he period from March, 1973 — August, 1974 was possibly the most important period of my life. On March 29, 1973, the last American troops left Vietnam.
The first time I remember hearing anything at all about Buddhism or Buddhists was when Thich Quang Duc immolated himself on June 11, 1963, when I was completing 3rd grade. On the same day, Vivian Malone and James A. Hood courageously walked into the University of Alabama after George Wallace was forced by the federalization of the National Guard to desegregate the school. On the next day, Medgar Evers was murdered in Jackson, Mississippi.
arrest of martin luther king jr. for trying to eat at an all white restaurant
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is arrested for trying to eat in an all white restaurant in St. Augustine, Florida, June 11, 1964. Photo by Charles Moore
In April of 1964, when an all white jury refused to convict the murderer of Medgar Evers (later found guilty), our family moved to Athens, Alabama. On June 11, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested in St. Augustine, Florida, for demanding service at an all white restaurant. In November he is denounced by J. Edgar Hoover, and in December is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In August of the same year, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was fabricated in order to justify 64 strike sorties of aircraft from American aircraft carriers and the start of the Vietnam War. The war was escalating and spinning out of control, but I was now attending 5th grade in a new, segregated school among bigoted, xenophobic white people who considered me to be an alien, so, although I noticed, it was of secondary concern. The Civil Rights Movement was being burned into my consciousness as my only internal defense against the backwater bigots I was surrounded by. And Dad brewed beer at home in the prohibition County of Limestone, Alabama.
The world was in turmoil. My world was in turmoil.
Then came the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, which began on October 19, 1965, my eleventh birthday, the first half of sixth grade, and near the end of my time in Alabama.
I remember vividly that, after watching the above report by Walter Cronkite and Morley Safer on television with my parents in our house outside of Athens, Alabama, I began to cry. There was little doubt in my mind that my father would be drafted and sent to Vietnam and probably killed. He assured me that he had already served his time in the military and wouldn’t be drafted.
Although I was relieved that he would not be going to Vietnam my father had always worked long hours for IBM helping to build the guidance system for the NASA’s Apollo Program. In that quest, we had followed the prototype around the country, beginning just before I began 1st grade in Alamogordo New Mexico near White Sands.
After my father worked with the rocket sled in Alamogordo, we moved on to Titusville, Florida near Cape Canaveral. and to Santa Maria, California, near Vandenberg Air Force Base, where I saw more rockets launch than I could count or remember and heard more details about nuclear power than most people would believe,
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, which began 3 days after my 8th birthday, on October 22, 1962, my father was considered to be essential personnel. He was sequestered in the rocket silo bomb shelters while the rest of his family lived next to a rocket base above ground. By the time my father worked on Wernher von Braun’s team at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, during the beginning of the Vietnam War and the height of the Civil Rights Movement,
I was already fairly traumatized by visions of brutality, nuclear holocaust, and Cold War propaganda. I had a recurring dream dream of being taken away with my family in chains by the Russian Soviets to work in a forced labor camp. Just before sunset, near the Cape, while I was swinging in the back yard, a rocket ascended and exploded in line with the sun. The entire sky lit up with color because the explosion was backlit by the sun. I believed that nuclear war had just begun.
But in early 1973, American involvement in the War in Vietnam came to a close.
Not much later, on May 18, 1973, the House Watergate Committee began nationally televised hearings. Then, on October 10, 1973, Spiro Agnew resigned followed shortly by the “October Massacre” on October 20, 1973, the day after my 19th birthday.
The stage was set for my introduction to Buddhism.
Sections and Chapters
Limping Onto The Buddhist Path
Dateline: 1973 – 1974
Smokin’ the Sheriff
Get This Car Off My Head
Medical Science Can’t Help You
New York, New York
Have You Ever Heard of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?
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