R. A. Long High School Class of 1963

After Half a Century

by John M. McClelland
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Note: This is "look back" at nearly 70 years representing the time and life of the class of 1963. This was originally published in the reunion booklet which was given out to attending class members at our 50-year reunion in August 2013.
It is used here by permission of the author and our fellow classmate, John McClelland.

Most of us were born during late 1944 or throughout 1945, which makes us the last of the "war babies" and some of the first "baby boomers." As innocent infants and toddlers, we had no inkling of what a turbulent world we'd been born into.

World War II had begun in Europe in 1939, and the United States joined the Allies after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. By war's end, Hitler's Nazis had slaughtered millions of Jews and other "undesirables," while Japan had inhumanely treated its Allied prisoners of war to the verge of starvation while its forces attempted to conqueror Asia and the South Pacific.

It wasn't until May 8, 1945 (V-E Day), that Nazi Germany finally gave up. Japan didn't officially surrender until August 15 (V-J Day) -- more than a week after U.S. planes dropped devastating atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thousands up thousands were killed or maimed. The atomic age had begun.

Many of us were born while our fathers were in the service. Some never returned. My dad was a combat Naval officer in the South Pacific, and the first time he saw me I was over 6 months old. Other war babies were even older when their fathers came home.

Returning servicemen and women faced a new America with housing shortages, inflation, and the oncoming Cold War with our old allies the Soviet Union and what had become Red China. While we attended kindergarten and the early grades, U.S. troops fought North Koreans and Chinese while under the flag of the newly formed United Nations.

There was fear of a Soviet nuclear attack. You might remember the drills when we had to crouch under our desks, which was supposed to help shelter us if an atom bomb were dropped. I doubt if many of us truly understood what it was all about -- we just followed directions. And remember all those fallout shelters that came later?

The first local disasters during our lifetime occurred before we were in school. Most of us wouldn't remember the flood of 1948 when people of all backgrounds struggled with sandbags to hold back the rising waters. Some might recall the 1949 earthquake which damaged homes and property everywhere. I only remember trees swaying wildly and fallen chimneys throughout the neighborhood.

Of course, we all remember the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 when we'd just entered our senior year, as well as the biggest one yet -- the Mount St. Helens eruption and its aftermath 18 years later. I think it was 1968 when the wooden, Hemlock Street footbridge collapsed under the packed weight of people watching the Fourth of July fireworks display. Panic and injuries resulted but no deaths.

When we were sixth graders, we saw Lake Sacajawea freeze over enough so we could walk on it, even though it seldom was safe. I remember the scary sound of ice cracking under me, and we'd run for the bank as fast as we could. The city roped off an area toward the south end of the lake to allow walking and skating -- complete with night lighting and police at the ready. It wasn't long before the ice thawed. No one but a small dog had fallen through the ice and drowned.

During those post-WWII years, change was everywhere. Remember when dial telephones first came in about 1954? Can you recall telling the number you were calling to a live operator? Can you remember your old phone number? (Ours was 2356).

(Speaking of change, who would have envisioned the coming of portable phones, the cell phone, the iPhone and other advances? If anyone had told us that we'd one day abandon typewriters and be writing electronic letters on something called a computer -- to say nothing of texting, Facebook, etc. we'd have told them they were nuts!)

With the war babies and the boomers, school enrollments soared. In 1952 the newly opened Monticello Junior High School absorbed Kessler's seventh and eight grades and added grade 9, which left R.A. Long with grades 10-12. With the opening of Mark Morris High School in 1957, the school district was split, which separated old friends for the remainder of our school years.

Mark Morris opened with a tenth grade class scheduled to graduate in 1960. The new school also housed sixth graders and junior high students until new schools could be built. With Mark Morris came the "Civil War" sports competitions that continue today.

And many of us hope the "war" will continue. For those of you who live far away and don't yet know, the Longview School Superintendent and a majority of the school board have recommended closing Mark Morris to merge it with RAL because of declining enrollment and resulting building maintenance costs. Several elementary schools would be closed. A new name for the merged high school would be adopted, and the Monticello building would become part of the RAL campus. Students who ordinarily walk to Monticello would be bussed clear out to Mount Solo Middle School or to Cascade. No more neighborhood school! A decision was supposed to be reached during August of this year.

(Author's note: Though turnout was light, voters heavily favored three anti-merger candidates during the recent school board primary. One incumbent was voted out and therefore can't run in the upcoming general election. The public consensus is that the board has been moving too fast, so the August deadline has been canceled. Several other alternatives have been presented, at least two of which do not include the high school merger. Despite the anti-merger sentiment the district is paying a firm to poll residents by phone to better gauge public feeling.)

Back to the 50s: Young people's tastes in music were changing. Instead of the smooth, crooning of singers like Johnny Ray, Eddie Fisher, and Frank Sinatra, they turned to romping rock-a-billy artists like Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley -- all of whom had taken African-American rhythm and blues and made the beat palatable to young whites.

There was an outcry from adults about rock-n-roll's "immorality," but kids paid no attention. Others, a bit smoother in style, like Ricky Nelson, Buddy Holly, and the doo-wop combos -- black and white -- soon followed. Remember 1959 when Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens (real name Valenzuela) perished in that small plane crash? Waylon Jennings had lost the coin toss with Holly to see who'd get to fly to the next gig. By the time we graduated, the Beatles were just becoming known.

Meanwhile, the Cold War went on. During the fall of 1957, when we were in the seventh grade, the USSR launched Sputnik -- a tiny satellite that put our enemy ahead of us in science and defense technology. A big push for improved math and science education in the U.S. quickly followed. Fortunately, we beat the Russians to the moon in 1968.

Locally and across the country, organized labor was gaining strength. I remember the Weyerhaeuser and Long-Bell strikes, which I think were simultaneous, about 1954. As I recall, negotiations resulted in wage increases of around five cents an hour.

It was during the fall of our sophomore year (1960) that John F. Kennedy was elected as the first Roman Catholic president in the country's history. Less than six months after our graduation, he was assassinated in Dallas. He and his brother Robert, whom he'd appointed attorney general, made great strides in civil rights, which culminated in the far-reaching Civil Rights Act of 1968 under President Lyndon Johnson. Robert met the same fate in 1968 along with Martin Luther King. Malcolm X had been assassinated early in 1965.

It was during our junior year in 1962 that the Cuban Missile Crisis took place -- three years after Fidel Castro had been hailed as a hero for deposing dictator Fulgencio Batista. The Bay of Pigs invasion, under JFK and the CIA, was a disaster, and the island remains isolated and communist despite some reform.

We graduated just in time for the military buildup in Vietnam. Many of the men, and some of the women, in our class responded to the call, even before the big push when college students began being drafted beginning in 1965.

Frank Ball was serving in Vietnam as a Naval corpsman. One day he was riding in a jeep and saw a Marine tramping along the roadside. Frank said to himself, "That Marine is bushed!" and stopped to give him a ride. The Marine turned out to be another '63 classmate -- Jim Payne -- who was wounded at least twice during the conflict.

The Vietnam War tore our country apart and dragged on until about 1974. That was just after the gas shortage when cars waited in line for fuel. Gas prices went up and haven't stopped since. A few years later came Watergate and Nixon's resignation.

At this point I'm going to stop. Since the '70s, our country has undergone recessions, strikes, terrorist attacks, and all sorts of mayhem, and world peace remains a golf ball lost in the weeds.

We'd hoped for a better world and, despite some setbacks and the havoc, I think we now have one. As a generation and a high school class, I believe that we've served our community and country well.

While we gather for our 50th class reunion, let us reverently remember those who have gone before us and enjoy our memories, camaraderie, and renewed and ongoing friendships.