Mission Beach kid deserts Army, flees to Sweden

Home away from home

Stockholm. Sweden is now home to about 300 American war resisters — down from a peak of 800 in 1970-71.
  • Stockholm. Sweden is now home to about 300 American war resisters — down from a peak of 800 in 1970-71.

From San Diego to Stockholm

It would be difficult to find two more dissimilar communities than San Diego, California, and Knivsta, Sweden. Knivsta is a small suburban village north of Stockholm. It is an undistinguished place composed of modern apartment complexes in contrast to the antiquities and the 16th Century buildings of the city to the south. There are large, bare, dark Elm trees, and there is snow.

Terry Judkins: "The massacre at My Lai happened after I deserted. When I looked at those horrible pictures in the Swedish newspapers I was disgusted and at the same time I was proud of myself."

Terry Judkins: "The massacre at My Lai happened after I deserted. When I looked at those horrible pictures in the Swedish newspapers I was disgusted and at the same time I was proud of myself."

Terry Judkins, 29, has lived in Knivsta for eight years. He came to Knivsta from San Diego, but he can’t return. If Terry sets foot in the United States, he will be arrested by the American authorities. Terry Judkins is a deserter from the U.S. Army who fled to Sweden rather than fight as ordered in Vietnam.

Terry Judkins looks like the stereotypical Southern Californian. He would seem perfectly at home in Mission Beach, where he remembers “hanging out” as a high school kid. He has dark blonde hair and a thin blond beard and nervous blue eyes behind wire-rimmed spectacles. He speaks effortless Swedish with no trace of an American accent. He is a first-year medical student at the university in Uppsala and a part-time Stockholm taxi driver. He lives with a Swedish-language teacher named Siv-Inger Foster and her two sons Christian and David. Their comfortable Knivsta apartment is decorated with the boys’ drawings and with Swedish posters protesting U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war.

Terry and Siv-Inger have prepared dinner for their American visitor in their large, warm kitchen. “It’s spaghetti,” Terry says. “We thought spaghetti would be good to serve to an American. We weren’t sure you’d like Swedish food.”

Terry lived in San Diego from the age of seven. His father, a career Navy man, retired and moved to San Diego permanently in 1955. An older brother is an officer in the Marine Corps. Terry grew up in Claremont, and was graduated from Clairemont High School in 1965. “I missed my ten-year reunion,” he says, smiling at the irony.

In August of 1968 he was drafted into the Army. “I was opposed to the war in Vietnam even before I was drafted,” he says, “but I was hoping for the best. I was hoping to be sent to Germany.” He wasn’t. When orders to Vietnam arrived during a leave in San Diego, Terry made a very lonely, very important decision. He decided to flee to Sweden, a country he knew was outraged at the U.S. intervention in Vietnam and was welcoming draft resisters and American Army deserters with open arms. He was, he says, “confused and desperate, I agonized for a long time. I knew if left I could never back. But I’m glad now because I know I made the right decision.”

His father, the Navy man who made a career of obeying orders, saw him off at Lindbergh Field. “I don’t think my father really believed I was going to desert until he saw me about the board the plane,” Terry says. “He could barely talk to me without breaking down. He thought I was ruining my future.”

Today, at home in Pine Valley, Terry’s father says his attitude toward his son’s desertion has changed. “At first I was mad and disappointed with Terry,” Herbert Judkins says. “I guess you want your kids to do what you think is best for them. But now I think it took a lot of guts for him to do what he thought was right.

“I haven’t seen my son for two years,” Mr. Judkins says, “and that was in Vancouver. I think Terry should be allowed back into the country, at least to visit. If they can give U.S. citizenship to Mexican illegals and pardon Watergate criminals, then I think Vietnam deserters should be allowed to return.”

Terry Judkins is a gentle man, his manner is easy and soft-spoken. It is not difficult to see why he had trouble adjusting to military life. “I remember being in boot camp, you know, and I remember running around with a rifle held over my head,” he says. “They made you hold your rifle over your head because it was heavy and it hurt and that was supposed to make you tough. I couldn’t understand why I was being punished. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was just walking down the street and then I was drafted and now I was being punished.

According to a recent article in Time magazine, Sweden is now home to about 300 American war resisters — down from a peak of 800 in 1970-71. Those who still remain, like Terry, are well established in Swedish society, with families and careers. Few desire to return. Terry says he wouldn’t return to the United States to live even if a “pardon” were to be granted.

“I wouldn’t want to go back,” he says, “except to visit, to see my folks. It’s hard not being able to see my family. I’ve only seen them once in eight years. But I couldn’t go back after all this time and start over again. This is my home.“When I came to Sweden from San Diego it took me a long time to get used to the climate, but I learned the spiritual climate of a place is more important than the meteorological climate. I can do without life in the United States. I owe a lot more to Sweden than to the U.S. In America, they’ll put me in jail for not wanting to kill people. Here they paid me to learn the Swedish language, at a refugee camp when I first arrived. They’re providing me free medical education and student loans. They gave me free eyeglasses and winter clothes.

“I’ve been changed. This experience has forced me to be critical and question things. You get a new perspective on America once you’re outside. I think it’s the materialism of U.S. life that I particularly object to, the pressure to be a ‘success.’ I’ve also learned a lot about what the U.S. is doing to the world — in Latin America, for example. I wouldn’t want to go back and have my tax money finance the brutality of some U.S. -supported Latin American dictatorship.

“And I don’t think I’d want to go back to Southern California anyway,” he says. “ I used to live out on 55th Street near State College in a big apartment building filled with State students from L.A. going to school on their parents’ money. The whole atmosphere was party-time. Everyone was trying hard to be popular, to sell their personalities, to make out and get a suntan. It seemed so mindless and pointless to me. I don’t miss the mindlessness and shallowness in the slightest. But there is one thing about Southern California I do miss.” For a moment a grin breaks through his seriousness. “Tacos! Man, I’m dying for a taco.”

There is a large body of opinion in America which sees Terry Judkins and his fellow deserters as traitors and cowards. What would he say to those people? He seems stunned by the word “coward.” For a moment he is taken aback. “My friends in Sweden say ‘du gjorde ratt’ You did the right thing!” Terry says, “Those are the opinions I listen to now. I think my decision has been exonerated by the events of the Vietnam war, by the American defeat there. I’ll say again that I’ve never doubted that I did the right thing. The massacre at My Lai happened after I deserted. When I looked at those horrible pictures in the Swedish newspapers I was disgusted and at the same time I was proud of myself for refusing to have anything to do with such madness.”

Were he to return to his homeland and be arrested by the military police, he could receive a sentence of three years at hard labor in prison, or an undesirable discharge which would make employment a problem for the rest of his life. On March 5, during his telephone talk show, President Carter again said he would not extend his pardon of draft resisters to those who deserted after induction or enlistment in the armed forces. The government’s new policy for review of Vietnam-era undesirable and general discharges, announced by Defense Secretary Harold Brown on March 28, also holds little appeal for deserters like Terry. Further, the plan deserters classified as fugitives must surrender to military control and receive an undesirable discharge. They then may apply to have the discharge upgraded.

“I used to have a recurring dream when I first came here,” Terry says. “It was a nightmare. In the dream I was back in San Diego and I was terrified because I knew the San Diego cops were after me. They wanted to put me in jail because I wouldn’t fight in Vietnam. But then I’d wake up and I’d tell myself, ‘Hey, man, it’s okay. Nobody’s gonna put you in jail. You’re safe now. You’re in Sweden.’”

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