Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer of 1969 (Updated)

It's been 40 years since the Summer of 1969 but it's a summer I will never forget.

1. It was the summer I graduated from the University of Oregon with a BS in Political Science.

2. It was the summer I was drafted into the United States Army with a reporting date in September.

3. It was the summer I signed up for Army Officer Candidate School and went to the Portland Armed Forces Examination Station, three times, for physical examinations. The first time was for an OCS physical. The second, the Coos Bay Draft Broad sent me back because they couldn't find the first until I had made the trip back to Portland on a bus and was put up at the YMCA in downtown Portland. I reported to the Examination station and they then found the first physical. I did have a good time running around downtown Portland the night before. The third was when I reported for duty in early September.

4. It was the only summer in the last 50 years that I did not work in a formal job. My parents belived in hard work and got me a summer job as soon as they could get a waiver from the State under the child labor laws. In retrospect they did the right thing but I didn't think so that first summer.

5. It was the summer of Chappaquiddick. On 19 July 1969,Teddy Kennedy attended a party on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts. At about 11:00 PM, he borrowed his chauffeur's keys to his Oldsmobile limousine, and offered to give a ride home to Mary Jo Kopechne, a campaign worker. Leaving the island via an unlit bridge with no guard rail, Kennedy steered the car off the bridge, flipped, and into Poucha Pond. He swam to shore and walked back to the party -- passing several houses and a fire station -- and two friends returned with him to the scene of the accident. According to their later testimony, they told him what he already knew, that he was required by law to immediately report the accident to the authorities. Instead Kennedy made his way to his hotel, called his lawyer, and went to sleep.*

Kennedy called the police the next morning. By then the wreck had already been discovered. Before dying, Kopechne had scratched at the upholstered floor above her head in the upside-down car. The Kennedy family began pulling strings, ensuring that any inquiry would be contained. Her corpse was whisked out-of-state to her family, before an autopsy could be conducted. Further details are uncertain, but after the accident Kennedy says he repeatedly dove under the water trying to rescue Kopechne, and he didn't call police because he was in a state of shock. In versions not so kind, it is widely assumed Kennedy was drunk, that he was having an affair with Kopechne, and/or that he held off calling police in hopes that his family could fix the problem overnight.

6. It was the summer my parents moved their retail sewing machine and fabric store which was across the street from the Tioga Hotel in Coos Bay, Oregon two blocks down the street to the same block as the Egyptian Theater. I spent several weeks helping them get ready for the move and the actual move. I also did a lot of painting in the new store to help get it ready. I brought a small color TV down to the new store as I worked so I could watch news story's on Teddy Kennedy and so I could watch the first man on the moon.We didn't have 24 hour news on TV in those days but the special coverage of the trip to the moon was interspersed with the Chappaquiddick story.

7. It was the summer the first man, an American, walked on the Moon! The Apollo 11 mission was the first manned mission to land on the Moon. It was the fifth human spaceflight of Project Apollo and the third human voyage to the Moon. Launched on July 16, 1969, it carried Mission Commander Neil Alden Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin Eugene 'Buzz' Aldrin, Jr. On July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon, while Collins orbited above.* I watched on that small color TV and cheered that we had beat the Russians.

8. It was the summer of Woodstock and the YAF Convention in Saint Louis, Missouri. I remember reading about Woodstock as I flew to Saint Louis to attend the National Convention of Young American For Freedom. (YAF) It was my last fling before I entered the Army. At the convention there was a large split between the traditional conservatives of the William F Buckley stripe and the Libertarians of the Ayn Rand stripe that continues to this day. Can you say "Ron Paul."

Many of my summers since then have blended together in my mind but in 1969 my life was changing and so was America. In 1969 Peter Paul and Mary had a #1 hit with "Leaving on a Jet Plane" a cover of a John Denver Song. The lyrics of that song were very relevant to me as I left on a jet plane for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

However, in the long run the landing on the moon will make this summer historicaly important. Long after the last baby boomer has died and no one remembers Wookstock; and Chappaquiddick is a minor political footnote; people will remember the walk on the moon.

*Copied from Internet sources.