Editor’s Note: In one’s memory, some stretches of time just seem more significant than others. For me, the summer of 1969 is one of those times.
It Was 40 Years Ago Today
“Aw, shucks. If my daddy could see me now.”
From the Skies
Like many baby boomers, I’m feeling nostalgic about three anniversaries this summer: one small and personal, a second historic and momentous, and a third somewhat less so. In 1969, I graduated from high school, saw the first man walk on the Moon and then watched from a distance as my generation partied at Woodstock.
We thought we’d change the world, but, compared with our parents, we didn’t do all that much, beyond repeatedly electing Republican presidents who increased tenfold the modest national debt that previous generations had accrued, and bequeathing it to future generations, who are unlikely to remember us as such a great generation. And, after all the talk about the lessons of Vietnam and overcoming “the Vietnam Syndrome,” we overcame it so well we learned virtually nothing from it.
Our generation, to its eternal disgrace, elected George W. Bush (twice, no less) and became cheerleaders for a pointless and optional war in Iraq that’s now helping to bankrupt an already-bankrupt nation. Just as our leaders had been eager to send us off to die when we graduated high school in a pointless war we’d eventually lose, our 21st century leaders have sent the graduates of the 2000s off to die in Iraq in more unnecessary carnage.
Forty years later, the Woodstock generation has started collecting Social Security. Many of us graduated from high school in 1969, full of dreams, ideals and aspirations, some of which, in retrospect, now seem a little sad, not merely because of what went unfulfilled, but because so much of it was just plain silly and unrealistic.
But that’s why this 40th anniversary summer is so poignant. We aren’t the great generation our parents were, but this is still our generation — the only one we’ve got. And, in the same way that the best music is always whatever music you listened to when you were young, I choose to remember my generation as the best ever, simply and irrationally because it’s my own.
Since the summer of ’69, large numbers of Americans have gained their civil rights. We no longer lynch black men in Alabama and Mississippi, and we’ve seen the election of a black president, which no one would have believed possible during the 60s. The World War II generation did much of the heavy lifting during the Cold War, but it finally ended during our heyday. Like an episode of “Bonanza,” the good guys won, and I’d like to think we had a little bit to do with that too.
Women have now achieved most of the rights Thomas Jefferson promised to “all men,” and gay Americans are beginning to find their place as full-fledged citizens. And we’ve even raised some awareness about the destruction of the environment, although it will probably be left for Gen Z or whoever comes after them to actually do anything about it.
So, on the first weekend in October, 2009, I’ll be celebrating my 40th Greenwich High School reunion with a couple hundred of my classmates at the Indian Harbor Yacht Club. We may not be the greatest generation, but for a few hours, we’ll lift our glasses to commemorate what might have been and, 40 years later, remember the summer of ’69.
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