As we honor Vietnam War Veterans Day this week, I admit I don’t remember much about the Vietnam War.
I have a good reason why. I am 56 years old. That means I was born in December 1963.
I missed out on Beatlemania, most likely because my parents would rather listen to Doris Day, Perry Como and Dean Martin. I missed out on the first three Super Bowls, but remember Super Bowl IV. That’s mostly because I had heard of the Kansas City Chiefs, through my father, a huge Denver Broncos fan. I also remember it because at halftime of the Super Bowl, some neighborhood boys my brother and I knew were Minnesota Vikings fans and threw snowballs at us.
Hey, we had the last laugh. The Chiefs won 23-7.
The war was something I had heard about, but didn’t pay much attention to. I don’t know this for a fact, but maybe my parents kept it away from me. My father served in the Navy during the Korean War, but didn’t talk much about it even when I was an adult.
The images I have of the Vietnam War are startling. It’s of soldiers in a jungle tending to wounds of other soldiers and the occasional jokes on the television show “Laugh-In,” except a scene when Dan Rowan is wearing a uniform and talking about having to fight in Vietnam.
No joke came with it. I just went on watching the show with my family.
There was one scene I saw on the news that struck me that I remembered enough to find it on YouTube. In involved a commercial jet transporting South Vietnamese soldiers, who looked exhausted when the camera filmed them.
I thought at the time that Saigon was a city I had heard of and I hoped they could defend it.
Watching it on YouTube, I had no idea that World Airlines was there to transport refugees to Saigon’s airport for safety. The soldiers were knocking down children, including their own families, to get on the plane, which barely made it to Saigon.
Soldiers were in the baggage compartments and those who did not make it to the plane were trying to shoot it down.
The scene was chaotic, but most of South Vietnam was in 1975. The flight originated from Da Nang, which had fallen to the communists.
As I do now, I thanked God I wasn’t there.
The other scene was another airplane that took off from an airport. One man was so desperate to get where the plane was going he tried to hang on to the wing. He lost his grip and fell to his death. All of this was shown on national news.
The protest movement also hit home. Later in the spring of 1972, there was a riot in my hometown or Boulder, Colo., about the war. Students, and likely non-students, too, blocked the point where U.S. 36 turns into town and becomes 28th Street, still the busiest road in a town of about 100,000 people.
I remember that our physical education teacher, Mr. Cendali, and maybe some other adults, walked about 100 elementary school students home. They lived very close to the University of Colorado campus, and U.S. 36 goes right past campus.
I lived close enough to walk home from CU football games, but I got home just fine. That was back when kids could walk to school without their parents breaking out in a minor panic mode.
In 1972 on Cooper Court, Boulder, Colo., during the summer, we watched the Republican Convention and that Richard Nixon won the party’s nomination.
At Cooper Court, we had a 12-year old kid who was a big Richard Nixon fan. We had our version of the Republican Convention with yours truly playing the role of George McGovern, the Democrat’s nominiee. As it happened to McGovern, symbolically in the election, I was booed from behind the podium.
But it was OK since I was trying to imitate Rich Little, who did a Nixon impression that was really funny.
I wasn’t all that funny, but we all had a good time.
As for the Nixon fan, he wore a red, white and blue Halloween costume with the name NIXON across the shirt. Two years later, Watergate dominated the headlines and Nixon resigned the presidency.
That Nixon fan didn’t say much. We went on with our lives of playing pick-up football, Little League baseball and collecting and trading our sports cards.
Other things stick out from childhood.
I remember that our neighborhood was a tremendous place to grow up. We had families with two parents and kids who were about five years apart in age. There were plenty of boys around to field a pick-up football game, and my older brother, Mike, always had my back when I needed him.
He still does.
My family lasted the longest on the nine-house court. Both of my parents have passed away and my two brothers and I are looking to sell our house.
The memories are mine to keep, even the ones about a war I didn’t completely comprehend.