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1855 - 50 years ago was a terrible year

Before 2018 totally slips into our memory, I want to write about some events that occurred 50 years ago during the torturous year of 1968 across the USA.

         For those of us who lived through 1968, that year was essentially a horrible year that ended with a wonderful earth-changing event.

         Here in Wyoming, life was better. One of the biggest stories of the year was the near completion of Interstate 80.  It would change the state forever. This massive ribbon on blacktop and concrete spanned the state from Pine Bluffs to Evanston.

         Unfortunately, some totally knuckleheaded federal highway engineers insisted on putting the highway through mountains with a route soon to be called the Snow Chi Minh Trail by the locals.  In his fine book about the crazy trail, John Waggener, describes in detail how desperate the feds were to cut 19 miles from the old Highway 30 route. Their reasoning was based on thinking about all the time and fuel that would be saved over all these years.  That bonehead was right but, oh my, has that stretch of road provided excitement for sleep-deprived, flatland truck drivers in the middle of winter, which can occur any time of the year. And thrills for the rest of us, too.

         In 1968, Gov. Stan Hathaway won a second term and was positioning the state to start charging severance taxes on all the state’s energy, which was flowing out of Wyoming, mainly in the form of oil and natural gas.

         This was a time when the big coal boom had not occurred yet. Wyoming had always been a big coal producer even before statehood but the Powder River Basin boom had not occurred yet.

         It was also a time prior to trona becoming the huge economic force it occupies today in southwest Wyoming.

         Tourism was booming but not the spectacular industry that it was destined to become.  

Another big story was our University of Wyoming Cowboy football team, which went 7-3, won the Western Athletic Conference title. In early 1968 Cowboys finished off an unbeaten season with a bowl loss.  

But the stage was being set for all hell breaking loose the following year, which will be the subject of column later in 2019.

         Coach Lloyd Eaton was one of the best coaches in the country and his Wyoming teams were among the best programs in the USA.

         Along with my own memories, an author named Jeffrey Kluger compiled a list of the events of that year for Time Magazine.  Here is his summary:

         “Most years have at least a little something going for them, but 1968 was awful from the start” he writes.

On just the 23rd day, North Korea seized the USS Pueblo, killing one sailor and holding the rest prisoner.

         On the 30th day, the start of the Vietnamese holiday of Tet, the Viet Cong launched a massive military offensive that cost more than 35,000 lives, mainly Vietnamese. The USA had committed 500,000 American soldiers to Vietnam.

On the 95th day, a sniper in Memphis murdered the Rev. Martin Luther King.

On the 157th day, Senator Bobby Kennedy’s murder followed in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles after winning the California primary.

On the 233rd day, Soviet army tanks invaded Czechoslovakia, ending the hopes and dreams of a people.

On the 241st day, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago descended into violence. Mayor Richard Daley had his hooligan police beating the heck out of demonstrators.

The year was shaped—and soaked in—the blood that was shed, reported Time’s Kluger. Then he wrote:

        “And then, on the 359th day, there was poetry.  Three days earlier, the crew of Apollo 8—Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders—had rocketed away from the mess at home and ventured out to the moon, becoming the first human beings to reach and orbit our closest celestial neighbor.

“They arrived, as history would have it, on Christmas Eve. During the eighth of their 10 orbits, they pointed a TV camera out of one of their five windows and showed a global audience of one billion—nearly one of every three people alive—the grainy, flickery but undeniably otherworldly sight of the ancient lunar surface crawling by below their spacecraft.

“As that image played, Anders began reading: ‘In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,’ and then handed off to his crewmates, who took turns reading further verses from Genesis—verses of spiritual renewal in a year of worldly loss.”