It hardly seems possible that it’s been 50 years – a half century – since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon and proclaimed, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Those of you, like me, who are of a particular age will, no doubt, remember that event, remember exactly where you were and who you were with, and exactly what you were feeling on that day in July when Americans landed on the moon and walked, for the first time, on its barren surface.
It’s one of those days I’ll never forget, but there have been many during my 75 years. Of course, that Sunday when man first walked on the moon ranks tops among all I’ve seen. The moon landing in 1969 has been re-visited often during the past week, and it will be visited again in days to come.
I won’t labor you with my own memories of that historic day, except to tell you where I was. It was my first year back in the United States after three years in the U.S. Army. I feel blessed in that regard – my entire service was spent stateside and in Germany; I escaped being sent to Southeast Asia as our “conflict” (OK, I prefer to call it a “war”) raged on in Vietnam.
In fact, you might say, I had it pretty easy during my Army years. Because of my journalistic background in civilian life, I’d been assigned to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana for my advanced training. However, in my last two weeks of basic training, I tried out for the Fort Leonard Wood (Mo.) post baseball team.
I’d made the team as a pitcher. After only three games, however, I took my obligatory two weeks’ leave after basic training ended and went home before heading toward Indiana.
That never happened, though. My orders were rescinded, and I was ordered back to Missouri. Instead of Indiana, I had new orders. I’d go to school to become a company clerk, which meant I’d also continue playing baseball for Fort Leonard Wood.
Another “ah, ha” moment followed. After I’d completed clerk training, the company commander called me aside and told me I’d be allowed to choose my own military occupation since I hadn’t been originally ordered to clerk typist school.
With no hesitation, I chose “information specialist” which would have been my “occupation” had I gone to school in Indianapolis.
It turned out to be a good decision on my part.
From Fort Leonard Wood, I was sent to Fort Gordon, Ga., and became sports editor of the “CA Spotlight,” the weekly newspaper of the 95th Civil Affairs Group. I use the term “newspaper” quite liberally here since the CA Spotlight was a mimeographed 8x14 weekly newsletter.
I did have a weekly page for sports, called the “CA Sportslight” which covered the company softball team and the post baseball team, for which I also pitched that summer.
After that 1967 assignment, I was sent to the 4th Armored Division in Nuremberg, Germany. I was, again, sports editor for the division’s twice-monthly “Rolling Review,” a paper that was printed at the Nuremberg “Abend-Zeitung” – the largest daily paper in the city.
Upon my discharge in 1968, I’d gone to Sweden, lived with old world relatives and had played baseball, once again, this time for a team called “Leksands Baseballklubb,” and we won the national championship.
I returned home late that summer to an America changed forever during that turbulent decade of the 1960s. There was unrest on college campuses from coast to coast as students rallied against America’s war in Vietnam.
The decade saw violence like never before as students rallied against the war. Young black men had become more vigilant in demanding equality and the Black Panthers had become a violent force in cities across the country.
The 1968 Democratic National Convention was racked with violent outbursts in Chicago.
Before I came home, Robert Kennedy was assassinated, and the news I received in Sweden had shaken me to the core. His brother, President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated just five years earlier.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to return.
When Army friends visited me, young Swedish girls had approached them and said they’d help them find jobs if they deserted. My friends, of course, declined and returned to their bases in Germany.
There were, however, nine Army deserters (I was the 10th Army soldier to leave Germany for Sweden that year, first to do so legally). So, I played baseball that summer and worked for a company in the small town of Insjon.
It was gratifying to live where my grandfather once spent his younger days and to meet so many “old world” relatives.
Eventually, though, my European “adventure” came to an end, and I returned home to Iowa.
I found a country deeply divided, and I actually felt uncomfortable.
I’d written to several newspapers in Iowa and neighboring states, explaining I was returning, telling of my baseball exploits in Sweden, and seeking a job. I got several replies, but one that was most intriguing came from Wisconsin – the Wausau Daily Record-Herald.
It was a job I accepted, working a year in nearby Merrill before joining the sports staff in Wausau. That coincided with the opening of a new high school there, Wausau West.
That first summer, I spent many hours listening to the Chicago Cubs on the radio. Remember that 1969 team? It had players such as Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams. Pitchers such as Ken Hotzman and Ferguson Jenkins anchored a good pitching staff.
The Cubs roared away from the pack in the National League and had posted an 84-52 record heading into the final stretch of the season.
Then if happened.
The Cubs collapsed, finishing the season with 18 wins and 27 losses in their last 45 games. Meanwhile, the New York Mets – yes the so-called “hapless” Mets – won 38 games and lost only 11, winning the pennant by eight full games over Chicago.
I was crushed.
The curse continued, and the Cubs still hadn’t won a pennant since 1911.
Then, the almost unthinkable happened. The Seattle Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers, and I was among many sportswriters sitting in the press box at old County Stadium in Milwaukee as the Brewers made their debut, albeit a poor one as they lost to the California Angels, 10-0.
Still, baseball was back, and I had the opportunity to watch many Brewers’ games while in Wisconsin. Going to Green Bay during the chillier (even bone-chilling cold) climes to watch my beloved Packers made things even better.
It was easier to deal with, if not forget, those turbulent times in America.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News Republican and Dallas County News. He can be reached at Bhaglund13@msn.com.