50 years later: 1968 was a year of historic importance



This year marks the 50th anniversary of what is arguably the most historic year in modern American history. We’ll be reading and watching videos about the social unrest, the war in Vietnam, and the anti-war, anti-imperialism, and anti-capitalism movement that swept the globe.

Here are just a few of the anniversaries that will be noted by history buffs as the year unfolds. Not noted here is a multitude of other important battles and events in the Vietnam War and the associated growing unrest among American college students, much of which was encouraged by a growing communist movement in America.

JAN. 21: The 50th anniversary of the siege at the Khe Sanh Combat Base, during which the 26th ­Marine Regiment was encircled by tens of thousands of North Vietnamese fighters. The Marines went through their ammunition and supplies quickly and stayed alive with air drops supported by the U.S. Army and Air Force. In the end, 205 U.S. Marines were killed, 1,668 were wounded and as many as 15,000 enemy fighters were killed. Once the siege ended, 1,600 North Vietnamese bodies were found just outside the base. The seige lasted until July. 11, 1968, when the base was finally closed and evacuated. Read more about this amazing battle at Wikipedia.

JAN. 23: North Korea captured the USS Pueblo, a surveillance ship. This heightened Cold War tensions in the region, coming just 15 years after the Korean War. The Navy ship had been monitoring the North Korean military from the channel between Korea and Japan. The 82 members of the crew who survived being captured were starved and tortured, but were forced to say during a news conference that they were treated kindly. They snuck in comments that showed they were being forced into those statements and extended their middle fingers to show what they really thought. When the North Koreans eventually discovered what the sailors had done, they beat them severely.

JAN. 30: North Vietnam launched what became known as the Tet Offensive. It was the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Some 85,000 North Vietnamese fighters attacked 36 targets in South Vietnam, taking the U.S. and South Vietnamese by surprise. More about this event is written by Mark Bowden (author of Blackhawk Down) in Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam.

JAN. 31: Viet Cong attack the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

MAR. 13: An oil discovery at Prudhoe Bay is confirmed by Humble Oil, (which later became part of Exxon) and Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO).

MAR. 16: Mai Lai Massacre, American troops killed Vietnamese civilians in Mai Lai, but the event is not known until November, 1969, and it fuels public sentiment against the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

MAR. 18: Congress repeals the “Gold Standard,” the requirement for a gold reserve to back all U.S. currency.

APR. 4: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel. James Earl Ray was arrested on June 8 for the assassination.

MAY 13: After French Communists and French Socialists formed an electoral alliance in February, Paris riots begin, where more than one million students, Communists and Socialists took to the streets to protest capitalism, American imperialism, and traditional institutions. At one point during the unrest, President Charles de Gaulle fled the country for a few hours.

JUNE 5: Robert Kennedy, who was a candidate for president, was shot and killed by an assassin at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, shortly after he had given a campaign address in the ballroom. He underwent brain surgery, but died 26 hours after the attack. He was 42.
AUG. 5-8: The Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Fla. nominates Richard Nixon for President and Spiro Agnew for Vice President. He goes on to defeat Hubert Humphrey, the Democrat, and George Wallace, the Independent.

AUG. 26-29: The Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago. President Lyndon B. Johnson had earlier announced he would not run for re-election. Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey and Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine were nominated for president and vice president.

AUG. 28: Chicago riots during the Democratic National Convention came to a head. Later, the trials of the Chicago Seven became a media sensation.
NOV. 6: What became the longest student-led strike in United States history began at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley.
DECEMBER, 1968: Mao Zedong’s brand of communism continued to expand in China with the “Down to the Countryside Movement“. For the next decade, 17 million young “intellectuals” living in cities were ordered to go to the countryside to work in farming collectives. The term “intellectuals” applied to middle school graduates, or “educated” who were sent away from their homes to be “rusticated.”
DEC. 11: After the death of Sen. Bob Bartlett, Alaska Gov. Wally Hickel appointed Ted Stevens to fill his position in the U.S. Senate.
DEC. 24: Apollo 8 was the first manned space craft to orbit the moon. Among the memories of that event were the first photos taken of Earth from deep space, including “Earthrise.” The mission was part of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the book,  A Man on the Moon, author Andrew Chaikin said the astronauts received thousands of telegrams after returning, but the one that stood out from the others simply said: “You saved 1968.”
What events of 1968 did you find important in an historical sense? Led Zeppelin’s first American concert? The Gun Control Act of 1968? Your comments and additions are welcome below.


  1. Gun Control Act of 1968 has done nothing except give the far left ability to harm more Americans.

    My next door neighbor (Astoria, Oregon) killed in Nam Dec 27, 1967 thanks to LBJ.

  2. What a year, I turned 21 in April of 1968. The winter of 68/69 I worked the midnight to 8 am shift for Wien Air Alaska loading/unloading cargo in a variety of airplanes. Most memorable were the Boeing 737 jets that we would take the seats out of, then make one or two flights to the North Slope (Deadhorse) hauling drilling mud, crushed walnuts (for traction on the runways) and other stuff. Then we would put the seats back in the plane to get ready for the morning flight to Anchorage. That winter was very busy at the Fairbanks International Airport, and was the first time I saw a Hercules airplane reverse its prop blades and backup.

  3. If you’d like to learn more about the USS Pueblo incident (and it’s damned interesting), read the riveting book “Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo,” by Jack Cheevers.

  4. November 4, 1968 my article titled, “Speaker Lashes U.S.; Students Just Laugh” was published in Macomb County Community College’s newspaper, SPORADIC. Net result: the SDS confiscated the newspapers from campus depositories. The SDS reportedly burned the newspapers in a bonfire. Their sponsor was my political science instructor, Mr. S. He bragged that it was too bad no one would get to read the article, adding, “It was pretty good.” The members of the SDS sitting in the room laughed heartily at his comment. “Cowards,” I thought, and turned to them. “You think I lost something. I didn’t; I spoke – I exercised my free speech. You lost yours. Nodding, I added, “You gave it up to him.” The room was silent. One male student stood up, and lobbed a verbal grenade. “Mr. S., I would have bought you if she hadn’t been here. I don’t buy you now.” His brave words burst over me as a kind of award, a sweet validation that my views were seen, believed and heard after all. I was momentarily at peace.

    The following days, the teacher continued to pick at me, denigrating my views. Then, the social studies department chair summoned me to his office to point out that I had no credentials in foreign affairs to speak on the subject. I responded that as a thirty-something mother and tax-paying citizen, I had every right to my views. With that, I was dismissed. Later, our instructor said instructions from the top nixed inflammatory articles. If he failed to cooperate, the newspaper would cease to exist.

    One night at 11:30 p.m. while attempting to leave an empty cafeteria, a group of SDS goons surrounded me, hurling threats. Their message? If I wrote any more articles about the [political left] on campus, bad things would happen. I broke through the encirclement and brushed them aside with a snarl, “Get out of my way.” Bad things did happen anyway. There was a phone call to the journalism office. “F–K the Sporadic” adorned our office door. There was a break-in attempt to confiscate remaining newspapers. All caused our sponsor to say that he had served overseas during the cold war, and never felt a sense of freedom’s loss as he did that day. Other threats and punishments ensued. Someone place chains all over my car and moved it from its parking place. Life threatening night calls followed. An attempt to do harm left me exhausted. By the grace of God, I escaped.

    Fortunately, my journalism instructor had placed some copies of the SPORADIC in his car and I have copies of my article to pass to my children and grandchildren as a reminder that “Freedom is not free.” Yes, 1968 was a significant and important year in my life and my nation’s life. It was one in which I wept for our troops serving in Vietnam. Ironically, while they suffered immolation and rejection in an effort to impede communism’s spread in Asia, communism was winning college beachheads in the U.S.A., as Americans slept.

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