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Boldly Going Nowhere

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

The Class of 1962

I graduated from Robbinsdale, Minnesota, High School in 1962. Our 40th reunion will be held in August in a hotel in downtown Minneapolis. Several hundred people will attend, mostly those who enjoy a good party and those who are on parole.

I was asked by some of the reunion organizers to write a piece (basically this column with a few slight variations) about the class of 1962 that will be included in a CD to be passed out to the participants.

Looking back on it, 1962 was a very special slice of time. It always seemed to me that those who graduated from high school prior to our class were from a completely different generation. They were the leftover innocence of the 1950s with an optimistic outlook on life, secure in the notion that their government would always properly nurture them and everything would be perfect as soon as all the communists who threatened our decent way of life had been expunged. The class of 1961 reminded me of a Norman Rockwell painting where life seemed wholesome, sweet and purposeful.

My brother was a freshman when I was a senior -- the class of 1965. By the time his class graduated they had long hair, smoked weed and were exceedingly rebellious. Vietnam was the news of the day. Sides were being drawn across the nation between those who wanted to blow the communists back to the Stone Age and those who wanted to get on with their lives without being required to kill residents of a foreign land.

Somewhere in between was the class of 1962. We were the early ones caught up in the Vietnam Conflict. They called it a conflict because they didn't want to give citizens the impression it was risky. President Kennedy sent the first contingent of regular U.S. troops to Vietnam in an attempt to stimulate the economy. There's nothing like a good war to get that military-industrial economic ball rolling.

I was drafted in April of 1966. Seven other Robbinsdale High School graduates were also in my basic training company, including Eric Fermstad and Dave Lamey from the class of 1962, and one of Pat Digatano's brothers. After basic training, I became a data processing analyst at Third Army Headquarters in Atlanta, Fermstad became an MP at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, where he issued traffic violations to only junior officers, and Lamey was sent to Vietnam as a grunt where he helped bring the conflict to a draw.

Many of us who lived through the Vietnam years grew to distrust our government. It's one of the great dividing lines between generations of Americans. It started with the class of 1962 and probably lasted about 10 years before the government found other ways to divide the population so they could have more excuses for their expansive existence and continual interference in our lives.

But the scars will always be with us. Vietnam was a turning point in our country's history and the class of 1962 was at the head of the learning curve. We learned that war was extremely costly, probably unnecessary and downright stupid if it didn't involve a just cause. Older generations tended to consider us to be a bunch of draft-dodging losers, and younger generations think of us as a group of murderous thugs.

On the other hand, the class of 1962 is the luckiest group of people alive. We all became teen-agers at the exact same time rock-and-roll came into existence. You can't beat that for timing. We were the first generation to have television in our youth and now have personal computers when we are at an age where we can make good use of them. And in all probability, we will be that last group of folks who will benefit from Social Security, as a whole mob of baby boomers are coming up behind us to saturate the system.

All in all, life has been good to us.