I’ve officially lived for half a century. It sounds much more impressive than it feels, especially on cold winter days. I could say that I’m older but wiser, but this statement is only accurate for a small proportion of the population from what I can see, and I won’t try to claim to be the wiser. Every year on my birthday, I typically review what I’ve accomplished over the past twelve months, but this year I find myself looking back even further. What does a half-century look like?
I guess each generation has their group memories. Here are the ones that stand out for me:
- The Space Race (1969-1972)—I remember sitting in the school library watching one of the Apollo missions land on the moon. It was a big deal, and the entire school squeezed into the library to watch. Back then it was the only television on the campus. I can’t say which mission it was, but I would have been in kindergarten, first, or second grade depending. I’m thinking it was one of the later moon landings and I was either in the 1st or 2nd grade, but I couldn’t say for sure. Also, my father had a picture of the Apollo 11 astronauts on the living room wall. The three of them are sitting together in their space suits were like an iconic image of that period, except that guy in the middle had crazy eyes. It seemed like his eyes followed me across the room. Thanks to that picture and my over-active imagination, I had a few sleepless nights as a kid.
- Vietnam War (1965-1975)—American ground troops were sent in in 1965. Anyone growing up in that era has memories of that war. It was constantly in the news, but I was isolated from much of the controversy being a kid growing up on a marine base. Probably my strongest memory was waiting for my father at the airbase. I remember watching the huge transport plane land (C-130 I’m pretty sure) and waiting with my mom and siblings for the line of marines to file out and head our way. Of course, he was gone quite a bit during that time, so he could have been coming back from any number of places, but I remember how anxious my mother was so I’m thinking that particular homecoming was from Vietnam.
- Watergate (1972-1974)—I remember my parents watching the Watergate hearings on television. It was a pain in the ass because they kept breaking into our normal television shows. I was ten, so I wasn’t all that interested at the time. I remember it was in the news forever, and it seemed impeachment was on everyone’s lips. Of course, Nixon decided to resign instead.
- Roots (1977)—Just as my kids grew up in the internet age, I grew up during the golden age of television. I can’t think of a television show that generated more buzz during this time than Roots. We all waited impatiently for the next installment (it was a mini-series), and it was all anyone talked about. Television did shape our lives, and I think this show had a positive effect on race issues in America. I will say that I enjoyed Shogun more the following year, but Roots started it all.
- Iran Hostage Crisis (1979-1981)—The image of the helicopter crash from the failed rescue attempt sticks out the most for me. Why, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it was because after that there seemed no hope for the hostages. The whole affair seemed cruel at the time, but at least the hostages kept their heads. Does that mean those were the good old days?
- The home PC (1984?)—I remember the first time I saw a home computer was around this time. One of my navy buddies was married and had one at his house. It was an IBM clone of some type and I was mesmerized. Yes, there had been the TRS-80 and Commodore 64 before that, but they hooked up to your TV and were more limited. Just two years previously, I had taken a computer class my senior year in high school and we worked with a card reader that fed a mainframe that was shared by the entire school system. The home PC changed the world, and quickly.
- Fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)—My kids weren’t even born at this point, and I’m sure they have no memory of the Berlin Wall besides in history books. They have no concept of the cold war, nor the significance of this event. It was a big deal around the world. I remember watching them pulling it down on the news. I’m guessing that if Germany hadn’t reunited, there probably wouldn’t be an EU today.
- The Gulf War (1990-1991)—I have to admit that my thoughts on this war are pretty personnel. I had finished my hitch in the navy in 1988 and had two years of inactive reserves where they could call me back. I felt like a dodged a bullet when this thing kicked off. Although I did have a few nightmares about getting recalled.
- Dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991)—I remember taking world history my senior year in high school (1982). A good part of this class had to do with the cold war, the iron curtain, and what was then the current world order. I remember having a debate about the Cuban Missile Crisis—this stuff was part of our world then. The first time I saw a map without the USSR, I thought it was a misprint. Of course, Eastern Europe still has not completely stabilized from this. The Ukraine is just the latest example of the fallout.
- Rodney King Riots (1992)—Unfortunately, race riots are not a new thing nor are they likely to stop anytime soon. The L.A. Riots weren’t the first. My grandparents told me about the Watts Riots in 1965, and more specifically the riots that occurred in San Diego in 1969. They lived in a rough neighborhood in San Diego and watched their neighborhood go crazy, it sounded about like what happened in L.A. in 1992. This one stands out in my memory because I lived in the Mojave Desert at the time, about three hours from L.A. A couple of guys I worked with decided to drive down to the city to see what it looked like. Luckily for them, the National Guard was on the scene and turned them away. Go figure, there are rednecks everywhere.
- Bosnian War (1992-1995)—Yes, U.S. Troops went to Bosnia. I remember it mostly because my brother was over there when he was in the marines.
- 9/11 (2001)—We all have our memories of this day. I was at work. It may seem odd, but it didn’t seem to be the game-changer it was made out to be. The Trade Center had been bombed before and let’s not forget the Oklahoma City bombing or the USS Cole. However you feel about 9/11 it changed the world.
- Afghanistan (2001-?)—Talk about 9/11 fallout. This war seems odd to me. I want to call it the war that never happened. Not because it didn’t happen, isn’t still happening, but it seems that no one cares. It’s like the polar opposite of Vietnam where everyone cared. Whatever the reason, this war gets little media attention, maybe because it was eclipsed by the Iraq War and other Middle East issues.
- Iraq War (2003-2011)—Nothing like lighting off a powder keg in the middle east. Let’s just lump it all together and call it the Iraq Wars, and hope it doesn’t suck us all down the drain. But to end on a high note, it ended in 2011 right?
- The Order of the Wolf Published (2012)—Okay this is a shameless plug, but it’s my list. For me, the publishing of my first book was a huge milestone. I guess I could have put Harry Potter in here instead, but I never read it. If you don’t consider this a group memory, maybe it’s time to remedy that.
Wow, fifty years down the drain and all I have to show for it is this lousy list. Maybe I need to put that on a t-shirt. I did celebrate my 50th with family and friends though, and I guess that’s the real accomplishment after all—not just making it to fifty but having someone to celebrate it with.