Personal Memory of 1968

I remember a year in my life I thought I would never see again. There was so much going on packed into that year. And a few times it just all came together in events that seemed to have jammed in them all the anxiety and unrest that sought expression, even if misguided and reckless.

Early in the year, North Korea seized the USS Pueblo. One was killed, 82 others imprisoned and a tense standoff between the US and North Korea followed. Then came the Tet Offensive* by the North Vietnamese, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. followed by riots in major cities across the nation. Robert Kennedy was assassinated that year. And, there was a flu pandemic in 1968, the Hong Kong Flu!

At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, antiwar demonstrators, news reporters, police, military and bystanders were caught up in a violent riot that was broadcast on national TV.

I have a personal memory about this.

I was stationed at Ft. Knox, Ky. with the 158th Army Band, attached to the 1st Armored Division Training Center (then at Ft. Knox, now at Ft. Bliss). In most of August of ’68, we were not allowed off base. I lived off base so spent several days with the unit on base.

As bandsmen we wondered why we were confined to the base (but you never asked). When the riots broke out in Chicago, we were in the dayroom watching TV coverage when the First Sergeant showed up and told us to get in uniform, get our instruments and load up. We were bussed to the airport in Louisville to “play off” the soldiers who were deployed to Chicago. I believe it was hundreds of soldiers from the Third Brigade (infantry). As they boarded the planes we played patriotic music. They were headed to Chicago with orders to do crowd control and work with National Guard and local police. It was unlike anything they had done, and unlike any assignment a military bandsman ever had.

The History Channel introduced their piece on that year as I remember it.

“The year 1968 remains one of the most tumultuous single years in history, marked by historic achievements, shocking assassinations, a much-hated war and a spirit of rebellion that swept through countries all over the world. Occurring at the dawn of the television age, the historic events of 1968 also played out on TV screens across the country, bringing them home in a way that had never been possible before.”

The speculation that this was the end of the world and prophecy was being fulfilled about end times … well, here we are. Speculation about the end doesn’t serve us well. Being who the Lord expects us to be … that’s it! Read 2nd Peter 3. “The day of the Lord will come like a thief,” and so, “since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?” “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

* At the end of January the TET offensive occurred with heavy casualties in Vietnam, causing some historians to mark it a turning point in the war. I remember having coffee with several other “bugle boys” and we were reading about the war news in a newsprint paper delivered to our unit called The Army Times. One of our jobs was to play taps at military funerals. Sadly, we discussed the reality of that fatality increase. It came a few weeks later when we would do three or four funerals a day.


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