1968 was year of first newspaper – a year full of turmoil, tragedy

| April 9, 2018 | 0 Comments
The year of 1968 was filled with turmoil and tragedies. (Compilation by Kristen Wong, Oahu Publications)

The year of 1968 was filled with turmoil and tragedies. (Compilation by Kristen Wong, Oahu Publications)

Dennis Drake
Director, Public Affairs
U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii

1968. Half a million U.S. Soldiers are fighting in the steamy jungles of Vietnam, in a war growing more unpopular at home by the month.

Weekly battlefield casualties are mounting, and beginning in January, the enemy’s Tet Offensive drives them to new highs.

The majority of Soldiers are male draftees. Those men of draft age at home are torn – do they enlist to avoid the draft, do they go to college on a draft deferment or do they go to work and take their chances.

A new drug culture sweeps the nation, reflected in psychedelic rock and dress, long-haired hippies and anti-society living. The Civil Rights Movement of the mid 1950s and troublesome 1960s has entered a growing, yet disturbing phase.

The nonviolence advocated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is being challenged by younger, louder groups as frustrations turn into rioting.

It’s an election year, and President Lyndon B. Johnson, now in his fifth year following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, is embattled by his own party.  The war in Vietnam, which he escalated, is not going well, and there’s civil unrest at home. His biggest challenger is a fellow Democrat and the late president’s younger brother, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who now openly opposes the war.

Young people graduating from high school and many in college in 1968 are caught in the middle of all this. Demonstrations against the war break out on campuses across the country. Many students join the protests and an anti-establishment culture is growing. Draft card burnings occur.

Many Soldiers returning home from Vietnam, although they’d fought bravely and dominated most battles, are viewed by the anti-war demonstrators as villains and called horrible names like “baby killers.” They are advised not to wear their uniforms in public. The World War II-era’s welcome home parades and celebrations don’t exist now and won’t be seen again for another 23 years when Operation Desert Storm ends.

On March 31, Johnson surprises the nation by abruptly announcing he will not run for re-election. On April 4, King is assassinated, sparking riots, burnings and looting in major cities across the country. Two months later to the day, Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated on the night he wins the California Democratic primary in a serious run for the White House to follow in his late brother’s footsteps. The nation is stunned.

In July, now with Kennedy gone, demonstrations erupt outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago by many frustrated by the choice of candidates. The protests grow ugly when the Chicago Police Department intercedes and brutally beats several demonstrators, all caught on national television.

Four months later, Republican Richard M. Nixon, the former vice president who had been defeated eight years earlier by John F. Kennedy, narrowly wins the 1968 election, going on four years later to win a second term by a landslide, only to resign because of the Watergate scandal.

The war in Vietnam will also drag on four more years, ultimately claiming the lives of 58,000 American service members. An all-volunteer Army will follow in the 1970s, which, over the ensuing years, with a rebirth of national pride and patriotism, will restore its respect by a grateful nation.

As 1968 draws to a close after 12 months of unprecedented political and social turmoil, the year ends in a most unusual way. Somewhat overlooked against all the year’s other drama, NASA’s Project Apollo – the program to put an American on the moon before the end of the decade, fulfilling President Kennedy’s challenge given before his untimely death – readies the largest rocket ever built, over 36 stories tall, to take three U.S. astronauts around the moon, preparing for a lunar landing the following summer.

On Christmas Eve 1968, as man orbits the moon for the first time in human history, and for the first time views the earth from 230,000 miles away, sharing it with the largest worldwide television audience at the time, watching the event broadcast live from the spacecraft, the three American astronauts, in turn, read the first 10 verses of Genesis – “And in the beginning … ”

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Category: News, Observances

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