THE GAZETTE, November 28, 2013

Remembering the atmosphere of the world during the Kennedy Era

To the Editor:

I was working at the Aircraft Credit Union on Colt street, almost directly across from our home and across from the famous jet engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney. I just joined the Marine Reserves when the news came over the airways that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.

They sent us home from work almost immediately. I left for Paris Island in January, 1964. I remember marching by a gas station to get a haircut that March when we heard this unique music playing, guys with an English accent. It sounded weird at first, of course, you could not: talk to the guy next to you without getting the @%&* out of you to see if he knew who the group was. Crazy Milstead, my bunkmate from Alabama, was quietly and dangerously singing "Soldier Boy" by the Shirelles. He whispers “Naughton what and who is that?” Never dreaming that he/we would have a bigger question before graduating PI, “Like where and what in the hell is Vietnam?" I didn’t know it was the Beatles that were just making their debut until May when home on leave.

When we returned from leave we were marched into this bamboo village with pointed pungee stakes to which could potently pierce the sole on your boot with urine etc. I don’t know about you, but it hit me later in life that the world changed on a dime when JFK was killed. Coincidentally, the innocent rock n' roll went from "Wake up, Little Susie" to "Strawberry Fields Forever" later "Purple Haze,” etc. It never was the same again.

I tell my kids nothing stays the same, things always change. But change seemed to come at lightning speed back then. When I finally got to college in my early 20s - having done a stint as an electric power lineman for Helco - I noticed the long hair and striped slacks that flared out at the bottom, the mustaches. I thought, 'Why did I ever quit the best blue-collar job in the US? Getting ready to turn 60, I know now.

The reminder of JFK’s assassination and all the above is my home. In 1984 business began to get good, so I went looking in our area of North Kingstown for land. There were still several farms and estates going back to the revolution. An older couple, Sam and Laura Molony in their seventies no children owned over 100 acres which they, unbeknown to me, decided to sell it all. I stumbled on a 2 ¾ acre lot looking down at a pond which at the time had Black Angus cattle grazing all over the place. I knocked on the door of their modest home(they sold the original brick Georgian Mansion earlier). So they now also looked down on the pond from the far end.

Believe or not, I bought the property on a handshake. “Pay us whenever you can”. It was such a deal I bought another smaller lot on a handshake, "pay whenever you can."

Our street in Rhode Island is also a reminder  of the Kennedy era.  It is called Gosnold Road. I am often asked, "where did that name come from?" I should tell you that Sam was a Navy lieutenant stationed at Quonset during World War Il. I can't recall how he met Laura, but I believe it was somewhat arranged. Laura lived in Hyannisport, Mass. As a young girl, she babysat for many of the Kennedy babies. Her home was a Victorian across the road from the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport, and her front porch faced the Cuttyhunk Islands founded in the 1500's by Bartholomew - congratulations, you guessed it - Gosnold.

Less than a year after we move in, I noticed an unusual army of local police patrolling Fletcher Road, the main road out front. When I went to investigate I saw approx. 4 or 5 black SUVs with flashing lights coming up Fletcher and turning into the Molony's driveway. It was a bunch of the Kennedy clan coming to celebrate Laura’s birthday.

Both Sam and Laura are now deceased, and except for the lack of cattle, and new houses like mine on large lots, it still feels pristine: When I rounded the turn into Gosnold this morning that street sign brought back memories - memories of the Molonys and the Kennedys, especially, Jack! That is my slight connection to the Kennedy's.

Thank you very much! Happy Turkey Day!

James P. "Jim" Naughton
North Kingstown,
Rhode Island

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THE GAZETTE, July 9, 2009

Forty years ago, the music of Woodstock, and a world on the brink

by Jim Naughton

It was beginning to evolve into one of those warm, humid, old fashioned August weekends. My friend Jim and I were heading north toward Lake George, New York in my ’62 Chevy that my friends nicknamed “Red Bird”.

It seems weird now but back then guys made up nicknames for older cars, probably because none of us could afford a new car in those days; it was our way of dealing with it. The summer of ’69 was brutally hot and we were looking forward to some relief up north. I just finished a summer semester and was looking forward to my senior year at Central Conn. University. [I was 25, then, and working the summer for the Hartford Automobile Club. For a lot of reasons, I didn’t start college until I was 22.] We had reservations at a Dude Ranch near Lake George for Saturday, August 16, as for Friday night...we were “playing it by ear”. Around the Pittsfield area of the Mass Turnpike, we heard a radio advertisement for an Irish Musical Heritage event in the Catskills town of East Durham. Our parents came from Ireland, so we figured we would “check it out”.

The summer of ’69 was hot in many ways. The war in Vietnam was raging. (I had recently completed my reserve commitment to the US Marine Corps. Having enlisted November 1963, and arriving at boot camp at Paris Island January of 1964. I never heard of Vietnam until I was in Advance Infantry Training later in May of that year.) Other areas of the world were in trouble also, one of those was Northern Ireland.

I recall it began raining Friday afternoon August 15th, just as we stopped for gas and directions somewhere near the Catskills. For reasons I cannot explain, we ended up inadvertently turning on to a dirt road in a downpour. Just as we were about to turn around, two young “hippie-looking” girls came out of the trees and suggested we follow them (actually they sat off the hood of “Red Bird” and directed us to a huge stage and field).

My eyes roamed from the stage to the field. There were campfires spitting out smoke due to the mist. Two long hair guys were peeing in front of a tent. The field was a mud hole and smelt of urine and pot. The stage was huge and looked ready for a band, however, none was insight.

Suddenly, we realized how out of place we must have looked with our kaki’s and sport shirts, and oh yeah… I was still sporting a military-style hairdo. Yep, you guessed it we drove out as quickly as we could, and arrived at the Irish Hotel in East Durham, NY with the sun now shining brightly, and getting ready to set.

We ordered 2 Guinness in the lounge and began listening to the band play an Irish rebel song. Within about 20 mins we noticed 910 soldiers in khaki uniforms with Black Berets marching into the lounge. These guys, acting like salesmen, began offering free airline tickets to anyone who would come to Northern Ireland and “Man the Bog side”. For a few minutes, we thought about taking a free flight to the land of our parents’ birth. Luckily we declined, which turned out to be a wise choice.

Saturday morning we drove to the Dude Ranch where we encountered a lot of what I would later call “preppie kids” from Long Island and NYC. We had a great day swimming and riding and concluded with a dance to a fabulous Oldie Band. We fell in love with the girls from Long Island.

Sunday afternoon on the New York Thru Way and the Mass Pike we noticed 100’s, 1000’s of kids, hippies, flower children, peaceniks, some carrying banners of “Woodstock Musical Festival”. Some were throwing flowers and flower petals onto the highway.

At the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump, I turned to Jim and said: “I think we just missed the greatest musical event in all time”. And we weren’t the only ones. According to Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia “...Jethro Tull refused to perform claiming ‘that it wouldn't be a big deal!”. “Tommy James” and “The Shondells” declined thinking it was being held by some pig farmer in upstate New York “we could have kicked ourselves a few days later”. Frank Zappa and The Mother of Invention Quote: “A lot of MUD in Woodstock. We were invited and turned it down”.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I can still envision the mud, the rain; it wasn’t our scene; however, I should point out that even though I was still in college. At 25, I had about 6 to 8 years on most of the concert attendees. I love music and part of me wishes that we stayed, took our chances that we wouldn’t have been accosted for looking like a couple of “Narcs”.

To sum up our weekend adventure on August 15,16 and 17, 1969, I tell my kids that while we had fun that weekend, I felt that I was experiencing a very volatile time in our country’s and the world’s history. The so-called “Happy Days” of the ’50s were over. The ’60s changed everything, not only the music (some would argue that the “new” music beginning with The Beatles changed everything) and the clothing styles. Whatever it was, in my opinion, it brought the world to the brink. Martin Luther King was shot and killed as was Bobby Kennedy in 1968. The Manson family was convicted of murdering Sharon Tate in 1969. We had a half a million music-loving, hippie, peaceniks, who wanted the war to end. They were “Free” to do whatever they wanted including “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”. “Man the Bogside turned out to be as a symbol for what ended up being Northern Ireland's Catholic Activist Bernadette Develin’s famous March through the Protestant section of Derry. Derry soon resembled the site of the battle in Vietnam, “Can't begin to imagine what might have happened if we naively took the free offer to go”. Then there were a couple hundred wealthy “preppie kids” from Long Island and NYC at the Dude Ranch who didn’t have a clue to any of this.

Unbeknown to any of us at the time, the country would soon be violently shaken by the Ohio Kent State Student Massacre. And finally, as a former Marine, how can I not reflect sadly and proudly on the young men (over 50,000, not including the wounded) lying dead in a “Hell Hole” called Vietnam so that we and the world could be “Free”. One of them was from my Marine Battalion and hometown of East Hartford, Ct. Marine Pfc.Robert “Bobby” Beaman (born April 1945 - killed June 3, 1969 - South Vietnam).

Later another East Hartford boy, Army Captain Francis “Fran” Jordan Sullivan died in South Vietnam 9-26-70. There were many, many others, who I didn’t know personally. God Bless them all. Why? (“And I am not trying to make a statement here, just still looking answers after all these years”) Is it, Timing? Fate? Wealth? Birthdates? Family? You go figure it out and let me know. “Because” I cannot. It was the 60’s, and the “world was on the brink’.


Jim Naughton was formerly a Regional Vice President in the Financial Services Industry. He is now a Business Consultant for Dale Carnegie. He and his wife Sharon reside in North Kingstown, RI. They have three children and three grandchildren. Jim’s accompanying childhood friend during the August '69 road trip was Jim Maloney, also from East Hartford, WHO now resides in Dallas, Texas.

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