Jean Bryan

As Interviewed by Malvika Pradhan, March 19, 2019

Jean Bryan: In Her Own Words

Well, my experience mostly had to do with moving to Rockville, Maryland. It’s a small town so that Nick could serve his Navy time at Bethesda Naval Hospital. That was for two years and Bobby, Uncle Bobby, was in the first grade and Nicole was in preschool, so for us, life was very normal. Nick went to work every day as he usually did, and I took care of the kids, as I usually did. But this time he was in a Naval hospital and so he was taking care, mostly, of soldiers being sent back with wounds. We were delighted to have those who were left come home.

Everyone was relieved at the same time. I was used to reading in my history books about America who always won wars, like World War II, and so to realize that we had actually lost and lost so many lives, it was very humbling. There was a lot of discussions that the troops who did come home were not welcomed and greeted as heroes. That caused friction -- they felt unappreciated and many of us felt that they were unappreciated.

There was a college in Ohio, I believe, and the students there began to be very active politically, and in fact students all over the United States began to say, “Hmm, this maybe someplace that if we don’t get out of, I’m going to be involved in it and I can’t see the reason for that.” And they began protesting. So there was a big protest at Kent State and, honestly, watching it on TV it was like watching a movie. Some students were killed [and] they called in troops to quell the students who were rioting and saying “No more Vietnam!” Maybe four students were killed and they have a picture of a girl that was not killed and she’s leaning over the body of a young man who was killed -- and she’s crying, and it’s terrible to see. It was kind’ve like art in that it was like a movie, like a documentary, but it was happening right then.

I told you that at first, I was in favor of the war -- and as time went on I was not in favor and the people that I admired were these students who were becoming politically active and really doing something. But we weren’t actively protesting -- we felt that we needed to get out, but we weren’t really doing anything. These students were and I admired them.

Then there was Martin Luther King, the sixties were quite a very interesting decade. Martin Luther [King], he stood up and he said, and I admired him for this, he stood up and said: “This is wrong. All war is morally wrong.” And he also pointed out that it was young African-Americans who were being drafted the most because they didn’t have the education. You know, if you were in college they usually let you finish and they would draft you into the service, but these young people, so many young African-Americans, today and then, were poorer than all of the rest of us. So they didn’t have college, they were put into the Army.

What people did then, and Nick’s brother was about to do, they would be drafted and rather than be arrested for not showing up, they tried to immigrate to places like Canada and loads of young American boys especially and white boys who could afford to get over, tried to immigrate away, from Canada. There was also a system, and Nick’s brother wasn’t a doctor like Nick was, that got to work in a hospital here and wasn’t sent over. They had a numbering system, and you drew a number -- and depending on what the number was you were either in the service or not. A high number, you were in, I think, and low number they probably wouldn’t call you. He was lucky and drew a low number and he did not have to serve.

You know, in other countries we start out with maybe the right thoughts, and war just doesn’t seem to be an answer does it?