Ted Gostas died on 31 January, 2023. He took his last breaths with loved ones by his side and Flamenco music filling the room. In his last moments on earth, there was no fear, no anxiety, and finally no more pain.
[Ted] said he’s lived a fantastic life and the only message he has for us is to be kind. - 2020 Wyoming News Now
Theodore William Gostas was born December 13, 1938 in Butte, Montana to a Czechoslovakian mother and Greek father. In 1941, the family moved to Bayard, Nebraska, and two years later, settled in Cheyenne, WY. He studied English Literature at the University of Wyoming and enrolled in ROTC. In 1960, he married Johanna Ludecke from Sheridan, WY. Together they had 3 children, Demetrius, Laura, and Jason.
Ted was commissioned 2nd Lt in the U.S. Army through the ROTC program at the University of Wyoming on July 28, 1961. After attending Infantry School, the U.S. Army Intelligence School for Counter Insurgency Training, and foreign language school, Ted served as a German interpreter with U.S. Army- Europe in West Germany from April 1964 to March 1967. He then deployed to Southeast Asia, where he served as an intelligence officer with the 135th Military Intelligence Battalion of the 525th Military Intelligence Group in South Vietnam beginning in April of 1967.
TOGETHER by Ted: “The officers and enlisted men were crowded together on the plane. And going to Vietnam was going to take a long time. So from Oakland we flew to Seattle and deplaned. We all went together in the same bar and drank at the same tables and did not hear the word, “Sir” very often. It was as if we had a sudden group awareness that some, perhaps all of us might not return.”
Ted was working with the 135th Military Intelligence Battalion Provisional, in the northern part of South Vietnam during TET '68 when Hue came under siege. He and 11 others were captured and taken as Prisoners of War by the North Vietnamese on February 1, 1968.
SURROUNDED by Ted: “He stood, mute, rifle at the ready- dreaming of a stag he’d smote and how after with honed knife he'd slit its throat. I stood, mute, hands limp at my sides, wondering if Mozart ever felt like this. I doubt he ever dreamt of war. I stood, not caring to be here. But nonetheless I stood. My thoughts began to wither and then they went deep, deep inside of me, and died.”
When she received the news that her husband had been captured, Johanna began, in 1968, working with national and state POW/MIA groups and became the Wyoming coordinator for the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia. She was a National League of Families representative to a 1971 conference on prisoner of war treatment held in Geneva, Switzerland and she attended the Paris Peace Agreement signing in January, 1973. One of her legacies was the distribution of POW-MIA bracelets to bring greater awareness of the plight of service men and women captured in Vietnam.
A comment left on the American Heritage Center’s website:
September 9, 2019
I have a bracelet with Maj. Theodore Gostas’s name on it as well as a blue sticker with a white star on it. What the sticker meant, I don’t and can’t remember. I recently was cleaning out one of my jewelry boxes and there was Maj. Gostas’s bracelet. I never had read or heard of his being found or released as a POW, but today through a friend got all this information about his capture, his being severely mistreated and finally released after 5 yrs. as a POW. I would like him to know that even though this is many years later, I prayed for him many times and feel very honored to have worn the POW bracelet with his name on it.
Maj. Gostas thank you for everything you went through for our Country. I pray your life today see’s many happy days and that you are blessed by those that love you. I am a year older than you and can’t begin to imagine living through everything you encountered. I’m so sorry for the terrible pain you went through and pray that one day you will be given a place of honor in paradise.
I am elated over finally being connected to you.
Sincerely yours, June Dombrowski – Akron, New York
-From the Johanna Gostas Papers at the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center https://ahcwyo.org/
After spending 1,871 days in captivity, Ted was released during Operation Homecoming on March 16, 1973. He recovered from his physical injuries at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Denver, Colorado.
However it soon became apparent that in order to serve his country, Ted had also sacrificed his mental health and any chance to a “normal” life with the family he had left behind. He was prone to unpredictable bouts of extreme rage and violence, destroying everything in his room at the hospital. Johanna realized the heartbreaking truth that for the safety of their children, she would have to leave Ted. It would take him many years of psychiatric therapy to recover from so many hidden wounds.
“I wondered to myself tonite if maybe perhaps I was becoming a nite creature. For when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was half of me and the other half was howling like a wolf but I could not see him.” -Ted
While in captivity, Ted had suffered horrific torture, been severely beaten, kicked in the head and stomach, and hung from a rope for extended periods. He was often denied food and water and was struck in the head with an AK 47. Ted also suffered from severe intestinal problems and numerous abscessed teeth throughout his ordeal. “But,” said Ted, “It was the 4 1/2 years in solitary confinement that did the worst damage.” The Vietnamese had learned from an article in the Stars & Stripes that Ted was a counterintelligence officer. His treatment was more brutal as a result, and he was one of only five Americans to serve more than four years in solitary confinement.
Ted’s brother, George Gostas, wrote a speech in 1971 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 him, in care of the Viet Cong in France or Algeria simply vanished from sight. We do not know if they have been delivered. A Christmas package came back from Cambodia marked ‘refused.’”
Ted had written to George before his capture at Hue. He described the 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 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.”
Official Pre-capture photo(3rd photo in gallery)
Name: Theodore W. Gostas
Rank/Branch: 03 United States Army
Unit: 135th Military Intelligence Battalion Provisional, 525th MI GP
Date of Birth: 13 December 1938 (Butte MT)
Home City of Record: Cheyenne, WY
Date of Loss: 01 February 1968
Country of Loss: South Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 162734N 1073551E
Status (in 1973): Returnee
After a period of recovery, Ted completed admin officer and race relations officer training at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, IN. His next assignment was with Headquarters 6th Army at the Presidio of San Francisco, California, from January 1975 to June 1977. He received medical retirement from the Army on December 19, 1977 with the rank of Major, and was awarded the Bronze Star, 2 Purple Hearts, and the POW medal.
His Bronze Star Medal Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Executive Order 11046, 24 August 1962, takes pleasure in presenting the Bronze Star Medal to Major Theodore W. Gostas, Adjutant General's Corps, who distinguished himself by exceptionally meritorious service to the United States of America while detained as a Prisoner of War in Southeast Asia during the period 27 February 1968 to 16 March 1973. His ceaseless efforts, by a continuous showing of resistance to an enemy who ignored all international agreements on treatment of prisoners of war, in the extremely adverse conditions of the communist prisons of Southeast Asia demonstrated his professional competence, unwavering devotion and loyalty to his country. Despite the harsh treatment through his long years of incarceration, this American continued to perform his duties in a clearly exceptional manner which reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Army.
Though the transition back to everyday life was hard, Ted found peace by drawing. “I would get to the point where I’d think someone was coming to stick a bayonet in my neck, and I’d pull out some good paper, a good pen and I’d start to draw and draw,” said Ted. During his imprisonment, his resolve was tested, both physically and psychologically. When he finally returned home, he turned to art as a way of understanding the otherwise unimaginable circumstances he had survived. In Untitled (Werewolf), Ted depicts a feral-looking creature looming over a man in anguish. The werewolf, being equally man and animal, stands for both the instinctual and complex fears raging through those caught in the midst of war. In such a confined space, the man has little choice but to face this tangle of survival instincts, pain, and traumatic loss embodied by the werewolf. While Ted has since left such fear behind, art helps him grapple with what lingers- pain. "I did my bit with fear and survived; pain, however, was and sometimes still is the only adversary to which I buckle, and as a result, I pay pain tribute.” -National Veterans Art Museum
WAR by Ted: “I can write about war. War is fear so thick you can slice it with your horror. War is chopped bodies into slices of thin wheels of flesh. Show me the slot machines which will accept those coins.”
Although he suffered from many health related problems as a result of his torture and captivity, Ted found that he could serve his community beyond the battlefield. He lent his time, creativity and love for fellow veterans in numerous ways. He worked as a "war artist," raising thousands of dollars in college scholarships for the children of indigent veterans. He donated 100% of the proceeds from his artwork to the scholarship fund. Ted self-published a book of sketches and poetry called "Prisoner" in 1974 and donated much of those proceeds as well as free copies.
Ted found catharsis in and a great love for creativity. He shared in art fellowship with other veteran artists and through his art, established many friendships. He presented art lessons to young children and retired veterans alike. He produced thousands of sketches, paintings, mixed-media creations, poetry, and songs. Numerous pieces have found permanent homes in museums and galleries in Chicago, Florida, Wisconsin, and Cheyenne to name a few. Ted often traveled around the country to participate in Veteran speaking events and gatherings.
“Death is the greatest artist. All his portraits are pure black. Green grasses form the frame and earth thrown on your face is a substitute for critics’ adulation.” -Ted
Ted loved his family above all else. In 1979, he married JoAnne (Jody) Bateman and became stepfather to her son, Jason Kivisto. Ted loved Jody fiercely and his first priority was always protecting and caring for her. Ted’s youngest son, Jason Gostas, was killed in a car crash in 1986, at the age of 19. This loss affected Ted greatly and he carried this grief for the rest of his life.
“Ted found comfort and peace in the love and devotion of his cat- a demonstration of the healing power of man’s relationships with pets, healing that can’t come from a professional therapist- or even from another human being. A letter written by Ted after the death of his loving comrade, Kitrina:
15 Feb. 2001
Each and every one of your staff should know that you all had something to do the Kitrina’s longevity. After I returned from the prison camps of Vietnam, there was little that brought me solace. Then Kitrina came along. She demanded nothing of me. Pets never do. And so I gave her my all, every ounce of love and dedication in my body. I pretended that she wished for something in that I could obey her command. She responded with a powerful love and loyalty few have known. A visitor to our house once said, “That cat adores you.” And when she had cancer I cared for her. And when she got seriously ill, I stayed up all night to minister to her needs. And during her recent illness I drove myself to exhaustion trying to vainly save her. And the night before she died, I held her tight in my arms and listened to her muted purr. I looked in her old and tired eyes and entreated, “Let go, Kitrina. Let go. Don’t fight death anymore. You are going to a far better world than this one. Just let go and someday I shall come and find you.” I kissed her sweet face and carried her upstairs. She gave vent to a long painful cry. Before I went to bed, she took a bit of water and food more for my sake more than hers. In the morning I awoke to find her gone to that better world. Cats and dogs are put on this earth to soften its dreadfulness. Oh, how I miss my Kitrina, the greatest cat who ever lived. Jody and I thank all of you at the clinic for your steadfast love through the years. Stay well and remain constant in your dreams. Your friend always, Ted Gostas” -from EULOGY TO KITRINA by Clotilda Bowen, US Army Colonel, retired; Physician and Psychiatrist.
Ted loved to tell embellished stories and outlandish jokes, and there was never a dull moment when he was in entertainment mode. He loved cars, his cats, and playing games with friends and family. Cribbage, chess, poker, putt-putt golf, and bicycling were all a joy. He loved his piano, the opera, old movies, delicious food, and traveling.
One of many highlights for Ted was when he was invited to carry the Olympic Torch from Greece for part of its journey across Wyoming on Day 55 of the trek across the US to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake.
Ted has received awards, recognitions, and honors too numerous to mention and very well deserved. His most recent was the 67th Legislature of the State of Wyoming posthumous recognition on Military Day, Feb 2, 2023 with a proclamation to honor and acknowledge with gratitude, his service to our country- just two days after his passing.
LIFE by Ted: “Death is all. All is death. An interim between two deaths is granted us by no one. That’s just the way it is. There is no other way. What other way could there be based on what we know? The interim is the thing. It's so awkward, so boring and so dumb. Such is life to go from death to interim of folly then back to death. Keep us comfortable while we live, ultimate comfort before and after interim. Don’t ask where you are going since you can’t remember where you’ve been.”
Ted is survived by Jody, his wife of 44 years; son, Demetrius with wife, Linda Gostas; daughter, Laura with husband, Dirk Stamp; and step-son, Jason Kivisto with wife Jamie. Ted has 6 grandsons: Demetre, Darien, and Daine Gostas: Jason and Jean-Luc Stamp; and Brayden Kivisto; and a nephew, Tom Gostas. He is preceded in death by his parents, James and Helena Gostas; his brother, George Gostas; and his son, Jason Gostas.
Yet another brave soldier is lost to the world. Do we care? Do we look away- feigning sympathy for a few brief seconds so as not to disturb our illusions of happiness, so as not to ponder our responsibility? Or do we lean in? Do we cry out for the loss, the tragedy, the irony? Do we embrace the pain so as to understand joy? Do we allow the hot rush of shame to wash over us as we wonder why humans cannot be kind?
“2,000 years ago a guy was born who was a magician. He conned people into following him and when he ran out of magic the crowd killed him. When I run out of magic I too will be killed.”- Ted
Goodbye Ted, Dad, Grandpa, Uncle, Friend.
Huzzah! Your new adventure begins!