Thursday, August 21, 2008

40 Years Ago

(An occasional reminiscence on the events of 1968)

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower remained in Walter Reed Army hospital, after being moved there in May to recover from a spring heart attack. He had another in June and two more on the 6th and 16th of August. Doctors were trying several new therapies to try to relieve the situation, but nothing was working.

One day that month, on a day off, I accompanied a Post reporter to the hospital to sit on watch. The situation was dire enough that Post reporters were staying round the clock there, just in case. The reporter who asked me to go with him was bored with the assignment and at least with me there we could play cards, probably whist, which I'd learned seemed to be the most popular card game among Washingtonians.

I remember little of the hospital except that we sat along a gallery overlooking a large room. Eisenhower would survive August, but die, still in Walter Reed, the next spring.

That month, ‘Cheap Thrills,’ by Big Brother and the Holding Company,was released on Columbia Records. It would top the chart for seven weeks.

Other new albums we were probably listening to: the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, both released in July.

Tom Wolfe published a new book, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, about Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters and their trip on the painted bus 'Further' across country. "Are you on the bus or off the bus?"

During August, negotiations were continuing between the governments of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. On August 3 they signed the Bratislava Declaration, agreeing, along with other Warsaw Pact members, to uphold Marxist-Leninist principles. But following talks were unsatisfactory and the Soviets under Leonid Brezhnev decided this rogue ally needed disciplining. On the night of August 20-21, 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 2,000 tanks invaded Czechoslovakia. 72 Czechs and Slovaks were killed and hundreds wounded. Alexander Dubček called upon his people not to resist. He was arrested and taken to Moscow along with several of his colleagues, where most of them agreed to sign a promise to give up many of their reforms. They were returned to their posts within a few days.

Many years later it was revealed that several conservative members of the Czech government had asked the Soviets to intervene to prevent 'counterrevolution'.

On Aug. 22, CBS News' Walter Cronkite demanded, and got, a 1 hr evening news broadcast because there was too much news to cover in 1/2 hour.

There would be a lot more to come.

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