Tuesday, February 13, 2018

My Summer of 1968 !

It was the summer of 1968. I was between my junior and senior year at the University of Oregon in Eugene. I was spending the summer at my parent's home in North Bend and had a summer job as an assistant manager at a variety store called Sprouse Reitz in Coos Bay, Oregon.

1968 was a year things seemed to come apart. It was a Presidential election year,  War was raging in Vietnam and President Lyndon Baines Johnson  (LBJ) had decided to not run for reelection. Senator Eugene McCarthy was the Democrat anti war candidate going against Johnson's VP, Hubert Humphry. Senator Bobby Kennedy had just been assassinated in Los Angeles after winning the Democrat primary. Martin Luther King had been assassinated that spring and major American cities had seen riots, looting and buildings burned. National Guard troops guarded the Capitol in Washington D.C.  Richard Nixon was the leading candidate for the Republicans. California Governor Ronald Reagan and former N.Y. Governor Nelson Rockefeller were trying to block his nomination. The Democrat convention that year was in Chicago and the Republican was in Miami Beach in Florida.

We all watched on TV as the Democrats destroyed themselves in Chicago both in the convention and on the streets. Humphry ( a good man) won  the nomination but paid a heavy price.

Three of my best friends at the University of Oregon spent the summer in Eugene and shared an old house down the alley from Bob's Superette a few block from campus. Jerry Norton, Gaines Smith and Randy Gragg. It was a house only a college student could appreciate and I visited as often as I could. I loved the intellectual stimulation of being around three friends that shared my passion for  the Conservative cause. We were young and were excited about the future and we loved to talk politics and events.   All three are now gone but the memory of that summer and those friends remains.

Jerry Norton was from Coos Bay and had been my mentor in the draft Goldwater movement and Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) thereafter. Jerry had just graduated from Oregon and was waiting to go into the Army. He would end up in Vietnam, and was wounded. After the Army he worked for YAF and went on to get a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and worked for many years in the Far East as a reporter and editor for Reuters New Service.   He died a few years ago and was buried  at Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC.

Gaines Smith was from Lake Oswego Oregon and was  "a professional student". He was a follower of Ayn Rand then called Objectivist and now called Libertarians. He was tall, dark and handsome and the girls loved him with his fake British accent. He was a very good writer. He wore a $ sign pin in the lapel of his tweed sports jacket he always wore with a black turtleneck. A few years after that summer  he moved back east for a few years working as a journalist for a Connecticut newspaper and then for the American Conservative Union.  He returned to Eugene and eventually got a job at Lane Community College as a creative writing instructor.  The Eugene Register Guard newspaper would report how he died.......... ! I attended his funeral in Eugene and spent time with his friends wondering why!

Randy Gragg was from Southern California and was active in student government at the University of Oregon and was a great Conservative debater. After that summer he would return to California and was active in the Libertarian movement. He had bright red hair. We all lost track of Randy but his obituary states that he later graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in Indiana and was a pastor at a Lutheran church in Ohio.

Jerry, Gaines and Randy all went to the Republican Convention in Miami Beach and I didn't! I was so jealous. One of the few regrets in my life. In little more than a year I would be in the Army learning how to kill North Vietnamese soldiers and from my perspective how to prevent them from killing me. I ended up not going to Vietnam but it was very close. I should have gone to the Convention!

The three friends went to the convention supporting Ronald Reagan. I had wavered between Reagan and Nixon. My head said Nixon had the best chance in November and my heart was with  Reagan. Nixon won the nomination in Miami on the first ballot. Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina was able to hold most of the Southern delegates for Nixon who went on to win in November. He would resign in disgrace after winning reelection in 1972. Reagan would win in 1980 and serve two terms.

For years Gaines would tell me of his "adventures" at the convention.  Jerry had tickets to get into the convention but Gaines and Randy didn't. Gaines went to one of the many social gatherings  associated with a major party convention and met a young lady whose father was high up in the Wyoming delegation. Gaines struck up a conversation with the young lady who thought Gaines was British. Gaines played along with her mistake and said he was sad that he had come all this way to see the convention but couldn't get tickets. She volunteered to get him tickets and told him if he went to a "hospitality suite" at a given hotel at a certain time she would see that he got some tickets. So Gaines with Randy "dragging behind" walked across muggy Miami Beach and went to the hospitality suite and there was no one there! There were tables loaded with liquor but no people. Gaines and Randy sat down to wait and Randy noticed on the table between them two tickets to the convention. They grabbed the tickets and ran out of the room and down the stairs as fast as they could. They got into the Convention but were afraid to sit in those seats and so spent a lot of time walking around.

After that summer I returned to Eugene for my Senior year at Oregon  but only Gaines remained and the magic of that time and place were gone.

I sure would like to get-together with the guys again  and see what they would say about Donald Trump!