Washington in 1968

In 1968, I was a newly minted Air Force second lieutenant stationed in Washington DC.

My initial duty was at Bolling Air Force Base in the South east part of the city on the Potomac. There I reported on February 15, 1968 to the 1100th Security Police Squadron to be one of its officers.

I did not know before I arrived that this was in actuality the Air Force Honor Guard Squadron which performed ceremonies at Arlington, the White House and the Pentagon.

I walked in the door and the captain in charge took one look at me and I could tell I was not what he expected. To be perfectly clear on this: Air Force Honor Guard officers have to be a minimum of 6 feet tall, well built, and not wear glasses.

I however, was 5 foot 5inches, and wore glasses.

Clearly somewhere in the bowels of Air Force personnel there was someone was a strange sense of humor to assign me there. By noon I was reassigned as a training officer in the base’s plans office.

Still living in Washington in 1968 was to be part of a vanished world and I was glad to be there.  While I was there I saw Dr. Martin Luther King Jr give his last sermon at the National Cathedral,  Jackie Kennedy and her children at Arlington visiting Bobby’s grave, and worked in the Air Force command post on both the Nixon Inauguration and the Eisenhower Funeral.  That was one thing about the city, there was always something happening in the 1960s.

I didn’t make a lot of money as a second lieutenant, about $300 a month. Luckily I was able to find a furnished apartment close to the base for $85, I had a college loan for $85, a car payment for another $90, which left me about $40 a month to live on. In those days before the price of gas rose dramatically, I could manage – albeit with not a lot left over.

Washington provided a great deal of free entertainment then, as it still does today. One could visit the many Smithsonian Museums, see the monuments, and generally find a great deal to do that fit within my $40 mad money budget each month.

One of my favorite things to do was to explore the U.S. Capitol.

US Capitol 1968

Despite the war in Vietnam and the protests in the streets, Washington in many ways was still a very small, southern town. In those days there were no metal detectors or guards at the doors of the Capitol.

On many a Sunday afternoon I drove downtown, parked at the Capitol and simply walked anywhere I wanted to within the building. I explored every floor from the Rotunda to the crypt where the Catafalque that held Lincoln’s casket was stored. I was so well versed in the layout of the building that by the time I left Washington in the fall of 1971, I could give tours of the Capitol to my guests.

Those days are long gone.


About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in Air Force, American History, Ancestry, Norvell Family History, Social History, Vietnam War, Washington DC and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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