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The Forest Gump in All of Us | Growing Up in the 50s & 60s

Forrest Gump | Baby Boomers.jpg

Forrest Gump, a film that can capture our attention as much today as its release over 20 years ago, is worthy of a special place in our culture. The drama follows Forrest in his extraordinary life - a life that resonates with positive responses to hardship and brushes with historical figures along the way. Thinking about it, we all have our own versions of Forrest Gump. This is a short chapter in mine.

I grew up in the 1950s, a baby boomer, with parents who were a part of the Greatest Generation. It was a time when Nevada hosted 100 atmospheric nuclear tests. I remember listening to a radio report during a mid-50s Tahoe vacation announcing the detonation of a nuclear device several hundred miles southeast of Lake Tahoe.

The Kennedy era was significant for our Catholic family and home. Our beloved housekeeper, Elizabeth, a longtime member of the NAACP, kept a picture of JFK in her room. I won't forget the shock that our 8th-grade class felt when the principal announced over the loudspeaker that our president was dead.

In February 1964, The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Our generation had new heroes. Our hair grew longer and for a time distance from our parents widened. By 1966, our local newspapers were chronicling our California boys killed in action. By war's end, over 5,500 California soldiers would lose their lives in the Vietnam War.

The 1960s were a hot time for cars. I first drove a 1965 Mustang and later a 1966 Shelby GT350. The Shelby went to college with me in the spring of 1968. It was an eventful spring - Lyndon Johnson announced at the end of May that he would not run for President again, four days later Martin Luther King was assassinated, and just two months after that Robert Kennedy was killed in Los Angeles. The world seemed upside down. A few months after Robert Kennedy was put to rest I flew to Texas in a World War II-era transport plane for Air Force basic training. A few weeks later Chicago erupted in riots during the Democratic convention. The riots seemed a long way from a basic training airman sweltering in the August Texas heat.

1969 is a year forever in my heart. Just 19 - I met Lisa - who would in a few more years become my spouse. In May 1970, Lisa and I - then in college - attended "teach ins" following the shooting of unarmed Kent State University students protesting the Vietnam War. The U.S. college education system was in near shutdown following the shootings.

We soon thereafter, turned to politics. I ran for college student body president and won. One of my first acts in student government was to sponsor a Joan Baez concert in the summer of '71. At that time she was at the height of her popularity. We were thrilled to watch her practice backstage and I made a short introduction to the 16,000 members of the audience.

A few months later, Thanksgiving Week of '71, I travelled to Vienna on behalf of a group of student body presidents and campus editors to present both the Soviets and the Americans with a petition supporting the then-ongoing Strategic Arms Limitations Talks. I remember having a short news conference at the Hofberg Imperial Palace in Vienna followed by a delivery of the petitions to the Soviet Embassy. The next year also had its share of Forrest Gump moments. I escorted Buckminster Fuller, one of the 20th Century's great inventors and visionaries, around to various media interviews. He took in interest in me and shared insights that I've applied in the many decades from the one-day meeting. Like the film, our lives go on. The next parts of the story will have to await another day...

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