I Remember 1968, Too, Tom

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2007 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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There have been two times in my life that I was truly afraid this country was done for.
The first was in October of 1962 when President Kennedy had ordered a naval blockade to stop Soviet ships that were carrying nuclear weapons into Cuba.
The two great superpowers had finally brought the world to the brink of nuclear war and there was nothing a 16 year old kid from Volga, South Dakota could do about it except cry as I walked around town delivering the awful news to everyone on my Argus Leader paper route.
I kept thinking that if I closed my eyes for awhile..then opened them..I’d wake up and it would all be a bad dream.
I remember praying over and over..please, Lord, make the Russians stop and turn around. In Jesus name, amen.
And I’ll be darned if that’s not exactly what they did.
Me, my family and the rest of the people in the world were NOT going to perish in a swirl of wind and fire after all.
 
The other time I figured that it was all over for America was pretty much during the entire year of 1968.
Memories of that turbulent time came flooding back as I watched Tom Brokaw’s 2 hour special on the History Channel last night documenting 1968 and all of the earth-shaking events of that year that nearly tore this country apart.
It was the bloodiest year of the Vietnam War and even though I was married with two small children, I still lived every day with a knot in my stomach expecting a “greetings” letter to show up in the mail from Uncle Sam.
The North Vietnamese had launched a huge offensive and after visiting the war zone, the most trusted man in America, CBS news anchor, Walter Cronkite, went on the air saying there was no way to win in Vietnam.
That changed a lot of minds about the war and likely had a significant effect on President Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to run for re-election.
It also fueled the anti-war protesters’ fire.
 
I hated the whole hippy-yippie flag-burning, foul-mouth, screamin’ and yellin’ crowd as much as I disliked the free-love, marijuana-suckin’ LSD-trippin’ flower-power bunch getting a free ride on the backs of those of us who had to work for a living.
But I also despised the expansion of the war and the arrogance of Richard Nixon who, after saying he was through with politics, jumped into the race for president.
 
Growing up, I didn’t know any black people personally and never gave the Civil Rights Movement much thought until I watched Dr. Martin Luther King deliver his “I have a dream” speech during the huge march on Washington in 1963.
It opened a lot of eyes.
But in April of 1968 this brilliant man who demonstrated how objectives could be achieved through non-violence was violently shot in the head and killed in Memphis.
Then, as if his words meant nothing, rioters took to the streets in cities all across the country burning, looting and destroying.
 
Later that spring, I was among the hundreds of people lining Main Street in Brookings to see Robert Kennedy who had brought his presidential campaign to South Dakota.
Watching the motorcade slowly pass by,  I remember his toothy smile and how he brushed his hair back in place much as he did a couple weeks later after giving his speech celebrating victory in the California presidential primary only to be shot dead by an assassin moments later.
It couldn’t happen again..another Kennedy brother gunned down?!
But, no matter how much I closed my eyes and tried to wake up, it was another nightmare that was all too real.
 
Tear gas filled the air in Chicago in August when demonstrators from all over the country kept their promise to raise hell and awareness at the Democratic National Convention.
It was about a sickening to watch as the smug look on Mayor Richard Daly’s face while trying to explain away the police brutality we all saw occur on live TV.
 
Nobody was cracked over the head with night sticks in Atlantic City when women’s liberation groups decided to use the Miss America Pageant as an example of everything that’s degrading to women. Their sex-discrimination protests included the ritual disposal of undergarments in the “freedom ashcan.”
I remember their theatrics didn’t play very well out here in the Midwest.
 
A late surge in the Presidential race by native South Dakotan, Hubert Humphrey, wasn’t enough to beat Republican Richard Nixon in the November election. Thus began an era that President Ford would later call, “our great American nightmare.”
 
There were a few positive things about 1968 that I “would” like to remember..especially the joy of being around my two little girls.. ages one and three.  
 
And, of course, the Christmas present the whole world was given on that December 24th when the U.S. astronauts orbiting the moon for the first time spoke of the grey, lifeless lunar surface and then compared it to the beautiful, colorful sphere that is earth.
 
I’d like to believe that as the astronauts read the Genesis story of creation, the protests ceased..the shooting stopped and all was quiet for a few moments.
Everyone suddenly realized that  we’re all residents of a fragile planet.
A planet that is unique in the universe and, as humans, we must do everything within our power to live in peace and not destroy it.
 
Of course, that was a dream I “did” wake up from.

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