|The following narrative was submitted on 8 January, 1997, by Patrick Cosper, who was born in 1949. If you'd like to contribute a narrative, please fill out our form. If your browser doesn't handle forms, just write us an email. For permission to reprint narratives, please contact Viet Nam Generation, Inc.|
I grew up with Howdy Doody, Davy Crockett, twenty five cent movies, and nickel colas as a child. Life was fun in the fifties. After all, I was a kid and I didn't have to worry about anything except where my next candy bar, bag of marbles, or watching Boris Korloff at the corner theater. Worries were for Dad and Mom. Life was structured, ordered, nice and neat, and kids love consistency.
Then my body matured, hormones blossomed, girls looked prettier, school got tougher, and the metamorphis from child to teenager began to unfold about 1962. High School in the Sixties brought some of the greatest times I can remember. There were no drugs, gangs, suicides, body piercing, or the myriad of extreme fads we experience in the Nineties. Friday night we went to Tastee Freeze for all the gossip on who's going with whom, who won the game, and which teacher we disliked the most. The Viet Nam war wasn't even discussed in the early Sixties. It was some story we might hear over Dad's shoulder when he was watching the nightly news with Walter Kronkite. Viet Nam. What's that all about?
When I started hight school in 1963 all the boys had crew-cut hair styles and the girls all wore skirts. Then one day I heard a song on the radio with a new sound and the words, "I want to hold your hand." The D.J. said it was from some pop group in England called the Beatles. I told my brother, "What a strange name for a band, named after an insect." I liked the beat and told him, "I bet you that song will go to number one." He said, "No way, brother." That was the first thing I remember about the change in the wind. Life (the wind) was definitely changing directions. Within the next six months, hysteria, long hair, girls in slacks, and buzz words began to appear everywhere. As we are resistant to change by nature, it had a subtle unsettling effect on everyone, especially the parents, who had been mired in tradition a lot longer than we had.
Within the next two years, Jimmy Hendrix, Jim Morrison, pot, free love, and the Viet Nam war grew to a boil. Draft card burning, bra burning, and opposition to the involvement in Viet Nam grew to a fever pitch for my generation. I started to listen to the news a little more when I turned seventeen. Hey, that could be me over there! College deferments, medical deferments, or run off the Canada? Where did all this catastrophic emotional stress and trauma come from? I surely didn't create it or want any part of it. I was happy just playing football, dating my favorite girl and looking foward to living a peaceful life.
I graduated from high school in '67 and the war was getting bad. Hundreds of boys my age were getting killed or maimed in this far-off conflict. My older brother had joined a "hippie" group by the local college campus and aspired to nothing but enlightenment and free love. He was one of the new "flower children" than my father refered to as "useless". Then it happened. Uncle Sam drew his number and big brother got his marching orders for an all expensed paid vacation to the Republic of Viet Nam, courtesy of the U.S. Selected Service. He debated cutting his shoulder length hair and beard and making a run for Canada but I told him it would break our mothers heart. He relented and went to that dreadful place.
I started college, but was very disenchanted with the whole concept. My whole world was going through upheavel. The world as I knew it had not only changed from the normal standpoint of growth and maturity, but the principles, moral standards, and accepted practices had changed at the same time in one generation. Within that one decade, the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, Jr. and several other prominent leaders were assassinated. Music changed, dress styles changed, hair styles changed, civil rights changed, gender rights changed, moral values changed, and we all were caught up in this giant vortex. Would this strong storm that swept our generation ever slow down or stop?
Well, I, like so many other adventuresome boys, was lured by the curiosity of war. I joined up and went to Viet Nam as a hospital corpsman with the Marines in 1969. We landed on the moon while I was over there. One giant step for mankind and another adjustment for the psyche to absorb. Never has so much changed in such a short period of time. I came home in one piece, a little wiser to the ways mankind can inflict harm on itself. I was whip-sawed from seeing sanity and insanity played out in a very small arena of death on a daily basis for one year. I had to absorb the loss of a few good friends, in the name of preserving democracy and peace for the world. Was it worth it? According to the people that met me on my return trip to the States and spit on me at the airport, no. Did I rationalize that time in my mind. I guess by nature we always try to rationlize our actions to ourselves first and then the outside world.
I, being a veteran of Viet Nam, have heard many stories about post traumatic stress syndrome. That's the delayed release of horror, anger, stress, and all the other abnormalities we bury in the dark recesses of our minds to keep from dealing with it. Well, I've got news for the world. Anybody who was born during the late forties, grew up in the last days of simplicity (the 1950's), and weathered the storm of change in the sixties, has or will experience delayed stress syndrome; man or woman, veteran or non-veteran.
I can see that my four children were born into the world of fast food, fast service, fast computers, and fast anything. Generation X is programmed from day one to stay on the run. We weren't. We had to grow up with a slow simple way of life, rip it out, and start over, or as they say "reprogram" our thought processes.
I now look back at the sixties as some of the best and some of the worst days of my live. Somebody changed the mold in the middle of the pour. Once in great while, when rushing to a meeting or trying to make some schedule, I will stop momentarily, and look at small children laughing, playing, with smiles on their faces, and remember a time when I was a child. A child that had no worries except where the next candy bar or sandlot ball game was located.