Back in the early 60ís John Popp was just returning from the war. After moving to Manitowoc, Wisconsin his brother in-law got him a job at an engineering company. John then in the mid 60ís got married and had one child. After getting a divorce, he then quit his engineering job and became a truck driver.
Weíre going to start off with political questions. Did you support a political candidate in the election of 1960?
No, I really didnít because in 1960 I believe I was still in Germany in the Army. I did have some vague recollection of Kennedy, but I didnít vote in the election. I remember when he was elected president. I was too young, and I wasnít into politics. I think at that time you had to be 21 to vote. They hadnít lowered the voting age yet. Itís 18 now, but I didnít do anything about politics. I was in the army, and I was out of the country. I went over in 1959 but knew that he had won the election. Thatís about all I know about politics at that time.
Did you support a political candidate in 1964?
I wasnít discharged from the army until 1962. In 1964 I was already married and living in Manitowoc Wisconsin, so I didnít belong to any political party. I didnít really have any political views or philosophy at that time. I was just some young fellow struggling to make a go of it in life. I never voted. I know that. I didnít vote. I canít even tell you what year I first started voting. It probably was when Ronald Reagan ran. Maybe thatís the first time I voted.
Do you think Kennedy was a good President?
Well, he had a lot of optimism and charisma, and he brought a sense of pride to the country. And who knows what would have happened if he would have lived. Maybe he would have done great things for this country. His presidency was ended too soon in a tragic way, so we really donít know. I do think that he had some good visions. Weíll never know that because he didnít live long enough. He never filled his first term. It was during the Cold War. What I can remember about him then is I was in the army, and when the Cuban Missile Crisis became an issue John F. Kennedy stood up to Khrushchev. He would not back down, and I remember all of us troops being put on alert: packing our bags, rolling up our blankets, all leaves were canceled and ammunition was issued, and they made us sleep with our clothes on, on the floor. We were waiting to get called at any second if there was a war, but then Khrushchev backed down, and the crisis was ended peacefully. In that regard he may have saved the world from a nuclear catastrophe. We donít know, but I think that might have been the case.
Do you remember anything about the radical politics of the New Left, the SDS or the weatherman?
Yes, I remember them. I think that started sometime in the 60ís too. It started, I believe, on college campuses. Their motto wasÖ what was their motto, ďDrop out and do drugs,Ē and whatever like that and they were protesting the Vietnam War. In 1961 and 1962 they were asking for volunteers at that time to go to Vietnam. They werenít sending troops, and I think after they started sending troops and then the media - which was television, really started to cover the war. It wasnít like the 2nd world war, when there was no television to cover it. The American people saw news every night in their living rooms about boys being killed, and I think thatís when the radical left really started protesting the war and demanding that, if drafted, they wouldnít go. A lot of them left the country. I can remember that a lot. And the riots, protests, and the marches on campuses. That I can remember.
How did the Cold War impact the 60ís politics?
Well it was a big build up in the military, and it was also
a buildup with Eisenhower. President
Eisenhower at that time, the military industrial complex and our whole society
right now is tied to the military industrial complex in other worlds. A lot of
jobs in this country are making stuff for the military, so a lot of peopleís
livelihood is dependent on the military. A
defense plant that is making airplanes, tanks or making whatever for the
military would effect our country greatly.
It played a big part in the advancement of technology in this country and
the lifestyle we live. I mean a lot
of people are dependent on the military and to have a strong military in this
country. If we got rid of the
military or downsized it, where would we have created the jobs for this country?
Now going to lifestyles. Can you please describe the fashion of the 1960ís in regards to clothing and appearance? What were other trends of that time period?
Well, probably the biggest trendsetter and the one, who, well, really started it in the 50ís, was Elvis Presley. With the slicked back hair and the sideburns, of course that started when I was in high school in the 50ís. But then in the 60ís after I came back from the army, the lifestyle and the clothes, gosh I canít remember. It was white socks, jeans or slacks, and a shirt. At that time I was already married and working and trying to support a family. Well of course I didnít get married until Ď63, but I didnít pay too much attention. When you have to put bread on the table you donít pay too much attention to the lifestyle in the Hollywood crowd. I was never into that.
Can you describe your job in the 60ís? Tell us a story that depicts life in the 60ís.
Well, when I got out of the army in the 60ís I didnít know what I was going to do. In fact at one time I thought I was going to re-enlist and make a career out of the military, but then I got out in June of 1962 and went down to visit my sister who was living in Manitowoc. My brother in-lawís dad worked at Manitowoc Engineering, and he got me a job right away. Within two days I was working. So a week after I was discharged from the army I was already working in a factory making big, huge cranes. It was called Manitowoc Engineering, and they built big, huge cranes. Theyíre still in business today. Once I started that and met my wife; then I was kind of locked into a pattern. You get married you donít daydream about what you could do. At that time there was no money for college and I already was 22 years old, so I just settled into life. Working in a factory and just getting on with life.
Do you remember about your classes and your teachers?
From the 1950ís? Yeah, I went to high school. I can remember I went to a one-room schoolhouse from the time I was in first grade through seventh. One teacher in a county, one room schoolhouse. Outdoor toilets with an old wood and coal stove in the winter. No plumbing, no water, we had an old pump where you got the water from. There was one teacher to teach all eight grades. I went to school like that for seven years, and it was quite an experience. Almost like on the Little House on the Prairie only it wasnít that happy. It was a struggle back then, but we didnít know it. We all were happy. As long as we had enough to eat, everything was good.
What were some of the views you had about the opposite sex during the 60ís?
We didnít know anything about the opposite sex. We were naive, they didnít teach sex education. I didnít know anything. I went to the senior prom, and I remember a girl kissed me for the first time, and I was so startled and I didnít know what to do. I guess you might say, I learned more about sex when I took agriculture in high school because my agriculture teacher taught about cows and he said, ďYou guys are going to learn something about sex.Ē He says, ďCows are a lot like women.Ē Thatís what our teacher told us. So there was no other kind of education. That the whole World War II generation was very conservative, and sex education wasnít talked about and it wasnít taught. If you did something wrong your mother or father would say, ď Donít talk that way! Donít say that! Donít ask those questions!Ē Thatís what we were told, so you didnít ask questions.
What major differences do you see between teenagers today and teenagers in the 1960ís?
They donít have enough to do, no job. A lot of them donít have jobs, and I must say a lot of them are spoiled. Theyíre given too much; I mean my dad always told me, ď Work never hurt anybody.Ē We were brought up on a farm. We all had to work. He said, ď You wanna eat, youíre gonna work.Ē Well when youíre growing up, you may be angry at your parents for saying that, but I tell you, when you get a lot older and the years go by, you will realize how much your parents loved you, and how much you appreciate them for enrolling the values of hard work, respect, and not expecting anybody to do anything for you. You make your own way in life. You donít want to be a loafer. Thatís what I got from my parents, and it was worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox.
What can you tell me about the counter culture in the 60ís?
Well I didnít really have any experience with it, but what I had seen on television thatís about all I knew about it. With the dope, the free sex, what they talked about. The hippies and Timothy Leary, the dopey out there, that professor or whatever, he was on the West Coast. Wasnít he the one that said, ď Drop in, drop out, and buzz out? Or whatever his slogan was at the time. Theyíd do acid and all that stuff. Well they thought it was a good thing at the time, but it all came back to haunt them. General diseases, guys who ruined their lives with dope; it all really came back to haunt them and I think you look back at it this day. I donít think it was a good period for the people that exposed to that philosophy. Maybe some of them straightened their lives out. I didnít think much of it. I had a negative view of it. I wasnít brought up that way, and I really had no respect for it.
What did you think of their lifestyle?
Well it was foreign to me. I couldnít believe it. When Woodstock took place, which was the big concert, there was sex in public, smoking dope and living like pigs. They didnít bathe; it was really foreign to me. I couldnít believe it. I wasnít brought up that way. All I know is what I saw on TV and what I read about it. I never lived it. I really had no ambition to do it, didnít care about it. Of course, I was an older person already. I wasnít in my teens anymore, and I was already married and working for a living, so I had different values.
Were you part of the womenísí liberation movement?
No, I sure wasnít, and I can understand some of it because women did not have equal rights when it comes to equal pay or equal job. Now, maybe it went too far in certain ways where I donít think women are capable of doing some jobs as men. Maybe it costs some of their lives because of it, and I can name two professions. They are: fire fighters and policemen where they are not physically built to do it. Some of them may be, but not overall. But it probably was a good thing because so many more women had to enter the work force after the 60ís and 70ís. When the government started throwing money left and right at all kinds of social programs and higher taxes, both parents had to go to work to make a living. Then it was a good thing in that sense, but then the families kind of broke up more. In other words, I guess Iím saying, when I was growing up the mothers didnít work. They took care of the kids at home. It was a different family structure. The men worked and could make a living, but there arenít too many families that can make a living with only one person working all unless they have a super job.
It seemed that most people in the 60ís were more conscious of their environment. Is that true?
No, I donít know. If one thing, I think that the 60ís were better. People had more respect for the environment. I donít think people would through their trash and garbage around like you would see now, like along the highways. People just chuck it out, throw it out. They donít care. Maybe in that way they were more conscious of their environment and, also, back then the country was not expanding like it is all over now. This state alone there were hardly any private homes built up on farms, everything was farmland. You couldnít drive around and see new homes built up all over like you can now. So you didnít worry about cutting a tree down, and as your cities start expanding, shopping centers and industrial parks were being built. A lot of that was to create jobs because as the population grows you have to create jobs for the people. There is a lot more emphasis on the environment than there was then. It wasnít thought about much at that time. One environmental problem was the chemical build up in the fish. Then there was mercury in the Great Lakes where your big power plants would discharge waste. It gets into the fish because theyíre in the water, and then if you eat the fish youíre going to get a buildup of mercury. I can remember at times when they said you were not suppose to eat fish over a period because of the salmon in Lake Michigan had mercury in them, and I donít think people knew about all that and realized that it was doing harm. At the time factories and stuff were discharging stuff into your streams, rivers and lakes. Then when they realized all that through studies, then they started putting regulations on. So in that way it was a good thing that we have regulations. They might be stringent and strict, but if we polluted the water and air what would happen to mankind eventually. Actually itís better now then it was back in maybe the 60ís. We have cleaner air, our cars are better, we donít burn coal like we used to. We used to burn coal, I mean people had coal stoves. When I went to China the air was just gray. People used coal over there to burn. I was in Beijing looking out of my motel room windows. We never saw the sun. It was nothing but gray because they were burning coal. It was like a third world country then. This country is much more advanced.
How important was Rock music in the 1960ís?
Well thatís still going. It started in the 1950ís, so I really liked it and listened to records. I guess Elvis was my all time favorite. I really didnít care for some of the Beatles songs, and I can remember Hermanís Hermits and all those groups, and Dave Clark Five, and what were some othersÖ Paul Revere and the Riders, I liked some of their music, but not all of it. I would still say Elvis is the best.
Did the Beatles have an impact on you?
Not really, I didnít have long hair like they did, and I didnít have pegged pants. Did you ever see the old news reel when they had pegged pants? Their suits were pegged. That means they were almost skin tight. But I did like some of their songs. I really wasnít too excited about them. I was probably too old already at that time. I was already about 28.
What about television. What shows do you remember? What impact did TV have on 60ís society?
Well right, and there were a lot of family shows. What were some of those shows? Did Happy Days start in the 60ís? I really donít know. Trying to figure out what some of those shows were during the 60ís. Mission Impossible, I really donít know exactly what shows. I know I watched TV, but I really watched mostly sports. I was into football. I watched golf a lot, and in the evenings I donít think I watched too much because you had to work. I got up in the morning, worked, I got home, was tired and went to bed. I watched sports, and that was one thing I did watch. Still to this day I like football mostly, and I like the Badgers.
Who were your sports heroes of the 1960ís?
Probably Gale Sayers he was a half back for the Bears, Mike Dicka he was there coach eventually. I was, in the early 60ís a Bear fan, and I really didnít like the Packers until after Vince Lombardi left. I became a Packer fan when Vince left and died. He was their coach and got them five championships back in the early 60ís. I remember watching them and hardly anybody could beat the Packers. I was a Bears fan, and he would always beat the Bears. Gale Sayers, Mike Dikta and Dick Butkus, they were my heroes at that time.
Do you remember any games or activities that we associate with the 1960ís?
Games or activities, well I donít know what would that relate to. We played cards a lot. Back at that time you used to visit more with your neighbors, and I can remember living in Manitowoc and we would come up to my Grandpaís to Heatherís grandpa that lived in Hatley. We would always have cards games. We played sheep head with the neighbors. One thing we would like is to drink a few beers and play cards for a pot of ten to fifteen cents. That was what we did, play cards.
What do you remember about Martin Luther King?
I can remember a lot of him. Seeing him on TV and news real listening to him give his speeches I can remember just before he was assassinated he went to Memphis, Tennessee, and was fighting for higher wages and more rights for the garbage men. In the big cities all the black people were under paid and they hardly had any rights. He was nonviolent; he advocated nonviolence. He didnít believe in that radical left wing group that became militant. Iím trying to think of the name of some; the name Rap Brown was one of them. I canít remember what they called themselves at that time. He was nonviolent. I thought he carried himself with dignity.
What other civil rights leaders do you remember? Or organizations?
Well probably after MLK was assassinated, I donít think anybody would stand out today, I think too many are in it for a living. Jesse Jackson and others donít ever want to see racial tension. Too many of them run around and talk about how everythingís unfair and theyíre living the high life. So, I donít have much respect for the crowd like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or any of those guys right now. Theyíre nothing but charlatans. Of course, thatís my opinion.
Can you reflect on any of the following events in the movement? Sit-ins, freedom rides, March on Washington?
I can remember seeing it, but I donít have any personal experiences. At that time I donít believe there was one black person living in Manitowoc. No, they were all down towards Milwaukee, so I didnít have any personal contact. I just remember seeing it on TV and heard on the news reel. At that time if you went to a movie they always had a news reel. They would condense all the news for about a week or a month before and always show that before the movie, so you would see all that before you seen the movie. They always had what they would call news reel, and I always liked watching that and it showed all that stuff. Itís kind of hard to relate if youíre not living in that area. You knew about it and was aware of it, you knew it was taking place, what you saw and heard. You would probably think, well thatís too bad, but you really couldnít empathize with them cause you werenít living with them.
Do you know anything about the Black Panthers or race riots?
Yeah, well the Black Panthers was one of the groups I was trying to remember when I was talking about Martin Luther King. They were more militant. Their philosophy was they were going to change things by any means. They were going to change things for the black person by any means. In other words violence, terrorism, whatever. It didnít matter. You really donít change things going about it that way. You will never change any thing, for the better, but that was their philosophy, and I didnít really agree with that.
It was bound to happen. I have no negative opinion about it at all. I really canít say Iím prejudiced. I mean if a white guy hit me up side the head I would be mad at him just like if a black guy hit me up side the head. I suppose itís a good thing. We have people now of color living in our own city of Wausau. Many of them are nice, but itís always one or two of them that are the bad apples that are criminals that created problems for the ones that are here living a life and trying to make a goal of it and raise their families. So Iím glad it happened because, like I said before when I was in the army down south, I saw restrooms labeled colored only, drinking fountains, white and colored. I couldnít understand what that was when I was a boy growing up. I had no knowledge of anything like that till I got in the army. Iím glad itís not like that anymore. Race relations have come a long way, but will probably never be completely wiped out. If somebodyís different than you, itís hard to relate to; itís different, and you may always have a prejudice you donít know you have.
Were you aware of the Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the 60ís?
Yes I was. I can remember when president Kennedy was instituted, he said, ďWe will put a man on the moon!Ē I know at that time the Russians and the Americans were having a race. I think that the politicians thought that being the first ones up in space could also attach it to some kind of military purpose. The Russians beat us and I can remember when it was going on. It took a lot of the money; maybe some of the taxes started to increase in that time. It took a lot of money to institute that and keep it going over the years. I can remember when the first man was on the moon. I believe we Americans were the first ones on the moon. I believe it was Neil Armstrong, but maybe Iím wrong. I know was he was an astronaut. I was aware of it, sure was.
What can you tell me about the Space Program? Do you remember any of the astronauts and what they accomplished?
I can remember walking on the moon and I remember a few tragedies we had. Was it the Columbia space shuttle that blew up? We lost seven of them. Do you remember that? That could be about ten to twelve years already ago already. We launched seven astronauts and got up, I donít know how high, and it blew up. That was live on TV and it just blew up and desinagrated and seven people died. One was a teacher that could be ten, fifteen years ago already. Then I remember when we lost three astronauts on the ground a space shuttle fire broke out. They died right off the ground; they werenít even up in space. One of them was Vergal Grisum, I think his name was. I remember that and right now you donít hear too much with the space shuttle and astronauts. Of course, you had that orbiting space station. Periodically people go up and come down. A Russian just came back after about a year. They just brought him back here. You hear about satellites being launched and we have a lot of satellites up in space.
Did you watch the landing of the Man on the Moon in 1969? What did you think of that?
Yeah I did, I donít know if they had live television at that time or if it was the news. I can remember his famous words, ď One small step for man, and one giant leap for man kind.Ē When he jumped out of the ship, set his foot on the moon. Yeah, I remember that, and he was kind of bouncing cause thereís no gravity on the moon.
Was the Space Race worth it?
Well, I kind of think so because at that time there was a cold war going on and there were the Dooms Day people saying that there was going to be a nuclear war. President Reagan was trying to negotiate a deduction in nuclear weapons with the Russians. I think it resulted in the Russians going bankrupt because they were determined to keep up with us. They spent so much money on that they couldnít keep up financially and their whole country went almost down the tubes. They were so afraid of star wars. Ragan told them he was going to put star wars up. The star wars put up was satellite in the space that could shot down any missiles that the Russians shot at us. Whether it was true or just a theory, thatís what I think brought the downfall of communism and the iron curtain. We are learning things all the time, so it was a good thing. It cost a lot of money, but I guess it was a good thing.
What new technologies were made available during the 60ís color TV, cassettes, and 8 tracks, LPs?
Yeah there was a lot of that stuff, but I donít remember when it all started. I remember the first colored TV, radio TV, I donít know if there was any inventions. I would say after the 60ís the last twenty years technology has really advanced. If you look at the computers and all that stuff.
Do you remember the Bay of Pigs Incident? What happened?
I donít remember it happening, but I know what happened. Sure, Kennedy the president, and there was a lot of exiled Cubans when Castro came to power. He became nothing more than what all these world leaders do in their country. They become nothing but a dictator and they take away human rights, so a lot of the exiles wanted to over throw Castro. We, Kennedy, was leery to get involved, but he did give them the go ahead and did give them some support but he didnít give them enough military support. They were slaughtered. Castro won, and heís in power to this day. That was one thing Kennedy didnít do right, was the Bay of Pigs.
What about the Cuban Missile Crisis?
That he did right. Didnít I touch base on that before? That he did the right thing because he stood up to Khrushchev, and he didnít back down. He made them take the missiles out of Cuba. The Russians were putting up missile bases in Cuba, and thatís how that came about. Kennedy put up a naval blockade and said if you donít take the missiles out, there could be war. Finally, the Russians backed down and took the missiles out of Cuba.
Did you practice any drills for possible atomic attacks?
Yeah we used to; do you mean as a civilian?
No, I never did as a civilian, just what they showed on TV where people
were in the bomb shelters and storing water.
I just never paid any attention and never did any thing.
Do you remember the Berlin Wall going up? What were your feelings about that?
I remember that too. Iím trying to think. I donít know exactly when it went up. I donít know if it was up when I was over there? Canít remember. I was in Germany in 1959 and 1960. I donít know what year the Berlin Wall went up. Many East Germans were trying to escape to the west. A lot of them did and were killed trying to. Thatís another thing you can credit to Ronald Reagan: the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Did you support the War in Vietnam? Why or Why not?
Thatís a really tough question. I support my country. A lot of time countries make wrong decisions; bad decisions and you are getting into something you donít realize is bad. Even though it may get worse, I did support it all the way. I did not agree with the protest, draft dodgers, or any of that that was going on. I supported my president, and most of all itís demoralizing to the boys and ladies, women that were in the war, fighting the war. Itís encouraging to the enemy. Ho Chi Minh almost conceded the war until Jane Fonda went over there, and all these radicals were shown on TV protesting. Ho Chi Minh then said we were defeated, and when he seen all that going on he said weíll hang on longer and the American people will win the war for us. Thatís what happened. The American people protested so much that the politicians gave in, and we lost it.
Do you have an opinion about Nixonís Vietnam policies? What about the Cambodia Invasion?
Well I donít remember much about it. I know Nixonís policy was to get us out of the war. He was going to get us out of the war, he eventually did. What has come to light is that a lot of prisoners never came home, and there were lots of books written that they believed about what 1000 of 5000 were unaccounted for. They think a lot were sent to Russia and lived in prison over there and died. Prisoners were alive that didnít come home in the exchange when the war was ended. It was a hard thing. He inherited the war from Johnson. President Johnson had built it up so bad and they didnít let the military men run the war, and itís a hard call. He wanted to end the war. He did, but we lost.