1969 was a watershed year. It was tragic and violent, and showed the United States at its worst in many ways. It was the year of the USS Enterprise explosion, which killed 54. It was also the year of the Santa Barbara oil slick, Mai Lai, Woodstock, Chappaquiddick, and SDS and the Weathermen.
1969 was also the year of
the killings of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, in their beds by Chicago police. It was the year of Altamont, the Stonewall Riots and the Sharon Tate Murders. Dwight D. Eisenhower died that year, and Richard M. Nixon was inaugurated as president, with Spiro T. Agnew as his Vice President.
1969 was also the year of The Miracle Mets and The Days of Rage. Also, that year, somewhere between a quarter and half a million peace protesters descended upon Washington, DC, in a March Against Death, to protest the War in Vietnam.
I was sixteen years old that year -- a sophomore in high school in suburban Chicago, and much too young to be allowed to attend any of the events just mentioned. But I did mark one and it was maybe the most significant -- and certainly the most remarkable event in that remarkable year.
July 20, 1969: "That's one small step for man...one giant leap for mankind." Neil Armstrong.
I stayed up all that night at a girlfriend's house...to watch the moon landing on a black-and-white television (which probably only had a screen 17 inches in diagonal). We hung breathlessly upon every one of Walter Kronkite's ponderous words as he told us what might be happening in the twenty-seven minutes or so that the capsule passed behind the moon and out of communication with NASA. We held our breaths and cheered, hugging each other in pride and wonder when we saw actual astronaut footprints in the dust of the surface of the moon. There were Americans up there! My God...think of that!