STRAYER: Vivid Memories from 50 Years Ago: 1968

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Many of us remember where we were and what we were doing on specific landmark dates like 9/11, Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, John F. Kennedy’s assasination, Pearl Harbor, the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, and other life-changing events.

For the next several months begining now, we will hear and see much about the 50th anniversary of a host of events that had a major impact worldwide. 

I am looking back 50 years ago to 1968.   It was a year filled with major events the likes of which seldom fall within a single calendar year.

As a 17-year old at Niles Senior High School, I vividly recall the January 1968 Tet Offensive during the Vietnam War.  Thousands of American troops were killed and the battle resulted in a major shift of public opinion about U.S. involvement in the brutal war.  We studied the developments for several weeks in Mr. Bill Mitchell’s curent events  class at Niles Senior High School, as support for the war wasted away.

In late March, President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for a second term.

At the same time, rehearsals began for the annual high school musical “Once Upton a Mattress.”   In mid-March we opened at the Niles High School auditorium to sell-out crowds.  What a great experience and what a fond memory!

A few weeks later, on April 4, a small group of us got permission from our parents and approval by the high school prinicipal to attend a political rally.  We went as a group to the Stepan Center on the campus of Notre Dame University to see and hear Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and his wife Ethel before a throng of 5,000 people.  I don’t remember what they said, but we got to shake hands with both of then as they left the building.

Several hours later, news was received that Dr. Martin Luther King had been shot by an assassin in Memphis, Tennessee.  Bobby Kennedy would announce it to the world that evening during yet another rally, this one  in Indianapolis, and rioting began across the country, even in Niles.  The damage was limited to several broken windows in storefronts along Main Street, and no arrests were made. What a day it had been!

Sen. Kennedy easily won the Indiana primary and his canpaign moved west for the California primary.  Just a day or two after school got out for the summer, on June 5, news broke that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated in Los Angeles.  That was also the same day that the annual yearbook, The Tattler, was handed out to students in the high school parking lot.  I remember how quiet it was outside, even though there were 1,200 high school students mingling on the last day of school.  We were all numb as we wrote messages in each other’s yearbooks. 

All future events paled in comparison to the first eight months of 1968.  The Democratic National Convention was being held in Chicago in late August and that ended in historic brutality as the Mayor of Chicago Richard Daley, turned his riot police on the assembled young people who opposed the Vietnam War.  Things ended in chaos, culminating in the election of Richard Nixon as the next U.S. President.

And then on Christmas Eve 1968, the three astronauts aboard Apollo 8 read the first 10 verses of the Bible’s Book of Genesis to the listening world while circling the moon 10 times that night.

The year had finally ended, and on a peaceful note, too.

Jack Strayer is a native of Niles who moved back home in 2009 after living and working in Washington, D.C., since 1976.