I have unsuccessfully tried to convince myself that I had no life, no real existence before my enlistment into the United States Army at the age of 18. I’ve come to terms with that and now readily admit that I had probably one of the more idyllic childhoods imaginable.
I was born in Ithaca, New York, where my father was earning his Ph.D. in chemical engineering. I was the second child and the first boy. My sister was born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where my parents met when they were both working on the Manhattan Project. My dad was in the Navy but never deployed when it was discovered that he had a chemical engineering background so he was quickly shipped from San Francisco and flown in civilian clothes to Oak Ridge to begin working on the atomic bomb. My mom was a secretary working in that top-secret environment alongside my dad and when Japan surrendered they decided to get married and move to Cornell University. After I was born, the family moved to Long Island where my dad had secured a job with Brookhaven National Laboratories. This was his briar patch. Having grown up in Detroit, he was an avid swimmer, sailor, and tennis player and Long Island had all of that and then some.
We bought a house in Old Field that had two acre zoning and was within walking distance of the local country club. The Old Field Club offered tennis and beach facilities replete with beach cabanas and posts in the sand where we could tie up our sunfishes and sailfishes, and children like me ran around constantly and getting into minor mischief. When I became of age, around 12 or 13 my mother made me go to the Old Field Club for cotillions. I was to learn how to dance with girls while wearing a coat and tie and become the proper young gentleman who knew how to treat a lady with respect. My mom being from Vicksburg, Mississippi, wanted her young son to be the most courteous gentleman possible. No southern woman would settle for anything less so it was toe-heel-toe-heel-step-step taught to us by Don Adams, the local dance instructor as we learned the lindy, the fox trot, and how to waltz. I actually enjoyed it truth be told. I got to interact with this strange new thing called a girl. I immediately sensed that girls were infinitely smarter than boys and even if they were the same age they were more mature and smarter. They were more poised and possessed an impenetrable veneer and aura that banished boys to the sidelines where we wore loin cloths, grunted and banged rocks together while periodically slapping each other and laughing. In my opinion, boys should’ve been banished to cages and fed bananas while the girls should have been on pedestals wearing tiaras. We were all in pure innocence and we knew no malevolence.
The 60s, in my opinion, started on November 22, 1963. Before that, it was Bobby Darin singing sappy love songs and the Flying Purple People Eater was comically unique. American Bandstand played the latest hits and then our president was murdered in cold blood and, for a brief moment, the earth stopped its rotation. America cast suspicious glances toward the Soviet Union and Cuba. American advisors were in Vietnam to stave off communist expansion from North Vietnam and the war drums were beating quietly in the background. The terms hawks and doves began to be bandied about and people were being told they had to take a side. What the sides stood for were still blurry, but the nation began to move to opposite sides of the room just in case the issues became clearer and more defined. The rock group Buffalo Springfield came out with a song entitled “For What It’s Worth” and the opening lyrics – There’s something happening here / What it is ain’t exactly clear / There’s a man with a gun over there / Telling me I got to beware – became the official anthem of the 60s protest movement and clearly reflected the divisive mood of America. Where to go from here?
Off to Vietnam and away from the Old Field Club. Away from the tennis courts, the beach cabanas and away from Don Adams and his toe-heel-toe-heel-step-step. It was the best childhood a kid could hope for, but it needed to be left behind and nearly forgotten.
Mr. Kim Rasemen, USA ‘67-‘71