Generation saw anti-war movements, Reagan years
By Sharon Roznik
December 12, 2010
The spotlight has always been focused on older baby boomers.
People born from 1946 to 1950 came of age in the turbulent 1960s of
civil rights and antiwar movements, assassinations, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
People born from 1960 to 1964 came of age in the Reagan years.
The two bookends of this generation have vastly different life
experiences and expectations.
"I recall my sister, who is 11 years older than me, talking about
classmates going straight to Vietnam after high school graduation. A
lot of identifying things about baby boomers they aren't a part of
my experience," said Omer Durfee of Fond du Lac.
Born in 1959, Durfee feels closer to Generation X, the generation
born after the post World War II baby boom, or to "tweeners,"
referring to those born the first five years of the 1960s.
"A lot of identifying things about older baby boomers I vaguely
recall. I do remember Apollo 11 and 13, Cheech & Chong, Watergate and
the Arab oil embargo," he said.
By the time tweeners reached adulthood, the idealism and optimism of
their predecessors had been squelched by Watergate, the oil crisis,
inflation and recession.
The older boomers were the first to get all the jobs. They had a
fairly easy time getting into college, buying cheap housing and
moving up the corporate ladder, said Cheryl Russell, editor of Boomer
Report. Later boomers found a world where the sense of entitlement
began to break down.
"The older boomers have filled high echelon positions in different
fields, and the younger boomers are waiting for them to retire," said
Durfee. "Sometimes they call us the whiners, but that's not the case.
I'm a professional, but I'm not a homeowner and I may never be. I can
live with that."
Peter Toeg, 62, said many of his generation thought while growing up
that they had an idea of what the '60s were all about, but in
retrospect it was different.
"I, for one, never experienced all the craziness, but I came close,
including five miles from Woodstock, on that rainy weekend … going
elsewhere … and never quite making it to Vietnam in 1970 after losing
the draft lottery in 1969. I came within a few credits of falling
short of a degree I would never use, amid shared personal despair
after Kent State when the country seemed to be imploding," he said.
Gathered 40 years later with 100 of his classmates (Class of 1966) in
the old school cafeteria in Islip, N.Y., he recalls many of them
preferring to look ahead to retirement and not backward.
"Portfolios held and cruises to be taken, materialism gone wild,
successful children and the most clever grandchildren photos
everywhere. And almost to a person, liberal ideals entrenched," he said.
What stands out about the baby boom years for Sandi Roehrig was the
encouragement her generation received to "reach for the sky."
"I was born in 1950, so I was influenced by parents who lived through
the Great Depression and who were affected by World War II," she
said. "I also believe we baby boomers were encouraged to be
individuals … to decide who and what we wanted to be. We were not
forced to follow the old traditional mold of a woman only being a
mother and housewife … but that we, too, could be educated and make
something of ourselves … and still be good mothers. We were led to
believe that we could 'have it all.'"
Those born in the late 1940s share a sense of duty and community with
the GI generation. For George Blankenship, born in 1949, the times he
grew up in reflected the turmoil of the age.
"The Korean War was just on the horizon," he said. "My father was in
the Army, and I remember him being away during my early childhood.
The Cold War was getting under way. I can remember 'duck and cover'
drills in my classroom. The Cuban missile crisis brought us to the
brink of destruction. Even as a small boy, I can remember thinking
that a 'nuclear cloud would soon cover the earth.' Conflicts were
constant. I was involved years later in the Vietnam war and there
have been numerous wars, police actions and conflicts that seem to be
almost continuous since then to the present."
Unlike Generation Y, boomers grew up in a world without cell phones,
smart phones, Bluetooth and Blu-ray, laptop computers, remote
controls and other electronic gadgets. Despite this, they became
"We did not text, tweet or e-mail," said Joellyn Dahlin. "To
communicate with friends, we would walk to their house and call their
name from the porch. If someone told you to shut up, it meant just
that be quiet; and if someone told you to get out you would
leave. We knew how to play kickball and hopscotch, we did not wear a
seat belt in the car, we walked to school, we hitchhiked, and we
lived to tell about all of it."
Toeg said his was a generation of promise comprised of people who
were going to shape the world.
"We boomers of the '60s have come a long way, gained some wisdom,
shed a lot of baggage and found our way out of a strange forest," he
said. "I wonder if the world is a little worse for that decade, one
that opened the floodgates of change. But then again, it had to
happen. And we survived."