Lionel Bauman, 64, Baldwin, New York
1968 was the year my father died. I was in Vietnam. He had a heart attack and the Red Cross got me home in less than 24 hours. I never returned. He told me when I entered the hospital room, "If this was all it took, I would have had a heart attack sooner." Once home, I learned that the world had changed a lot in the six months I was away. I had been sheltered in the world of death and guns. I had my honorable discharge that year and I learned I didn’t want anything more to do with violence. I grew up a lot that year and realized that I had to think outside the box before that became the catchphrase of the day. When we were in the service everything was fed to us. I had to learn to think for myself. That was the year I went from boy to man.
David S. Kessler, 54, Silver Spring, Maryland
I bought myself a copy of V by Thomas Pynchon for my 15th birthday in November 1968. The summer before, an older woman (she was already 15) regaled me with stories from the book. I eagerly read it that autumn, not understanding it all, not knowing it was supposed to be "difficult." It made me look at literature and fiction in a new way; it made me look at the world in a new way. It made me look at reality as a subjective experience—that one’s perception of reality is not necessarily another person’s perception of the same reality. Many people think that if there’s a puzzle, there’s a solution to the puzzle. After reading Pynchon, you kind of say, “There’s a puzzle, and the puzzle is all there is.”
I was truly transported by that novel and came through it a different person. I've reread V about six or seven times since, always a pleasure, but never the revelation of that first wow of acrobatic writing, profuse imagination, masterful storytelling, and a philosophy that we are all searching for mysteries that may well never be answered. But it doesn’t stop me from searching, even if I know that there may be no end of the search. It doesn’t stop me from traveling even though I know there may be no end to the journey.
Christine Litton, 60, Thornton, New Hampshire
I was one of the young women who married their high school sweetheart. Graduating high school in 1965, when the Vietnam War was driving so many lives, I was planning a wedding for the following year and separated myself from the violence and loss that affected our country for generations. It was bigger than I was. I had no way of affecting the outcome and did not, could not, understand the reason for the war and the loss of life. The music and politics of the time took a backseat to the exciting events of which I was the center.
Today I vote with conviction. The music and pop culture are interesting and enjoyable. But today we are in another war I feel that I cannot affect even with my vote. Today I feel each American life that is lost as if they were one of my children. I am not a child insulating myself from a world I am not ready to understand. I am a wise, intelligent, experienced woman who has maneuvered many of life’s challenges and succeeded.
Since 1968 our country has gained in wisdom, intelligence and experience, and has successfully maneuvered through many challenges. However, almost 40 years later we are once again losing American lives in a country and culture that I don't understand, in a war whose outcome may very well be as futile as the war that took American lives when I was a girl.
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