• Bondus recalls act that sent him to prison for 14 months for interference with U.S. Selective Service
by Britt Aamodt
In September 1965, Barry Bondhus, of Big Lake, received an envelope in the mail from the federal government. He knew what was inside. Any American man alive then, and of military age, knew what was inside that envelope.
Only a year before, the United States had sent its first troops to Vietnam, a place most Americans couldn’t even point out on a map until their sons started shipping there and dying there, under the boiling sun and among the rice paddies.
Bondhus, just shy of his 20th birthday, had received his draft notice.
Dutifully, he traveled to Minneapolis for the military physical and psychological tests. But that’s where his cooperation would end.
Within months, Bondhus would make his position against the Vietnam War very clear. The peaceful yet sensational showdown would take place at the draft office in Elk River and end up splashed across front pages coast to coast.
Bondhus was the second son of Tom and Jean Bondhus, who together raised one daughter and 12 sons. The father operated a machine shop and a skating rink on the shores of Big Lake.
“My dad was drafted in the Second World War and had been planning to fight the draft,” said Bondhus, who now lives in Princeton with wife Linda. “But he ended up getting out because he had flat feet.”
The old feelings lingered, however, and reignited in 1965 when his son was drafted into America’s newest war. The Bondhuses petitioned Selective Service on religious grounds and were granted an interview with the Elk River board.
March 1966, Bondhus and his parents packed in the truck and drove to the office in the American Legion building. Among the board members was a veteran of World War II.
“He kept repeating that he’d been wounded in the war. He’d gone in and he kind of had this attitude that everyone should have to,” Bondhus remembered.
Bondhus’ father said that he was especially concerned about the draft because he had 12 sons.
“And the man said, ‘You got 12 sons? Well, where are the rest of them?’ That made my dad so mad he walked out,” Bondhus said.
Back home, the parents and children discussed the meeting and the comment made by the veteran. Rest of them? What had he meant by rest of them?
They toyed around with definitions. Oh, you mean rest, as in residue? Like what’s left behind in a bathroom stall? OK, well, the family could certainly oblige, they decided.
The brothers set a pail in the bathroom. For the next few days, they collected their business in the pail. Then Bondhus divided the results in two tar buckets and took the lot to Elk River. He deposited one on the secretary’s desk.
“I said, ‘Here’s the rest of my brothers. What do you want me to do with them?’ She kept saying, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’” Bondhus said.
The draftee wasn’t so sure himself. He hadn’t thought beyond delivering the buckets. But now inspiration struck. He spotted the file cabinets containing the county’s draft records.
“I said, ‘If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then I’ll just put them over here,’” Bondhus said.
He yanked open the top drawer of the first cabinet and applied the bucket. He repeated the process down the line.
A few days later, the county attorney telephoned. The FBI were waiting for him. Eventually, Bondhus spent 14 months in federal prison for destruction of government property and interference with Selective Service.
Today, Bondhus’ resistance seems like just another protest in a decade overrun by anti-war protests, draft card burnings and flights to Canada. But his act came at the very beginning of the movement.
“I found out later that no one had ever attacked a draft office before,” he said. “I was the first.”
Newspaper editors had a field day with the story. Draft records destroyed by human excrement? This young man knew a good metaphor when he saw one.
“I later talked to protestors who read about it and said they got inspiration from my story,” said Bondhus, who to this day carries a felony on his record.
Does he have regrets?
“No,” he said. “I’m proud of what I did.”