What's the first major news story you can remember living through as a child?

Profile picture for John Becton on August 17, 2021

The earliest major news story I remember now as being a current event rather than history was the presidential election of 1952. I don’t remember hearing about anything else outside my little sphere at that time or before. I probably did, but paid little or no attention. Likely, I didn’t understand. The election, however, somehow grabbed my 5-year-old attention.

I was surprised years later to learn that the Korean War had taken place in my lifetime. Yes, I was very young. Also, we — like most people — didn’t have a TV. And even if we did, it wasn’t until Viet Nam that wars were “streamed” on TV news nightly. If my parents ever talked about it, that didn’t register with me.

I must’ve known that the current president’s name was Harry Truman, but I don’t recall being conscious of that fact. I’m not sure of the first time I heard that two men were running for president, but I clearly remember seeing on a cereal box photos of Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson. (This may be what imprinted the event on my brain.) I knew nothing about them, but Eisenhower was smiling and Stevenson was not. So I repeated a campaign phrase I’d begun to hear and said cheerfully to my parents something about wanting to share the phrase, “I like Ike!’ To which my father immediately said — not cheerfully — that it should be “I don’t like Ike.”

So I learned that we voted for the Democrat, not the Republican. It’s kinda ironic now, considering how unlike the current Republican Party Eisenhower was. The majority did like Ike. When he was inaugurated, a few weeks before my 6th birthday, I understood the significance enough to go next door and watch the ceremonies on TV. I never heard my parents say anything negative about him after he became president.

This wasn’t long before the second major news story I remember. I was very aware of it because it affected me directly. That was the polio epidemic in the early ‘50s. I was aware of a lot of discussion of it, reports of people’s lives being changed by getting it, photos of iron lungs. I remember a summer in which we hardly left the house at all. We played a lot of Monopoly on the front porch.

Then there was the Salk vaccine. I wavered at first, fearing shots, which did hurt more then than they do now that needles are made of harder metal, which can be sharpened more finely. But I feared life on crutches or, worse, in an iron lung even more. So I was part of a major news story when they began giving shots to school children. A few years later, we got the Sabine vaccine, administered on a sugar cube. Without hesitation, I took that, too.

Somewhere in there were news stories about the dramatic drop in polio cases nationwide from year to year. The total in 1956 was a little more than half that in 1955. Then in 1957, there were about a third as many as the year before.

John Becton, August 17, 2021