Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ribald 4th of July: memories of July 1970

The title of this post comes from a typo in an article about the 4th of July celebrations that have been conducted since 1912 at Rebild National Park in Denmark, after the land for the park was donated by Danish-Americans. Here's the story that gets the name right:
"Every July 4 since 1912, except for the two world wars, large crowds have gathered in the heather-covered hills of Rebild in Jutland, Denmark to celebrate US Independence Day.
The site of the celebration is the beautiful Rebild National Park (20 kilometers south of Aalborg), presented to the Danish nation by Danish-Americans in 1912. "

This reminds me that in July of 1970 I was in Fredericia Denmark, briefly employed by the J.P. Schmidt cigarfabrik (sold in 1982 to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group). I wasn't rolling cigars, but programming computers, or rather a computer, an IBM 360 model 20, that used a language called Report Program Generator (RPG) that apparently has descendents still in use today. (To compile, a giant stack of punchcards had to be turned upside down to be placed on the card reader...I know that some of you don't know what punchcards were...)

On July 1, 1970, the second Vietnam War draft lottery was conducted back in the United States, to determine the draft order of men born in my year. This was long before the internet, and so I waited a day for the International Herald Tribune to report on the story, but they only reported the first number chosen, and the last. I called the American consulate in Copenhagen to try to find out my lottery number, but they didn't have the whole list either (I got the impression they thought that most Americans living in Denmark at the time may have already decided not to respond to the draft...). I had to wait for a letter from my parents to arrive, telling me that I had a number that might have made me an infantryman had I been a year older, but that with the war winding down left me free to remain a student.

Two days after July 4 I heard cannon (or maybe fireworks) on the old town wall, and came in to work to hear that this was an annual celebration of the Danish victory in The Battle of Fredericia 6th of July 1849, in which the Danes had beaten back a German siege of the fortified town. I recall my colleagues told me that it had been celebrated each year since, "except when we are occupied by the Germans."

Let's all celebrate independence with a boisterous (if not ribald) 4th of July.

1 comment:

David Stodolsky said...

Hidden history of the lottery: