Author: Judd, Brooks

October 1962…

In my almost forgotten “youth” one month of one year stands out in my foggy, fading memory. A few things were happening in October that would make this a memorable month if not a memorable year. My beloved SF Giants led by Marichal, Mays, McCovey, and Cepeda had just beaten the dreaded blue meanies, (L.A.Dodgers) in a three game playoff and were now battling the equally hated New York Yankees in the World Series.

The music scene was rapidly changing from doo-wop to folk/surf/rock. On the East coast all the Bobby’s, Vee, Rydell, Vinton, and Darin were being replaced by a young upstart from Minnesota named Robert Zimmerman who would soon morph into a bony, curly haired, poet-songwriter young man named Bob Dylan. On the West Coast three brothers and their cousin were writing and singing in sweet harmonious tunes about a new sport called surfing and about the cars or “Woodies” that would take them to the beach. They were originally called the Pendleton’s, soon to be changed to the Beach Boys.

On October 14, President Kennedy was informed that Russia was sending missiles armed with war heads to Cuba. Our young president was being tested by the crusty veteran Nikita Khrushchev and that young upstart from Cuba, Fidel Castro. These days, from October 14 to the end of October would go down in the archives as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.” Students in high schools everywhere would have their attitudes and philosophies changed with what was about to happen in this short two week period in October of 1962.

October 1962 I was a freshman at the newly constructed Hayward High. It was a concrete nondescript structure to replace the beautiful and majestic old Hayward High on Foothill Blvd. Our class, the class of 1966 would be the first four year class to graduate at the new location. The school wasn’t much to look at but it did have one thing going for it, a vast panoramic view of the gorgeous bay area. Students could stand in the center of the courtyard and facing south could see all the way past Hayward, Newark, Fremont to San Jose, turn their heads to the right and see all the way to Oakland and Berkeley, and looking due west could see the entire beautiful Bay Area, the shimmering bay, the San Francisco pier and on clear days you could see what color tie the grip man on Cable Car # 98 was wearing.

At lunch we could enjoy a healthy lunch provided by the cafeteria or we could visit the snack bar and buy a much healthier lunch of a burger, chocolate shake, cheese curls, and popcorn. The seagulls were constant companions at lunchtime swirling overhead waiting to swoop down on dropped pieces of popcorn, candy and if lucky a chunk of meat from one of our 45 cent hamburgers.

At lunchtime the courtyard was peppered with groups of students eating together, couples holding hands while feeding bits of food to each other, and individuals sitting on the planter box chatting with friends. The yard was filled with laughter, stories being told and above it all the seagulls circling overhead holding their own lunchtime conversations.

Then on a warm October afternoon during lunch time the air raid alarm went off. This wasn’t the fire alarm but the duck and cover alarm, the hide under your desk alarm, the pull the curtains and face away from the window alarm. We had all seen the grainy black and white movies in grammar school about what to do in case of a nuclear attack. Someone yelled out, “Hey no one said there was going to be an air raid alarm practice today!” Others yelled out, “You’re right!” Silence. Then one shaky voice said, “This is the real thing, man!”

The air raid siren continued to scream out its warning as the students faces transformed from smiles to confusion to a slow awareness of what was happening. We were going to be attacked! The air that just a few seconds before was filled with the sound of laughter and seagulls was replaced by an eerily icy silence penetrated by the equally shrill blare of the air raid alarm.

As if on orders from a drill sergeant almost everyone turned toward and faced west using their hands to shield their eyes from the warm October sun. We were looking for some sign of attack on San Francisco, looking for but hoping not to see that ugly mushroom cloud forming over our beautiful Bay.

I turned quickly and faced east where my home was about three miles away. I quickly calculated how long it would take me to run home. I realized I wouldn’t get far before the shock wave of the bomb hit. I turned back and joined the others peering out towards the Bay. I could only watch and wait.

Not seeing any missiles or mushroom cloud I began to observe the students in the yard. Some of the upperclassmen with their black block H sweaters stood tall. Some had their cheerleader girlfriends clutched tightly next to them. There were small groups of underclassmen talking in hushed tones. I did see about three or four students crying. What really got to me was the two or three students I saw who had kneeled down and quietly began to pray. All this was accompanied by the blare of the air raid siren.

Then as quickly as it began the air raid siren abruptly stopped. Students everywhere spun around 360 degrees looking for some sort of explanation. Out of the administration office the dean of boys rushed out into the courtyard waving a bull horn and then began speaking. “This is a mistake! There is no air raid! Everything is O.K.! I repeat everything is O.K.”

I began walking around the area. The block H wearers who were fortunate to have their girls by their sides broke the no physical contact rule and kissed their girl friends on the cheek. (A suspension if caught in the act). The small groups of lower classmen gained immediate bravery and the chatter began: “Good thing they didn’t bomb us because we would have nuked those Cubans and Ruskies into oblivion!”

I was only 14 but I knew false bravado when I heard it. I didn’t care. What was important to me was that those who had cried were not laughed or jeered at by their peers. I watched as they quickly wiped away their tears, looked around and when they saw they were not going to be ridiculed or laughed at I could see sighs of relief on their young faces.

The students who had kneeled and prayed faced a similar fate as those that cried. But they too were spared ridicule by their classmates. They were left alone. I observed them as they slowly stood up, brushed their knees off and slowly blended into the milling crowd of students. No fingers were pointed; no catcalls and no jokes were made.

I don’t know if what I learned in high school made me a better person or not. I do know that on that warm October afternoon in 1962 I learned a lot. For those 90 seconds while the alarm sounded our innocence was replaced by an eternity of mind numbing fear. We were young and scared but we held up. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps with our loss of innocence we realized how quickly and randomly our lives could be ended. And knowing that it made life that much more precious.
Authors note: Bluegrass content: Had there been a nuclear attack we would have no bluegrass music to enjoy and that would be a sad thing.
Posted:  5/1/2009

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