By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Jeb Bladine: Memories from a half-century ago

Tuesday, it will have been exactly 50 years since Bobby Kennedy was assassinated at a presidential campaign appearance in California. I don’t remember where I was when I heard the news, but for me, it had an oversize influence in a year of high-impact events.

It was 1968, a watershed year dissected this week in a four-part television documentary. As I prepared to watch the series, I was reminded of the great James Earl Jones’ line from “Field of Dreams” — “The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”

Those memories were shaped differently by individual circumstances. But millions of Baby Boomers coming of age in the late 1960s entered adulthood affected in ways many of us still don’t fully understand.

Whatchamacolumn

Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

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Our earliest memories about the politics of war were tied to the domino theory. Stopping the spread of Communism in Vietnam seemed to be a clear-cut national interest, but suddenly, for me, things weren’t so obvious.

I entered 1968 as a college junior with plans to complete a second six-week summer camp in the U.S. Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course at Quantico, VA. Then I joined an English Comp class with one requirement: Study and write a term paper about the history of Vietnam. My ideas about the domino theory faded into research revealing hundreds of years of civil wars and rebuffed invaders.

Meanwhile, these 1968 current events were unfolding:

Jan. 30, Tet Offensive; Feb. 1, the infamous street shooting photograph in Saigon; February, beginning of the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis; March 16, the massacre at My Lai; March 31, incumbent Lyndon Johnson drops out of volatile presidential race; April 4, Martin Luther King assassinated in Memphis; June 5, Robert Kennedy killed in Los Angeles.

After that, I left the USMC program. From afar, I watched anti-Vietnam riots dominate the Democratic Convention in Chicago; Black Power salutes shake the Olympics in Mexico City; and Richard Nixon become president.

In Vietnam, American deaths were climbing toward 16,592, the highest by far for any year of the war. Two-thirds of our 58,000-plus Vietnam casualties occurred in 1967-68-69.

All that preceded my six-year stint in the Oregon National Guard, and decades of occasional self-questioning about a time when I disavowed a war that engulfed so many of my generation.

It was, indeed, a cultural and political jumble 50 years ago in 1968. It’s easy to see, in 2018, that political disarray is still with us.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

Comments

Homer

A "half century" sounds so long ago historically speaking, until I remember that I have my 50th high school reunion coming up.

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