Dear Grandson. When I was in school, my country was in Vietnam. It became impossible to not be swept up in it.
Lyndon B Johnson was sworn in on the plane that was carrying the body of John F Kennedy.
The country was in mourning and wondering what was gonna happen. Who killed the President? Was there a conspiracy? Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone? Will LBJ escalate the Vietnam conflict? Will he be able to get the Civil Rights Bill passed?
Throughout the investigation of the Kennedy and Oswald killings, there was much speculation, but nothing ever came out to the public. Johnson was able to sign the Civil Rights Act in August 1965, a monumental tribute to JFK and his hard work. And in August 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was signed, giving the president the power to escalate the conflict in Vietnam. The troop number at that time was at 16,000, and he dramatically raised it to 525,000 by 1967.
My oldest brother in 1959 was given a deferment from the draft board because of flat feet; my next-in-line brother in 1963 was given a deferment for being a school teacher, and my other brother was given a deferment for being married in 1965, which left me, and, what was I going to do?
Also on The Big Smoke
I stayed very busy with school and work and didn’t pay too much attention to the news. By the way, the Vietnam conflict was always on the news and there was a lot being said in the classroom, hallways and the lunchroom at my school. I started thinking real hard about my senior year and what I would do after graduation. I kept thinking that I wanted to join the Navy and be on a ship and see the world and have a girlfriend in every port. Good thoughts, Navy blue, and that should keep me out of Vietnam.
It was senior year and I started discussing with my parents about joining the Navy and my mother didn’t want to hear it, she wanted me to continue my schooling and go to college. I took the college entrance exams, but I didn’t try very hard because I wanted to go into the Navy. I convinced my parents that I would go to a small business college and study business administration and so my thought was to appease my parents for another year and a half, get my certificate, and then I would go into the Navy.
I worked very hard at Kroger’s and didn’t have a lot of time for extracurricular activities; no dances, not many dates, and occasionally I went to a basketball game. Our school, Newport Catholic High School, was pretty good in all sports, but that year there was this fellow in his junior year that was six feet eight inches tall and was very good and getting better all the time. He, Dave Cowens, went on to get a scholarship to Florida State and later was drafted by the Boston Celtics. (More on him in a later letter.)
It was senior year and I started discussing with my parents about joining the Navy and my mother didn’t want to hear it, she wanted me to continue my schooling and go to college.
So, I graduated from high school and moved on to business college at Southern Ohio Business College which was in downtown Cincinnati. I told my dad that I would need a car to drive to school and to the Newport Kroger’s. I had money and was looking at a 1955 Chevy that was pretty hopped up, but my dad said, “No way,” and that he’d find me a car and he did.
I was at Kroger’s working and I got summoned to the office for a phone call. It was my dad and he said he found a car and a great deal.
I said, “How much?”
He said, “I will pick you up after work and take you to the car lot to see the car.”
Before I could ask him if he saw the car, he hung up.
My dad picked me up at work and drove me to a used car lot in downtown Newport. We pulled up to the lot and he pointed to this thing sitting there and said, “There it is, and it is only $50.”
Now, Grandson, I am going to describe this thing to you.
There was no colour on the car, it was grey primer, four bald tires, the interior had no covers on the seats, over both headlights there was rust eating through the metal, rusted rocker panels on both sides, and there was rust on the roof. It was a steal at $50.
More on the car later, Grandson.