The Pueblo Is Captured

If you youngsters out there think that North Korea’s current ruler is a nutcase, you would be right. But if you think he’s the first, well, then you don’t remember the news headlines of 1968.

In January of that year, the USS Pueblo was on patrol in international waters in the Sea of Japan. Her mission was to monitor communications from North Korea. On the 22nd, two DPRK fishing trawlers approached the ship and circled her for a while. Captain Lloyd Bucher radioed the incident in, but such actions weren’t uncommon, and he wasn’t unduly alarmed.

What he was NOT aware of were the events that had recently taken place on the mainland. The night before, 31 North Korean soldiers had crossed the ironically named DMZ and headed for the Presidential Palace. Their mission: assassinate the President of South Korea.

They were apprehended within a block of their goal, and thirty of them ended up losing their lives in the ensuing battle. The lone survivor revealed the nature of their mission.

The Pueblo, under happier days

Thus, tension was quite high on both sides of the border when the Pueblo was spotted. Within hours of their encounter with the fishing boats, they were approached at high speed by a warship at full battle stations.

The crew of the Pueblo couldn’t have fought back if they had wanted to. Their guns were stowed in tarps under a layer of ice.

Soon, other warships joined the first, and Captain Bucher was ordered to allow boarding to take place. The Pueblo attempted to flee, but the warships were much faster, and began firing. One crew member was killed. Bucher ordered his crew to destroy all sensitive materials, and papers went into the incinerator, and big hammers were used on surveillance equipment. However, much sensitive information and equipment was spared.

By now herded into North Korean waters, the Pueblo was finally boarded. The crew was beaten and blindfolded, and the ship sailed to Wosnan.

A happy crowd cheered the arrival of the ship and the unloading of its captives.

Pueblo crew flipping off Korea

The US assembled a task force in the Sea of Japan, and tensions remained very high. However, North Korea was very well armed, and would be joined by other communist nations in the event of attack. So a waiting game began.

It was during this time that the captain and crew showed a remarkable amount of defiance and resistance in the face of torture and interrogation. This was revealed in the photographs that were taken by the captors and sent to America.

Interestingly, the crew members were often shown extending a middle finger in a casual manner. Hmm…

Additionally, the captain was ordered to sign a confession of wrongdoing. The problem was that nobody among the North Korean authorities could speak English well enough to put one together. Ergo, Captain Bucher was ordered to write the confession himself.

Bozo and the rest of the heavily armed clowns were able to verify that the words Bucher used were legitimate, but unable to keep him from making another statement altogether. Example: “We paean the DPRK. We paean the Korean people. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung.”

Paean is pronounced “pee-on.”

The crew also explained that the extended middle finger was a Hawaiian gesture of good luck. The Koreans accepted this, and were quite frequently wished good fortune by the crew afterwards. All was well until Timemagazine put a photo of the crew on the cover, and someone in North Korea with enough knowledge of English spilled the beans that, as the accompanying article revealed, the gesture was obscene.

The captives received beatings.

After eleven months, the crew was finally released in exchange for an admission by the US that they were, in fact, spying, and a promise to never, ever do it again. The Pueblo itself, however, continues to sit in Pyongyang, now a tourist attraction.

In 1973, a TV movie starring Hal Holbrook as Captain Bucher was made about the incident. I was amazed to see the crews’ defiant flipping of the bird on primetime television. That simply wasn’t done back in those days. But it made for a warm feeling, seeing that the spirit of the captives remained intact throughout their detention.

The Pueblo incident wasn’t all heroics, though. Captain Bucher and Officer in Charge of the Research Department, Lt Steve Harris, were afterwards investigated and court martials were recommended. However, the SecNav refused to allow it, saying the men had suffered enough.

Thus ended an incident that defines the relationship between North Korea and the US, one that has been consistently hostile since the Korean War. The captured Pueblo continues to be operated as a tourist attraction by the North Korean government.

Here’s wishing good luck to them. 😉

Swine Flu Scare, the 1976 Version

President Ford receives a swine flu inoculation from his White House physician, Dr. William Lukash.

The world has reacted in various ways to the swine flu scare at presstime. Mexico has basically shut down, recent soccer games being played all over the country before empty stadiums. The fans aren’t allowed in, but the games get played anyway. Strange.

Anyhow, the CDC is calling for clear heads and calm. And you know what? The Boomer generation is doing exactly that. You see, we’ve been here and done this before.

On February 5, 1976, an Army recruit at Fort Dix told his drill instructor that he felt lousy, but not sick enough to see the medics or to skip an upcoming training hike. Within 24 hours, the soldier, 19-year-old Pvt. David Lewis, was dead. Doctors determined that he was killed by the same influenza which caused the pandemic (the world’s first) of 1918-19, which took a half-million US lives, and killed 20 million worldwide. Two weeks later, health officials disclosed to America that the disease, known as swine flu, had killed Lewis and hospitalized four of his fellow soldiers at Fort Dix.

What followed next was a panic of sorts. Word began spreading around that the 1918 pandemic was coming back.

The CDC ordered that vaccines be produced in numbers never before seen. And the general public was urged to get swine flu shots, as the depicted 1976 commercials demonstrate.

Even President Ford got his shot, and he invited camera crews into the Oval Office to film the event.

According to a doctor of that time, who was among many invited to Washington to meet with the CDC a few weeks after that first soldier’s death, the situation was destined to be a mess no matter who did what. The tone of the meetings was that 1918 must not be allowed to repeat. The CDC outlined an unprecedented program to manufacture and administer vaccines against the virulent strain. One of the concerns of the medical community was that all available resources would be diverted to the vaccination program, to the detriment of any other medical research.

But the decision was made, with President Ford’s firm backing, to proceed with the vaccination program.

The goal was to get everyone vaccinated before the fall/winter 1976 flu season. The government poured 135 million bucks into the project, a heck of a lot of 1976 dollars. And when October 1 arrived, the vaccinating began in earnest.

Two problems. Two BIG problems. One, the swine flu never showed up. Two, there were side effects from the vaccinations themselves.

The side effects were anticipated, and indeed, the number of them was, as expected, very small. However, the affected individuals received a lot of media coverage. One side effect was Guillain-Barre syndrome. This disease would cause the immune system to attack one’s own nerves, sometimes causing complete paralysis. Fortunately, complete recovery is common, if the person survives the initial onslaught. But many don’t, and actual deaths came to be attributed to the vaccine for the disease that never showed up.

The vaccinations stopped, after only 40 million inoculations. The goal was to vaccinate all 220 million Americans.

The effect was devastating on Ford’s administration, certainly contributing to his November loss to Jimmy Carter. But the effect was also devastating on immunology in general. The pharmaceutical industry had to absorb the cost of the unused 110 million doses of vaccine that had been produced at that point. The government refused to reimburse them. They were also being sued right and left by the families of the victims of side effects.

As a result, the drug companies began pulling out of the vaccine business. Even today, there are not as many vaccine makers as there were in 1976.

Thus ended the swine flu snafu, as it was commonly known in newspaper headlines. Unfortunately for us today, its effects have lasted well beyond that polyester year of 1976.

The Huntley-Brinkley Report

Chet and Dave

You knew this was a serious news show. The opening music left no doubt in your mind. By the way, in case you didn’t know, it was Beethoven’s second movement (scherzo) of his ninth symphony.

Chet and David were my Dad’s favorites, so it was they who showed me space capsules orbiting the earth, the war in Vietnam, the protest marches, and the tragic assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Chet was usually in New York, and David was in Washington D.C. While far from a comedian, if there was a lightweight remark to be made, it came from David. Chet never cracked a smile that I recall.

Once the broadcast was at an end, some very familiar words were exchanged:

“Good night, Chet.” Good night, David. And good night from NBC News.”

It was an exchange I heard practically every weeknight. I miss it.

The Cuban Missile Crisis

Some things blissfully took place before I had a chance to be terrified by them.

As a kid, I was plagued by worry. I’ve gotten over it since then, perhaps to an excessive degree, but back then, it didn’t take much to fill me with fear. And if I’d been a bit more aware when I was two years old, I’d have been up all night, just like much of the rest of the world was in 1962.

It all started on January 1, 1959. President Manuel Batista fled Cuba, leaving it in the hands of Fidel Castro and his revolutionary forces. Despite the fact that Batista was about as crooked a character as was around at the time, the US took it as a personal insult that communism had taken hold just 90 miles from its borders. The fact that lands and corporations held by US entities were nationalized by the Cuban government certainly didn’t help the mood, either.

Premier Nikita Kruschev was delighted, though. The outspoken, emotional head of the Soviet Union was another burr under the US’s saddle. The USSR had been flexing their muscles throughout the post WWII years, and Ike was sick and tired of it. By the time JFK was elected in 1960, the US had made it clear that Soviet expansion would not continue without resistance from them.

U-2-obtained evidence of Cuban missiles

The Russians were nervous. The US had enough ICBM’s to bomb their entire nation, but the Red Bear couldn’t strike back. They could pepper Europe, but most of the US mainland was out of their reach. Solution: put missiles within the borders of new ally Cuba.

That went over with Kennedy like the proverbial fart in the elevator. Thus began one of the scariest chapters in world history.

On October 14, 1962, a U-2 plane flying high over Cuba spotted indisputable evidence that Russian missiles were being placed on the island. Kennedy kept the discovery under his hat and met with advisors for a few days.

The decision was made to create a naval blockade around Cuba. On October 22, he went public with the news, and also announced that any missile launch from Cuba would be regraded as an attack on the US, and would be given an appropriate response. He further demanded that the existing missiles be dismantled, and that all offensive weapons be removed.

Strong words. They were met by equally strong words from Kruschev. In a letter to Kennedy, he wrote that the blockade amounted to “an act of aggression propelling humankind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war.”

Thus began a time when the civilized world was faced with the very, very real threat of nuclear annihilation. Schools stepped up their air raid drills, fathers restocked their bomb shelters, and some folks literally began living their lives like there was no tomorrow.

Looking back, you could certainly see that the Soviets had a point. The US had been deploying missiles in NATO countries. The Russians responded with similar actions in their own Warsaw Pact holdings, but the US itself was too distant a target to be in danger. Wouldn’t missiles in one of the USSR’s western hemisphere strongholds be fair play?

HELL NO was JFK’s response.

The public responded in a variety of ways. Fear, obviously, was the most common reaction, but some felt compelled to protest. Peaceful marches took place in various locations in the US calling for “negotiation, not annihilation.” And, of course, others were ready to let the nukes fly and see who would survive.

But Kennedy was adamant. The missiles had to go, or Cuba would continue to be embargoed. The ball was in Kruschev’s court.

One of the scariest things about the whole mess was Kruschev on the other end. He was a bombastic individual who once took his shoe off and beat on the desk in protest of an opposing speech in a UN General Assembly. He also told western ambassadors “”Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will dig you in.” No, he didn’t actually say “We will bury you,” but his meaning was clear.

Knowing that he had a red button he could push was stay-up-all-night worrisome.

Finally, on October 28, 1962, Kennedy, United Nations Secretary-General U Thant, and Kruschev reached an agreement. The Russians would withdraw from Cuba in exchange for the US declaring that they would never invade the island nation. Behind the scenes, the US would also disassemble a number of missiles that it had in Europe and Turkey.

The world exhaled.

Fifty years later, the US has kept their promise. Castro is still alive, but his son is calling the shots. Kruschev is gone, so is the USSR.

But we’re all still around, thanks to a blustery individual making a calm decision. Say what you want about Nikita Kruschev, he prevented a nuclear war that he very easily could have instead caused to be. And Kennedy’s ballsy stance kept the western hemisphere free of Soviet missiles, thus giving one fretful youngster one less thing to worry about.

The Cold War of the 60’s

A 1950’s A-test

One thing that all Boomer kids had in common was that they grew up with an inherent distrust of the Russians in particular, as well as communism in general. WWII was fought to eliminate tyranny and oppressive governments, and here we were, twenty years later, and there was a wall in Berlin designed to keep its inhabitants from fleeing to freedom. An intensely frightening standoff between Kennedy and Khrushchev over missiles in Cuba had kept our parents and older Boomers up at nights, fearing the future. There had been a 1968 uprising in Czechoslovakia which had been ruthlessly crushed by Russian tanks.

It was all pretty scary stuff to an already insecure kid. I remember asking my mother repeatedly if she thought that we would be going to war with Russia. She would always tell me no, she was positive that we wouldn’t, but the reports on the nightly news would too often make her reassuring words sound hollow.

Evidence that we had a serious enemy in Russia was found everywhere during the decade. Many public buildings sported signs near their entrances announcing that they were fallout shelters. In other words, in case Russia drops a bomb on us, and we aren’t instantly incinerated, then we can run to the local library to gain a measure of protection from radioactive fallout.

Gee, THAT was reassuring.

Women striking for peace in 1962

I heard something absolutely terrifying on the Huntley-Brinkley Report one night. A Russian nuclear test was sending a radioactive cloud over parts of the US. I was inconsolable. I just knew that we would have to live in the basement of the library for years, waiting for the horrible air-borne poison to slowly become harmless.

For several years after WWII, the struggle between Russia and the US had no clear-cut good guys or bad guys in the eyes of nations that had not lined up one way or the other. Many democratic nations had large numbers of citizens who leaned toward the more appealing ideals of communism, including no class distinctions, blue-collar workers calling the shots, and ownership of land and resources by the general public, instead of wealthy autocrats.

However, as time wore on throughout the 50’s, this idealistic view of communism was soon replaced with cold, hard facts. State-owned resources made for a situation where nobody got much of anything. Far from classless, communistic societies were generally comprised of peasants and the ultra-rich. The workers calling the shots? Hardly. Instead, a wall had to be built around East Berlin in order to prevent unhappy, hungry people from fleeing to the free west section of town.

Thus, I was spared the paranoid era of McCarthyism, when the US was genuinely fearful that the commies could take over from within. In the only statement I ever heard my mother make about the time, she declared that the “witch hunt” was the worst thing that the country had ever been through. And she personally recalled the Great Depression and the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Strong words, indeed, from an eyewitness of truly bad events.

No, by the 60’s, it was quite clear that communism was a total failure, at least as far as its practice was concerned. Communist nations were invariably horribly-run operations consisting of cold, hungry, miserable populaces and “fact”-spewing propaganda media machines. Thus, the Cold War lines were drawn as citizen freedom vs. citizen oppression, as opposed to a wealthy class of greedy “haves” holding sway over the “have-nots”, as the idealists would have you believe.

While that change in philosophy did remove the McCarthy paranoia, it did little to assuage the fears of a kid who was terrified of missiles bearing nuclear warheads heading for his hometown.

Our kids grew up with the fall of communism, something that will no doubt create future nostalgic remembrances as they grow older of how they watched that infamous Berlin Wall get torn down on live TV. Our grandchildren have grown up in an era when the enemy now consists of an image of a fanatical, suicidal terrorist.

The Cold War that kept me awake at night when I was a kid is now a fading memory. Sadly, though, it seems that there will always be some sort of enemy to hate and fear.

The Bicentennial

What a long, strange trip it’s been. We Boomers have a lifetime of memories that probably, as mountains of memories go, aren’t a whole lot different from any generation. Since the Industrial Revolution, quantum leaps in progress during one’s lifetime have simply been par for the course.

However, looking back, it was a wild and crazy coincidence that the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence took place during the coincidental rises of the polyester and disco eras. Yes, the massive celebration (so stinking big it’s capitalized) that was the Bicentennial somehow hit at the same time that society in general hit what many call its sartorial and musical nadir.

I got a nice HO train set when I was fourteen years old. It cost nearly a hundred bucks, as I recall, a lot of money during that time. What’s amazing is that the train engine was painted in red, white, and blue in full Bicentennial regalia, and I barely even noticed.

Gerald Ford celebrates the Bicentennial with the original Liberty Bell in Philadelphia

That’s because painting big objects like train engines red, white, and blue was par for the course. Water towers, smokestacks, buildings, automobiles, buses, bridges, they were all tinted the three bold colors. We got used to it.

The Bicentennial was anticipated with the beginning of the decade. Postage stamps appeared with the familiar Bicentennial logo on them by 1972. And the United States mints never produced quarters, halves, and dollars dated 1975. Beginning that year, and continuing through the next, the dates on the aforementioned coins were “1776-1976.”

A contest was held in 1972 looking for the best designs for the nation’s 200th anniversary. The winners were what ended up in your polyester pants pockets. The Liberty Bell over the Moon on the seldom-seen Eisenhower dollar was absolutely stunning, IMHO.

The Amerigo Vespucci participating in Operation Sail, 1976

One of the most impressive exhibitions given was Operation Sail. One of the things I loved doing when I was younger was building model sailing ships. It was two kinds of fun. You got to paint and glue together the plastic parts, then began the tying of the rigging. You would run hundreds of feet of black and brown string through tiny blocks and tie knots in them with tweezers. Months after you began, you ended up with a spectacular miniaturized edition of the Cutty Sark or some other sailing vessel.

Operation Sail gathered working sailing ships from all over the world to New York Harbor. There were lots of events on TV being covered at the time, but not enough of Operation Sail, ask me. What a magnificent sight, seeing these vessels, many of them a hundred years or more old, proudly maneuvering the open seas.

When I envisioned this piece, I figured I could cover my Bicentennial memories with one column, but I can tell that a celebration as encompassing as this one will definitely require further observations as time goes by.

But in the meantime, I leave you with my most vivid memory of the Bicentennial: a record album Every time I hear the word Bicentennial, it reminds me of Richard Pryor’s classic 1976 album which began with the same name.

Richard, rest in peace. You were rude, crude, and profane, but you were also one of the funniest people who ever lived.

The 1971 San Fernando Earthquake

Damage from the 1971 quake

The southern California soil shook violently the morning of February 9, 1971. That’s because a fault with the provocative name of the Santa Susana thrust exhibited a lot of movement that day, with the result being an earthquake measured at 6.6 at its epicenter. While not a big quake by Richter scale standards, it affected one of the most densely populated areas of the world, with widespread destruction being the result.

The 71 earthquake made the Huntley-Brinkley report that evening. That’s how I learned about it.

Earthquakes were difficult to comprehend in northwest Arkansas, my home at the time. We dealt with nature’s cranky side, to be sure, but in the forms of hail, tornados, lightning, and drought. Earthquakes were other-worldly phenomena.

But I had a connection to the 71 quake, even though I didn’t realize it until some 12 years later. For waking up that morning on the floor, completely oblivious to how she got there (she is STILL a very sound sleeper), was my six-year-old future wife of twenty-four years so far.

She awoke (much after the fact) in a stricken scene with toys, lamps, pictures, and other detritus from a little girl’s bedroom strewn all around her. That quake was ALMOST powerful enough to wake her up ;-).

But the rest of us were shocked and entranced by the images we saw on the news of the collapsed buildings and freeway overpasses, the fires, and the helpless look of victims whose homes were severely damaged.

The quake, as every other one located in California, elicited speculations from the general public as to when the whole state would collapse into the Pacific, as it seemed destined to do.

I worked as an electrician for a couple of years in the San Gabriel Valley area (where I met my future bride), and was impressed that the construction trade had learned many lessons from the 71 quake. Precautions were taken that greatly strengthened buildings against future tremors.

Where we currently reside, we are in a position to feel tremendous shockwaves should the New Madrid fault, which runs parallel to the Mississippi River, ever decide to elicit plate movement. But the lessons learned from the great 1971 San Fernando earthquake remained strictly a local education.

If that fault ever duplicates its great 1811 quake (which caused the great river to flow backwards), look for the possible deaths of millions.

Television Influences Its Second Election

The 1968 Chicago riots

2019 update: I haven’t watched the news since 2016. It’s become blatantly obvious that the mainstream media have an agenda to push, which includes actively promoting one political side, and vehemently attacking the other. It’s scary, and I have no idea how it will end. This article was written about a time when news networks were actually unbiased in their coverage, even as late as 2008. I hope we can soon return to a time when we can trust what news networks say.

I have to tell you, I am completely blown away by Tom Brokaw’s EXCELLENT presentation on History Channel, 1968. I have always felt that 1968 was a pivotal year, not only because of the untimely assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, but also because it seemed that rock and roll music also had an early peak that year. I won’t go into that too much, because that will be a future column.

But watching Brokaw’s special, the significance of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago finally came home to roost with me. It gave Richard Nixon the Presidency, for better or worse.

Let me place a disclaimer here. While politics is probably a part of our lives, my little I Remember JFK soapbox is decidedly APOLITICAL. My commentary is strictly in the historical sense, not the field of opinion.

I don’t know about you, but I get a little annoyed when somebody is telling a story that suddenly pushes their political beliefs.

Hubert H. Humphrey

The Republican Convention had been held early in August, 1968, in Miami, Florida. In a boondoggle for Richard Nixon, it went off peacefully, with nary a protester. The significance of that would make itself obvious a couple of weeks later.

The Democratic party was in an upheaval thanks to LBJ’s March 31st announcement that he would not seek another term as President. He promptly backed his own Veep, Hubert Humphrey, for the job.

But Humphrey had announced his support of the Vietnam War, and America’s youth had a real problem with that. They were backing Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy, who had spoken out against further supporting the conflict.

Of course, the picture was further muddled by the assassination of Robert Kennedy on June 5. Many of his supporters had switched to George McGovern, giving McCarthy no chance to catch front runner Humphrey.

Nixon on Laugh-In

Frustrated, America’s youth were ready to make their opinion heard, especially in light of Chicago mayor Richard Daley’s hard line against protests. He refused to grant any permits for demonstrations and beefed up his police forces at the convention site to make sure that nothing would happen to embarrass him or the city of Chicago.

As you can see, the whole situation was an enormous powder keg, and all it took was for the Chicago Seven to light the fuse. Protests erupted all over the city during the convention, drawing attention away from the Democratic party’s attempt to present a united front against Nixon. Protestors even made their way inside the convention hall, and footage of incidents like Dan Rather getting trampled by Chicago police attempting to clear the protesters from the room made a deep impression on American viewers. It was an ugly picture.

After it was over, Nixon, in a flash of brilliant insight, saw fit to appear on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Whether the decision was his or an advisor’s, it was perfect in that America was tired of violent protest, and longed for nice lightweight things like humor. When Nixon said “Sock it to ME?” on the air, it won him the popular vote on the spot.

Humphrey did a 180 on his Vietnam stance in September, but it was too late to win the anti-war vote. Television, which had cost a nervous, unshaven Nixon the 1960 Presidential campaign, won it for him eight years later.

Nowadays, much is being made of the internet’s influence on the 2008 election. But those of us who can recall the 1960’s remember when TV was the most powerful tool that affected Presidential elections.

Bible Reading from the Moon

Americans are a fickle bunch, to be sure. By 1968, we had grown bored with the space program. At first, it was thrilling to see black and white images of the earth from space. But by 1968, it had grown routine. We wanted something more.

In spectacular fashion, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders gave us what we wanted: our first view of earth from the moon.

The Apollo series officially won the space race America had with the Russians. Trailing from the start, we somehow managed to catch and pass our communist rivals and beat them to the moon. This was despite a tragic beginning to the Apollo program.

In 1967, Apollo 1 caught fire during a practice run, killing all three astronauts inside the capsule. The Apollo program was grounded for 21 months before its first actual manned flight, Apollo 7. That craft never left earth’s orbit. It was Apollo 8’s destiny to become the first spaceship to orbit the moon. It wasn’t originally planned to go all the way there, but last-minute decisions were made to go for it.

The crew would ride for the first time aboard the Saturn V rocket. The most monstrous rocket ever built, it stood an incredible 363 feet tall. While unmanned tests had worked well, it still must have been daunting to be sitting atop a machine taller than a football field filled with high explosives.

Saturn V lifting off

The launch took place on December 21, 1968. The first-ever burn to cause the ship to leave earth’s orbit took place perfectly, and the moon grew larger and larger in their viewfinder. Another burn (lasting precisely 4 minutes and 13 seconds) would be necessary to slow the ship into lunar orbit, and it too went off without a hitch. Man was orbiting the moon.

As Apollo 8 made its fourth orbit, the crew witnessed an event never before seen: earthrise. Astronaut Bill Anders looked out the window and saw a blue and white orb and realized it was the Earth. Comprehending their part in history, the crew understood that they needed to take photographs. Anders took both the first picture, which was black-and-white, and then later the more famous color photo that came to be hung on office walls all over the world, and was also reproduced on a US postage stamp.

As they orbited the moon for the ninth time, they began a television broadcast. Borman, the flight commander, introduced the rest of the crew, described his view of the moon, then, each astronaut read from the book of Genesis.

It was an amazing moment that many of us will no doubt recall, no matter how old we were.

I used to be a stamp collector when I was a kid, and I have to say that the Apollo 8 commemorative was one of the most beautiful designs I’ve ever seen.

1968 was a year of tremendous upheaval. Two great leaders were gunned down. Many more lives were being lost in Vietnam. Protests often turned into bloody riots. And the human races were treated far from equally by society.

One thing’s for certain. The year ended on a buoyant, triumphant note. We had reached the moon.

The Heidi Game

The American Football League, formed in 1960, had a shaky start. It hoped to outlast other American Football Leagues which had predated it. But the first years saw teams losing boatloads of money, and a public which didn’t care a whole lot about any professional football except that exhibited by the NFL.

But by 1968, the AFL had become respectable. Just how respectable would be revealed by one of television’s biggest gaffes.

The Heidi Game, aka the Heidi Bowl, took place on November 17, 1968. The game was between the Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets. Broadway Joe Namath, who would guarantee a Super Bowl win at the end of the season, was facing off against his skilled counterpart, Daryle Lamonica.

The AFL had scored a major coup by getting Joe Willy to join them. He had been drafted by the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals as well as the AFL’s New York Jets. He joined the Jets by signing the biggest rookie contract in history, and thereby did a lot to cement the AFL in place as a legitimate rival for the NFL to deal with.

NBC was covering the AFL, and had modestly successful ratings. While football was certainly a lucrative producer of revenue for them, it was prime-time advertisers who were providing the lion’s share of cash.

NBC was contractually obligated to Timex, the sponsor of a special presentation that night of Heidi. The movie began at 7:00 EST, three hours after the game began. NBC had instructed Dick Cline, their Broadcast Operations Supervisor, to cut to Heidi at 7:00 pm sharp, whether the football game was over or not. And Curt Gowdy, who was announcing the game, had warned the TV audience that that was what was going to happen.

The problem was that it was one whale of a game! The Jets and Raiders had been fighting a see-saw battle, and the score was Jets 32, Raiders 29. The Jets had just kicked a field goal to break the tie, and the Raiders had the ball on their own 23.

Enter Heidi.

To NBC’s credit, they TRIED to change cutting away from the game. As the game drew closer to 7:00, the network heads decided to hold off broadcasting the movie until the contest was finished.

Unfortunately, thousands of callers who had heard Gowdy’s announcement were calling the network begging that the game be shown in its entirety.

The resulting logjam of calls prevented NBC from getting the word to Cline to keep the game on.

The fallout for NBC was huge. In male American minds, Heidi instantly went from a little Swiss girl to a symbol of clueless broadcasting decisions. Twenty minutes into the movie, the score of the game was scrolled across the bottom of the screen. This made fans even madder.

Angry fans sent Heidi dolls to NBC with knives stuck in their backs. The AFL (as well as the NFL) rewrote contracts that now required networks to carry games to their conclusions no matter what the scores. NBC installed a dedicated phone line to the Control Room so that programming directors could be instantly notified of any last-minute changes.

But the most positive thing for football to come out of the whole affair is that the AFL demonstrated that it had developed a rabid following. Two years later they would merge with the NFL, and the rest, as they say, was history.