Monday, April 20, 2015

"Remembering 1965"

                    Sydney M. Williams
                    April 20, 2015
                A Note from Old Lyme

“Remembering 1965”

“Without memory, there is no culture.
Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
                                                                                                                                Elie Wiesel (1928 - )

Several years ago, while selecting a telephone number for our home in Old Lyme, my wife was unable to obtain 1964, the year we were married. She was also not able to get 1966, 1968 or 1971, the years our children were born. So she settled on 1965 – the first full year of our marriage…and our last without children.

Our first wedding anniversary (April 11, 1965) was spent in Vienna. We had dinner that evening at Griechenbeisl, Vienna’s oldest restaurant, dating back to the 15th Century. About ten days ago, we had another Viennese weekend of sorts. Saturday we saw the movie, “The Woman in Gold,” a story of a woman living in Pasadena who, defying all odds, sues and wins back a portrait of her aunt (a painting considered the Mona Lisa of Austria). It had been stolen by the Nazis in 1939. The next day we saw Mona Golabek in her one-woman show, “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” in Hartford. Both the movie and the show are based on actual events; both worth seeing. The latter tells the story of Mona’s mother, Lisa Jura, a musical prodigy, who, at age fourteen in December 1938, was sent from Vienna to London. Her mother, whom she would never again see, said to her, as she put her on the train: “hold on to your music.” She traveled on the Kindertransport, by which 10,000 Jewish children were saved over a nine month period from almost certain death in Nazi prison camps. Lisa did, however, hang onto her music…and so has her daughter.

1965 began with us living in a small apartment in Durham, New Hampshire, with a bedroom so tiny that in order to get to the bathroom, one had to crawl across the bed. The year ended with us moving into a five-room cape in Glastonbury, Connecticut. My new job paid $6,500, about the median for a household that year. The house cost $19,000, about $5,400 above the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Accounting for some of the inequality we read about, median household income has increased eight fold to $54,000, while home prices have risen eleven fold to $220,000. Adding fuel to the argument, stock prices, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Averages, are up twenty times, while GDP is higher by twenty-three times.

It was a year of protests that, while violent, had not reached the deadliness of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Civil Rights and Vietnam were the primary causes. While President Lyndon Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the previous July that declared segregation illegal, Jim Crow laws remained in effect throughout much of the south. Voting rights were the reason for Martin Luther King’s January speech at Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama, a speech given in defiance of an anti-meeting injunction. Two months later, 600 protesters marched east over the Edward Pettus Bridge. Their goal: a peaceful protest at Alabama’s capital in Montgomery. However, on the far side of the bridge, the marchers were attacked by state and local police, with nightsticks and tear gas. That same year race riots broke out in other cities, notably in Watts.

On the other side of the globe, the United States was becoming embroiled in what would become a twelve-year war in the jungles of Vietnam. The U.S. had been involved in Vietnam in a minor way since the defeat of the French in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu by Ho Chi Minh. But it was the White House-approved assassination of Vietnam’s president Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963 that caused the dye to be cast. It was not until February 1965, though, that America’s participation in the war intensified, when Lyndon Johnson approved Operation Rolling Thunder. This was an aerial attack on Hanoi and Haiphong, which began in June and had the objectives of destroying the North’s industrial and transportation base, halting the flow of men and material into the south, and raising the morale of the people in Saigon. It failed on all accounts. In November, the Battle of La Drang Valley in South Vietnam’s central highlands was the first major conflict involving U.S. troops, a battle that saw American soldiers facing an enemy as committed and as idealistic as were they. It is a story movingly told by Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore and Joseph Galloway in “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young.” The outcome was unclear, but by the end of the year, there were 125,000 U.S. troops in Vietnam. Anti-war protests intensified.

Those of us who lived through it will never forget the Northeast blackout, which occurred on November 9 and affected 30 million people. Oil was discovered in the U.K. portion of the North Sea. Rhodesia declared independence from Great Britain and became Zimbabwe. Malcolm X was shot and killed in New York City. In an act whose ramifications are being felt today, the Higher Education Act of 1965, which provided low-interest loans for students, was enacted into law. Warren Buffett gained control of Berkshire-Hathaway at $18.00 a share. (Today’s price of $212,982 represents a compounded annual return of 20.6%!) The Beatle’s, who had first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show the year before, were, with the Rolling Stones, the year’s most popular musicians. Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead played their inaugural concert in San Francisco. The “Sound of Music” and “Goldfinger” were two of the top films. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series, beating the Minnesota Twins in seven games. “Lucky Debonair” won the Kentucky Derby. And, hard to believe, Charles de Gaulle was then President of France.

As for my wife and me – I finished college in February. After lining up a job with Eastman Kodak, my wife and I, with $2,000, took off for eleven weeks in Europe. We had no plans other than a rented VW bug, and hotel rooms in Paris for the night we arrived and the evening before we were to return home. With Arthur Frommer’s book, “Europe on $5 a Day” and sleeping bags, we drove the VW throughout Europe. It was a delightful, belated honeymoon that neither of us will ever forget. Back home, following a four-week-long training session with Kodak’s Recordak Division I was assigned to the World’s Fair for two months. We lived at my in-law’s apartment in New York, until I was transferred to an office in Hartford.  There, we rented a room in an old-fashioned boarding house for about a month, until we moved into our cape. I was still in the U.S. Army reserves, but with traveling and moving, they didn’t catch up with me until the next year.

Thinking of those days half a century ago brings to mind Tennessee Williams’ observation: “Life is all memory, except for the present moment that goes by so quickly you hardly catch it going.” It is a message that resonates: when we allow each day to slip by unappreciated, we have no one to blame, but ourselves.

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