In 1969 — fifty years ago, today — I was driving a 1965 blue Mustang while attending my second year of college as turmoil swirled in the country. While I didn’t know it at the time, the country was more divided then at any time since the Civil War.
The Good: miniskirts… lots of them.
The Bad: the Manson family.
Manson’s precept to family members was simple: “You don’t have to answer to anybody, you can be whatever you want to be.” …even murderers.
From the first news reports of “family” members who murdered actress Sharon Tate, her unborn baby and four others, the cultish band of Charles Manson followers were ultimately arrested, tried and convicted of first-degree murder. Most are still serving life sentences. Manson died in prison in November 2015.
The Politics: Richard Nixon and the Battle of Hamburger Hill.
While not the end, it certainly was the beginning of questioning the military’s tactics and our reasoning for being in Vietnam.
Nixon’s stated goal was to achieve peace rather than achieve a military victory. Senator Edward Kennedy assailed Nixon’s strategy on the floor of the Senate.
“How then can we justify sending our boys against a hill a dozen times or more until soldiers themselves question the madness of the action?”
The U.S. ended its involvement in Vietnam on April 30, 1975
The Music: Woodstock.
Some came for the music. Some came for the drugs. Some came for both. And some just followed the crowds.
Woodstock was supposed to be this special “little” music festival for 50,000. Before it was over, more than 400,000 attended “three days of peace and music.” While attendees had to deal with a lack of toilets and mud, the event made cultural and music history and stars out of the likes of Joe Cocker, Richie Havens, Janis Joplin and Credence Clearwater Revival.
Was all that mess worth it? Many Boomers still call it a defining moment. It certainly was in 1969.
Me, I preferred The Mamas and the Papas.
The Miracle Mets –
From the beginning of their first season in 1962, the New York Metropolitans, shortened to Mets, were baseball’s greatest joke.
The Mets consistently lost each season, placing last or next to last, until… 1969. The reason: Tom Seaver. Nicknamed “Tom Terrific,” Seaver ended ’69 with a league-high 25 games (unheard of in today’s game due to the size of pitching staffs). While he lost the first game of the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, he pitched a 10-inning complete game for a 2-1 win over Baltimore. The Mets went on to take their first World Series.
That other Miracle –
With an estimated 528 million people watching, worldwide, man’s landing on the Moon overshadowed everything else that happened in ’69.
It wasn’t just a technical feat. It was a tremendous example of how technology, brains, a lot of hard work, along with with the skill of Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin that fulfilled the promise of a president and lifted a nation out of chaos to demonstrate to the world that… yes, America is indeed, a great nation.
Standing on Principle –
While Muhammad Ali — self-described as the Greatest of All Time (and probably is) — enjoyed great success in knocking down, if not knocking out his opponents. In July, 1969, however, one opponent took him down, the federal government.
Simply put, Ali didn’t believe in the Vietnam war. Labeled a draft-dodger, Ali lost his court battle and was banned from boxing until 1970. The Supreme Court reversed his conviction in 1971.
While I did register for the draft, my draft number (based on my birthday), was something like 278. Had I been born one year later my number would have been… 13.
Looking forward, the message from the 1969 was clear: things may be bad, but they’ll get better.