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Chronicles to Nowhere. (The Beginning of a Series). In Memory of Jack Galvin 1. Why Nancy and I Didn’t Know Much About Apollo 13.

July 25, 2007

A few days ago, with family, Nancy and I saw Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 on dvd. Although Apollo 13 has been available for more than a decade, neither of us had been particularly interested in seeing the film and frankly, did not look forward to so doing. Although our daughter Molly’s critique (that the women were treated as insipid non-entities) was accurate, we both felt that in other ways, it turned out to be a much better film than either of us anticipated, very well done, riveting, Tom Hanks was his usual outstanding self and Kevin Bacon, for whom I’ve not had much use, challenged my prejudices. His acting was excellent. Such a film raises many questions, about the program, the bureaucracy of NASA, the probability of such technically complicated programs to go wrong somehow, the Cold War which pushed the space race, all valid.

But when the film was over, both Nancy and I, together more or less for 38 years and married almost 32 of them, had the same reaction which had nothing to do with those valid questions above. Why was it at the time, – the time being the third week of April, 1970 – that neither of us were at all interested in, nor did we follow that space shot? That carried over a quarter of a century to when the film was released. Neither of us had any interest, none whatsoever, in seeing Apollo 13 , and had it not been for my brother-in-law, we probably never would. (So you see, families are good for something!)

So what explained our lack of interest?

Both of us knew the answer.

Actually, it didn’t take us long at all to explain our lack of interest. We were quite busy in mid April 1970 doing other things, and convinced that `the revolution’ was not far off. If that sounds dumb, naive, hair-brained, the arrogance of youth, call it what you like – you wouldn’t be far off from the truth – all the same, we firmly believed it, and furthermore – I’d argue for all the political stupidity involved – and I am the first to admit, it was a lot – it was one of those moments, so rare for most of us – when I was a part of `something bigger’, even bigger than going to the moon: trying to end war in Viet Nam.

The war in Vietnam was still at its height with many Democrat Senators saying how we couldn’t get out and leave the country a mess. Nixon and Kissinger had expanded the war into Cambodia and Laos and the student movement was in full swing. Nancy Fey, then an innocent freshman and Rob Prince, then a not-so-innocent graduate student, were a part of it. In the relationship, Lyons Colorado with roots in Nebraska had met Queens New York, with roots in Brooklyn and we were trying to negotiate the differences…Still are.

Back to the war..

Thanks in large measure to the local SDS chapter in which such people as John Buttney, Bruce Goldberg, Roger Wade, John Lemmo, Bonnie Carroll all played key rolls, the university – University of Colorado at Boulder – we had become aware of the degree to which the institution was linked to military research. The reality of the powers that be, being linked in a military-industrial-financial complex, had come home. To reward Buttney for his insights into the nature of power, the state of Colorado has banned him from stepping foot on the CU-Boulder campus for life. I believe that the ban remains active to this day.

One Shining Moment

To protest those links, the student movement on the Boulder campus, whose leadership had passed from SDS to the Socialist Workers Party, decided to stage a sit in at the university administration building, one Regents Hall. 37 years later it’s still there, still Regents Hall, still the administration building. But for `one shining moment’ it was stormed by students who occupied it for about 6 hours as I recall. There were a lot of us, I believe as many as 800 or a 1000. We went in during the mid afternoon, announced it was a `sit in’ – the staff and administration promptly left, and there we were. We’d taken over. It was all so easy.

It was also sometime right around April 17 (I’m not sure of the date) around the time of the space launch.

Once inside Regents Hall, we protestors were faced with a dilemma, not unlike that faced by all those trying to seize state (or campus) power: What do we do now? And being young, angry (at the war) and having achieved our goal far more easily than we had imagined, we did the only sensible thing under the circumstances: we invited in two bands who played; we made some French-student like speeches of which John Hillson’s was easily the best and then tried to figure out what to do next. We’d perhaps proven our courage but also our lack of strategic vision.

While we were debating our next step on the inside, outside Regents Hall the atmosphere was a lot less `touchy-feely’ and celebratory. The governor, one John Love, and one of the key Regents, one Joseph Coors – had decided that things had gone too far and did the only thing they knew how to do under the circumstances: called out the National Guard, most of whom were no older than those of us inside the building. The Guard, bayonets drawn, surrounded the building and almost certainly were preparing to attack.

Realizing that our continued presence in Regents Hall would serve our cause only poorly, that there were no more bands to dance to and urged on by the articulate and actually very wise logic of one Jim Lauderdale (carpenter, folk singer who went on to run for governor of Colorado on the Socialist Workers Party ticket), we made our decision. All 800 or 1000 of us ended the occupation and left the building, doing so in a relatively orderly fashion. Our exit defused the situation entirely. We exited out into the night most of us simply walking through the lines of guardsmen – their rifles out, bayonets shining.

And that was that.

Love and Coors suffered from a severe case of political blue balls (as we used to call it). The impression came through that they really would have liked to have seen blood (mine and Nancy’s among others) flow. Years later we learned that, had we not left when we did, the Guard would have stormed the building within minutes and that they had been ordered to so by the governor. I have no doubt that the governor’s wish to crush our movement would have resulted in casualties and overwhelmingly on our side as none of us had arms of any kind and were in the main mostly pacifists.

Although we came quite close, there was no Kent State or Jackson State that year in Boulder. But after reconsidering all the facts at my disposal it’s pretty much an accident that I’m still alive.

Nancy and I lived to fight another round or two or seventeen with the powers that be. Something in me snapped that day forever and getting a phd in Anthropology took second place or maybe third or forth to ending the war, many wars ago. Unable to take out their wrath on Boulder students, Denver’s cops and the National Guard got pretty rough on our companeros demonstrating at the University of Denver and destroyed their `peace tent city’. Lovell, Swigert and Haise might have been wrestling with Apollo 13 up in the heavans. Down here on earth we were coming to grips with something bigger – that I still refer to simply as – US Imperialism.

Thanks Jim Lauderdale wherever you are.

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