When it comes to recalling the 1960s, Randall Miller, writing from Bethany Beach, has a theory.
"Judy Collins has said at almost all her concerts I have seen, 'Anyone who remembers the '60s wasn't there.' 'Nuff said."
Well, not quite. Some '60s memories may be lost in a hallucinatory haze or exorcised as a way of coping with the assassinations, riots and war that dominated the decade, but plenty of Sun readers recalled plenty.
Responding to our request to share memories of the '60s, many of you wrote passionately of a decade that stretched from grandfatherly Ike to Tricky Dick, from Alan Shepard's 15 minutes in space to Neil Armstrong's footprints on the moon. You wrote about young people seeking to make sense of a war that didn't; about black leaders demanding equality in a country that supposedly guaranteed it; about incredible heights, but even more incredible lows.
Pam Hamburg, for instance, recalls her father's reaction to the riots that broke out following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
"There were so many events happening in that decade that affected me, like the assassination of John and Bobby Kennedy, landing and walking on the moon, Vietnam, the Beatles and rock and roll, Charles Manson ... the list could go on forever. However, to see my father sit in his chair each night for at least a week, watching the front door, with a loaded gun by his side, well, that was just wild.
" As Chana Bass of Baltimore puts it, "The 1960s was truly 'the best of times and the worst of times,' and it was certainly the most alive of the decades I have lived."
It was a time that saw some of America's most charismatic leaders gunned down, a decade when youthful idealism struggled against dark reality.
"[Along] with two dead Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Vietnam ruined a lot of our youth," writes Frank DeLost of Baltimore. "It seems like whenever there's something good happening, something bad is very close by."
For many, memories of the '60s begin with President Kennedy's assassination in November 1963. What followed, writes Mildred Stagge of Baltimore, was "a very sad and low period in our history, but we were all of one mind -- united in grief." Thiry-five years have since passed, and JFK's reputation has taken more than a few hits, but his death remains a defining moment.
"We were reading a storybook in the second grade when there was a knock at the foor," writes Bennie V. Crowell. "The teacher left and returned visibly shaken. She said that class was over for the day. We were being sent home early. There was no explanation.
"When I got home, mom informed me that the president had been killed. That night, I checked all closets and under the bed before going to bed.
"I watched on live television Mr. Jack Ruby as he nudged his way forward and made things right. I slept peacefully again. Thanks Jack."
Kennedy's death may have united the country, but the dominant topic of our readers' recollections was of a divisive event: Vietnam.
The 1960s "was a time of teaching 'All Quiet On the Western Front,' " writes Bass, "and having it matter because the Vietnam War loomed ahead for the teen-agers I taught."
John Kosyjana of Baltimore recalls his fifth-grade class visiting a local funeral home and seeing a dead Marine's body. "I felt great remorse for this soldier," he writes. "For the rest of the Vietnam War I would forever be haunted with conflicting emotions of the waste of the war and ... my desire to fight in it to avenge this Marine's death."
"A classmate of mine quit school and went into the Army," writes Martin C. Nickel of Severna Park. "We all saw the war on TV, but I realized the reality of Vietnam when he came to school later that year in a wheelchair. He lost both his legs up to the knees from land mines. This will be with me the rest of my life."
Lisa Colburn Ancarrow of Jarrettsville remembers 1969, when her brother, George, set out for Vietnam. "The night before he was to go, he walked me to the old Shake Shoppe on Joppa Road, and told me he wouldn't be coming home for a while. I was in third grade, and remember feeling special that he was with me there. ... It wasn't until the next day in Mrs. Casey's class at Immaculate Heart of Mary that I realized he might not come back. I started crying right there in class."
Among those recalling the anti-war protests was Lynda Case Lambert. "It wasn't just young people marching either," she writes. "I linked arms with a gray-haired attorney from Boston on one side and a nursing mother on the other. She carried her baby in a sling and it was the first time I ever saw a woman nurse in public. I can't explain, but it made me very proud."
Offering a different perspective, Ann L. Hewitt of Arnold writes of being an Army wife and feeling "most chagrined at the anti-war protesters, because we felt they ... did not support the brave men and women who were fighting Communist aggression to keep the U.S. a free country. We were part of the 'silent majority,' proud to be Americans."
For some readers, of course, the war was far more personal.
Eugene R. Myers Sr. of Abingdon sent a photograph taken in Vietnam of himself as a private holding a puppy, a poor substitute for the weeks-old baby son he had yet to meet. The puppy was killed in a firefight less than a month later.
Barry Stevens of Baltimore writes of his first day in Ky Ha, wondering how his fellow Marines could eat lunch while open body bags, containing the bodies of soldiers killed the night before, sat outside the tent. "The disturbing thing," Stevens says, "is that I learned to eat and then learned to do a lot more."
But the '60 weren't just a time of upheaval. Readers remembered fun times, too:
Sandra A. Mervis of Randallstown recalls seeing the Beatles at the Baltimore Civic Center, with "a boy sitting behind me screaming 'George' in my ear during the whole concert"; John M. Kasprzak remembers sitting on the lawn at Essex Community College, smoking a Marlboro, staring at the trees and listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash ("I was certain I died and took a direct flight to heaven"); Bennie V. Crowell remembers dancing on the Kirby Scott TV show and winning tickets to a Vanilla Fudge concert; Mike Bucci of Glen Burnie recalls his first Orioles game at Memorial Stadium ("We ... sat in the rightfield bleachers about a hundred feet away from our new superstar Frank Robinson!").
And Mike Gimbel, director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse for Baltimore County, savors memories of summers at the Milford Mill Swim Club, "for many of us ... the place where we lost our virginity, first drank Thunderbird wine, learned to dance and to play poker."
James C. Adams Jr., Like many teen-agers who joined the Army during the '60s, headed for Vietnam ready to serve his country and fight the enemy. But he was soon disillusioned. Not with the cause he was fighting for, nor because of the anti-war movement back home, rather, he came to question whether this was a war we even wanted to win.
"It was a good cause when it started," says Adams, 51, who joined the Army in 1966, out of Towson High. "I was going to make [the Army] a career, but Vietnam blew me away. I'm glad I served, but I didn't believe in going up the same hill three times. They weren't trying to win. When you take a position, you keep it and make the enemy take it from you. You don't give it back to them." Reconsidering his career choice, he left the Army in 1969. "If I re-enlisted, they were going to send me back there, and I was probably going to get killed," he believes. He's worked as a merchant seaman for the past 22 years.
"I'm not against the people who didn't go," says Adams, "they probably saved their own lives." Nevertheless, he resented the way some people treated him upon his return stateside. "I was proud to be a soldier. When I came back, I got laughed at for the uniform, things like that. But there were people who supported me.
"I don't know if I killed anybody over there," he says. "I aimed at one guy, but somebody else killed him. I'm glad I don't know for sure whether I killed anybody. At least I don't dream about that."
Barbara A. Hill, Silver Spring
The '60s, for me, was not merely a decade, it was an event -- a "far-out," "groovy" free-for-all that, in my case, lasted all of five years.
When I think about it, I realize just how much I miss that girl who used to be me. I was brave then, brave and opinionated, and totally committed to being a part of the change that was coming -- the change that this country was on the brink of. I was ready for it. I was even dressed for it, from my white beaded vest, to my red-flowered mini-skirt, the love beads, the white plastic go-go boots, and an "Afro" of such magnitude it would have had to be seen to be believed. With Motown rockin' in the background, I was dressed and ready -- ready for the Revolution.
"All we need is love." "Power to the people." "Right On!"
Martin Luther King was assassinated. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. Boys from the neighborhood were coming home in body bags from Southeast Asia. My love beads began to look a little cheesy. Maybe Mom was right. I'd never get a good job wearing these clothes. The Afro -- way too militant for corporate America. I quietly surrendered to the woman I was to become, the woman I am today.
There is one thing I know with a certainty born of over 30 years of following rules and never making waves. I know that I was, in that brief moment in my life, in that decade, the best I had ever been before, or have been since.
Chuck Weigert spent part of his '60s on a farm in Jarrettsville, living what still seems today a pretty idyllic existence -- about a dozen friends, some guitars, no credit cards, no TV, not much in the way of furniture, growing "some of the nicest organic vegetables on the planet."
"I guess you could call it communal," says Weigert, now a 59-year-old chimney sweep still living in Jarrettsville -- though not on the same farm. "We cooked with kitchen wood ranges, baked bread. ... Just the whole pace of the time, the reality, the closeness we had to the Earth. It was quite pleasant. It's one of the best memories of my life."
Weigert, who once ran a boutique (what some would call a head shop) on Baltimore's Read Street, says he and his friends settled on the farm to get away from it all.
"I remember just being unhappy with the existing environment, the direction everything was going," he recalls. "Everything was cold, stark, nobody was really reaching within at that time."
But as idyllic as life on the farm may have been, it wasn't real.
"There was a lot of naivete at the time," Weigert says in retrospect. "I thought at the time we had finally broken through, the planet would be in balance soon. It didn't take too long to realize that wasn't the plan for the universe."
Ray Ridenour's fellow students would catch up with him about a year later, when their mass anti-war demonstration led to the temporary closing of Route 1 through College Park. But when Ray Ridenour decided it was time to make a statement, on a chilly autumn day in 1969, he made it alone.
"I really felt strongly against the concept of the war in Vietnam," says Ridenour, now a 51-year-old graphic artist for the Baltimore Housing Authority.
So he dressed all in black, covered his face with greasepaint and quietly stood vigil at an entrance to the University of Maryland campus. He didn't shout, didn't try to stop traffic, didn't get in people's faces. For four hours, he just stood there holding a sign, in silent protest. "I got a lot of gestures out of cars that might have been thumbs up, might have been fingers up. Most of the people who walked by seemed pretty supportive."
Such quiet protests, he felt, worked better and were more in keeping with the times.
"People who got violent were usually either too drunk or too high or had too much of an agenda," he says. "The best things that I ever went to were the non-violent, almost Mahatma Gandhi-type of displays."
Ridenour remains proud of the stand he and other war protesters took.
"It's amazing that there were so many people who felt the same way about something. I don't think I've ever run across another period of time that was so cohesive."
Pub Date: 2/06/99