May 4, 1970. I was a 20 year old junior at S.U.C. at Brockport. For those who might not have been alive at that time, it was the height of the Viet Nam War. For me personally, my position on the war had changed over my college years. Evolved. I had a hard time, having grown up around WWII vets including my Dad, of projecting negative thoughts against the government that my generation had pledged allegiance to every morning in school with our hands over our hearts. But, if you read newspapers and watched the news (no 24/7 cable news then) you began to smell a rat. It wasn’t until 1971 when the Pentagon Papers were released that the source of the smell became clearer and thinking people realized the country was being scammed and the lives of young men were being callously wasted.
In one post, I certainly cannot summarize the Viet Nam War or the evolution of the anti war movement. It certainly was not all sweetness and light on either side and we were a nation deeply divided. The anger and frustration that the antiwar movement expressed was too often misdirected at servicemen who, for the most part, were not voluntary participants in the war in Viet Nam. In later years, I had many interactions with many Viet Nam vets as I was out in public having Thank You/Welcome home cards signed to present to a Maine Reserve Unit that had been deployed in Afghanistan for a year. I witnessed many grown men, Viet Nam vets, in tears as they recounted the way they were treated when they returned. There were no welcome home ceremonies or parades and, indeed, I heard many stories of how returning servicemen were told to remove their uniforms before entering the airports they returned to.
By 1970, along with a spiraling war, unsupported and immoral, we Baby Boomers, after living through the assassination of JFK, also saw Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated. Music continued to play a part in illustrating what was going on as well as providing expression for the social turmoil we all were living. A few songs well worth a few minutes, especially in the current environment of our country and the world. The Times They Are A Changing . Blowin In The Wind.
Back to May 4, 1970 when I was a Junior in college. As the war progressed, we found out that the US had bombed Cambodia, a neutral country. The US had helped install a brutal military regime under Lon Nol. In fact, “bombed” does not do justice to what happened. We actually dropped more bombs than were dropped during the entirety of WWII. This led to widespread protests on most campuses including mine. One thing I saw in early May that is indelibly engraved in my mind was a sign hanging on the front of a house up the street from where I was living. I passed the sign on my way to campus and it read, all caps in a pre-Twitter day, I REGRET CAMBODIA.
The individual dates from that time period are a blur and, since our campus was cl0sed at some point and we were sent home, I’m not sure if I was on campus or at home on May 4, 1970. That date should be one of those lifetime “forever” dates. May 4, 1970. Kent State. The song I place here makes me cry in three notes and a name pops into my head instantly. Allison Krause. For me personally, this event made me a total cynic in having trust in our government. It was an eye opening and eminently frightening and enlightening event best described in the words of Neil Young. Ohio.
Like many men my age, I carry a ton of guilt that I got a pass when so many of my contemporaries became cannon fodder, too often by a stroke of luck. I have visited the Viet Nam Memorial multiple times and find myself looking at dates and asking myself, “what was I doing that day?”. We all often take the “I wish” path and I have an “I wish” from the Viet Nam era. I’ve visited the interactive Memorial many times and I would suggest that many Boomers should enter search dates of significant days in their lives and see the men who died on those dates. I wish so much that the day after I graduated HS I had been given a list of the men who died the previous day and would never get the opportunities that I still had. I screwed up in many ways and know that I would have acted differently if I had read that list of seventeen men every morning when I got up.
My last few posts have been aimed at my generation in hopes that we can all light a fire under our formerly incandescent belief that we could change the world. Let’s reconnect and get our country back on a path that takes care of our children, our grandchildren, for all future generations. Absorb and take in the closing argument of Elijah Cummings today. “When we are dancing with the angels, the question will be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure that our democracy remained intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”