Each one of us has lived through historical events. Some flow on by without making an impact. Others shape us. Some “events” don’t have a specific date – but the time is remembered.
The Cold War, for example. Fear seemed to reign. In grade and high school, we had “duck-and-cover” drills to “prepare for” nuclear attack by the Russians. As if hiding under your desk would help you survive a nuclear blast. Even kids knew you might as well stand at the window and watch the blast. Several families in our rural neighborhood built bomb shelters. I remember one in the middle of a friend’s house. Dad started digging one, too, into our back hill, lining sides with cinder blocks and concrete. It was half done when he came to his senses. Live underground in an 8X10 foot room? Wait a hundred years for radiation before you can open the door and come outside? Maybe someone would find us in an archeological dig and come to all kinds of conclusions about why we walled ourselves into a hole to die. Forget the bomb shelter. If a bomb hits, try to get home. We’ll get to you as soon as we can.
No wonder the 60s were crazy with the ideology eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!!
Nationwide fear came back in October of 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviets had been secretly constructing missile bases 90 miles off U.S. shores. Nikita Khrushchev intended to install medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles which could have reached much of the U.S. Castro wanted Khrushchev to launch a nuclear first strike on us. The Soviet ships were loaded and on the way to Cuban. President Kennedy said turn them around. Now. We have airplanes locked and loaded heading for Russia. He wasn’t bluffing. Thankfully, the Soviet ships turned around and returned home. We all could breathe again.
Confusion, heartache and anger reigned on November 22, 1963 — November 22, 1963 – the day Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Teachers and students were crying, buses pulling up to take us home. I walked into an empty house. The nation went into deep grieving for days. But the insanity wasn’t over. April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in Memphis Tennessee and soon after — June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in the lobby of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Men fighting the good fight were being murdered. Rick, a Marine serving in Vietnam was on R&R in Hong Kong when he saw televisions screens in a store window showing Kennedy lying dead on an L.A. hotel floor. “What in the hell is happening to my country?” I was wondering the same thing in a dorm room at University of Nevada, Reno. My brother was in Army intelligence, serving in Hue at the time – a place soon to be in history books as “the Tet Offensive”—and etched into our family consciousness. Thankfully, both brother and future husband came home; neither unscathed. War changes lives.
Those were the impactful low times of historical events I “witnessed”. There were high times, too. July 20, 1969, Rick and I (recently engaged) were with his family at Pine Crest in the Sierra-Nevada Mountains. Vacationers gathered in front of the only TV in the area — in the bar of Pine Crest Lodge — to watch the Apollo 11 landing on the moon! I remember the heart-pounding excitement as we all waited and prayed everything would go well. And then, Neil Armstrong stepped down on solid ground 238,900 miles away and said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The place erupted in cheers! It didn’t matter whether we were Republicans or Democrats. We were all Americans.
We were all Americans on 9/11, too.
If only we could all remember that between the low and high tides of historical events.