Sunday, June 20, 2010

Baby Boomers - Just Imagine Growing Up in the 60s

By Joseph Stutzman

The cold war ushered in the 1960s. Many of us hardly even knew that Russia existed when all of a sudden Russia captured a U.S. spy, Captain Francis Powers, and we heard that Russia had "the bomb" and that we, the citizens of the U.S., were in danger of being attacked and overrun by the communist horde.

Those growing up in the 60s took part in air-raid and nuclear bomb exercises in school where you hid under your desk, on your knees, covering your head with your butt in the air and felt assured that that would protect you in the event of a nuclear war. Thank goodness there wasn't one! People also started building air-raid shelters and stockpiling canned goods and water, while some people were accused of sticking their heads in the sand when they refused to be caught up in the horror of this moment in time.

It may have been the uncertainty of life that caught hold of the young people during this time. Rock and roll music was born and the Twist was the newest dance craze. In fact, everything was kind of crazy then.

Invented in the 1950s, the transistor radio became available in retail outlets in the mid 1960s and changed the way a lot of people listened to music. FM was for nerds and AM ruled! Most major U.S. cities had 3-4 Rock n' Roll stations that played the same 40-60 hits all day long. Every teen or young adult knew the words to every single top 100 hit, be it the Billboard Magazine list or the local station list that was available at the local radio station or record store. 78 rpm (revolutions per minute) albums were long gone and the era of the 45 rpm single record and the 33 rpm album was born.

A single 45 cost just 97 cents, plus tax, while an album of 9-11 songs was about four bucks. Most albums had 5 or 6 hits along with 4 or 5 songs that hadn't been released as singles. Radio stations advertised "All the hits, all the time" and "More music more often" and we listened avidly to whatever AM station we could receive with the least interference. FM was for the 'eggheads' and didn't become popular until the late 60s and earned its place as a radio standard in the mid 70s.

In one of the first presidential elections that a baby boomer will likely remember, the end of Dwight D. Eisenhower's second term saw his Vice President Richard M. Nixon running against John F. Kennedy, the youngest presidential candidate ever.

This 1960 presidential race is also the first election that television played a most important part in. The charismatic Kennedy was 'easy to look at' on national television screens, though those that had only radios leaned towards voting for the Republican candidate, Nixon. Lyndon B. Johnson was running with Kennedy and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. was the running mate for Nixon. Alaska and Hawaii participated in this election for the first time since gaining their statehood the previous year and both candidates were actually born in the 20th century.

Historians still debate the issues of this election and if vote theft played a part in Kennedy's win, as well as Joe Kennedy, John F.'s father, possibly playing a not-so-kosher part. Kennedy's margin of victory in the popular vote was the closest ever in U.S. history and the electoral vote was the closest since the presidential election of 1916 between Woodrow Wilson with his running mate Thomas R. Marshall and Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes and his VP candidate Charles W. Fairbanks.

In 1961, further proof that we needed to fear communism came in the form of a coup designed to overthrow Fidel Castro in a small communist country, Cuba, just 90 miles from Florida's borders. The Bay of Pigs plan was under discussion during the Eisenhower administration and Kennedy, who allowed it to proceed, found himself much criticized for the failed debacle. Fidel Castro has outlasted all U.S. Presidents to date and his regime promises to carry on.

1961 is the year that the Berlin Wall came into being. The Russian Premier, Kruschev, decides to construct a huge concrete wall along the Soviet's portion of Berlin, effectively imprisoning her citizens. As in Cuba, East German's citizens were trapped and unable to leave for any reason. Many lost their lives in the attempt, just as many more have lost their lives in the attempt to flee Cuba. Many boomers have lived to see the wall come down.

Along with all of these monumental negatives, the 60s were not without its heroes. Kennedy, despite his shaky beginning became the most loved president in history. His assassination in November of 1963 threw the U.S. and parts of the world into deep mourning.

The space race was underway. On May 5th, 1961, Alan Shepard was the first American to fly into space aboard "Freedom 7". It was an embarrassment that Russia managed to beat us to the punch by a couple of weeks, but this was the start of a race that would see man walk on the moon.

Baseball is still America's favorite pastime and 1961 saw a landmark battle between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris as they competed against each other to break Babe Ruth's home run record. Roger Maris succeeded but Mickey Mantle seems to be the most remembered.

Quickly upon the heels of Alan Shepard, John Glenn orbits the earth three times in the same spaceship, "Friendship 7". Then came the Mercury and Gemini series' flights, followed by the Apollo series. Challenged by President Kennedy's address on May 25th, 1961, to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, success came in the form of Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon while Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit. The last moon walk took place in December of 1972, on the last of six Apollo missions and during which time 12 men walked on the moon.

In 1962 the National Guard is on hand as James Meredith becomes the first black person to enroll at the University of Mississippi. This troubled time saw the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King, trying to charm riotous men and women into a more peaceful integration. His famous "I Have a Dream" speech was heard around the world in 1963 before a live audience of an amazing 200,000 people.

... and the beat goes on ... The 60s was a time of turmoil, love, war, hate, drugs, rock n' roll and of villains and heroes. And this was only the first two or three years of this decade!

Along with listening to music, Joseph enjoys working in his flower and vegetable gardens. Garden Harvest Supply is one of his favorite gardening stores which offer perennial flowering plants and memorial garden plaques to add inspiration to any green space.

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