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Classmate Donald Fedynak, Class 04-68

-  An Image of War  -

Webmaster's comments: Donald Fedynak was a member of the last Signal OCS class of the Vietnam War era, Class 04-68. Class 04-68 graduated in February, 1968. His insight and reflections in the following article show how a world of chaos swirled around all those who served then, as the U.S. began the massive task of winding down from one of its longest wars. While on the surface all was quiet as Officers like Fedynak tried to build their career, in South East Asia a great army, the U.S. Army, was beginning its return to barracks, with a wary eye over its shoulder towards the enemy it was leaving behind, and an even keener eye towards those it was marching towards... those on the home front that blamed it for mistakes made in Washington.

The upheaval surrounding the end of the Vietnam War stalled many a young Officer's dreams. Six years of hard work in learning a craft and building a military career went down the drain as the Army downsized. Six years of dedication to one's country were passed off as inconsequential skills, as Officers everywhere found themselves slowly being forced to return to civilian life. Read between the lines in the following story, and you may see your own history come alive again.

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Fedynak, Donald OCS Class 04-68Recently, I posted a photo on the website “The Virtual Wall,” as a way to graphically honor the heroism of a fellow soldier and 221st combat photographer. (See:, also see photo at bottom of page). I’d served with the same unit in Vietnam, the 221st Signal Company (Pictorial) Southeast Asia Pictorial Center (SEAPC), as a Signal Photo Officer, a year after the photo was taken. (Click to enlarge picture at right)

I was in our lab at Long Binh between missions when I ran across several prints of the photo. They were made from a copy negative, and not the best quality, but I thought at least one should be preserved.

I hung onto the photo for nearly forty years, and the only information about the photographers I had was the official army caption. That is, until I received an unexpected E-mail asking for more information about the picture.  

I discovered the power of photography in 1963, while studying advertising at Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, NY. At the time, Pratt didn’t have any film courses, so I switched to the newly formed Motion Production Dept. at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan.

I had just completed two years of Army ROTC at Pratt, but the School of Visual Arts didn’t have a ROTC program, so I had to temporarily suspend any thoughts I had of gaining a commission. After graduation I took a job at a production company as an editing room assistant while waiting for my draft notice.

Audio Productions was producing training and information films for the Departments of Defense and Navy. In order to handle the classified material used in the films I was required to obtain a security clearance. But after almost a year on the job there was still no draft notice. Impatient, I visited my local draft board and told them I was no longer eligible for a student deferment. Three weeks later I had my notice.

Fort Jackson, SC became home through basic and advanced infantry training. I applied for Signal OCS as my first choice, photo operations being a Signal Corps responsibility. As luck would have it, my next set of orders read, Co A 1st OC Battalion, Fort Gordon, class 04-68.

From the get-go there was trouble. Our TAC’s informed us that Signal OCS was closing down and that we’d be the last class to graduate from the program. That was the good news. The bad news was, we lacked enough warm bodies to form a class.

But not to worry, we were told. All the low crawling we were doing was good training for Fort Benning. All I could think of was, there goes my commission again. After a week of uncertainty, enough smacks arrived and the last Signal OCS class at Fort Gordon was a go.

As classes ahead of us graduated, we could feel the program shrinking. Candidates left the program, sometimes replaced by medical or academic holdovers, sometimes not. In the end those of us who survived and graduated were strengthened by having to do more with less. I didn’t think of it at the time, but the closing down of Signal OCS at Fort Gordon was signaling the closing down of the war in Vietnam. But at least I finally had my commission.

After OCS it was on to the “Area Signal Center Officers Course,” and then my first duty station. The Army Pictorial Center was where the army had been making films since 1941. With the largest sound stage on the East Coast, that once hosted the Marx Brothers and Rudolph Valentino, APC was now the home of “The Big Picture.” Reporting to the CO’s office you had to pass a showcase displaying the Army’s three Oscars. I almost saluted.

My tour at APC was mostly TDY. A film on road building shot at Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Belvoir. A “Big Picture” episode on the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team was shot at Fort Bragg. Weapons tests and a training film on the M-16 rifle were shot at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

By the fall of 1968, orders for Vietnam were received. Expecting to be dropped on some remote signal site, I was surprised to be assigned to yet another photo unit. The 221st was the manpower company for the Southeast Asia Pictorial Center, whose mission it was to pictorially document theater operations for historical and training purposes.

I returned from Vietnam in January 1970 and spent a couple months in LA and San Francisco, thinking I might work there. But family and all of my business contacts were back in NY, so home I came. My first job back in NY was on a Saturday morning children's documentary series for CBS called "In The Know," later called "In The News."

After that, I went on to work for NBC, ABC (20/20, etc.), Major League Baseball Productions, as well as a couple of independent features. My wife and I worked together on a number of children's shows and co-produced a pilot for TV called "Dandelion Depot," which ran on cable. I retired from the Motion Picture Editors Guild in 2003, but continue to work on film projects that are of interest to me.

And now, after nearly forty years, an old grainy “Official U.S. Army photo” would find a new purpose for its mission. It would reconnect a family to a loved one, lost in war long ago. It would also remind an old photo officer of the power of a single image.

SP4 Cyr Pulls Wounded Buddy to safety.


Click to enlarge picture.


This page originally posted 27 July 2017 

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