Forty years ago, 1968, the following events took place that year:
Jan. 1 – I had been drafted into the U.S. Army in April of 1966 during the Vietnam Conflict and stationed at Ft. McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia. In 99 days, I would be a civilian once again.
Jan. 14 – The defending champions Green Bay Packers won the 2nd Super Bowl.
Jan. 21 – North Vietnamese forces attacked the U.S. Marine base at Khe Sahn. Hundreds of mortars and rockets slammed into the base. The siege lasted 75 days. It was the longest and bloodiest battle of the Vietnam War. In the end, the U.S. Marines still controlled the mountain top.
Jan. 23 – North Korea seized the U.S. intelligence ship Pueblo, claiming it had intruded on their territorial waters. The captain and 81 crewmen were held captive for 11 months.
Jan. 30 – During the Lunar New Year Tet holiday, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched a surprise attack on U.S. troops, known as the Tet Offensive. The Viet Cong seized part of the U.S. embassy in Saigon for 6 hours. The North Vietnamese troops took control of the city of Hue but lost it again after some 6,000 civilians were killed.
Feb. 1 – Richard Nixon announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Feb. 8 – George Wallace, former governor of Alabama, entered the presidential race.
Feb. 13 – The U.S. sent 10,500 more combat troops to Vietnam.
Feb. 27 – CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite announced, "It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out of Vietnam will be to negotiate, not as victors but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best we could." President Lyndon Johnson called the comments a turning point in the war.
Feb. 29 – Robert McNamara resigned as U.S. Secretary of Defense. He was succeeded by Clark Clifford.
Mar. 1 – The Federal minimum wage was set at $1.60 per hour.
Mar. 4 – Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. announced plans for a Poor People's Campaign.
Mar. 9 – General William Westmoreland requested 206,000 more troops for Vietnam.
Mar. 11 – A Russian submarine armed with nuclear missiles perished in 16,000 feet of water off the Hawaiian island of Oahu. A U.S. submarine found the Soviet vessel 6 months later and recovered 3 missiles with nuclear warheads, Soviet code books and an encryption machine. In 1974, the CIA sponsored the recovery of the sub. A section was pulled in with 2 nuclear tipped torpedoes. CIA operative Claude Barnes Capehart worked on the vessel that raised the Soviet submarine from the ocean floor. Later, Capehart told his girlfriend that he was in Texas when JFK was assassinated, and that "Oswald wasn’t the only one involved." Just before a scheduled interview in 1989, Capehart dropped dead of a heart attack.
Mar. 12 – President Lyndon Johnson won the New Hampshire Democratic primary, the first primary of the 1968 presidential election year. Johnson won 49.6 percent and Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota won 41.9 percent. In the Republican primary, Richard Nixon won 77.6 percent.
Mar. 13 – Atlantic Richfield Company and Exxon Company announced the discovery of oil on Alaska's North Slope. The two oil companies began efforts to construct a pipeline.
Mar. 16 – Robert F. Kennedy announced is bid for the Democratic presidential candidacy.
Mar. 16 – President Johnson sent 50,000 more troops to Vietnam.
Mar. 16 -- In Vietnam, a company of 105 U.S. soldiers entered the hamlet of My Lai. Some 500 civilians were massacred, including women, elderly and infants who were lined up in a ditch and shot. Hugh Thompson, a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, observed the massacre from above. He landed between some remaining villagers and his fellow soldiers, and ordered his gunner to fire on American troops if necessary. Then he airlifted a dozen villagers to safety. He and his gunner were awarded the Soldier's Medal in 1998. The atrocity, known as the My Lai Massacre, was eventually exposed. The Army charged 25 officers and enlisted men in the massacre, but only the company commander, Lt. Calley, was convicted. Gen. Samuel W. Koster was charged with covering up the killings. He was censured, stripped of a medal and demoted one rank to brigadier general.
Mar. 22 – Gen. William Westmoreland was relieved of his duties as overall commander is Vietnam. He was succeeded by Gen. Creighton Abrams. Westmoreland was named the new U.S. Army Chief of Staff.
Mar. 28 – Rev. Martin Luther King led a protest march in Memphis, Tenn., which erupted into a riot. National Guard troops were called in. King urged his supporters to remain peaceful. When he departed Memphis, he vowed to return on April 4 to join another protest march.
Mar. 31 – President Johnson announced he would not seek nor would he accept his party's nomination for president. The stock market soared.
Apr. 2 – Senator Eugene McCarthy won the Wisconsin Democratic primary.
Apr 3 – In Memphis, Martin Luther King delivered a speech to striking sanitation workers. "I have seen the mountaintop."
Apr. 4 – While standing on a motel balcony in Memphis, Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Apr. 5 – Riots erupted across the U.S. following the King assassination.
Apr. 9 – In Atlanta, three days before my anticipated Army discharge date, 30,000 marchers and an estimated 200,000 mourners took part in Martin Luther King's funeral procession. The entire world, including the Army, expected massive outbreaks of chaos shortly after the ceremony. Instead of packing to go home, I was in combat gear, a few blocks away, wondering how much live ammo would be distributed for riot control. The funeral ended without incident.
Apr. 11 – President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Apr 12 – I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army as a Specialist E5. I hopped in my 1959 Buick and drove non-stop back home to Minneapolis. Along the way, I got a speeding ticket in Tennessee. When I crossed the St. Croix River into Minnesota, I pulled over and kissed the ground. The structured insanity of the military was replaced by the self-destructive insanity of civilian life. One nightmare replaced the other.
May 1 – I returned to my old civilian job as a computer programmer in St. Paul. New management didn't want me around because they were over budget and I didn't care much for incompetent clowns in cheap suits. But I needed the job so I tried to make the best of a bad situation.
May 10 – FBI director J. Edgar Hoover sent all field offices a memo ordering an escalation of intelligence and attacks on dissidents of the Vietnam War.
May 13 – Peace talks between the U.S. and North Vietnam began in Paris, France. The talks would last for years.
May 28 – Senator Eugene McCarthy won the Democratic primary in Oregon.
Jun 4 – Senator Robert F. Kennedy won the California Democratic primary.
Jun. 5 -- Senator Kennedy was mortally wounded at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after claiming victory in the primary. Sirhan Bishara Sirhan was immediately arrested for the shooting. Kennedy died the following day.
Jun. 8 – In London, James Earl Ray, the suspected killer of Martin Luther King, was captured.
Jun. 19 – In Washington, D.C., 50,000 people marched to support the Poor People's Campaign.
Jul. 17 – In Iraq, the Arab Socialist Baath Party staged a coup and gained control as the Revolution Command Council. Ahmed Hasan-al-Bakr became president of Iraq. Saddam Hussein, the strongman of the regime, soon took charge of internal security. He would later be called the Butcher of Baghdad.
Aug. 8 -- Richard Nixon was nominated as presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach. He chose Spiro T. Agnew, Governor of Maryland, to be his running mate. Shortly thereafter, a race riot broke out in Miami.
Aug. 10 – My 24th birthday. Race riots broke out in Little Rock and Chicago. My birthday and the riots were not related.
Aug. 24 – France tested a hydrogen bomb in the South Pacific. It made a loud noise and blew the hell out of stuff.
Aug. 26 – The Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago. Thousands of antiwar demonstrators took to the Chicago streets to protest the Vietnam War.
Aug. 28 – Vice President Hubert Humphrey was nominated as presidential candidate at the Democratic National Convention. Riots broke out outside the convention arena. Police and demonstrators clashed in the streets. The police won.
Aug. 29 – Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine was chosen as Humphrey's running mate.
Aug. 31 – In Iran, 12,000 people were killed and 60,000 buildings were destroyed in an earthquake..
Sep. 10 – The Big Mac was created in McDonald's franchise in Pittsburgh. It sold for 49 cents.
Sep. 28 – The song "Hey Jude" by the Beatles went to number one on the charts and stayed there for 9 weeks. I sang (enthusiastically) to it when it was playing on a juke box in bar in Minneapolis. It was a solo act -- my one and only public singing appearance. I received scattered applause and a stern look from the bouncer.
Sep. 30 – The first Boeing 747 rolled off the assembly line.
Oct. 11 – The first manned Apollo mission was launched In Cape Kennedy, Florida, with three astronauts who orbited the planet 163 times.
Oct. 12 – The summer Olympics opened in Mexico City.
Oct. 18 – The U.S. Olympic Committee suspended two black athletes, John Carlos and Tommy Smith, for giving a "black power" salute during the medal award ceremony.
Oct. 20 – Former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, married Aristotle Onassis, a Greek geezer with a fat wallet.
Nov 5 – Richard Nixon was elected U.S. President, defeating Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace.
Nov. 12 – The U.S. Supreme Court voided an Arkansas law banning the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Nov. 14 – Yale University announced it would accept female students.
Nov. 28 – John Lennon and Yoko Ono appeared in Magistrates Court where they pleaded guilty to possession of cannabis resin. They were fined 150 pounds, plus 20 guineas for court costs.
Dec. 5 – O.J. Simpson won the Heisman Trophy as the best college football player of the year. In 1999, the trophy was auction off for $230,000 to help defray some expenses in a legal judgment against him in a wrongful death entanglement.
Dec. 9 – In San Francisco, researchers at the Stanford Research Institute demonstrated their new innovations -- the computer mouse, a graphic user interface, display editing, integrated text, graphics and 2-way video-conferencing with shared work spaces. It was to signal the sad ending of the IBM card.
Dec. 11 – I quit my job out of sheer frustration with new management. It was like working for The Three Stooges, except there were only two of them and they didn't swat each other with frying pans. I would return to college after the first of the year and work on my Masters degree.
Dec. 20 – Author John Steinbeck died in New York City at age 66. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1940. I met his daughter-in-law, Nancy Steinbeck, when we were both at a book signing event in Cherokee Village, Arkansas, in 2002. We sat side-by-side for about 4 hours. She sold about 35 copies of her book titled THE OTHER SIDE OF EDEN and I sold two copies of one of my novels. Arkansas is not a bastion of book readers.
Dec. 24 – The three Apollo 8 astronauts read passages from the Old testament during a Christmas Eve TV broadcast while orbiting the moon. Three days later, Apollo 8, splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.
Dec. 31 – The Hong Kong flu killed 34,000 Americans in 1968 and the medium price for a new home in the U.S. was $24,700.
The number one song of 1968 was "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon and Garfunkel.
Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon...Going to the candidate's debate...Laugh about it, shout about it...When you've got to choose...Every way you look at this you lose.
All in all, it was an eventful year, especially in presidential politics, lunar excursions and killing zones on the far side of the globe.
I celebrated the end of 1968 by drifting down Whiskey River. It wasn't really a celebration – it was more like a need to be off the grid.
Every way you look at this you lose.
Quote for the Day – "Whiskey River take my mind.... Don't let her memory torture me.... Whiskey River don't run dry.... You're all I've got, take care of me." Willie Nelson