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Significant events of 1963, 50 years later

Updated on September 3, 2013
The Fab Four
The Fab Four | Source

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the fiftieth reunion of my high school graduation class. It was a fascinating experience. Personally, I learned that most of the past is just that. I learned that some people I hadn’t spoken to in fifty years remembered me and were glad to see me; and I was finally able to see old friends in person that I’d been weakly corresponding with over the years. I made new friends (mates of old friends), and the mood was certainly that the reunion would not end there.

One would expect that a lot of energy was directed at comparing each other from the graduation day to the present. But that was in low frequency, to my surprise. Perhaps others in the mix had gotten together before and did not need to swallow half a century all at once. Certainly a lot of them had not left the little hamlet for long if at all, and were better versed than I as to the current whereabouts and happenings of each other.

An interesting twenty-first-century result of the reunion was a spate of posts and friend-making in Facebook, decorated with memories and old photos. Curiously, these remembrances were of sixth grade and earlier. Not one to relive my childhood, I decided to look back no further back than the months before and after our graduation in June of 1963 and compare them to where and what I am now. This alone was sobering.

So for all you baby boomers now in your sixties, I offer a timeline of some of the events outside of our little village that affected our lives and our futures. We were brought up in the nuclear fear of the cold war, yet suddenly, at the age of eighteen, we were able to drink and die (if not vote), leave the safety of our parents’ homes, marry, and start our own families. An entire new era was about to begin…

My selected timeline of events follows, with my remarks in bold italics. I would love for any readers to add their experiences and impressions.

Whacky art teacher, Nick Baldo
Whacky art teacher, Nick Baldo | Source

January 2, 1963: The Viet Cong won their first major victory over South Viet Nam. Our boys enlisted expecting to become men – the fear of death was not acute yet.

January 8, 1963: Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa traveled through the United States for the first time When it was in NY, I went to see it – wow!

January 14, 1963: George Wallace became governor of Alabama. In his inaugural speech, he defiantly proclaimed "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!" This almost triggered a second civil war. A great many of us were unaware of the extent of segregation and prejudice still rampant in our country.

January 26, 1963: The Australia Day shootings shocked Perth, in Western Australia.

January 28, 1963: African American student Harvey Gantt entered Clemson University in South Carolina, the last U.S. state to hold out against racial integration.

January 29, 1963: French President Charles de Gaulle vetoed the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community. At the time, De Gaulle considered himself a powerful world leader.

February 8, 1963: The United States banned travel, and financial and commercial transactions by US citizens to Cuba. We faced the Cuban crisis the November or October before this. I still have a castanet my Dad gave me from a business trip to Havana, previously a playground for wealthy Americans.

February 11, 1963: The CIA created its Domestic Operations Division. Till now domestic situations were the purview of the FBI. This was part of J. Edgar Hoover’s megalomania. The Beatles recorded their debut album - Please Please Me in London. Sylvia Plath committed suicide in London.

February 19, 1963: Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was publilshed. We began waking up. Donna Reed be damned. Now when I look at sitcoms from the fifties I cringe.

March 4, 1963: In Paris, six people are sentenced to death for conspiring to assassinate Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle pardons five, but the sixth, Jean Bastien-Thiry, was executed by firing squad.

March 18, 1963: The US Supreme Court ruled that state courts are required to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who cannot afford to pay their own attorneys. Scary to think it took almost 300 years to get here. But then again, maybe the reverse should have been done, banning all attorneys, as it was in the young state of Massachusetts.

March 21, 1963: Alcatraz, in San Francisco Bay closed; the last 27 prisoners were transferred elsewhere.

March 28, 1963: Alfred Hitchcock's film "The Birds" is released in the United States. Scared the daylights out of most of us.

March 30, 1963: Indigenous Australians were legally allowed to drink alcohol in New South Wales.

March 31, 1963: The 1962–63 New York City newspaper strike ended after 114 days. If the World Wide Web had been alive then, the strike may well have continued to today.

April 1, 1963: The soap opera General Hospital debuted on ABC television. Some folks still watch. We tend to think that our mothers watched this way before us – but actually, television was still young.

April 3, 1963: The Birmingham campaign (Birmingham, Alabama) against racial segregation began with a sit-in. This began the practice of passive protest.

April 7, 1963: Yugoslavia was proclaimed a socialist republic; Josip Broz Tito was named President for Life.

April 8, 1963: Lawrence of Arabia won Best Picture Oscar.

April 10, 1963: The U.S. nuclear submarine Thresher sank 220 miles east of Cape Cod; all 129 aboard (112 crewmen plus yard personnel) died.

May 1, 1963: The Coca-Cola Company introduced its first diet drink, Tab. Happy happy joy joy! Then they found out it causes cancer in mice – off the shelves. Then they found out a human would have to consume something like 10 gallons a day to trigger cancer. Back on the shelves.

May 8, 1963: The first James Bond film, Dr. No, was released in the US. The CVS Pharmacy opened in Lowell, Massachusetts.

May 23, 1963: Fidel Castro visited the Soviet Union.

May 27, 1963: The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan , Dylan's second studio album, and most influential, opened with the song "Blowin' in the Wind". Many of us were already avid fans.

June 3, 1963: Huế chemical attacks: The Army of the Republic of Vietnam rained liquid chemicals on the heads of Buddhist protestors, injuring 67 people. The US threatened to cut off aid to the regime of Ngô Đình Diệm. This was the beginning of the US getting involved in Viet Nam beyond the United Nations.

June 11, 1963: In Saigon, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc committed self-immolation to protest the oppression of Buddhists by the Ngo Dinh Diem administration. Many of us tried to fathom how someone could do this. Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in the door of the University of Alabama to protest integration; finally he stepped aside and allowed James Hood and Vivian Malone to enroll. Holding our breath… President John F. Kennedy broadcast a historic Civil Rights Address, in which he promised a Civil Rights Bill; he asked for "the kind of equality of treatment that we would want for ourselves."

June 12, 1963: Medgar Evers was murdered in Jackson, Mississippi (his killer was convicted in 1994). That’s 31 years later!

June 16, 1963: Vostok 6 carried Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman into space. They not only beat us into space, but in feminism as well!

June 17, 1963: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state-mandated Bible reading in public schools was unconstitutional. This is being argued to this day, 50 years later.

June 20, 1963: The establishment of the Moscow–Washington hotline (unofficially, the "red telephone") was authorized by signing of a Memorandum of Understanding in Geneva by the Soviet Union and the United States. We started seeing the cold war thaw – just a little. At least it was a back-out plan.

July 1, 1963: ZIP codes are introduced by the USPS. We’ve been drowning in codes ever since.

July 5, 1963: The Roman Catholic Church accepted cremation as a funeral practice.

July 7, 1963 –Secret police loyal to Ngo Dinh Nhu, brother of President Ngo Dinh Diem, attack American journalists including Peter Arnett and David Halberstam at a demonstration Being a member of the Press became hazardous duty.

August 5, 1963: The United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty. Drip, drip…

August 8, 1963: The Great Train Robbery took place in Buckinghamshire, England. Thought that was in the 1880s did ya? I did.

August 18, 1963: James Meredith became the first black person to graduate from the University of Mississippi.

August 28, 1963: Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his I Have A Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to an audience of at least 250,000 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This was commemorated by a repeat March on August 28, 2013. At least this time there was no fear or anger.

October 2, 1963: LA Dodgers left-handed pitcher Sandy Koufax set a World Series record by striking out 15 New York Yankees in a 5-2 victory in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium. The Dodgers swept the series in four straight. The subway series continue.

October 8, 1963: Sam Cooke and his band were arrested after trying to register at a "whites only" motel in Louisiana. Not long after, he recorded the song "A Change Is Gonna Come".

October 14, 1963: A revolution started in Radfan, South Yemen, against British colonial rule. It’s easy to forget that the UK still had colonies after WWII. I visited Jamaica in early 1965, and it was still under British rule.

October 30, 1963: Car manufacturing firm Lamborghini was founded in Italy. And man has drooled ever since. I saw one a couple of years ago – amazing design!

October 31, 1963: 74 died in a gas explosion during a Holiday on Ice show at the Indiana State Fair Coliseum, Indianapolis.

November 2, 1963: South Vietnamese coup: Arrest and assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, the South Vietnamese President.

November 14, 1963: A volcanic eruption under the sea near Iceland created a new island, Surtsey.

November 18, 1963: The first push-button telephone was made available to AT&T customers. More codes. Try to explain this to your grandchildren. Wired into the wall; and rotary dialing used to ruin your nails.

November 22, 1963: Assassination of John F. Kennedy In Dallas, Texas; Texas Governor John B. Connally was seriously wounded; Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson became the 36th President. The entire country stood still for four days.

November 23, 1963: The first episode of the BBC television series Doctor Who was broadcast in the United Kingdom. The Golden Age Nursing Home fire killed 63 elderly people near Fitchville, Ohio.

November 24, 1963: Lee Harvey Oswald, assassin of John F. Kennedy, was shot dead by Jack Ruby in Dallas, Texas. Conspiracy theorists still question what went on that week. New U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson confirmed that the United States intended to continue supporting South Vietnam militarily and economically. Mostly with the bodies of our own young men. Not formally declared a war, this was termed a ‘military action’, so the vets did not receive GI benefits.

December 3, 1963: The Warren Commission began its investigation into the JFK assassination. Fat waste of taxes; this gets my golden goose award.

December 7, 1963: Tony Verna, a CBS-TV director, debuted an improved version of instant replay during his direction of a live televised sporting event, the Army–Navy Game. This instance is notable as it was the first instant replay system to use videotape instead of film. How did we resolve games before then?We had to trust the referees.

December 8, 1963: A lightning strike caused the crashing of Pan Am Flight 214 near Elkton, Maryland, killing 81 people. Frank Sinatra, Jr. was kidnapped at Harrah's Lake Tahoe.

December 10, 1963: Chuck Yeager narrowly escaped death while testing a rocket-augmented aerospace trainer when his aircraft went out of control nearly 21 miles up and crashed. He parachuted to safety at 8,500 feet after vainly battling to gain control of the powerless, rapidly falling craft. He became the first pilot to make an emergency ejection in the full pressure suit used for high altitude flights.

December 23, 1963: I got my pilot's license!

December 26, 1963: The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There" were released in the United States, marking the beginning of Beatlemania outside of the UK.

Also in 1963 … The transatlantic communications cable went into operation. The IEEE Computer Society was founded. Harvey Ball invented the ubiquitous smiley face symbol.

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me  in 1963
me in 1963 | Source

Other things to try to explain to grandchildren – dress codes, blackboards, cleaning erasers, rubber bands and paper clips, paddling. Many things we accepted as the norm were undone. Many things we now consider the norm started that year.

After looking back on all these events, it’s hard to say that life today is catastrophic – life is always dynamic.


Karen Leshin added: " I would also list another event that happened....it was the death of the first Lindenhurst soldier in Vietnam...Robert Dorner...Barbara Dorner's brother...it changed my view of war forever...."

© 2013 Bonnie-Jean Rohner

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      Cannon 2 years ago

      Thinikng like that is really amazing

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      Prue 2 years ago

      This is the ideal answer. Evnyroee should read this

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      Tommy 2 years ago

      Well put, sir, well put. I'll cetanirly make note of that.

    • Bonnie-Jean Rohne profile image
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      Bonnie-Jean Rohner 4 years ago from Williamson, New York

      Thanks, Stella. Going over the timeline opened up my eyes.

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      Stella Neary 4 years ago

      This was fabulous !! Good for you Bonnie. Very impressive.