Summer of 69, by request

Summer of 69, by request

Not only is it Wednesday already, but it must be the second Wednesday of the month because I just got the following email:

"Welcome to ChicagoNow's Morning Blogapalooz-Hour!

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to publish a post in one hour. Here is this morning’s challenge:

"Pick an age and write about what summer – one memory, one day or the summer in general – was like from when you were that age"

The point of this exercise is to do it no matter what so don’t bail."

In truth, I knew that email was coming and I arranged my whole day so I could sit here in front of my computer from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM.

The first summer that popped into my head is the summer of 69, probably because there's a video to go with it.

I was still a teenager in 1969, so it was a bit of a coming of age time for me, but it was also a bit more.

I don't remember the exact date, but it was June of that year that I got my first airplane ride.  I also got my second and third airplane rides that day.

How could my kids identify with someone who almost made it through the teen years without having flown in an airplane?  Maybe it's a generational thing.

It wasn't that air travel hadn't yet been invented when I was a kid, it was just something out of the ordinary for most people.  My grandparents went to Florida a couple times and we were just excited taking them to the airport.

That first flight was from Chicago's O'hare Airport to somewhere south, possibly Atlanta.  I don't remember if it was a jet or propeller driven plane or how long it took to get there, but once there, we boarded another plane heading somewhere in Louisiana, possibly New Orleans.

In Louisiana, we boarded a small plane, definitely propeller driven and operated by an airline laughingly called Treetop International.  I don't know if they actually had any international destinations, but they definitely flew close to the tree tops.

Our final destination that day was Ft. Polk, Louisiana.  Not any place you'd actually want to visit, especially not in the summer.

I remember that it was a Friday and as we walked down the steps to the tarmac, another Chicagoan (one of only a few other Jews in Louisiana), Jerry Greenberg looked back at me and said, "This sure is going to screw up the weekend."

And it did.  Basic Training loomed menacingly in our immediate future.

Accepting that our weekend was ruined, we shuffled off to an orientation area, someplace where we were supposed to hang out for 2 or 3 days until we got our platoon assignments.  That 2 or 3 days turned into 11 days, something you get used to once you adjust to military time.

I got another introduction during those 11 days, this one to antisemitism.

Growing up on Chicago's North Side, my neighborhood and schools were more than 90% Jewish.  Moving to the Deep South and sharing a barracks with guys whose families expressed their 1st Amendment rights dressed in white sheets was a culture shock, to say the least.

At first it was intimidating.  It made me feel like I had done something wrong or landed in the wrong place.  By the time I was assigned to 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company and moved into my barracks though, I was an angry Jew.

Luckily, Greenberg and I were assigned to the same barracks, not that he was looking for a fight with our "southern hosts," but it was good to have someone to talk to.

Greenberg took the upper bunk, I took the lower.  As we stood there arranging our stuff, a dufus named, Chase, wearing dirty Jockey shorts came over and sat on my bed.  That, in itself earned him a serious thrashing.

Chase's first words to us, Greenberg and Abrams were, "Y'all got any kin in the Klan?"

I am not kidding about that, I will never forget those words.

I see that I'm running out of time here, I may have to regale you with some episodes from the summer of 69 in later editions.  It was a learning experience in a myriad of ways.

As for the antisemitism, it is alive and well in the 21st Century.  Hatred seems to have a life of its own and it is immortal.  The one thing I learned that summer, though is that it has to be confronted.

If you allow the haters free reign, they will flourish.  Hate is like cancer.  It is insidious and it spreads.  In the summer of 69 I learned that an occasional dose of radiation can keep it in check.

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