When Were You a Part of History?

“The past actually happened, but history is only what someone wrote down.”

–A. Whitney Brown

Tell me about a historical event you lived through or witnessed–the story of where you were when it occurred. Depending on your age and era, your story will vary. Just the other night, for instance, my mother told us about  being in Times Square in New York City on VJ Day–the end of World War II. Your historical event may be different. Choose one you remember well.


  1. Beverly Boyd says

    Hawaii 1963
    My husband was stationed on a submarine based in Pearl Harbor. We were living in Navy housing just outside the gates of the base. One day in August the word went out that President Kennedy would be passing on the main highway in a motorcade on his way to the airport from a meeting with CINCPACFLT (navy acronym for Commander in Charge of the Pacific Fleet) whose headquarters was a few blocks away. With two in the stroller and three-year-old Tommy holding my hand we waited with the cluster of neighbors who gathered on the sidewalk along the highway. I have a picture in my short red muumuu, large with Anne who was born a couple of months later. Presently the president’s car, an open black convertible arrived. He sat on the back of the seat, his sandy hair riffling lightly in the breeze as the car proceeded at a moderate speed, waving and smiling at us as I bent down to point him out to Tommy. Three secret servicemen in the car sat attentively though mutely in the other seats so as not to distract attention from the President. Behind the presidential car was a large open vehicle with armed guards. After a fleeting moment it was over. I tried to explain to Tommy who he was. Can an almost four-year-old really understand? I wanted him to know he had witnessed a special moment.

    A few months later word again went out. This time it was President Johnson who was meeting with CINCPACFLT and returning to the airport. Since the assassination of President Kennedy open convertibles were no longer used and those auto trips were not made public. I had just happened to hear about it when I picked the children up from their preschool at noon. There were guards nearby so we weren’t able to stand on the sidewalk. We parked to car and went into the back yard of a friend who lived just inside the fence that bordered the sidewalk and joined a few other lucky ones who had heard the news. Presently, the sleek black limo, with smoky bullet-proof windows was passing. President Johnson was sitting on the side near us leaning forward in earnest conversation with someone else in the car, his large head and iconic profile almost close enough to touch as I peered through the chain-link fence. Excitedly, I pointed him out to Tommy and felt sure he had time to see him, too. After we left, he asked why the president was wearing that big parka? At first I couldn’t imagine what he was talking about. Then I remembered that the secret service was following in an open convertible behind. Even in Hawaii it can be quite chilly on an almost rainy day in January, so there were indeed wearing parks as they sat on the back of the seat as President Kennedy had the other time!

  2. Beverly Boyd says

    There is a great “coffee table” book, “We Interrupt this Broadcast with 3 CD’s: the events that stopped our lives” by NBC’s Brian Williams with many pictures and audios of the reports of the events as we heard them from the Hindenberg explosion to the Virginia Tech Shooting. I was too young for the Hindenberg, but I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard about all but one of the others in the book. It makes a great present for a history buff.

  3. Beverly Boyd says

    The Cuban Missile Crisis
    In October 1962 american spy planes discovered missiles being built by the Soviet Union in Cuba. After a series of top secret meetings, on October 22 President Kennedy announced that a ring of American ships had been sent to blockade the island of Cuba so the Russians could not get any more materials into that country. For two weeks the world teetered on the brink of what was feared could be nuclear war before the US and USSR reached an agreement, the missiles were removed and Soviet ships backed off.
    The day before the announcement the shipyard had removed an engine from the submarine for repairs. When the news of the crisis, came all the boats and ships that were seaworthy were ordered out to sea. No one wanted another Pearl Harbor. My husband’s submarine was dockside without its engine, but the shipyard immediately went “round the clock” to get the repair done. The crew was put on constant alert, instructed to always be where they could be reached by phone and no farther than two hours away. As soon as the work was done the boat would go to sea.

    I was sworn to secrecy by Kurtz though he was willing to let me tell my neighbor so she could watch the children and answer the phone if I needed to be gone a few hours. I tried to go calmly about my business and at the same time laid in supplies of food and water, having emergency supplies ready without letting my husband know how frightened I was. Even though I knew that the missiles couldn’t possible reach Hawaii from Cuba: it would have to be a secondary attack, and the idea of going anyplace else on Oahu, an island that took only four hours to drive completely around was fantasy, doing those things at least gave me the feeling of taking care of myself. In that time I realized that in the navy life, if a crisis happened, even if my husband was at home, I would have to be on my own. He would go with his unit wherever he was called. It felt very important to not have him see the panic I felt. He needed to know his children were in competent hands.
    On the fifth day in the early morning the call came. The children still in their pajamas were loaded into the car and we drove to the pier in silence. As we drove by the entry to the submarine base a crew of men was removing the WWII vintage Regulus Missile from the pedestal in front of the entry office. “Oh, my God!” This is so bad they are removing the missile to put a warhead in it to use. Still trying to be brave I said nothing. If I had, Kurtz would have had a good laugh and not been surprised, as I was (and relieved) when the missile reappeared the following week with a new coat of paint. It never occurred to me that life might be going on for most of the rest of the world with all the usual daily tasks.

    An addendum to the story. Before they left we were told that even if the crisis was over in a few days they would probably be at sea for five or six weeks. They had been given assignments to carry out. Late in November I got a phone call from the skipper’s wife. Someone had asked her to let the wives on the ship know…”that on December 6…at 2:00 (yes)…at Pier four.(the ship is coming back, right?)…long pause (Oh yes, I’m sure the ship is coming back)…Christmas trees will be going on sale!” Those of us, who had experienced Christmas in warm Hawaii, knew the trees, arriving six weeks after cutting and three weeks before the big day would be tinder by Christmas. This was the non event of the season. We had learned that a good artificial tree was much more desirable.
    Well, the crisis was over in a few days and the men did make it back for the holidays.

  4. Debbie O says

    I saw the turn of the century. Might not seem like much but since it only happens once every 100 years, it feels historic to me. Not only did we see the dawn of a new century, but all of the lights and computers did not go out at midnight on 1-1-2000.

    Yes, I got caught up in the Y2K hysteria . In the late 1980s I worked in data processing in a variety of roles. In this role I was involved in the development and implementation of many software programs. I knew that it was a common programming habit to use the value of “99” for many data fields, including date.

    This just proves how easily a little bit of information can turn into theories of mayhem and destruction. In societal culture, and our personal culture as well. My basement was stocked with water, batteries, canned goods and root vegetables from the garden to the anticipated chaos of the western world’s meltdown after most of the computer programs stopped working.

    In my finely developed Armageddon theories, it was the oldest software that was the most vulnerable; banks, public utilities, phone systems, air traffic controls – that were the most vulnerable. So in addition to the food hidden away in the cellar, I had a stash of cash, in small bills of course, so I could buy critically needed items . Assuming that there was anything available to buy.

    My friends all teased me mercilessly about my preparation for disaster. I told them I hoped we were al having a good laugh about it on New Year’s Day 2000 but secretly I just added a little more to the downstairs stash to be sure I could feed as many of them as possible, too.

    As we all know now, Y2K was much more media hype than reality. My phone rang off the hook that January 1st as folks called to remind me we were all still here and things were working just fine. I ate a lot of crow, and “Y2K Stew” in the days and months that followed. I think it was sometime in June before all of the root vegetables and canned goods were consumed. Somewhat reluctantly at times, I must admit, but somehow it seemed like my penance for buying into the panic.

    So I took three key lessons away from my brush with history:

    1. Even the most logical folks can get caught up in hysteria. Especially if there are small elements of “truth” woven into the hype.
    2. Never underestimate the human race’s ability to dig deep and rise to the occasion in miraculous ways when the stakes are high enough.
    3. And stock your cellar with things of joy and sustenance. Those six months of Y2K stew would can gone down easier if I could have balanced them out with a stash of chocolate!

      • Andrea Jones says

        Ahhh! Memories. For many, many months I was annoyed by that huge box of powdered milk in my kitchen. I gave it to the food bank eventually.

  5. Debbie Kikuchi says

    THE BERLIN WALL: by Debbie Kikuchi

    While growing up, my beloved grandmother lived above our garage in a wonderfully sunny apartment. Between her love and the cheerful atmosphere of loving warmth, she grew any kind of exotic flower. She loved to bring life to things after seeing such horrific things in our German homeland.

    Mimi left Germany before the war broke out. Although not a jew herself, she hated Hitler like many of us. She didn’t want to see the beautiful Germany she once knew to be destroyed by such hatred and desvastation. She had already suffered utter emotional catastrasophe after her family was literally split in half when the Berlin Wall was built. I remember seeing her crying while gently massaging photos of her brothers and sisters between her delicately wrinkled fingers. Fingers that survived difficult times with grace and dignity little seen these days.

    Although Mimi always had a ready smile and solid support to give, not far beyond the sparkle in her eyes were saddness far beyond the her broken heart. She would happily share the stories of her life specially while cooking or as we did housework or even while sewing. Although she felt her stories were boring and wondered why I wanted to know so much, she would always reply to my need to knowness about her life and our family. I’ve always felt incredbily close to Mimi, more so than anyone else in my family. She was the only person who gave the time to attentively listen instead of finding a way not to. When sick, she readily and lovingly healed with her delicous soups and nourishing food cooked through her heart. She was an amazing cook! Thankfully, she also taught me to cook. Some of my most favorite memories were of us cooking together and sharing conversation inbetween boils and broils.

    One afternoon in high school, near the end of the day, an announcement came over the loud speaker about the Berlin Wall about to come down! My heart burst with joy thinking about what my beloved Mimi had waited most of her life to see! She said many times that she probably would never live to see the wall come down; the wall divided her family and country apart never to been seen in person again.

    I raced home to find her sitting in front of the television. Macular degerneration had consumed most of her eye sight by that point. Yet she, at 87 years old, sat on bent knees, sat right in front of the tv . Her face to the screen, she struggled with all her might to see the wall come down! The volume turned up loud and clear, she cried with joy from the darkest duldrums of her broken heart. Her tears mixed with happy sobs mixed also with the joyful chants of her countrymen loud and proud that this day had finally come! Germany united once again!

    Recalling this moment of incredible history and being able to share it with such an important person who lived with so much emotional pain from that damn wall, it is an honor to be able to share with you today. It still makes me cry. Lump in the throat, tight feelings of joy about to explode with a heavy heart of missing her presence, together we shared one of Mimi’s most important days together; sitting in front of the tv, holding hands, and watching the Berlin Wall fall.

    • Beverly Boyd says

      I was so moved by this beautiful tribute to your Grandmother and to the relationship between you. Your grandmother was fortunate to have a grandaughter like your who would rush to her side to share that important moment.

  6. mary k says

    The digital clock on my rickety nightstand registered 6:30am. I was awake. This was unusual and so was everything else, for a long, long time. My husband had bolted out of bed taking the sheet and comforter with him. I was left a bit exposed, unsettled and awoken. Before waking, the phone had rung, my husband had spoken with his parents and the first Twin Tower had a plane crash into it. The year was 2001.

    The half dream, half wakeful place I arrived in when I saw my bedside clock was the type that happens when the dream you’re having isn’t quite over. Your brain and your body remain still, but somewhere in the very front of your mind, you are awake. That front place in your mind notices the little things and wakeful life comes into focus like a photographer’s view through his lens. You notice the little things first – the wall, the shades of light streaming through the blinds and the feeling of the sheets against your legs. I registered all of these things and the sound of the television from the next room. The newscaster was repeating and repeating. He said, “The World Trade Center has had a plane crash into it. The World Trade Center has been hit.”

    As I peered around the bedroom doorway and entered the living room, I saw the live horror that has no words. The smoldering, glistening tower was joined its mate. The second tower was hit. The television was live and I was in a dream.

    • says

      Boy, I remember where I was that day—making my kids breakfast and getting them ready for school. They were only 7 and 4–and it was so hard to know what to tell them. And they kept yelling at me to turn down the radio.

  7. pam trefftzs says

    The day I remember well was September 11, 2001. I got up from a good night’s rest and found out on television that the World Trade Center was on fire and got hit by airplanes. I was watching on tv and I have never seen so much destruction, mayhem and chaos going on all at once. I wasn’t fully aware of what had happened but I was spellbound and dumbfounded as I watched it on television. I’ll never forget that day.

  8. janice says

    After the planes crashed into the Twin Towers in September 2001, I was glued to the television. I literally couldn’t bear to part with the news even though it was the most horrific thing I had ever seen. I felt this immense need to be a part of it somehow, and the TV was all I had.

    The one thing that happened that seem to epitomize the moment for me was when a camera man stopped in the street of NYC to ask people about their reactions. He approached a man in a van waiting for a stoplight. He asked the man, “how do you feel right now?” The man literally started screaming, “How do I feel? How do I feel? How do you think I feel…from my construction site, I just saw 2 planes take down the Twin Towers. How do you think I feel?”
    Nothing more need be said.

  9. Linda Goode says

    Shreds of the U.S war in vietnam drifted like ashes from a flame into my life when I was barely more than a toddler. My much older brother, was drafted out of college into the military, and my sister in law came to stay. I was too young to understand her tears, as they dripped into my bathwater as a child, but old enough to know my delight of having her stay with us was shadowed with some serious event. The president’s picture flashed upon the black and white TV screen on Captian Kangaroo, and my mother pointed to the TV declaring “that is a very bad man”. I had never heard her say such a thing, and senced again, that something terrible was happening even though I saw no outward signs of it in my little world.
    Later gifts from far off Asian lands….oriental dolls and brilliant blue silk outfits started to arive. They were beautiful and unlike any I had ever seen. As much as I was mezmorized by them, I knew they had come from my brother, with a larger meaning than what I could grasp. I just didnt know where or what the hazy was that seemed to blanket all things new to me.
    Then came the Asian baby sitters, with bracelettes that sparkled with names. What are those I wondered, at the ripe old age of 6 or 7? Prisoner of war bracelettes….we never take them off until they come home. Who were they anyway I wondered?
    My brother eventually came home, life for me eventually returned to normal, and the fog of this unknown thing lifted. The only thing that remained was the men that went down our street at times on crutches, with one leg down and the other pants tucked up where a leg had once been. Why are they like that I would ask? They are vetererns my mom would answer. I wondered what that meant as I wove threads into Gods eyes and hung them from the ceiling in my room, and painted peace signs everywhere. People say kids do not understand. I didnt understand Vietnam, but I did understand that there were shreds of something awful everywhere and I was forever changed.

  10. Ilana says

    September 11, 2001
    I woke up to the sound of the phone ringing. Loud noises still hurt my head but I was grateful it was no longer the blinding headaches from the beginning. “Osama Bin Ladin just blew up the twin towers!” My mother blurted without saying hello. “What?” I asked still bleary and she explained to me what happened.
    “What is going on?” I thought. It was surreal. For the first time in more than half a year it wasn’t about me. I was almost seven months into a difficult year and a half recovery from emergency brain surgery. The suicidal depression had eased and I had finally stopped wishing that the doctor had slipped when he was putting the pins in my brain. So had the temporary paralysis in my face. I could finally open my mouth and move my eyebrows and smile! I was beginning to read again! In a few days I was going to start back at school just a couple of months after I had intended to graduate with my master’s degree. True, it was slow going and I’d have to take my time. But I was doing it! “What does this really have to do with me, though?” The deep sadness that had hung over me since that dreadful night had clouded my vision.
    Then I realized exactly what it had to do with me. There were attacks in DC as well. I thought of my best friend who had gotten the call at midnight on her birthday. “Ilana’s had an aneurysm. They’re doing emergency surgery in the morning. We don’t know what’s going to happen to her.” Now I was the one who was going to worry. Erica worked for the FBI. She couldn’t tell me what she did with her days. Would she have any reason to be in those places?
    When it was all over and I knew my friend was safe the reality came down around me. My world had been destroyed, my very life had been threatened seven months ago, on Valentine’s Day. I had spent the last seven months on the outside. People had stared unabashedly at my partially shaven head and the ugly red scar. All those stupid insensitive questions, the demands that I believe I was lucky because God had saved me. Watching my friends’ lives go on without me; they graduated, they got married, they were happy. Now the whole country knew what I knew. At any moment something catastrophic could happen. At any moment we could lose everything. At any moment we could die, or worse, wish to die. For a while I was angry at their shock and ignorance. For a while I hated myself and them and didn’t even know why. For a while I was lost.
    September 11, 2001 was more than ten years ago. Life went on, for those of us who survived. I eventually graduated, got a job and quit when I had children. For me, though, the September 11th attacks will forever be linked with my brain surgery. I remember the headaches, the pains that had not yet worked their way out of my system, the parts of me that had not yet healed; when I was asked to stop thinking of myself for the first time in seven months. And when the world understood what I had learned over the last seven months. It was the day I was a part of history.

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