1969 saw man on the moon and death in Vietnam

The newspaper’s front page from July 21, 1969.
The newspaper’s front page from July 21, 1969. Idaho Statesman file

When we think of history we tend to think of events long past, but what happened yesterday is now history, and what happens tomorrow will become history. We’ll never run out of history because we make a new batch of it every day.

I was reminded of this recently when a reader called to offer me a box full of old newspapers that he said he just couldn’t bear to throw away. Someone had saved them because of the big news proclaimed by their front-page headlines, such as this one that appeared on page one of the Idaho Statesman on July 22, 1969: “Apollo Heads Home from Orbit of Moon.” Two days earlier Neil Armstrong had set foot on the moon’s surface, calling it “one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” Fellow Astronaut Buzz Aldrin said he was reminded of the Bible’s Eighth Psalm: “When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of Him?”

On Nov. 11, 1969, Apollo 12 would land more Americans on the moon.

Richard Nixon, who had been inaugurated president on Jan. 20, 1969, flew with Mrs. Nixon to Johnston Island in the Pacific for “a ringside seat” to watch the splashdown of Apollo 11 before continuing their trip around the world with stops at the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Romania and England.

In 1969 Don Samuelson was governor of Idaho, Len Jordan and Frank Church were our U.S. senators, James McClure and George Hansen were our congressmen, and Jay Amyx was Boise’s mayor. I would get to know all of these men in the years ahead.

The summer of 1969 has special significance for me and my family because we had just returned to Idaho from New England after 16 years, during which I was a professor in women’s colleges in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The most challenging history course I taught in the East, a graduation requirement for all upper-class students, was called World in the 20th Century. I could now start a new career in Boise because I had been hired as director of the Idaho Historical Museum in Julia Davis Park and was eagerly looking forward to it.

As I page through those Idaho Statesman newspapers of July 1969, I am struck by what a different world it was from this of 2016, and what a different paper it was from the one I would begin writing Idaho history for in 1970. Features Editor Betty Penson hired me for $5 a column, with the warning, “Don’t ask for more or they’ll drop it like a hot potato!” Since my new job was to make Idaho history interesting and visible, I welcomed the chance to share my enthusiasm for the subject with others through a weekly column, whether I got paid for it or not.

The Statesman of 1969 was quite different from that of today. It was printed on larger paper 15 by 23 inches in size, compared to today’s 10.75 by 21.5 inches. The comics page carried no less than 20 comic strips and two single-panel features, of which only “Blondie” survives today, with a different artist to carry on the adventures of Dagwood Bumstead and his family. Gone today, probably because their creators have long since passed away, were longtime favorites “Little Orphan Annie,” “Dick Tracy,” “Steve Canyon,” “Gasoline Alley,” “Bringing up Father” (featuring Jiggs and Maggie), “Joe Palooka,” “Moon Mullins,” “Beetle Bailey,” “Donald Duck,” “B.C.,” “Pogo,” “Peanuts” and “The Flintstones.” A regular feature of the Sunday Statesman was “Portrait of a Distinguished Citizen,” drawn by artist John Collias. Bernard F. Gratton was honored on July 17, 1969.

In July 1969, there were 549,500 American troops in Vietnam, serving in an unpopular war that we could not win. Not until Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese on April 30, 1975, did the war end. Although estimates vary wildly, as many as 3 million people, mostly civilians, died in the war. American combat deaths numbered 47,424, and 10,785 more died from other causes.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.