A Collection of Letters by John Pohlman, '66
Edited by Carolyn Barber-Long and Tom Dunning, `66
“So I make it through the year, somehow,
And I go to Vietnam and survive, somehow,
Then, I will write – somehow.”
The specter of the Vietnam War hovered like a dark cloud over their generation when Carolyn Barber-Long, John Pohlman, `67, and Tom Dunning, `66, attended UC Santa Barbara in the late sixties. They all met in the dorms – Dunning and Pohlman were freshman roommates who met Barber-Long through her friend’s relative. “My roommate and I were excited to have `big brothers’ who would help guide us through our first year in this very large university,” wrote Barber-Long.
The group bonded over practical jokes and student adventures. Barber-Long moved to San Francisco and finished her education at a secretarial school. Pohlman and Dunning graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1966 and joined the Peace Corps. Dunning ended up in Borneo while Pohlman spending a year teaching children on a remote island in Fiji. Barber-Long and Pohlman began their six-year correspondence during this time. “He was my soul mate,” she said. “The letters came once a month – long, personal letters. It was nothing romantic. It was about what he wanted out of life.”
Then, the draft came. Dunning didn’t qualify for service and went on to graduate school. Pohlman joined the thousands of other young men who had to go to war. “It was horrible,” said Barber-Long. “He came to visit me the day before he left. I was angry with him because he was going. But he said, avoiding the draft and going to jail would be a waste of time. He wanted to get a pilot’s license, so doing helicopter training was not a waste of time for him. “
Five weeks after he arrived in Vietnam, Pohlman’s helicopter was shot down. The only letter Barber-Long received from her friend after he deployed to Vietnam was the letter he wrote before he died on April 15, 1970.
In 2011, Dunning and Barber-Long compiled Pohlman’s letters with accounts from his military comrades and published John’s Journal. The letter Pohlman wrote on the day he died was featured in Andrew Carroll’s play “If All the Sky Were Paper” performed at the Lobero this past November.
For Barber-Long, the process of putting together John’s Journal helped her deal with the loss of someone who helped define her as a person. “When you go to college, you are leaving your parents,” she said. “You start to ask who you are as a human being. What is this life all about? You start finding your answers to these questions in college with your friends. You search together.”