I missed 1968. Of course 1968 really happened, and I was alive then, but I missed it. I missed it because I was in Vietnam, and almost totally unaware of the tumultous events that took place that year. So many dramatic events took place that they changed this country, and indeed much of the world. 1968 was the most significant year of my lifetime, and I wasn’t there.
When these events took place, I was barely aware of them. In Vietnam we had a single radio station, AFVN, which stood for Armed Forces Vietnam. It was the only radio station we ever heard. Fortunately or unfortunately, AFVN was heavily censored. We only heard what they allowed us to hear, and issues that were considered too “controversial” were not broadcast. As a result of this, I only learned of many of the major events of 1968 when I returned home late that year.
Looking back, I do believe 1968 changed everything. Let’s look at the year month by month and see what happened.
1968 started out innocuously enough. In January, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau premiered on ABC. Johnny Cash performed his historic concert at Folsom Prison, and the Green Bay Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders in Superbowl II.
Things started to get dicey around the end of January. On January 21st, A B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed in Greenland. One was never recovered under the ice. On the same day, the battle of Khe Sahn began in Vietnam.
On January 22, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In debuts on NBC, and on the 23rd, North Korea seized the American Navy ship USS Pueblo and it’s crew.
To cap the month of January off, the Tet Offensive began in Vietnam on January 30, and by the next day , Viet Cong soldiers were attacking the US embassy in Saigon.
1202 Americans were killed in Vietnam in January
February 1st: In what would beome one of the most iconic and controversial photographs of Vietnam, photographer Eddie Adams captured the execution of a Viet Cong captive by Saigon police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan.
On February 6th, the Winter Olympics opened in Grenoble, France. On February 8th, three protestors were shot and killed and 27 injured at the University of South Carolina by state police, in an incident that became known as the Orangeburg Massacre.
During February, actors Nick Adams and Gary Coleman died, and actors Josh Brolin and Molly Ringwald were born. Singer Frankie Lymon died of a drug overdose.
2124 Americans were killed in Vietnam in February
March started off calmly enough. Johnny Cash and June Carter were married on March 1st, and actor Daniel Craig was born on the 2nd.
Then, on March 8th, a Soviet ballistic missle submarine sank 90 miles off Hawaii, with the loss of all the crew.
There was a nerve gas leak at the Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds, 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, on the 14th.
On the 16th of March in Vietnam, the My Lai Massacre took place.On the same day, Senator Robert Kennedy entered the race for the Democratic nomination for President.
My son was born on March 28th. I was notified about his birth by the Red Cross about a week later.
On March 30, Celine Dion was born, and on the next day, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.
1543 Americans were killed in Vietnam in March
April 2nd: Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001 A Space Odyssey, opened in Washington DC.
On April 4th, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray. Almost immediately, riots broke out all across the country. Riots took place in over one hundred cities, with the largest in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington DC. The riots lasted for the better part of a week, and over 45 people were killed.
On April 11, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
On April 13, there was a total lunar eclipse, the first of two in 1968.
Anti-war protests in New York shut down Columbia University on April 23rd. Timothy McVeigh is born on the same day. The musical Hair opened in New York City on April 29th.
1410 Americans were killed in Vietnam in April
Early May settled down a bit in the U.S., but student protests expanded in Europe, especially in France, perhaps inspired by American anti-war protests.
May 17: Anti-war protestors, known as the Cantonville Nine break into a Selective Service office in Maryland and burned draft records. Two involved were Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan and his brother Phillip.
On May 22, the U.S. Navy nuclear-power submarine USS Scorpion sank in the Atlantic, with the loss of all on board. On May 27, civil rights protesters rioted in Louisville, Kentucky. The rioting lasted two days and two people were killed.
2169 Americans were killed in Vietnam in May
June 5: Senator Robert Kennedy was shot in the Ambassdor Hotel in Los Angeles by Siran Siran, a Jordanian. He died the next day.
James Earl Ray is arrested on June 8th for the assassination of Martin Luther King.
1146 Americans were killed in Vietnam in June
All things considered, July was a relatively quiet month. The country seemed to take a breather. The CIA did launch it’s controversial Phoenix Program in Vietnam on July 1, Saddam Hussein first came to power in Iraq.
On July 17, the PLO committed it’s first skyjacking (El Al Flight 426), and Pope Paul VI issued his enclyclical Humanae Vitae, concerning birth control.
813 Americans were killed in Vietnam in July
August 5-8 :The Republican National Convention selected Richard Nixon at the party’s nominee for President. Spiro Agnew was named Vice Presidential nominee.
August 20-21: 750,000 Soviet Union and “Warsaw Pact” troops invaded Czechoslovkia, using 6500 tanks and 800 aircraft, in the biggest invasion since World War II.
August 20-30: Massive rioting took place at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as the Democrats nominate Presidential candidate Hubert Humphry and Edmund Muskie for Vice President.
On August 28, John Gordon Mein, US Ambassador to Guatamala is assassinated in Guatamala City. He was the first American ambassador ever assassinated in the line of duty.
1080 Americans were killed in Vietnam in August
September 6: 150 women arrived in Atlantic City to protest the Miss America pagent. The first of the “bra burning” demonstrations, this was considered to be the first large feminist/women’s liberation demonstration.
Hawaii Five-O debuts on CBS, and becomes the longest-running show on television until 2003. Sixty Minutes debuts on CBS.
September 30: Boeing Aircraft introduces the Boeing 747 to the public.
1053 Americans are killed in Vietnam in September
October 7: Singer Jose Fecliciano’s stylized version of the Star Spangled Banner at the World series creates huge controversy.
October 11: NASA launches Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission.
October 14: The Department of Defense announces it will send about 24,000 soldiers and Marines back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours.
October 18: At the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, two African-American atheletes raise their fists in the black power salute.
600 Americans are killied in Vietman in October
November 5: Richard M. Nixon wins the Presidential election, defeating Democratic candidate Humbert Humphrey, becoming the 37th President of the United States
On November 20th, the Farmington Mine disaster in West Virginia kills 78 miners.
On November 24, four men hijacked Pan Am Flight 281 at JFK Airport in New York City, and flew it to Havana, Cuba.
703 Americans were killed in Vietnam in November
On December 20, the Zodiac Killer begins his deadly spree in California.
December 24: Apollo 8 enters obit around the moon. Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders become the first humans to see the far side of the moon.
749 Americans were killed in Vietnam in December
1968 was not an easy year to forget. Assasinations, riots, and chaos seemed commonplace that year. 16,899 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines died in Vietnam.
The year was a breaking point. Something snapped, and it seems possible today to look at the years before and after 1968 and see dramatic differences. Every now and then in history major events seem to compress into a short period of time. 1968 was such a time, the only one like it in my lifetime. I hope I never see another.