Dave Smith, 36, was born on a dirt farm in Texas. Richard Johnstone, 38, from Brooklyn, Iowa, is also a farm boy. Bill Schiller, 39, from suburban Chicago, was, 18 years ago, an early recruit to the Peace Corps.
These men have all-American names, faces and backgrounds, but their voices give them away as somehow different. Each has a slight, but distinct, Swedish accent flowing through otherwise American speech. Occasionally in conversation they have to search for the right word in English.
"People often tell me I sound like a foreigner who learned to speak perfect American," Johnstone said with a grin.
Smith, Johnstone and Schiller are a loose end from the Vietnam era, among the remnants of the thousands of young Americans who passed through Sweden in the late 1960s and early 1970s as deserters or draft evaders. Reliable records are not kept anymore, but the trio estimates that only 20 or 30 others remain here.
The extensive support systems -- the Swedish language classes, the newsletters, the basketball teams, the church groups and American clubs -- all disappeared in the mid-1970s. Successive American presidents offered amnesties and discharges to those resisters who would come home. Most did, unable or unwilling to adjust to Swedish life.
These three did not go back, at least not permanently. For separate reasons, they chose to stay in Sweden -- partly because of politics, partly out of habit. It has been so long now since they came -- the hair of these once rebellious youths is flecked with gray -- that they have blended into the environment.
Yet after years of estrangement from their homeland and families, all seem to be coming slowly to terms with what they left behind. Each, for instance, has been reunited with his parents.
Johnstone said he goes to Iowa for two months each summer on vacation from his job as a rehearsal pianist at the Stockholm ballet. Schiller, who works as an English language reporter for Swedish radio, had a long visit this fall from his widowed mother. And Smith, who met his parents in Mexico a few years ago, has put off his first trip to the United States only because the younger brother he has not seen in 12 years plans to come to Stockholm soon.
Significantly, the three men -- interviewed separately -- said that their closest friends in Sweden are not Swedish. As exiles, they are accepted in the society they have adopted, but they still somehow stand apart from it. Johnstone has a U.S. passport on the chance, he said, that he may someday want to return for good. Smith and Schiller became Swedish citizens several years ago.
"The price of leaving your own country is to cut off your roots," said Schiller, who still has the look of a campus radical in a trim beard and jean jacket. "It's a high price. As a foreigner you don't fit exactly here. For me, though, the price would have been higher to stay in the United States while a brutal war -- an imperialist war -- was being waged in Vietnam . . . ."
After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1964, Schiller went to Peru for the Peace Corps, but his idealism was crushed, he said, by U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic in 1965 and increasingly in Vietnam. He left the Peace Corps, mailed his draft card to the Selective Service Board -- "I was chicken to burn it," he recalled -- and began an odyssey of odd jobs across Latin America.
In 1970, he landed in Sweden and, like the others who were arriving daily, was supported by the government until he found a steady job at the national radio.
During the years, said Schiller, he has adjusted to being what the Swedes call a "humanitarian refugee."
"Some of my colleagues on the radio are from the East, Russia and Poland," he explained. "They believe that being an exile is the natural, normal, intelligent thing to be, not deviant. And the way I felt about Vietnam, that was true for me too."
Schiller, who lives alone in a small apartment, owns part of a weekend cottage and earns the equivalent of about $1,200 a month, a modest income by Swedish standards. He votes for Sweden's small Communist Party. Sensing how that would strike an American, he quickly adds: "That doesn't mean I'm pro-Soviet. Not at all. I'm just a real socialist."
Dave Smith's sentiments are less rooted in politics.
"In the beginning," he said one evening in the living room of his garden apartment in a Stockholm suburb, "I was very bitter about having to leave America to get away from the war. I still resent it, but that's not why I don't go back. I've made a life here now. I'm comfortable. I think I like myself better than I would have if I'd never make the break."
Smith became a deserter in 1969, six years after he joined the Army at 17. He was trained as a Russian linguist, which ironically brought him into contact with other GIs "much more politically aware than I was," he said, and he started to get into disciplinary trouble as his opposition to the war developed.
Finally after being AWOL for 30 days and a resulting six-month stint in the stockade, Smith was busted to private and put on the list for transfer to Danang.
"Instead I got a passport using a friend's name and bought an airplane ticket to Copenhagen," he said. There he befriended a Swedish girl and ended up in Stockholm, warmly received by a government as critical of the war as he was.
Today, Smith, tall and soft-spoken, works as a dispatcher and driver in a Stockholm bus depot. Before that he spent four years teaching leather crafts in a youth center.
Although Smith said he is "basically pleased with the change" in his life, being a deserter plainly has been a major defining factor for him, and Smith seeks to justify it by attributing his action to Vietnam.
"I have no doubt," he said, "that had I been 20 years old in 1941, I would not have deserted."
Schiller and Smith said they find much to admire in Sweden, mainly the country's long-standing commitment to feed and house everyone in the country with the same extensive welfare state protections they received when they arrived. "You'll never hear me complain about taxes," Smith said with a laugh.
Still, both spoke about what they see as an absence of strong or at least open emotions among Swedes they know, "a lack of engagement," Schiller called it.
Richard Johnstone explains the coolness he feels in a different way. "Officially Swedish ideology is very good," he said. "Their attitude toward society as a whole and the world is generous. But the funny thing is that people don't care much about their neighbors. Swedes are so insular, self-contained. Its easy to be lonesome here."
Johnstone, a slender, bespectacled man, was a graduate student in music when he was drafted in 1970. After only four weeks of basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., he decided to flee. "I was just plain mad that the Army had disrupted my life," he said, admitting that he now feels that attitude was "partly selfishness."
He enlisted his parents' help. And although they brought him money and his passport, Johnstone said, "I think the experience aged them 10 years. Ours is a little town, only 1,500 people, and everybody knows your business. I'm sure my desertion hurt far more than my parents would ever say. I had an aunt that would write me letters asking me how I would feel when Christmas came . . . ."
His musical skills meant that Johnstone found work easily when he arrived in Stockholm, and he has been at the opera 10 years now, which is the main reason he stays in Sweden.
"Its a job I like," he said. "I don't know if I could get one at home as good." Another reason is that he does not feel completely pardoned by the United States. While formally released from the Army in 1977 under a program for deserters initiated by the Carter administration, Johnstone stills carries a "general" or less than desirable discharge.
"Who knows what effect that would have on me?" he said.
Johnstone's compromise is the annual vacation trip to the United States. Last year, he went for an extended stay but again made the choice not to remain. "My friends have all drifted away," he said, "and I guess a good part of me is more Swedish than American now."
Schiller's trip to the United States was in 1980 and, like Johnstone, he found on his return that Americans displayed no interest at all in his experiences as a Vietnam-era exile. They were remembered as people but forgotten as political symbols.
"There wasn't any hostility," Johnstone said. "They'd say, 'nice to see you.' I'd answer that it was nice I was allowed to come back, and no one would really understand what I meant."
Schiller said: "My buddies would say, 'Glad to see you. Now how about a movie?' People just didn't want to be bothered with what I had done . . . . To them, Vietnam was ancient history."
In a way, Schiller, Johnstone and Smith are similar to the millions of Vietnam veterans. A decade after the fact, they are getting on with their lives, but the war has scarred them permanently, more than it has most of their countrymen who they believe prefer to ignore the consequences of the conflict.
"Time has eased the way my parents feel," said Smith as an example of a broader American reaction, "We've got a way round my being a deserter. We just don't talk about it."