Most memorable day of a Boomer's life?
There’s no surprise about the day Boomers remember most often. By a wide margin, it’s November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy died. Not only do Boomers remember it, they remember where they were and what they were doing.
And some recall the exact feelings that had when they first heard the news. “I still remember which school room I was in,” R.S. said. “It was an annex, a temporary building.”
But his feelings weren’t temporary. They’re permanent, etched in his memory.
Likewise, most Boomers vividly recount what they saw on their televisions July 20, 1969. That’s the day American astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and made “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
After reliving those two eventful days, Boomers in our focus group replied with answers as varied and complex as the individuals themselves.
The space race
“I’ll always remember March 6, 1961, when Alan Shepard became the first American in space…even if briefly,” said K.H. America’s efforts to launch a man into space – and later to put astronauts in orbit – captured every citizen’s attention.
The country’s initial space program – Project Mercury – lasted from 1959 to 1963, and included the missions of seven military test pilots.
Several Boomers emphasized that John Glenn – the third American into space and the first to orbit this planet – was one of their heroes.
Among younger Boomers, “The Challenger disaster (in 1986) is the event that first comes to mind,” said T.C.
Discovering the Beatles
“I remember staying at a friend’s house for a slumber party in an upstairs playroom,” says E.A. “The Beatles premiered that night on the Ed Sullivan Show, singing ‘I want to hold your hand.’ You’ll have to look up the year.” (I did. It was 1964.)
“It may not have been the most significant event, but certainly memorable,” she added.
What made this event more notable was not only the Beatles’ enormous talent, but the niche they created as new heroes to youngsters. “John F. Kennedy was the first ‘young’ President,” said D.C., “and seemed to represent the Boomers because of his youth.” When Kennedy died, some say, teens had no major heroes until they heard those joyful Beatle beats.
Thinking about the Wall
“Without a doubt,” said J.D. firmly, “I remember waking up every morning and hearing accounts of how many people had tried to escape over the Berlin Wall, how many had made it, and how many had been killed.
“It made me realize that not everyone had the same freedoms that I did. Later, the events become even more significant when I taught with a woman who had lost her foot fleeing East Germany.”
Visions of Vietnam
Many Boomers – both older and younger – stressed that the Vietnam era produced lasting, haunting memories. For the early Boomers – especially the guys – that’s understandable.
These boys came of age during the time of a military draft. At the age of 18, each male registered with the Selective Service System. He could be called up and asked to report to training camp at any time, provided he did NOT have a deferment or exemption.
Regarding military deferments: most common was the 2-S. This identified a person as a full-time student in a high school or college.
“The most significant event of my life,” said an older Boomer, “came in November 1971, the day I was formally discharged from the Army.”
Younger Boomers, however, did not have to deal with the draft. They could choose the military as a career option, but were not required to serve.
“I guess Vietnam was the most important event historically,” said E.A., “but I was much more wrapped up in school talent shows and dances and boys.”
“When I was in 10th grade,” R.R., recalls, “I remember hearing on the radio one morning that a member of the U.S. peace-keeping force had been killed in Vietnam. Whether that was the beginning or not, it was the first time Vietnam truly entered my awareness.”
“I remember watching former prisoners of war coming home and getting off the plane, possibly in 1970 or 1971,” noted G.M. “It made quite an impression on me.”
“The end of the Vietnam War,” said A.T., a younger Boomer, “was a major event for me, although I was really too young to understand the significance of the soldiers returning home.”
Personal tragedies, of course, made the biggest impressions. “When I was four, my father died,” said D.J. “That was certainly a life-changing event.”
Not surprisingly, many sad public events of our youth stayed with us. “I remember being a Southerner, integration, and watching the work of Martin Luther King,” said P.D.
“Our innocence was taken away,” R.R. responds sadly. “JFK was assassinated. That was followed by the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
“It seemed for a while that everything was going from bad to worse,” she continued. “It seemed the world was going mad.”
“The shootings at Kent State horrified me,” said G.M.
“Who could forget the Watergate conspiracy?” added D.S.
On the plus side, two Boomers recalled positive national and personal events.
“I’ll never forget the day Hank Aaron beat Babe Ruth’s career home run record,” said T.S.
“Leaving for college in September of 1968 was a huge event for me,” recalled J.H.
What did we learn?
1. Profound personal and national tragedies made lasting impressions on us. These impressions seared our memories, and were reinforced by visual televised images.
2. Music of the 1960’s and 1970’s allowed us to express shared conflicted feelings of both anxiety and hope. (Notable examples: the songs “Eve of Destruction” and “Age of Aquarius.”)
3. A large percentage of us saw John F. Kennedy as the personification of a Youth Movement in America. His death shattered us, reminding us that life is both precious and unpredictable.
4. The Berlin Wall showed Americans that we enjoyed freedoms and economic prosperity shared by few other societies.
5. Feelings about Vietnam and its aftermath are still unclear. Was it a war against Communism or simply a country’s civil war? What did we gain – or lose – by participation?
6. Many early male Boomers – in an effort to delay military service – stayed in school to receive additional education and even advanced degrees. Learning literally became a life-saver for some.
7. The tragic deaths of several young leaders – JFK, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, John Lennon – convinced us that life could be short, and that we must live for today. “Carpe diem” became a frequently-heard slogan.
8. Shootings on a college campus, plus student/police riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention and the Watergate conspiracy, made us re-examine our reliance on authority figures.
Click Below to: