Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

TV Miniseries 'The '60s' and Sun readers, take a communal look back at a hippier, if not always a happier, time.

February 06, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

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."

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