James Bond And Vietnam In 1965 Queens
Welcome to July 1965!
On July 15, images of a red, barren, forbidding world flickered across NASA television screens. Launched in November 1964, Mariner 4 was in Mars orbit, transmitting grainy images of our neighbor across some 37 million miles of galactic vastness. Some predicted manned flights to the red planet by 1980.
Back safely on Earth, in Washington, the House of Representatives was in heated debate over President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty spending bills. One result was the 1965 amendments to Social Security which enacted the Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs.
On the other side of the world, war engulfed a small, divided nation clinging to the Indochina Peninsula called Vietnam. As the conflict heated up, Johnson sent in the U.S. Marines to shore up our ally, South Vietnam, against incursions from the Communist North.
Vietnam would soon become a country known to every American, a place seared into the collective conscience and a conflict that some would rather forget. Many fine young Americans returned home as old men, physically maimed or deeply emotionally scarred. Some never came home.
In 1965, the Vietnam War came home to one young Astoria family. On Memorial Day Weekend, U.S. Army Captain Christopher O’Sullivan was killed in combat. As word of his death appeared in the news, his widow, Eleanor, began receiving hate mail and threatening phone calls from those opposed to American involvement in the far away land. Interviewed by the Long Island Star Journal on July 1, Mrs. O’Sullivan quoted letters stating they were glad that Captain O’Sullivan died, “because we should not be in Vietnam in the first place”. In response, the young mother of two could only say “I don’t feel anger, vengeance or anything else for those people who have been taunting me. I pity them and their so-called aloof superiority. What they do not realize [is] that my husband was over there fighting for them.”
O’Sullivan left behind two boys; Michael, age 5, and Stephen, age 3. Captain O’Sullivan Plaza now occupies a small triangle of land at the intersection of Astoria Boulevard and 25th Avenue, not far from the fallen soldier’s childhood home.
Not to rest on its laurels after the World’s Fair of the previous year, in July, World’s Fair President Robert Moses announced that the Flushing Fairgrounds would offer a temporary home to the Gemini 4 Space Capsule. The spaceship, to reside in the Space Park, was the stage for the first spacewalk by an American when Lt. Col. Edward White gingerly emerged from the craft for some 20 minutes on June 3.
Not far from the fairgrounds in Flushing, the fledgling New York Mets were in the midst of their fourth season, having moved to
Shea Stadium from the Polo Grounds in Manhattan in 1964. On his 75th birthday on July 30, venerable Mets Manager Casey Stengel announced that the 1965 season would be his last at the helm. Several days before, the Mets skipper fractured his hip getting out of a car after playing in an Old Timers’ game and attending a party at Toots Shor’s restaurant. Stengel, in fact, stepped down in August, replaced by Mets Pitching Coach Wes Westrum. His number, 37, was retired by the Mets later in the year and by the N.Y. Yankees in 1970. It would be another four years before “The Amazins” won their first of two World Series titles.
In the meantime, air-conditioned movie theatres were a great place for Queens to escape the summer heat while not taking in a ballgame. Queens’ own Ethel Merman graced the silver screen along with James Garner in the comedy, The Art of Love, while a James Bond double-feature of Dr. No and From Russia with Love played at The Deluxe in Woodside. At The Strand on Crescent Street and Broadway, film buffs took in the World War II epic In Harm’s Way, starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas and Henry Fonda as naval officers.
The 1960s were a decade of breathtaking change; a decade of spacewalks, a decade of civil rights struggles, a time of conflict at home and abroad. In 1965, our nation was at a crossroads. A younger generation struggled to be heard and to shape the nation according to its beliefs. In July, the Very Reverend Joseph T. Cahill assumed the presidency of St. John’s University, at the time the nation’s largest Catholic institution of higher learning. He took leadership of a campus rocked by turmoil and student protest. On his first day in office, he reflected on recent events at the school: “This is an age of rebellion. It affects every segment of society. This is a different generation. As a student of history, I understand this. They want explanations....In our day, we didn’t dare ask why. But I’ve found if you sit down and explain things, most will be reasonable.”
The Greater Astoria Historical Society is open to the public, Saturdays, noon until 5 p.m. at Quinn’s Gallery, 4th Floor, 35-20 Broadway, Long Island City. Additional hours are on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. You may visit the gift shop online. For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit their Web site at www.astorialic.org.