The buildings stood opposite of each other, separated by a street. The year was 1965.
As the door to 77 East State Street opened, music could be heard resonating from a jukebox interspersed with the sounds of youthful exuberance.
At the counter and booths of Kasler’s Dairy Store, orders were taken and delivered for malts, milk shakes, phosphates, cheeseburgers, french fries and Kasler’s famous “pig trough” banana split served in a large wooden bowl. Archie Stanley, Sr., wearing a white paper soda jerk hat tilted slightly to the back, and Melvin Oxley oversaw the store activities attired in waist aprons extending below the knees.
Songs on Kasler’s jukebox would have included the 1965 hits “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” by Mel Carter, “Downtown” by Petula Clark, “Crying In The Chapel” by Elvis Presley and, released in December of that year, the Who’s “My Generation.”
Kasler’s was the “hang out,” for the youth of the post World War ll baby boom era. After school, Kasler’s booths were jammed with students, school books pushed to the backs of the tables or into the corners of the seats.
Kasler’s was the place to be “found” or “seen” on a Saturday evening and after high school athletic events.
But 1965 was a time of change brought about by a conflict in a distant southeast Asian country.
Love struck high school couples holding hands across a table in a Kasler’s booth, the girl wearing her beau’s high school class ring on a chain around her neck or on her finger with the band wrapped in angora to keep it from slipping off her finger, were just as likely to hear “The Ballad of the Green Berets’’ by Sgt. Barry Sadler as “Yes I’m Ready” by Barbara Mason.
Recorded in December, 1965 and released in 1966, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” sales totaled more than 11 million copies. Cashbox ranked it, along with the Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreaming,” as the number one song of 1966. This song and, for the first time, network news broadcasts of actual conflict carnage brought the Vietnam conflict into America’s living rooms and the country’s conscience.
The year 1965 was also the beginning of my generation’s loss of its youthful innocence. The song’s closing chorus acknowledged this conflict-driven loss: “Put silver wings on my SON’S chest… He’ll be a MAN they’ll test one day…” The distant Vietnam cities of Saigon, Hanoi and Da Nang soon saturated the American airways.
In 1965 the first heavy bombing campaign, later to be known as “Operation Rolling Thunder,” took flight, and 3,500 combat troops set foot in Vietnam, mushrooming to over 180,000 by year’s end. This escalation swung wide open the doors of the Selective Service Offices.
All males ages 18 to 26 were required to register with the selective service, more commonly referred to as the draft board. The innocence found at 77 East State Street was lost when the youth of Athens County crossed the street and the threshold of 78 East State Street to register for the draft at the Selective Service Office under the supervision of Director Ruth McBee and her sister..
In 1966, the federal government increased the number of men to be drafted. The February 9, 1966 edition of The Athens Messenger reported that on that day the Athens County draft board bussed 24 Athens County young men to Fort Hayes for induction along with 41 others for pre-induction physical examinations.
Included in the induction group were six married men who had been exempt under the draft laws in existence prior to the Vietnam conflict. According to The Messenger, the combined size of the two groups “represented increased military calls brought on by the Vietnam fighting.” Many of these draftees were destined to serve in Vietnam as combat infantrymen, fulfilling the need for the “call up.”
In the darkness of early morning, my daily jog takes me between these two buildings. The Selective Service Office is now a student rental. On occasion, I stop and stand for a few moments looking at the two buildings with far off thoughts.
I, too, crossed the street from Kasler’s, stepped over the threshold of 78 East State Street and registered with the Selective Service. Rather than being drafted, I enlisted in the United States Army. 58,148 drafted and enlisted service members representing the five military branches would die in Vietnam: 61% of these young men were younger than 21, 11,465 were younger than 20 and the average age of those killed was 23.1 years.
Of this number, 31 from Athens County lost their lives—including Larry Spaulding from the Athens High School Class of 1966. This generational loss, however, encompassed more than just the young men serving in the military. It also included the young women of my generation.
Over 11,000 women served in Vietnam, primarily as nurses, sustaining 59 casualties. But, the innocence and youth of my generation not only bled into the rice paddies and delta of Vietnam, but also into the streets and sidewalks of America, like at Kent State—where Dean Kahler, former Athens County Commissioner, was shot and, paralyzed for life, from the chest down. This was the toll exacted on my generation.
To this day, though, I hold dear the memories of my, all too short, years of innocence spent, in part, in Kasler’s where I first heard the song that always takes me back to those times, Gene Chandler’s the “Duke of Earl.’’
Kasler’s closed in 1966. The buildings which once housed Kasler’s and the Selective Service Office still stand.
In 1972, after 24 years and two conflicts, Korea and Vietnam, the Selective Service Office terminated its tenancy at 78 East State Street.
Thanks to Curt Heady, Bill Matters and Larry Mitchell for their assistance with this column. Any errors are solely mine.
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