Baby Boomers, who consist of those born between 1946 and 1964, have seen a lot of things in their time, many which not only impacted their lives, but those of the generations that have followed.
The Vietnam War
The first Baby Boomers were born a year after the end of World War II. Although some of their parents may have served in the Korean Conflict, it didn’t impact Boomers as much as the Vietnam War.
The United States’ main involvement in Vietnam was between 1965 and 1975 and it was our lengthiest military conflict . The main intention was to keep Communists in North Vietnam from expanding into South Vietnam. Vietnam had been divided into two separate countries, following its liberation from French colonialism. The Communists who took command of North Vietnam wanted to unify the divided countries, under a Communist regime, which South Vietnam opposed. American troops were utilized to help South Vietnam thwart a Communist takeover.
The Vietnam War was the least popular of all American wars and the public was extremely divided, regarding support of it. Large rallies were held to protest the war, many draftees fled to Canada to escape going to Vietnam and American soldiers were unfairly treated with hostility by some war critics. Compared to the present Iraq war, where people may disagree with the war, but support the troops, American military participants in Vietnam were sometimes verbally abused, spit upon and threatened.
58,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam, some had been prisoners of war and still others were missing in action. The war was eventually lost, when Communists finally took over in 1975, starting with the fall of Saigon.
This war was one of the most controversial ones ever fought by Americans and many Boomers who were involved in it continue to have problems dealing with their experiences. Some- like my husband- suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD- as a result.
Vietnam veterans are finally receiving the respect they deserve. While the war still remains a matter of controversy, their contributions are now more appreciated.
The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall was dedicated in 1982 in Washington, D.C. It has the names of American soldiers who were killed or missing-in-action.
The Civil Rights Movement
Racial equality in America had long been a serious matter, but it was during the 1960’s, when the first Boomers were in their teens, that major headway finally started being made, in regards to the Civil Rights Movement.
Jim Crow laws still existed in many states, primarily in the South, where African-Americans were forced to live in a segregated society and denied certain rights. For example, African-Americans were not allowed to go to the same schools as whites or use the same bathroom facilities or be served at certain business establishments or ride anywhere other than the back of the bus, etc. Additionally, there were still horrific crimes, like lynching, being committed against people of color.
Young people began participating in non-violent protests throughout the South and strongly dedicated leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired them to stand up for their rights, even if it meant they would suffer for doing so. King, himself, paid the ultimate price, when he was assassinated in 1968. Those who were his contemporaries continued to fight for the cause of equality..
It was because of the Civil Rights Movement, that a number of positive strides have been made. Blacks can now attend school with whites, laws have been set in place that prohibit discrimination in housing and other areas, more black people are educated and own businesses, etc. We even have an African-American as a viable Presidential candidate.
Despite these successes, however, many inequalities still remain and have yet to be dealt with.
Baby Boomers have the distinction of being the first generation to grow up with television in their households. During the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, Boomers watched everything from news to sitcoms to variety shows to westerns and more, with shows reflecting- even influencing- changes in our culture As a result, many of their perceptions of the world and themselves came from what they watched on t.v.
At first, most t.v. sets aired black-and-white programs and there were only a few channels to choose from. Later, color television became available and, to the delight of many, cable television was created, offering hundreds of channels.
Over the course of time, many technological advances have been made, regarding television, and shows have become much more diverse and sophisticated than they once were.
The Space Program
There used to be a time when space travel was just the subject of H.G. Wells novels and comic books. Fiction started becoming fact when Boomers were kids.
After the Russians launched Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite into space in 1957, America was in a race to compete against them. We sent up our own satellite- Alpha– in 1958 and, in that same year, NASA was formally established. The NASA astronauts were looked upon as heroes, since they were due to make some of the first manned space flights ever attempted by the United States.
Alan Shepard was the first American to go up in space, on May 5, 1961, in Freedom 7. Other notable flights during the early days of the space program included those by John Glenn, Virgil Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Walter Schirra, and Gordon Cooper.
The most exciting accomplishment came in 1969, when Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, became the first human beings to ever make a lunar landing. People around the world were glued to their television sets, as Apollo 11 made history. Armstrong, who also was the first man to walk on the moon, uttered those unforgettable words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Of course, since that time, space flights have become routine and today’s generation doesn’t attach the same importance to them.. They don’t realize that the space program is responsible for many of the technological advances we have today.