Memories of the Turbulent ’60s

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JFK turnpikeIn everyone’s life, there are those historic touchstones, those moments you’ll never forget, and you’ll never forget where you were when they occurred.

And, if you lived through the 1960s, when time seldom had a chance to stand still, those moments piled atop one another, each occurrence more stunning than the one that came before.

I had the good fortune to interview five Delawareans about their experiences in the ’60s for Delaware Today magazine — a campus agitator, a Vietnam vet, an urban activist, a peacenik and an All-American girl from Kent County. Their stories are compelling and fascinating, and, as they shared their reminiscences with me, I often slipped into sharing some of my own.

Here’s a sampling:

Nov. 22, 1963: I’m a high school senior, French class, last period of the day, and the announcement comes over the PA system: President Kennedy has been shot. The closing bell rang, I hopped into my car and headed home, a 20-mile drive. I was about halfway home when the radio delivered the news that the president was dead.

April 4, 1968: Walking across the Rose Hill campus of Fordham University with a couple of friends, we’re headed to one of the best bars in the Bronx for a few 20-cent beers. We’re met by an African exchange student, running toward us, shouting that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed in Memphis. On a campus that was more than 90 percent white, the response was somewhat muted but, given the anger in our cities and the protests over Vietnam, we knew that more would come.

June 6, 1968: It’s the morning after my college senior prom. I must have gotten home around 5 after dropping off my date (my future wife). Why, oh why, would my mother be waking me up a few minutes after 7? The bombshell: moments after being declared the winner of the California presidential primary the night before, Robert F. Kennedy, our senator in New York, had been gunned down after delivering his victory speech. He would die later that day. A funeral Mass for Senator Kennedy was held on Saturday, June 8, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 13 miles south of where he was scheduled to be that morning. It had not been officially announced, but Bobby Kennedy was supposed to be our commencement speaker. To this day, I have absolutely no memory of who delivered the commencement address.

Aug. 25-29, 1968: Now I’m a graduate journalism student at Northwestern University,  reading about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia int The New York Times on Sunday morning as I ride the El from Evanston into Chicago to start the final assignment of our journalism summer program — covering the New York delegation to the Democratic National Convention. While the Loop and Grant Park became the scene of what some termed a “police riot,” I spent much of the week in probably the safest place in the city — in the bowels of the convention site, the Chicago Amphitheater, one deep breath away from the incredible scents of the Windy City’s legendary stockyards. I did double duty during the week — also working as a copyboy (ask some other old journalist about that job description!) for Newsday, sometimes catching a couple hours of sleep in one of the reporters’ hotel rooms. When I had to get back to Evanston for a change of clothes, Bob Greene, Newsday’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, generously let me borrow his car. Back story: Greene was assigned late to the convention team, and there were no rental cars available from Hertz or Avis when he arrived. The hulking yellow Chrysler the stellar organized crime reporter let me drive was one Greene had rented from a Chicago mob contact. (I’m glad I didn’t crash that one.) It was a wild and crazy week — more than enough to solidify my desire for a career in journalism.

Summer of ’69: Chappaquiddick, Man on the Moon, Woodstock, Mets win World Series … and I pretty much missed them all, spending late June through October at Naval Officer Candidate School. Watched the moonwalk and the final out of the deciding game five on TV. Couldn’t get back home to Long Island in time for my sister’s wedding … but with the windows of my barracks room open wide, I got to hear much of the fabulous Newport jazz and folk festivals. From what the Navy observed of me during OCS, they concluded I wasn’t cut out for sea duty. While many of my peers fought in Vietnam, and some of my classmates gave their lives, I spent my active duty behind a desk in Washington, D.C. I consider myself fortunate.

That’s all I’ve got for now. If you’ve got any great ’60s recollections, bring ’em on. Let’s share the memories.

 

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