The seven siblings of slain Brethren service worker Ted Studebaker gathered Sept. 11 at the Dayton International Peace Museum to view a new exhibit that opened in his honor April 26, the 44th anniversary of his death in Di Linh, Vietnam.
Mary Ann Cornell and Nancy Smith of Troy, Ohio; Ron Studebaker of Ashville, Ohio; Lowell Studebaker of Loudon, Tenn.; Linda Post of Bremerton, Wash.; Gary Studebaker of Anaheim, Calif.; and Doug Studebaker of Burlingame, Calif., have worked to keep their brother’s memory alive and inspire others to follow his example. They will remind you Ted was an ordinary person who did an extraordinary thing which, in the view of Peace Museum staff, qualifies Studebaker as a peace hero.
The Peace Museum celebrates the stories of peace heroes—everyday people who take risks and succeed in making the world a less violent and more just place. Studebaker took a stand against the Vietnam War and, in the process, helped improve the lives of people living in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
A 1964 graduate of Milton-Union High School, Studebaker had registered for the draft but requested classification as a conscientious objector—a decision influenced by his upbringing in the Church of the Brethren. Throughout college and graduate school, Studebaker continued to study scripture as well as the writings of nonviolent activists such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Martin Luther King, Jr. This continued study confirmed his convictions. When the time came to fulfill his alternative service requirement, he joined the Vietnam Christian Service (VNCS) and moved to Di Linh, Vietnam.
As a volunteer agriculturist, Ted helped mountain residents improve their farming practices. He established rapport with villagers by learning their language and sharing his love of life. He particularly enjoyed playing his guitar and singing with his new friends. On April 26, 1971, just days after signing up for a third year of service, Ted was killed during an attack on the VNCS volunteer quarters.
The onsite exhibit, located in the redesigned Peace Heroes Room, features a display panel and artifacts from Ted’s life. The panel gives museum visitors a quick impression of Ted as a young man. The artifacts include his guitar, a vase fashioned from a 40 mm shell similar to the one used in the attack on his quarters, and a vintage poster identical to the one Ted had hanging in his quarters at the time of his death: “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came.” Quick response codes positioned near the artifacts link visitors to the virtual exhibit.
The virtual exhibit includes photos; narratives; audio interviews with Ted conducted by former Messenger editor Howard Royer just months before Ted’s death; audio recordings of Ted singing and playing his guitar; an electronic archive of news articles and tributes; and four six-minute video interviews of his siblings recorded in July 2014.
Just a week after the opening of the new exhibit, Studebaker was one of about 60 peace heroes celebrated during the inaugural Peace Heroes Walk in Dayton. In West Milton, the week of April 26–May 2 was proclaimed Ted Studebaker Week.
During their Sept. 11 visit, the Studebaker siblings remembered Ted and the impact his life had on other people. They also had an opportunity to view original documents they had not previously seen. Among them was an open letter to the West Milton Church of the Brethren that Ted had sent to his pastor, Phillip K. Bradley. The letter was subsequently published in the Troy Daily News although not in its entirety; among the omissions were references to President Nixon and his military advisors. In the letter, Ted challenged the congregation to look at how they were supporting an immoral war.
Before the family left the Peace Museum, executive director Jerry Leggett announced plans to replicate the Dayton Peace Heroes Walk in cities around the world. This educational initiative, called the Peace Heroes Walk Around the World, is designed to promote peace literacy through the stories of peace heroes such as Studebaker. For information on the Peace Heroes Walk Around the World, go to www.peaceheroeswalk.org
Deborah Hogshead is communications director for Peace Heroes Walk Around the World.