Balanced in the middle of a year, in the middle of a decade, in the midst of a war, and at the watershed of a life.
On July 3rd, 1966 James David Zahn and I started driving my white 1962 Triumph Spitfire Mark II home to Indiana from the Marine Corps Air Station, Santa Ana, California. We were driving Route 66. I was playing the Martin Milner role, ‘Jake’ Zahn that of George Zaharis. We had all our civilian possessions with us, including Jake’s bowling ball. Our posteriors were about eight inches above the hot pavement.
A year before, 1965, Marines walked ashore at Danang, Vietnam. Bloomfield won The Regional. I enlisted in the American equivalent to the French Foreign Legion after a poor first semester at Indiana University. Gemini spacecraft orbited the earth. My father remarried. My grandmother signed up for the initial Medicare coverage. Following basic and advanced infantry training, the first Marine Computer Fundamentals course in history and extended mess duty, I returned home on leave to my first “serious” girl friend.
A year later, 1967, Jake, I, and four hundred other sweaty men walked off the Landing Ship Dock USS Hermitage onto a Danang pier and rode trucks to the top of Monkey Mountain, there to install and maintain the Marine Air Control Squadron 4 computer and radar systems. It was nine in the morning and already over 100 degrees. We had no ammunition for our rifles. I had received a literal “Dear John” letter from the serious girl friend before the Hermitage left San Diego.
The first noon of our planned thirty-six hour drive saw us in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The seventy-five mile-per-hour air was too hot for us to lower the windows. It burned the skin. The Spitfire ran three hundred miles on a ten-gallon tank of gas. The major stops on Route 66 – Needles, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Amarillo – were spaced to match. A red Porsche 911 with a single driver passed us about every six hours. Evidently, we were passing him when he made solitary pit stops. Jake and I had our you-hit-the-restroom-while-I-pump-the-gas routine down to Indianapolis 500 standards.
Two years earlier, 1964, Guy Glover planned on getting the Bloomfield basketball team to the Final Four. Loogootee, beaten during the season when one of our big men was ill, derailed the train in the regional. I graduated from high school; turning in Ralph Chipman’s advanced math homework on the last day possible. There was no girlfriend, serious or even incidental. US Army Special Forces were coaching the South Vietnamese regulars and mountain tribesmen.
Two years later, 1968, the Viet Cong broke the traditional Tet cease-fire and the will of the American populace. We won every battle and started to lose the war. Summer riots erupted in several US cities. Soviet tanks crushed the spirit of freedom in Prague. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Bobby’s words prevented a riot in Indianapolis but not his own assassination in Los Angeles. The Chicago Seven distracted from the Democratic convention. My absentee ballot failed: Nixon was elected, setting the stage for Watergate. Borman, Lovell, and Anders were the first to see Earthrise. They read to us from Genesis on Christmas Eve.
The second noon found us exhausted and frustrated in the middle of St. Louis, on the hottest day of the year, lost in All-Star Day traffic. We thought we beat the Porsche. Maybe he beat us.
Three years before, 1963, Elizabeth Tilford died as a result of an automobile accident. My mother had driven my grandmother to Vincennes. Grandmother never accepted Elizabeth’s death. “It should have been me. It should have been me.” I watched King speak his dream from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. John Kennedy did not live to see his. Guy Glover gave me the ‘number one’ set of warm-up sweats for my senior season of track.
Three years after, 1969, I was back in The World. Round-eyed women. One particular blue-eyed woman. She dropped by our house on Moon Day. Neil Armstrong constructively bronzed his right foot. She was a student in my Dad’s high school age Sunday School class. She was beautiful. We rode in a British racing green MGB [ordered from Vietnam and picked up in Chicago] on our first date. I worked at Crane and saved money for the return to Indiana University.
I arrived home late at night. Jake had caught a bus in St. Louis to his home. The trip actually lasted 38 hours. We took a break along the way. I had several days of leave and was feeling glad to be home, secure, and yet apprehensive. Twenty years old, wanting to act like a man yet wanting to live. I knew that things would change soon and didn’t know how.
Four years before, 1962, the world did not end with October’s Thirteen Days.
Four years later, 1970, I married the blue-eyed girl.
Most of the things in the balance the summer of 1966 turned out all right. The Berlin Wall came down. We won – or the Soviets lost – the Cold War. MCAS Santa Ana closed. Dad’s new wife stood by him until his death in 2000. The blue-eyed girl helped me through school and had two good kids. She and I visited Neil Armstrong, went to Edinburgh, walked the Bright Angel Trail, sold Girl Scout Cookies, and were reactivated for Enduring Freedom. She’s more beautiful now.
British sports cars saved the world.