Tom Brokaw’s latest book, Boom! Voices of the Sixties, is more than a trip down memory lane for me. It’s a penetrating, powerful exploration of the connections between what happened then and what’s happening now; the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, for example.
Brokaw and I share the same birth year, 1940, which makes it all the more interesting for me. He tells his own story, and weaves the stories of dozens of others who influenced the course of events, and whose lives were so influenced by those tumultuous times.
He dates the era of the sixties to that infamous day in November of 1963 with the assassination of Kennedy. I date it from 1960, the year I was married. I was still an undergraduate student. In 1958, the year I graduated from Wilmington High School, I planned to join the Marines with three of my buddies – military service was required.
In the Spring of 1958 I changed my mind and went to college, postponing the service requirement with a 2S deferment. When I graduated from college in 1962 I had another deferment—being married. I got my first teaching job which provided an additional draft deferment.
I didn’t realize that things were quietly heating up in Vietnam. I got a draft notice and reported for a physical exam at an Army base in Boston. By then we had bought our first house – we paid $2,500 and got to work fixing it up, converting it from a little summer cottage to a small year-round house. Military service would have interrupted our big plans, so I asked the friendly woman at the local draft board if there were any other deferments. She smiled and said, “Only if you had a child.”
“What if my wife was pregnant?” I asked. She said, “Well, that would do it.”
The Army clock was ticking — less than two months later I brought the positive pregnancy test results to the draft office. My daughter Susan was born in August of 1963, just a few months before what Brokaw called the big Boom! that ushered in the era we refer to as ‘the sixties.’
Brokaw brought the sixties back. The three friends with whom I had planned to join the Marines were all in military service while I was in college. None went to Vietnam. I eased myself into the sixties with a fifties mentality — I liked Ike, and loved and was proud of my country.
Little by little we heard the news from Vietnam, watching young men coming home in flag-draped caskets, and we started to ask what it was all about. Meanwhile, we sold the fixed-up cottage for $10,000 and built a new house for $11,000 – including the land. We lived there for only a year—the commute was too far, so we bought a house in Wellesley where I was teaching, paying the huge sum of $21,000.
That’s when I got involved in the Unitarian Church in Wellesley, volunteered to teach a high school class on ‘Love and Death,’ became youth advisor and got actively involved in the anti-war movement, working with kids who were mostly counter-culture. Boom! The sixties hit hard in ’68. By ’69 I left teaching, went to seminary, and the rest is my personal history. I’m grateful for Brokaw’s provocative reminders. Maybe you’ll share some of your stories from the sixties. That would be good. Meanwhile, take care, and hold on to hope.