Seventy Year Journey

A Seventy Year Journey

Most everyone in the graduating class of 1959 was born in 1941. Those were happy times as the great depression was over, unemployment was low and stores like F.W. Woolworth, A & P Grocery and Kress Five & Dime were establishing stores in almost every city throughout the country. Oklahoma's own OTASCO with headquarters in Okmulgee had grown to over eighty stores throughout the state. The "Fruit of the Loom" company increased their production of underwear and gave to customers a "complete satisfaction" guarantee.

Automobiles were greatly improved, generally affordable and easily obtainable on the installment plan. New and different types of communication enhanced knowledge about events, people and products. Jobs were plentiful and extra monies were available to take trips, eat out, attend movies and buy items that would not have been purchased previously.

A greater emphasis on education was reflected in the construction of new and improved school buildings, the consolidation and pooling of school districts, an increase of funds for student transportation and a hot lunch program. At this time almost every child between the ages of 6 and 18 was attending a safe, comfortable, convenient, well staffed school.

On Sunday, December 7, 1941 Japan's war planes attacked the U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet at Pearl Harbor and the peaceful, tranquil life of 1941 changed as the United Stated prepared for World War II. Every family was called upon to do their part to support the war efforts, and for the next four years the American people endured many different kinds of hardships and sacrifices with numerous families making the ultimate commitment. When rural and urban people came together to join hands in the war effort, a new term known as "town and country" made its appearance. That would evolve into the more common geographical/cultural designations of urban, suburban and rural.

The war years were very emotional and difficult for children during that time. And yet, the hardships, the sacrifices, the rapid changes, the uncertainties and the need to adapt to new and different situations produced a general approach to life that would characterize the children of the early 40's and distinguish them from all other generations. This resilient, self-reliant, independent demeanor would later be described by sociologist as defiant or rebellious. Regardless of the accuracy or inaccuracy of this description, it was certainly true that it was a bold spirit that ignited the "Great American Social/Cultural Revolution" of the fifties.

World War II ended dramatically with the siege of Berlin and the dropping of the "Atomic Bomb" by the United States on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August, 1945. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not get to see the end of the war because he died of a heart attack in Warm Springs, Georgia on April 12, 1945.

The conflict among world powers that ensued after the conclusion of the World War II was described in the media as a "cold war." This meant that there was a race among world powers to build stronger, better and more bombs and to develop larger, faster and greater rockets to deliver them around the world. This created an uneasiness among the 40's children as they were continually introduced to new and different ways to deal with nuclear attacks and the fall-out; radiation.

The interim between the end of World War II and the "Nifty Fifties" was characterized by finding new and different ways to challenge the mind. Radio programs were designed to provide instant world-wide news, report live events and generally entertain families. Situation comedies, soap operas, game shows and sporting events became the rage of the age.

This era also became known as the "Golden Age of Comic Books." It brought about the debut of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain America. And to accommodate the young and old alike Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse, Archie and Veronica, Dagwood and Blondie, Cowboy Westerns and the Great Literature Classics made there appearance in comic book form. And most were offered at the affordable price of five cents apiece or three for a dime. The gathering and swapping of comic books became an important anticipated event in most neighborhoods throughout the nation.

Many of the popular toys at the time were a direct result of the war. While trying to invent something to help our military, there were spin-offs that produced popular toys. For example, "Silly Putty" was accidentally discovered when a General Electric engineer was trying to create synthetic rubber to be used on war planes, but instead produced an irresistible substance that everyone wanted to handle. "Tonka Trucks" came to fruition when an engineer discovered that the mock miniature versions of newly designed military trucks were very popular with young boys. Also "Crazy Ikes" and "Erector Sets" found their way to most families' toy boxes.

The 1941 children reached their teen years in the early fifties. In keeping with the spirit of their legacy, the movies that became popular were Marlin Brando in "The Wild One," James Dean in "Rebel Without A Cause," and Glen Ford in "Blackboard Jungle." It was also a time when teen idols like Franke Avalon, Tab Hunter and Fabian became public icons. And there was not a shortage of female sex icons; Jayne Mansfield, Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood were four of the more popular ones.

The social/cultural revolution of the fifties was accelerated when the radio was booted out of the living room to make room for the television set. The 50's teen latched onto the expendable radio and began to demand a new sound called "Rock & Roll" music. Some of the more famous singers of this music were Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and the king himself--Elvis Presley. With this so called "devil's music," teens were enjoying a new level of freedom that shocked and at times scared their parents, but it was nothing that the fifties teen loved more than "Rock & Roll" music.

The haircut of choice for the "Rock & Roll" era for girls was the ponytail, and all the cool guys wore duck tails and sideburns to emulate their icon idols. Popular slang included "threads" (for clothes), "cranked" (for excited), and "cool it" (for relax). You could be a "cat" (a hip person), a "nerd" (a not-so-hip person) or you could add "ville" to the end of just about any word, to create slang words like coolsville, deadsville, and squaresville.

At the end of the decade, a sad day came for all teens who loved "Rock & Roll" music. On February 3rd, 1959, a small plane crashed in Iowa killing three musicians: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. That day came to be known as "The Day the Music Died," so-named in the Don McLean song, "American Pie." It was certainly true that "Rock & Roll" music was never the same after 1960.

The cultural revolution and the "Cold War" that raged during the mid-to-late fifties culminated in a major social conflict within the United States. In 1957 the Russians launched a satellite by the name of "Sputnik." That shocking event demonstrated the undeniable truth that the Soviet Union was ahead of the United States in conquering outer space. That realization shook the foundation of our country to its very core, and created a nation-wide panic that resulted in the passing of the "1958 National Defense Education Act."

For the first time in U.S. history Federal funds were utilized for common education; a practice that was here-to-fore reserved to the various states. The purpose of the act was to provide additional monies to schools that placed a greater emphasis on science and math. The intent was to make scientist and mathematicians out of the 40's kids who in turn would save America from the Russians. It was not because the nation's youth did not have the ability or aptitude essential to accomplish this task that made it most difficult, but rather it was an independent spirit within the nation's teenagers that ignited the resistance. The nation's teens in the late 50's to early 60's would rather play guitars, walk the sandy beaches, work on their own common vernacular and for the first time in history discuss "the why" of govermental action.

Although the social/cultural revolution was at its zineth in the 60's, this did not distract the United States from pursuing President Kennedy's agenda to win the race to the moon. While there were many outstanding missions in the race into outer space, the United States won the ultimate prize on when the American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, took the first human step on the moon on July 20, 1969. 

Unfortunately, three of the brightest stars of the 60's social/cultural revolution did not live to see the results of their accomplishments. President Kennedy did not witness the "New Frontier" being conquered, Robert Kennedy did not achieve his aspirations for a better world and Martin Luther King did not see his "dream" come true as all were fell by assassin's bullets.

In the mid-to-late 60's the Vietnam War was raging, and the kids born in the early 40's were just the right age to be drafted. It was at this time that space exploration had generated an extraordinary emphasis on education resulting in the establishment of cheaper community colleges, the development of the "Pell Grant" program and more college scholarships being extended. This along with legislation that allowed draft deferments to those who were attending school factored into the tremendous influx of students attending post-secondary institutions. The culminating effect was that the 60's found the majority of the 40's children in college, vocational training or the military.

Interesting, the 40's kids still wanted answers to important questions that effected them. The absence of answers to the question; "Why Vietnam?" produced additional strife and created unrest that culminated in protests on college campuses and other venues. The Haiti Asbury District of San Francisco, the Woodstock Concert and various university campus protests, like Kent State, were notable landmark places where violence erupted.

Meanwhile, the "Cold War" with Russia continued, racial minorities gained more freedoms and the controversial policy of "Affirmative Action" helped immensely in the workplace. Women became a viable political force as they campaigned harder than ever before. Technology expanded in previously inconceivable ways as computers, MRI scanners, genetic engineering devices, mobile phones, color televisions and other items were introduced and refined.

In the 70's the Watergate Scandal and the revealed truth that there had been lies by the government about the Vietnam War brought the American people face-to-face with the truth that they had been duped. This revelation vindicated the 40's children and their demand for government officials to answer important political questions that impacted their lives.

The 40's child in the 70's was employed, married with children of their own; however their influence on society continued. Although many of their liberal ideas were cast aside, there was still a general tolerance of other's opinions and ideological differences that produced a generic lassie faire, indifferent attitude that permeated the American society. The "live and let live" outlook became popular and characterized the times.

This laid back outlook on life was a driving force throughout the 80's and into the early 90's. Divorce rates were off the charts, church attendance was at an all-time low, unmarried couples living together became commonplace, drugs made their way from the large cities into the small towns of America. The 40's children reacted to this by just floated along like "Johnnathan Livingston Seagull" in the popular book by the same name.

The popularized "Country Outlaw Music" that engulfed the 70's evolving into a more up-scale "Contemporary Country" music that would culminate into "Country Rock" in the late 90's. There was a popular song by David Bellamy called "Old Hippie" that described the 40's child's plight at this time. The chorus of the song says, "he's an old hippie, and he don't know what to do, should he hang onto the old, or should he grab onto the new. He's an old hippie, this new life just ain't the stuff, He ain't tryin' to change nobody, he's just trying real hard to adjust."

The late 90's and early 2000's were the times that defined the 40's child's epitaph. Most by now had lost their parents and they alone were the last distinguishable barrier between their own children and mortality. This was a very sobering reality check and one that brought about a more in-depth self-reflection. That meeting of the minds revealed the undeniable truth that the 40's child had finally become almost exactly like their parents; a sensitive, cautious, right-of-center individual in looks, dress, manners, life-style and relationships.

The irony in all of this is in the year 2012 the greatest protesters in the history of the world have not taken their replaced joints, their walking aides, their stinted hearts, their hearing aids, their false teeth, their gray, balding heads, their flabby muscle-less bodies, and protested the unreasonable gasoline prices, the outlandish food costs, the inadequacy of health care and other issues that would have been offensive to our parents. What is really needed in this country is for the 40's children to have one final ultimate protest where the blue-hair/bald headed brigade marches in unison at one common event to just let everyone know who we really are, and how it is to be done.