I really like cruising around the “store” in the front of my favorite southern cuisine restaurant. You can see the old fashioned toys and magic sets mixed in with collectables of one kind or another. One of my favorites though is the rotating card stand that holds the little books about what happened the year you were born.
1954 was particularly busy and had a lot of important Americana scattered all through it. From the schools to the way we lived, 1954 left its mark on the people of this country. Brown versus Board of Education was a landmark Civil Rights decision that led to the end of segregation in the country. The Boeing 707 (America’s first jet airliner) made its maiden voyage. I would take my very first jet plane ride many years later on its successor while heading to boot camp.
Swanson introduced the first TV dinners (which required an oven since the microwave oven was years away). The first all electronic color television went on sale which was just in time for the Rose bowl Parade to be broadcast for the first time in color. The first mass vaccination of children against polio began helping to end one of the most insidious cripplers of children known to man.
It was a time of faith and honor too. The words “Under God” were added to the pledge of allegiance. Today most people don’t realize it but those words were added to strengthen our connection to the almighty in the face of a growing culture called communism. The Iwo Jima memorial was officially dedicated at the USMC War Memorial. The actual battle with all of its sacrifices had occurred less than ten years before and many of the survivors were still coping with aftermath of the death and destruction of that battle.
It was an important time for the Navy too. The USS Nautilus was commissioned opening the age of sustained underwater war capability. 1954 is considered to be the start of “The New Navy”. After surviving the purges of the late 40’s and emerging as an indispensible part of the Korean conflict the Navy started to shake off its former ideology of surface ships with big guns and launched itself into the age of missiles and jets. The scientific advances during that period set the Navy up for years of relevancy to the national defense and ended most talk about obsolescence (except in the Air Force Officer’s Clubs of course).
Armistice Day on November 11th had been set aside years before to recognize the terrible sacrifices and noble service of the men who fought in World War 1. In this year, Congress decreed that the men who had served in all of the Nation’s wars since the Civil War would be remembered by a new national holiday known as Veteran’s day. Congress made many promises to the Veterans and the people of this country that became almost a sacred pact. Veterans of all wars suffered through many debilitating injuries and diseases as a result of their service to the country.
Many veterans and career military people gave the best years of their lives in defense of liberty and freedom. While their counterparts went to work for GM and Ford, they continued to sail the oceans in search of the enemy and man posts in foreign countries far from home. The work always had a background element of danger to it. Planes flying from pitching decks, live ammunition being handled under the watchful eye of foreign armies that were there to attack or defend against you, exposure to asbestos for many who were ignorant of the long term affects and on and on.
It would be okay the leaders promised. We will always remember your sacrifices and make sure we repay you for your service.
Something else happened that year in our hometown. On the day I was born, my Dad’s post war business went bankrupt. A not so reliable partner left town quickly and Dad was left holding the bills in his hands. It had to have been tough on him. Another mouth to feed, unpaid bills to creditors, not enough capitol to escape the end. It wasn’t until years later that I found out the rest of the story.
When Dad knew that it was over, he went to every creditor he owed money to and made a promise. To keep his honor and good name, he promised each and every one of them that he would pay them all back. He needed more time of course, but his request was granted by all of them. Over the course of my entire youth, he scrimped and saved from his paychecks and by the time I left for the Navy, all the bills were paid. Every single one. You see, to my Dad, a promise was something you kept. It was dishonorable not to do so.
Well, 1954 is a long time ago. Education is open to all but with the way its been largely turned into a retirement home for people formerly known as teachers, I have to wonder if that was such a great bargain for anybody. God seems to have been turned into some kind of pariah and it won’t surprise me if he is finally thrown out of all public life to satisfy a small segment of our “citizens’. I won’t mention the pledge of allegiance since I am sure it will be a historical foot note before I am turned into a pile of ashes.
Saddest of all of course is the ease with which politicians and their backers have forgotten the pledge to care for those who gave so much for the freedom we enjoy. I’m kind of glad my Father is not around to see what is going on right now. I think it would kill him.
For you history buffs, 1954 had another significant event that probably has something to do with the world today. 10,000 Mau Mau Rebels were rounded up in Kenya by British Forces. A large military-sweep of Nairobi led to the internment of tens of thousands of the city’s suspected Mau Mau members and sympathizers (Operation Anvil). The operation was one of three prongs meant to put a large rebellion to rest. Sarah Obama, President Barack Obama’s grandfather’s wife told him that her husband was imprisoned for six months and tortured before being tried in a British court.
Yep, 1954 was pretty pivotal.