Telling today’s teens how it was in the ’60s
The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Civil Rights Movement. The first man on the moon. The assassinations President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King. The Vietnam War.
These were just some of the major events of the 1960s — a decade of innocence, turmoil and change.
Guest speakers from the area shared their memories of the ’60s recently with Berkeley Springs High School students in music teacher Kathy Seager’s History of Rock & Roll classes. They brought along Sixties music, album covers, yearbooks, photos, magazines, clothing and memorabilia to show today’s teens.
David Spangenberger of Berkeley Springs created a timeline of the decade’s major historical and musical events and a fact sheet about early Rock & Roll history from 1951 to 1962. The music and what was going on in America were a part of each other, he said.
Spangenberger grew up listening to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beach Boys and the Everly Brothers. That music led into the era of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the British Invasion, the Mamas & the Papas, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Doors, Janis Joplin, the Who, Led Zeppelin and many more.
The Cold War preceded the Cuban Missile Crisis and the War in Vietnam, Spangenberger explained. The U.S. and Russia were on the brink of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He remembered students practicing air raid drills by crouching under their desks and putting their arms over their heads.
Spangenberger lived through the riots in Baltimore where the National Guard was deployed after Martin Luther King’s assassination. He said it amazed him that people were burning their own neighborhoods.
One night a curfew was instituted while they were in church, he said. No one told them and when they came out, it was eerie with no people or cars on the streets. They took the back streets to be safe, but didn’t know what had happened until they got home.
Spangenberger also told the students about the draft during the Vietnam War. He enlisted in the Navy before he was drafted and was stationed on a carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin. From 20 miles out, they watched the bombing of the coast and the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which the Vietnamese used to bicycle supplies. He later joined the Army National Guard.
Spangenberger said he was amazed they wanted to learn about the 1960s, a time when military was looked down on, not applauded as today.
“The difference is day and night,” he said. Spangenberger wanted to see those that were in the military in the 1960s get their due.
Things are different now, but much is the same, he said. Kids are still growing up with wars and demonstrations.
When students asked what his generation stood for, Spangenberger replied, “Peace.”
War & returning home
Howard Hartman, a Martinsburg veteran originally from the Keyser area, shared stories about serving in Vietnam at Plaku, Cameron Bay and along the border with the 25th Army Infantry Division.
They spent one night pinned down in a rice paddy surrounded by North Vietnamese. A mortar round hit the tent where his buddies slept. All were killed. Hartman survived uninjured because he wasn’t in the tent at the time.
Hartman described how Vietnam veterans faced a lot of animosity and were called “baby killers” when they returned home.
“We survived. Thousands of us didn’t,” he said.
Hartman said he drank heavily after he came home to try and forget Vietnam. He wound up in a car wreck due to alcohol and spent 13 months in a body cast. It gave him time to reflect on the war and get it out of his system. He gave up booze over 25 years ago.
Hartman, who graduated in 1963, said that growing up in the 1960s was hard, especially in the mountains. They had a family of 10 and he worked on farms for $2 a day when he was 12.
He said he grew up knowing what hard work was all about and this taught him how to handle life. There were chores like feeding the animals and the wood stove. He joked that he thought his name was “Get Wood” when he was growing up.
Hartman advised the students to study hard and get an education because times are tough today.
Wars have killed a lot of Americans, but drugs and booze have killed more, he said, urging the class to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
An innocent time
Local resident Mary Fraser prepared a timeline of Sixties happenings and music for the classes.
Fraser grew up in Keyser and graduated in 1968. They had only one TV in a house and no cable, just an antenna. She described her dad on the roof while her mom yelled, “No, turn it more to the right,” just so they could pick up one snowy channel.
Telephones were party lines with neighbors and there were no cell phones, texting or computers. High tech meant a transistor radio.
Teens babysat or worked at the Dairy Queen for spending money and to help with school expenses. Families ate meals together, she said.
Fraser spoke of how President John Kennedy was the new hope for young people, who felt someone at last had their voice. She remembered when Kennedy was assassinated and was mourned worldwide.
Gas was 25-cents a gallon in 1970 and her first apartment was $35 a month. Chores were expected and kids were never paid to do them. Most women didn’t work.
Environmental awareness and women’s liberation also began in the 1960s, she noted.
Fraser told the teens how young people had no input in anything in the early ’60s. “We protested to be heard,” she said.
You never talked back to your parents and were taught to respect your elders, Fraser said.
“I am so glad I was born then and have the values I have and the memories,” she said.
The decade had “great music,” she said, remembering dances like the Jerk and the Mashed Potatoes and doing the Twist “until our stomachs hurt.”
Fraser also recalled mohair sweaters, miniskirts, hot pants, maxi-coats, go-go boots and TV shows like “Laugh In,” “Sonny & Cher” and “Dark Shadows.”
Kids were always outside until it was almost dark. They played hide and seek and created their own games, Fraser said.
“It was a wonderful, innocent time,” she said.