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1968: The Year That Rocked Our World

1968: Voice of the Reader

Remembering an unforgettable year.

Joe Henry, 63, Auburn, Washington
1968 was the most defining year of my life. Several life-altering experiences and decisions were made. Some conscientiously with deep thought; others were just a matter of course.

Spring 1968 was my last quarter at Western Washington State College and I had my student teaching experience. It was truly an awakening as I was placed in a multiracial school following the Seattle riots. I witnessed the beginnings of the reversal in the subtle discrimination Seattle offered its minorities. I volunteered to coach the distance runners on the boys' varsity track team, which won the city championship. It was extremely uplifting and rewarding.

"Henry, do you realize how long a Marine officer lives in combat in Vietnam?" said Dean of Men Bill McDonald, responding to my announcement that I had transferred from the Navy's R.O.C. (Reserve Officer Candidate) Program to the Marine Corps Officer Candidate Program.

After a summer of fun working as a playground supervisor for the County Parks Department, I was off to Quantico, Virginia, for the adventure of my life. I survived Vietnam, and the exposure and knowledge I gained have influenced my very soul. I lived when others didn't and I took life. A fact that still haunts me. I'm still trying to understand the significance of it all. The Marine Corps experience was so monumental I'm writing a book about it.

Patricia Kiely, 67, Richmond, Virginia
I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil in 1968, and it turned out to be the best experience of my life. Since returning in 1969, I tended to work at nonprofit jobs. It made me culturally sensitive, more politically aware and as a retiree, I am involved in my community at the grassroots level.

Judith Auslander, 58, Beaverton, Oregon
In 1968 I was 19 years old. I was a “hippie” who was employed. I kind of had two identities—one was middle-class America holding down a 9-to-5 job, and the other a weekend hippie getting stoned, partying, trying to be happy in a very unhappy world. The world was so very different from the one of the '50s. The assassination of JFK and the dividing of Americans over the Vietnam War changed everything. My idealism of youth was destroyed at a very young age.

I worked very close to the Ambassador Hotel where Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I used to go there occasionally for lunch. I walked into the Ambassador a few days after the assassination and felt the oppressive sadness. I never went back. It was shortly after that I quit my job and decided to kind of drop out, be a full-time hippie, at least for a while.

Most of us who were young felt so separated and different from mainstream society. There was a feeling that our lives would be so very different from our parents'. The world was changing, and we were a part of that change. Within the sadness of it all, there was a sense of power. We were going to change the world.

John Sparacino, 57, Morehead, Kentucky
In 1968 I was a senior in high school at St. Mary's Seminary in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Although it would take me almost two more years before I would choose to end my priestly studies, the decision to do so was causative of all of the happenings in 1968.

The civil rights movement, the protests, the political assassinations, was enough to get disgruntled about life and this country. Having been in the seminary, working with drug addicts, working in Appalachia with the poor, with migrant workers in California, the world really started to disillusion me. One of the real reasons I finally decided to leave the seminary was when I discovered what love meant to me.

I saw this movie Romeo and Juliet and at that time I had never been involved in a dating relationship, a love relationship. That is what was missing in my life.

While I loved what I was doing, the thought of sharing myself in a community, a parish or organization, a church family, was not something I wanted. I wanted a one-on-one relationship with a special person. It had nothing to do with sex. It had everything to do with love.

As an impressionable youth, the turmoil and violence of the world, the corruption of government, the genre of music all led me to rethink my "reasons" for being where I was. My pending college studies, the "free love" drug cultures and temptations, my views on organized religion, and how together they all changed my life.

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