In 1969 I left the army, a freshly minted malcontent who’d realized that the war had nothing to do with the ideals I thought it did and so I felt betrayed. I took off my uniform for the last time on January 9th, 1969 and sought to rejoin the world that made sense to me. The world that had coddled and protected me, and had given me a large store of comfortable memories. Stepping back into society at the outset of 1969 was like opening the door to a surprise shotgun blast. Certainly not as deadly, but almost as overwhelming.
In the next year man landed on the moon, naked people appeared on mainstream movie screens and sex came out of the closet. Music festivals, of which the grandaddy of them all, Woodstock, took place. Music was changed by the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Grateful Dead became household names. Led Zepplin ushered in heavy metal and made it palatable if not the soundtrack for so many lives. The general feel of politics changed with the voting public having had enough of the war and a general malaise stemming from Chappaquidick. We saw the rise of Black Power and of Red Power, both rising from violent births. We saw a change in sports with the emergence of the free agent and staggering paydays for players.
It is said that you can’t go home again, and for me, my first year out of the army proved it. Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll became the mantra of my generation; a self medication to shield us from the horrors of the Mai Lai Massacre, Charles Manson and the Altamont Speedway Concert, never mind the Political Party Conventions and the eggshells everyone walked in Washington, DC which had suffered riots so serious that one of my final duties in the military was to help patrol it. The assassination of Martin Luther King was like a prelude, a movie trailer of what was to coming soon to a theater of life near you.
It was the year that I finally stepped away from a dysfunctional and at times violent homelife to stand on my own two legs, a skill I learned in a military at war. It was a year lived entirely homeless, with stops in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Roseburg and Portland Oregon. Portland was the final stop in my journey of inquiry, a place where I found myself accepted for who I was and not how I might be exploited. To this day I refer to he years 1970 to 1975 as my perfect summer.
It wouldn’t have been so perfect had I not experienced the tumultuous 1969, it took both periods to define me as the person I became. Yet it now seems as if it was a different life, experienced by someone who related it all to me. Then again, it’s been 44 years and that is, as the song goes, a long time gone.
It was a time in which I turned in my love of boats for a love of airplanes. Instead of my beloved Boston Whaler I would take my adventures in Aeronca Champs, Grumman American Yankees and Travelers, Stinsons and Citabrias, Piper Commanches, and a list of experimental biplanes like the Pitts, Mong Sport, Baby Great Lakes, and others. I would get into hang gliding, traded for my former skydiving, and from there move to powered ultralights like Quicksilvers and American Aerolite Eagles. I would ride motorcycles, moving through Kawasakis, Yamahas, Triumph Bonnevilles and Harley Davidsons. It was a time I would buy ridiculously small cars like the Fiat 850 sedan and turn them into flea sized campaign street vehicles that left the heavy metal Corvette and Camaro drivers scratching their heads. You can see how I might have had so much fun and why that was my perfect summer.
The mid-seventies arrived and so did a true and lasting love. I married, had three children, and through a freak of nature, the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens, settle in Spokane where I’d become trapped by ash long enough to lose my job in Portland only to be offered a better one here.
1969 was the pivotal year in my life. It was the year I grew up, so to speak, finally actually participating in life rather than living a life protected by wealth and artificial station. In the ensuing years I had a million experiences and many of them weren’t good. Yet I wouldn’t trade a moment of the life I’ve lived. I’ve been like Forest Gump in a way, living through so many historical moments and watching the emergence of technologies that have entirely remapped social interaction and the ways we live our lives. Some few of these occurred during the early years of my life, but the true explosion of change ignited in 1969.
Think about your own lives. Do you have a year that changed the paradigm of your existence in a radical way? What were the events that defined those changes, and were the epitome of a new dawn?