Ted Studebaker

Ted Studebaker

(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.

Part 1: Conscientious Objector

Video 1: "Ted Describes Di Linh & Sings a Folk Song"
Video 2: "Ted Describes his Work"
Video 3: "Ted's Siblings Describe his Preparation for Life"


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.

Video 3: "Ted Describes the Montagnards and Building Rapport”
Video 4: “Ted Sings ‘I Love the Mountains’”
Video 6: “Ted's Siblings Describe His Love of Life”

Ted was killed during an attack on his quarters. Years later, shared memories of Ted’s stand against war created a bond between his American family and his friends in Vietnam. 

On April 17, 1971, Ted Studebaker married Lee Ven Pak (“Pakdy”), a fellow volunteer.

Nine days later, forces opposed to the United States began shelling the VNCS house. Ted, Pakdy, nurse Phyllis Cribby, and Daisy Benares, a rice expert, rushed to a bunker beneath a stairway. For unknown reasons, Ted returned to his room. Opposition forces entered the house with guns. The women survived. Ted died in a closet where he had raised chicks for the Koho. He died beneath a poster that read, “Suppose they gave a war—and nobody came.” There is some uncertainty as to who actually killed Ted.

Just before his death, Ted had written a response to a letter from a couple in Troy, Ohio. They had read Ted’s views on the Vietnam War in their local paper. They questioned Ted’s patriotism and understanding of scripture. Ted thanked them for writing but held his ground. “I condemn all war,” he wrote. Before the attack on their quarters, Ted showed his letter to Phyllis. Phyllis prepared the incident report after the attack.

On learning of his death, Ted’s family gathered on the farm. They scheduled a memorial service for May 3. In the meantime, news agencies around the world reported Ted’s death and the stand he took for peace.

Part 3: To Sow the Seeds of Peace

Video 7: “Ted Discusses Pacifism + ABC News on May 4, 1971”
Video 8: “Ted's Siblings Discuss His Death”
Video 9: “Ted's Siblings Discuss His Legacy”