Johanna Gostas served as Wyoming coordinator for the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.
Her husband, U. S. Army Maj. Theodore W. Gostas, was taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive in February 1968.
Cover of leaflet created by the American Legion No. 6, 93, Cheyenne Jaycees/Jayshees, Families of POW/MIAs, V.F.W. 1881, 1881A, 4343, 4343A, and VIVA (Voices in Vital America). UW American Heritage Center, Johanna Gostas papers, Box 3.
Upon his capture, the Vietnamese discovered that Gostas was a counter-intelligence officer through an article in the Stars & Stripes. His treatment greatly suffered as a result.
Johanna Gostas worked with the national and state POW/MIA groups beginning in 1968. She later recalled, “I remember when Ted came up missing. The dreaded military guy came to our door to tell me he was MIA. I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing!”
She organized letter writing, petition signing, and phone calling campaigns, sit-ins and parade floats, and distributed the POW MIA bracelets for “Voices in Vital America” endlessly reminding America, “Don’t Let Them Be Forgotten!” Johanna was a National League of Families representative to a 1971 conference on prisoner of war treatment held in Geneva, Switzerland.
Mailer to raise awareness of POW/MIAs. UW American Heritage Center, Johanna Gostas papers, Box 8.
Milk carton with POW/MIA message. UW American Heritage Center, Johanna Gostas papers, Box 4.
Ted’s brother, George Gostas, wrote a speech in 1971 that appeared in a POW/MIA newsletter for Iowans (Box 1 of the Gostas collection) in which he tells of the heart-wrenching experiences of the families waiting for word from their loved ones. George explained that, “My brother has never written. Letters sent to [Ted] in care of the Viet Cong in France or Algeria simply vanish from sight. We do not know if they have been delivered. A Christmas package came back from Cambodia marked ‘refused.’”
Even before the agony of waiting for word on captured or missing loved ones, the families of soldiers many times received letters of despair about the war, such as one Ted wrote to George before his capture at Hue. George noted that
Some of the things written by Ted were very terrible and detailed war in all its hellish brutality. In [Ted’s] words, “Death has stepped closer to Hue. The VC killed marines (near) here and of the boys had six days before rotation. Oh well, it is all in a day’s dollar…Write about man’s inhumanity to man. I can’t write it because I am too bitter…Bleed not for me. Bleed for life and all its meaningless meanings…let there be light, intense and burning…The mortars come and blast away flesh…eat life or it will eat you…dead bodies.”
Ted was finally released in March 1973, following the signing of the Paris peace agreement in January that same year. He was one of only five Americans to serve more than four years in solitary confinement.
Stickers to be placed on mailing envelopes. UW American Heritage Center, Johanna Gostas papers, Box 8.
Ted Gostas later recalled during an interview with the Casper Star-Tribune, “My psychiatrist considered me the most tortured prisoner of war in the Vietnam War … because I was the highest-ranking intelligence officer captured. And (I had) the worst attitude. I laughed at everything. Even when they were killing me I was laughing, because I was crazy. I went completely ka-flooey in prison.” According to the newspaper article, it took many electroshock treatments and months of psychiatric care before Gostas was capable of leaving the hospital. Only after years of rehabilitation did he become able to reflect intelligently on his prisoner-of-war experience.
He became an artist to help people understand the prisoner-of-war experience. In the process, he produced 10,000 drawings, sketches, paintings, poems and a book, Prisoner.
The Gostas POW/MIA Papers contain correspondence, news releases, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and printed materials from various state and national groups relating to Johanna’s work on POW/MIA issues. Also included is correspondence from other POW wives and families, posters depicting Wyoming POWs, and materials related to the Geneva conference.
Cover of leaflet issued by Wyoming Cares POW-MIA. UW American Heritage Center, Johanna Gostas papers, Box 9.
Johanna recently passed away on January 20, 2018.
Rest in peace.