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Reflections of 'Common' GIs on Vietnam

May 07, 1986|PAUL DEAN | Times Staff Writer

CHANHASSEN, Minn. — The remarkable thing about Jerry Osgood's extraordinary little magazine is its very ordinary view of the Vietnam War.

"I'm looking at the typical guy doing his 365 days loading a forklift in mud and rain in 110-degree heat," says Osgood, who spent his 365 days in warm mud and hot rain with the 4th Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division, at Tay Ninh. "I'm looking at the ordinary GI who waded through a swamp at dusk to set up for a night ambush. I'm looking at your normal helicopter pilot going into openings too small for a chopper unless you were crazy. . . ."

He should also be looking at quick and absolute failure for his curious quarterly. Spelling errors outnumbered the staff for the first issue because its $250 editorial budget didn't stretch to a proofreader. The prototype was pasted up on a living-room floor using type faces and dummy photographs clipped from old covers of Gun Digest and Ladies' Home Journal. Osgood probably is the only editor-publisher in America who doesn't type.

And the photograph illustrating his obligatory Letter From the Editor was clipped from a snapshot taken by his 12-year-old son who used a box camera bought at a garage sale and a screwdriver to advance the film.

Yet . . . last month's first, hesitant issue of Reflections sold all 20,000 copies in four days. There's sufficient demand for a second run of 100,000 at $2.95 each. B. Dalton Bookseller has agreed to distribute the second issue through 750 stores from the South Bronx to Southern California. Annual subscriptions are building. Daily mail is by the bag and totally supportive. News coverage of this little magazine from Lake Wobegon country has broadened from the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch to nibbles from network television.

That tells Jerry Osgood just one thing: "I was right."

He was right, he says, about a longing for a bulletin board where Vietnam veterans can pin their memories. A yearbook for all the classes of '62 through '72. A newsletter. Definitely not another grim stone memorial to 58,000 Americans who died, but a digest and exchange and forum for the 3,250,000 men and women who served and lived.

The politics and human loss of this war, Osgood believes, have been told and retold almost ad infinitum. Drugs and sex and rock 'n' roll. Social rejection. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My Lai. Agent Orange. "But these are extremes that probably didn't touch more than 20% of those who served in Vietnam," he said. "That leaves at least 80% of the guys who really did the dirty work, the typical people you never hear about, the Doughnut Dollies, just girls, just typical, round-eyed American girls who came out and talked to us.

"To this day I don't know where they were from. Maybe the Red Cross, I don't know . . . but that's the type of human interest information I want to get out."

Sidestep Rhetoric

He says the magazine cannot avoid the major facets of the Vietnam hangover and the POW-MIA issue is one. Yet it will try to sidestep rhetoric in favor of current, factual developments. Reflections will not deny the negatives of war. But it must also recognize the exhilaration, brotherhood, growth and honest patriotism of its warriors.

In short, Osgood explained, the publication will pivot on memories that tell a story, that create conclusions, that form an education to be shared . . . in total, he said. The Vietnam Experience as it touched both GI and civilian.

"Reflections will be their medium, a magazine where the reader is the writer," said Osgood, 36, now an electronics technician with a specialty in robotics. "Whatever they want to say is fine and I don't care if it comes from Jane Fonda or some gung-ho Green Beret loaded with medals.

"As we say in the front of the magazine where we're describing its purpose: 'Reflections is not looking for great stories. Reflections is looking for great moments. Great moments that will tell a great story.' "

Graphics Fell Short

The first cover of Reflections, however, fell somewhat short of greatness in graphics. Wrote a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times: "A boring photo of an old guy holding a picture of his son." Some contents of the maiden issue, as Osgood acknowledged, were a mite stale and in slight contradiction to his concept: An outline of federal benefits stemming from Agent Orange litigation and a psychologist's pointers on handling PTSD.

Yet there also was a poem by Marcie Stoyke that tells of the conflict between private despair and the public purpose a wife must show for her soldier's cause:

I am a Vietnam wife;

I have survived the nightmare


War horrors occupy his head

At night they lay between us

Asking for him

Laughing at me

And I know

He is dying.

Diane Carlson Evans, a former Army nurse at Pleiku, wrote for the 10,000 women who served in Vietnam and outlined a current campaign to have a statue of an Army nurse raised alongside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. . . .

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