Conflict in Camelot



In May of 1963 I turned 17, and that summer was spent at the beach. In the fall, I would play my last high school sports and could barely wait for my 18th birthday. A lot of things happened in my life when I was 17. Besides playing sports, I was discovering girls, applying to colleges, and waiting for the draft board to send me “Greetings,” that letter all guys knew would come as we became old enough to kill but not to vote. We had a big black cloud hanging over us, and that cloud was the conflict in Vietnam.

In 1963 at 17, I was too young to know what war was. In school, we read about the great wars:  The Civil War between the States, WWI, WWII, Korea, and now this place called Vietnam. It seemed apparent that unless we had a good reason not to go, we were going to be sent to a strange country, following the commands of old men to fight and maybe die. There were powers-that-be I did not fully understand, and those powers were determined to take away my youth. It should have been a time of hope for the future, but instead it was filled with fear I may never see that future.

At the same time, in a world far away called Washington, D.C., I was told there was a Camelot. The prince was President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and the princess, Jacqueline Kennedy. I watched as Camelot played out and wondered what it had to offer me. I had Vietnam to deal with.

President Kennedy was escalating this so-called conflict in Vietnam as Buddhist monks burned themselves in protest. If Camelot was so grand why were people committing suicide in protest against this fairy-tale world? Indeed, I could see there was a conflict, but this conflict seemed to be in my country as well as in some faraway place called Vietnam.

My senior year in high school was easy enough. I had a light class load that included one of my favorite subjects, history. I truly loved learning about things that happened in the past, especially in my country, the United States. I learned about the colonists and the Revolutionary War. I could see Paul Revere riding through the night streets of old Boston proclaiming the arrival of the British. History always sparked my imagination.

One day in history class another teacher came in and whispered to my teacher. I watched as the color drained from their faces, and we were told that school would be closing early. In fact, it was not just the school but the world that had stopped. My world, my life stopped, frozen in time. Now fifty years later, November 22, 2013, I know I witnessed history, a cold, dark, lonely history when hope and Camelot crashed into a thousand pieces of broken dreams. Someone killed Camelot. The prince was dead. And now a half-century later I remember watching the cameras roll. Newscasters cried on camera and what was then so current is now studied in history class, the assassination of President John Kennedy. And I am still in conflict.

There’s more on the podcast.  Tune in.