agricultural production, drawing on experience from his family farm in Ohio.

He was killed on April 26, 1971 by North Vietnamese forces when they first attacked the volunteers’ house with rockets, and then invaded. The soldiers did not know who Studebaker was, they merely saw him as an American and therefore a threat. The lives of his wife and other volunteers were spared.

Audio recordings come from Ted Studebaker in Vietnam and used here courtesy of Gary Studebaker. The CD can be purchased from Brethren Press.


Part 1: Conscientious Objector

Transcript to first video

Howard Royer: Today we’re visiting with Ted Studebaker of West Milton, Ohio, near Di Linh, Vietnam, where Ted is on project with Vietnam Christian Service. Ted, tell us a little bit about the area. We’re kind of in the midst of what has been some military activity. I guess it’s rather infrequent now, but describe a little bit the setting of your work here in Di Linh.

Ted Studebaker: My setting in Di Linh is located in the highlands of Vietnam. Its location is about a hundred-and-forty miles north and east of Saigon. In my setting is a very mountainous type of terrain. The populations around where I’m working are predominantly Montagnard, and much of my work is with the Montagnard people. These people are of several different tribal backgrounds, but they speak one main language. And also in the town where I live, there are many Vietnamese living. But our primary work here in Vietnam Christian Service is with the Montagnard people here in this highland region.

[Ted plays his guitar while singing.]

🎶 Come go with me to that land… ×2 /
Come go with me to that land where I’m bound / repeats×2

There’ll be singing in that land, chor’ses ringing in that land… ×2 /
There’ll be singing in that land where I’m bound / repeats×2

There’ll be freedom in that land… ×2 /
There’ll be freedom in that land where I’m bound / repeats×2

There’ll be sharing in that land, people caring in that land… ×2 /
There’ll be sharing in that land where I’m bound
There’ll be sharing in that land, everybody caring in that land… ×2 /
Sharing in that land where I’m bound.

There’ll be love in that land… ×2 /
There’ll be love in that land where I’m bound / repeats×2

There will be peace in the land… ×2 /
There will be peace in the land where I’m bound…🎶

Transcript to 2nd video

Howard Royer: What are some of the projects that you’re endeavoring to sponsor here as it relates to the Montagnard people?

Ted Studebaker: In Di Linh we have, I guess what you’d call, kind of a well-rounded-out program. We have a community-development worker who works in community-development programs, in education, in making loans to various villagers to buy things such as hogs or start little shops or stores. Also, we’re encouraging the starting of a new cooperative for Montagnards to cooperatively buy and sell things. In the area of health, we have a nurse working here who holds clinics in the villages and is very active in medical facilities and helping out with the medical problems and needs of these people. [A helicopter passes overhead.] And I’m here working in agriculture. In agriculture we have various programs of testing various rice varieties and working in gardening. We have rototillers that we rent to plow the paddy lands, a rice huller machine. We have some other programs to help Montagnards and encourage them to use fertilizer and so forth and helping them advance their agricultural knowledge here.

Transcript to 3rd video

Gary Studebaker: Ted grew up in a church, like I said before, one of the peace churches, Church of the Brethren. Not only was the church influential to him, but he genuinely came to that conclusion that, you know what, I need to serve people.

Doug Studebaker: Ted was in Vietnam working as an agriculturist in Church World Service. It was in partial fulfillment for his conscientious objection stance with our military draft.

Gary: He went over there with some experience. We came from a 140-acre farm in southern Ohio, so he had a lot of farming experience. And so he took those skills over with him.

Doug: He didn’t have a problem going to war, but he wanted to be a peace worker.

Gary: When he was 18 years old, all individuals declare where they stand with the draft. And he wrote a letter to his draft board. He says I realize that 90% of the people my age will go into the military, and he accepted that, but he said my journey is different.

Mary Ann Cornell: I think Ted was very driven. He finished his undergraduate work in three years. So, he was a hard worker. He got the most out of his classes as he could.

Gary: Here was a man who went to Manchester College. He was a sociology and psychology major. He studied people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He studied Martin Luther King. He was genuinely interested in these martyrs, in these peacemakers. And he went to Florida State and got his social work degree. Ted was very people oriented. He was ready to take a look at life, see what needed to be done, and do something about it. He was setting out to do what he felt this world needed—somebody who was willing to be a worker, to bring people together. If it wouldn’t be with agriculture, which it was with him in Vietnam, it was with his guitar, bringing people together with his guitar. He knew how awful and how much killing was going on in Vietnam. But yet, he also knew that he needed to take a stand. Ted was not going to be silent.

Doug: Before he went to Vietnam, he asked some very probing questions. Can I really make a difference there, I mean, or am I just going to be another American in the midst of all this turmoil? I think he hadn’t found all those answers but enough that he went.

Ron Studebaker: I had a discussion with Ted when shortly after, I think, he finished at Manchester College, and he very clearly said that he wanted to serve other people. That was prominent in his thinking and his expression. And I remember he felt that he needed to further his education, and then just get out and participate, and get involved in a longer journey. He knew that I had experience in overseas volunteer work, and likewise Gary, but he asked a lot about that. One of the things in a letter he said to me, that stuck with me, he said you know, I think I’ve learned in my short time that you must stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.

Mary Ann: Our mother always said that Ted was a serious thinker even at a very early age. He was fun loving, but he considered a lot of things, I think, earlier in life than most people do. And therefore his life was different than most people’s.

Ron: It was a matter of conscience. And he followed that conscience.

Read Ted’s essay:
“My Rights and Values as a Conscientious Objector”

(images are courtesy of Gary Studebaker)

Part 2: Who Shared His Joy of Life

Ted embraced the Koho (pronounced caw-ha´) and their culture, one of many hill tribes collectively known as the Montagnards. His humor, compassion, and openness to differences earned him the respect of Vietnamese civilians and U.S. soldiers alike.

“Life is great, yeah!”

…That was Ted Studebaker’s favorite saying. He used those words to close letters sent home from Di Linh.

Ted was the seventh of eight children born to Zelma and Stanley Studebaker. He enjoyed growing up on the family farm with a pond for swimming and horses for riding. He had a great sense of humor; for example, as a teenager, he’d drive down country roads and make his car backfire to startle farmers working in their fields. Ted learned to play the guitar. He entertained himself and friends with songs popular during the 1960s. Strong and athletic, Ted excelled in sports. He played football in high school and in college. He loved the game, and he didn’t mind roughing up other players.

Ted had a serious side, too. He knew people suffered in other parts of the world. He wanted to help ease that suffering. Ted fulfilled his mission by volunteering with the Vietnam Christian Service.

Ted loved his work in Di Linh, and he loved the Koho people with whom he worked. Vietnamese people also lived in Di Linh. American and South Vietnamese soldiers were stationed nearby in a military compound.

Ted learned the Koho language. He also learned Vietnamese. Ted could speak to everyone he passed whether Koho, Vietnamese, or American. And he took time to make friends and have fun—walking on his hands, strumming his guitar, and even playing ball with American soldiers.

It was in Di Linh where Ted fell in love with Lee Ven Pak (Pakdy), a fellow volunteer from Hong Kong.

Ted was happy, and life was great despite the dangers of living in a war zone.

Transcript to first video

Howard Royer: What are some of the distinguishing features of the Montagnard people—things that make them distinctive from other Vietnamese?

Ted Studebaker: The Montagnard people are considered a minority group in Vietnam, and as such they have many similar problems to other minority groups anywhere in the world. For one thing, their education and their rate of literacy is very low. Perhaps maybe only one or two or three percent of these people are literate enough to read and write. So, they’re very different in backgrounds ethnically—very different backgrounds in terms of their beliefs, traditions, and cultures. They’re more animistic in belief, and we would say more backward than the Vietnamese people.

Howard: Are they in one or two towns or scattered widely here in the Central Highlands?

Ted: All throughout the Highlands of Vietnam are different tribes of Montagnard people. The tribe that we’re working with here is called the Koho group of Montagnards. They speak the Koho language. But throughout Vietnam, perhaps there are 20 to 25 groups of Montagnard people speaking different dialects and having different traditions.

Howard: So unlike most volunteers who find it’s pretty necessary to learn to speak Vietnamese, you had to go beyond Vietnamese and learn a second language.

Ted: Yes, learning the Koho language is really helpful. It helps you get around in the villages. It helps you in being accepted by the people.

Howard Royer: One of the things that struck me, Ted, is the rapport you have with a number of people. They don’t seem to mind the fact that you’re an American. Or do they?

Ted Studebaker: Um, I suppose it depends of who you’re speaking of—the Vietnamese or the Montagnards, but perhaps, maybe not too much that either. I think rapport is something you develop with people by being here, by living with them, especially by understanding some of their language, speaking their language, and understanding their culture and their problems. I think it can be developed in any person that has a desire to live here for a while and understand things. It’s probably not as difficult as it might seem if you’ve got the time and effort to put into wanting to understand these people, their problems, and their language.

Transcript to 2nd video

[Ted plays his guitar while singing.]

🎶 I love the mountains. I love the rolling hills.
I love the blue skies. I love the daffodils.
I love the campfire when the lights are low.

CHORUS: (×3)
Boom-de-ah-da, boom-de-ah-da, boom-de-ah-da, boom-de-ah-da

[A percussion instrument joins in to mark time.]

I love the mountains. I love the rolling hills.
I love the blue skies, and I love the daffodils.
I love the campfire when the lights are low.


[A solo harmonica repeats the first two lines of the song while Ted hums.]
[Ted resumes singing for the third line.]

I love the campfire when the lights are low.

CHORUS ×3 [Chimes join in on the chorus.]

[Solo guitar bridge]

[Ted resumes singing, accompanied by guitar, percussion, harmonica, and chimes accompaniment]
[The chorus repeats in the background as in a round]:

I love the mountains. I love the rolling hills.
I love the blue skies, and I love the daffodils.
I love the campfire when the lights are low.



[Ted plays the final strum, and chimes trail up and out to end the song.] 🎶

Transcript to 3rd video

Nancy Smith: Ted was a fun-loving brother. He loved to walk on his hands across the yard at the farm. He was always playful with our children. And he was just a regular guy.

Ron Studebaker: Ted was also quite an athlete. He loved to participate in sports. I think he did it not so much for the competition as that, to him, it was more the journey rather than getting to the goal itself.

Doug Studebaker: Ted was just an awesome big brother. I really admired my big brothers, and Ted and I were the closest—six years apart—and he was fun loving. This was a big and strong guy. He was the biggest among us, and he was a strong, vicious competitor on the gridiron, a wrestler, and a pole vaulter—held the pole vault record at our school. And I just want to point that out, that what an active and athletic, a chiseled guy that he was in terms of just his physical prowess.

Gary Studebaker: Somehow people seemed to migrate to him. He was known for gathering crowds around him and doing folk music. He was good at the guitar. He took his guitar to Vietnam with him.

Lowell Studebaker: He went to war without weapons of war. His weapons were what was in his heart, his training to be with an underprivileged people and to try to lift them up and to help them. And unlike a soldier who goes to war with weapons, he went to war with weapons of peace.

Nancy: With a guitar. With his guitar.

Gary: He was so enthusiastic to be in Vietnam, not only did he learn the hill tribe language Koho in the hill tribe area, but he also learned the Vietnamese language. So he went over to do agriculture work, that is really what he went to do, but besides doing agriculture work, we know there were some friendships.

Doug: Certainly he enjoyed the adventure, but I think he enjoyed just being enriched by this culture that he was working with, and trying to, at the end of the day, trying to pass on some love and to see another side of America at a time when there was such great turmoil. Bill Herod, his supervisor there in Vietnam, he said it was good to be there with Ted because you knew he belonged. And he would joke with the girls on the way up, and kid the little children and so forth, and switch easily between Koho and Vietnamese and English. He just totally admired the people that he was working with—felt invigorated by the cultural experience that he had.

Ron: He had obviously just melded into the feelings of what was going on in that country.

Doug: Ted was naturally a very likeable person. People liked him. And he had a sense of humor second to none. But he had tremendous humility that I think that he was just simply a great asset.

Ron: We found out that Ted also associated with some of the local American military in that area in terms of meeting with them on some off hours, playing basketball and other athletic events with them. So he was open to his communication with anyone no matter what.

Gary: He realized they were doing what they thought was right. They had to do what they felt was right. He had to do what he felt was the right thing to do.

Ron: I think the fact that the good Lord gave us each two ears and one mouth speaks volumes to that issue about it’s important to listen and hear what other people say, and clearly, Ted was super at that. Ted’s actions and his deeds were not by preaching and not by hammering things to people. It was more by example, and I think a lot of his life was just that—an example.

Lowell Studebaker: In Vietnam, I’m sure he was keenly aware of the mortar fire and the nightly attacks. There was an American military outpost not too far away, and there was always skirmishes.

Mary Ann Cornell: Ted sent tapes home all the time while he was there, and you could hear the mortar in the background, so you knew the dangers. But he seemed to be able to overlook that and just talk about what was going on there with the people that he was working with.

Linda Post: I think the positive things in life are shown very strongly through Ted’s work. He didn’t labor over any of the negatives. The word in the letter, “It’s dangerous here,” that was a one-time statement—nothing more than that.

Ron: I don’t think any of us ever got a negative letter from him saying, “Oh, I dislike this” or “I don’t like that.” It was always upbeat, an occasional thing about danger, but he was very upbeat and very positive, so I can imagine that he woke up every day just enthused and ready to go again.

Nancy: Ted always said, “Life is good, yeah!”

Gary: That’s how he ended his letters, and he just had that confident feeling.

Doug: How he was there was very joyfully, and he saw it as a real honor to be there.


Continue to Part 3 »

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