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What Do You Remember about 1968?

April 21, 2018

Another Way for week of April 20, 2018

What Do You Remember about 1968?

I was just 16 the spring of 1968. The state of the world was pretty far from my mind and day-to-day life, I confess.

My girlfriends and I were pretty much focused on guys: thinking about them, stealing glances, dreaming of dates, and secretly flirting (or not so secretly). And for a while there was one special boy. Romance. First kisses.

My next oldest sister was getting ready to graduate from high school, deciding on college. My oldest sister would graduate the following year from college. Life for our family was changing forever.

And life for the world—certainly the U.S.—was changing forever. Sure, I remember seeing the horrible scenes from the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, March 1968. Just two weeks after my first kiss. The young girl running away with napalm covering her naked body—a picture we all tried in vain to get out of our minds. You can’t think about it too much, or you get shell-shocked even if you’ve never been on a battlefield.

And then April 4, the shocking but maybe not surprising news of the shooting death of Martin Luther King Jr. Later we learned what he’d he said just the day before, about threats on his life:

“But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. …Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”

What a way with words, with such inspiring vision.

Even sixteen-year-olds became a little world-weary after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the first news many of my generation remember watching on TV. And of course then Kennedy’s younger brother Robert, was killed in June of 1968, while running for president.

I’m ashamed now that I was so busy being 16 and gaga over boys that I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have to the shape of the world. I page through my 1968 yearbook and see fish fry fund raisers, choir programs, soccer, Christmas banquets, basketball, cheerleaders: the stuff kids are supposed to be doing and enjoying—not running from napalm—or bullets from “active shooters.” In that yearbook I see mostly all white kids who never worried about what it meant to have brown or black skin in a mostly all-white town.

But in my files I was glad to discover an assignment that I wrote in early 1968. I learned I was at least aware and thinking about the problems of the world. The writing is a little wobbly, but here are a few thoughts about that year:

“When I have to think that at this very moment a sixteen-year-old girl in Vietnam cannot feel the same peace I do, cannot hear the crickets chirping—for the dropping of the bombs, cannot smell the smells of a farm—for the burning of her home, all because she is an unfortunate victim of circumstances, I cringe.

To think that she may not know the tenderness of a boy’s first kiss, or his sweet hugs, but only the brash, sex-starved love a G.I. can give her, I am ashamed. And when her “fun” for the night is over, she must wake to face the world alone, with an unwanted child, an unwanted life. And to think that she does not have the freedom to choose her vocation as I do. …”

My parents had visited church workers in Vietnam the summer of 1967 to learn firsthand how it was in that war torn land. They told us about the shame they felt as they learned how our American service men used young women that way, not really caring that any children born to such girls would live as outcasts.

I hope my cohort in Vietnam today is a grandma or great grandma herself, and enjoying a more stable life. With Dr. Martin Luther King we can grasp hope for a better world—not just in the sweet bye and bye, but as we work for change and opportunities for the marginalized and excluded today. This is what we need to remember from 1968.

***

Charissa Zehr of the Mennonite Central Committee Washington office was privileged to visit Vietnam recently and wrote her reflections here at Third Way website.

***

I also thank my brother-in-law who was drafted and served as a medic in Vietnam in the late 60s, early 70s. He still deals with some effects of Agent Orange.

***

If you were around in ’68, what were you thinking and doing? I would love to hear what you remember for a follow up column. If you are younger, what have you heard from your parents or grandparents about the 60s?

***

Comment here or write to me at @anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

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12 Comments
  1. Judging from the excerpt I see here, I think you had more awareness about the state of the world than most 16-year-olds. I sense strong empathy throughout this post, Melodie.

    In 1968 I was aware of the horrific My Lai massacre and Martin Luther King’s assassination, but I didn’t record my thoughts. Instead I was focused on one guy, my husband of one year. He had a 4D classification as a ministerial student and along with public school teaching was youth pastor of a small church in Jacksonville. Most of my energy was taken up coping with the huge change from rural Mennonite life to urban life in a blighted part of town. I taught English at Robert E. Lee Senior High School and never contemplated what it would be like to have brown or black skin. Maybe I should feel shame about my lack of awareness, but I was not callous. Just naive.

    Like Maya Angelou: “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

    • Wow, you were already married and as you say, going through a huge adjustment. Your pick of quotes from Maya Angelou is perfect. If I’ve read that before, I don’t recall it. My other surprise here is realizing we lived in north Florida at practically the same time–assuming you stayed in Jacksonville more than that first year of marriage. Yes? I moved to Blountstown Aug of 1969 and went through my own culture shock that year (rural northern Mennonite meets rural south), as you’ve read here previously.

      It was indeed a different time. Thanks for your perspective as always!

  2. Elaine permalink

    As I reflect back to that time, I probably was not too aware of the happenings going on in the world. Oh, although we did not have a TV in our home growing up I was in tune with the news. However, 1968 was for me an exciting year because I started dating my future husband, got engaged a few months later and the wedding date was set for Oct 5, 1968! So obviously that year my world was pretty much centered around my upcoming marriage.

    I am still distressed at the needless horrors of the Vietnam War and the atrocities that were committed. I feel the same way about the on-going war in Syria. May God have mercy on us!

    • Yes, Elaine, for sure–needless horrors. What an apt description and reality. So much suffering then and now. Thanks for the reality check. My friend Sara who lived in and loved Yugoslavia for a number of years prior to the break up of that country and the fighting of the early 90s, commented once she couldn’t let herself think too long of the horrors her former neighbors were going through or she grew immobilized, unable to function. I join in your prayer this morning, Elaine.

  3. Beverly Silver permalink

    Melodie, I can’t reflect much here on ’68 but I will say that on Feb. 18, my daughter (and only child) was born! You can imagine how busy I was, and state of mind!

    • Thanks for sharing, Beverly–I love hearing from my friends here who are checking in with your own “this is what I was doing” comments. And what a lovely and wonderful daughter she turned out to be of course, a reflection of her mother’s love and dedication.

  4. I was born the year before, in the Summer of Love. I grew up with some of the kids who came from Vietnam. There are parts of history that I am pleased to have missed.

    • A true “flower child,” Tony! I like your thought: parts of history I am pleased to have missed. I often felt that way about WWII–glad I was born after that ended. Or more correctly, I often think wow, I was born that close to the end of that war (’51). My sister was part of the original baby boom, in ’46.

  5. Athanasia permalink

    In April 1968 my sister and I were six. I don’t remember any of those world events with any real clarity, not till I learned them later in social studies/history classes. I had a brother born that March and another had his 3rd birthday in April. I asked my mother and she said they watched the news at 10 p.m. after we were all in bed. I do remember daily prayers always included prayers for peace in the world

    • So, you’re a twin, Athanasia? If I knew that, I didn’t remember that. Thanks for this sketch of your growing up days with little brothers. 10 p.m. is not a bad time to watch the news when there are young kiddos in the household–my kids don’t watch the news at all, they get their news online from various favorite sites. (Well, one works for and receives the Washington Post, but they are doing much better than we did in not having their little ones watch much on TV or video.) Nice idea to ask your mother about that and your strong memories of prayers for peace in the world.

      • Athanasia permalink

        Yes, I have 4 brothers total. There was also a 4 year old and then one more to come later on. I think I mentioned the twin thing but I don’t see why or how you would remember. My husband is also a twin.

  6. A twin marrying a twin. You definitely had something special in common.

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