Each of us remembers important days differently. Some recall in great detail where they were at the time the Berlin Wall fell or a president lost his life, while others rely on grainy video, old snapshots or history books for understanding. But eyewitnesses to history are all around us. Their first-hand stories add another dimension to the tales and images so ingrained in our minds.
Here are some of their stories.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Debby Lacey of Lakewood attended just about every rock-and-roll concert that came through Dallas. As a student at a small North Dallas private school that let out early, she could get to Preston Tickets before most other kids, and buy front-and-center tickets for every show she wanted to see.
“I got to meet Jimi Hendrix. That was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen in my life. He lit his amps on fire. We saw him at Moody Coliseum. I went with my friend Gary, and when it was over, we were in a daze, and we didn’t want it to be over. When we got to the parking lot, we couldn’t decide what to do, so we just went back to our seats and watched them take the equipment down. The road manager asked if we could give them directions to the Cabana Hotel, and I said, ‘I don’t know if I can give you directions, but you can follow us there.’
There was a hospitality suite at the hotel, and Jimi was sitting in there. I didn’t want to bother him, but finally he came into the hallway where we were standing. He was like 6 feet tall, and he wore big platform shoes and he had this huge afro. So he was very imposing. I said, ‘Oh, Jimi, that concert was just too much,’ and he said, ‘Thank you.’ And I asked him for his autograph. Later, my friend Gary made fun of me for saying that: ‘Oh, Jimi, that concert was just too much.’
But I saw everyone who came to Dallas — Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Canned Heat, Janis Joplin, Steppenwolf, the Doors, Chuck Berry, Cream, the Who, the Rolling Stones. And, of course, the Beatles.
When the Beatles came to Dallas, that was in 1964, and I was 13. We waited for them to come in at Love Field. I saw them come down the plank, and then I pushed and shoved and got to their limo, which was a long black Cadillac with fins, and I ran alongside of it. I was practically face-to-face with Paul, but I kept screaming for George. Paul pointed to himself and said, ‘I’m Paul; I’m Paul.’ But all that was coming out of my mouth was ‘Geeeoooooorrrrrggge!’
I was president of the Beatles fan club. On Saturdays, all the Beatles fans would pay 15 cents to take the bus downtown, and we’d hit the record stores and Commerce Street newsstands to look for Beatles magazines. I had a button that said, ‘I’m a Beatlemaniac. In case of emergency, CALL GEORGE!’
And we would stand outside KLIF radio station and hold up signs telling them which Beatles songs we wanted them to play. Girls would come from all over the city. You had your group of friends, but you would meet people from all over, and you all had something to talk about. We all felt like we were a part of something. I’m glad I was born right when I was so that I could be 13 years old in 1964 and be right smack in the middle of Beatlemania.”
Mike Neri was a U.S. Army captain working as an aide to the Army Surgeon General at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. About 125 Pentagon workers were killed in a terrorist attack that day. Neri finished his military duty as a major in 2004. Now a civilian working for Bank of America, Neri lives in East Dallas with his wife and children.
“I was sitting in an office with no windows when my wife called. She worked on Capitol Hill, but she was home with our new baby at the time. She said, ‘Turn on the TV.’ Like a lot of people, we were watching news coverage about the first tower when the plane hit the second tower. I turned to the colonel, and I said, ‘This isn’t an accident.’
Then we heard and felt the impact of the plane that hit the Pentagon. We knew it was related, and the smoke alarms started going.
There are five rings to the Pentagon, the A through E rings. Just about five months earlier, we had moved our office from the E ring, which was ground zero, to the A ring, which was near the center of the building. We evacuated the building, and everyone in my office got out. But if people weren’t immediately evacuated, they didn’t make it.
We were standing about 80 yards from where the plane hit, and we stayed there all day hoping to be a part of the recovery. We didn’t know if there was going to be another plane, another attack, or what would happen. In the end, there wasn’t much we could do.
At the end of the day, I was lucky. I didn’t do anything heroic.
The experience shaped me a lot in terms of what’s truly important. Afterward, there was a lot of introspection. We had a brand new baby, and it reminded me of the importance of family and friends.
My testimony is in the 9/11 Commission Report. But over the following couple of days, I wrote my own narrative about what happened and my feelings at the time. It’s something I go back to and read at least once a year to remind myself. I read it to make sure that I haven’t forgotten, that I’m not being too petty.”
Erica Cole of Lakewood is an office worker and the mother of two college age daughters, but back in the early ’70s, she was a barefooted, bead-stringing, hitch-hiking flower child.
“I went to Colorado the year I graduated from high school because I had a girl friend who was in college there. That would have been 1971. While I was there, I met some people in a health food store who were in converted school buses. They had two buses, one was purple and one was turquoise. They were doctors who had decided to drop out and drive around the country. So I picked one of the buses, and we drove from Colorado through Ogden and Salt Lake all the way to California and ended up staying on the beach near Santa Cruz. I think I was with them for about a month.
After that, I lived in a commune in Taos, N.M., and I stayed there for about a year. I did the kitchen work, which was mostly making big stews and soups. There were about 30 people who came to dinner every night.
Ours was an artists’ commune, but every commune, they all have different personalities. When we went to see New Buffalo Commune (which is featured in the Dennis Hopper movie ‘Easy Rider’), they were very hedonistic. They were all sleeping with each other and drinking a lot. But we weren’t like that. We were more of a structured group than some of them.
We would make money doing beadwork and selling it. To make extra money, they would send us out on jobs doing adobe and painting and stuff like that, when it was available.
There were some real unusual people in Taos. There were some people hiding from the draft. There were some older people. A lot of people just kind of dropped out and disappeared. It was part of my life, and it was just kind of the life I led at the time. Would I want to do it over again? I probably would’ve done more college and started a career. But it was fun.”
Diane Birdwell of East Dallas was in the U.S. Army in West Germany working on nuclear missiles at the end of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall came down Nov. 9, 1989, and Birdwell went to see Berlin herself as soon as the military would let her, in Feburary 1990.
“It was a different world. East Berlin was like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in reverse. You go through Checkpoint Charlie, and you get to the East German side, and there is no color. There were no flowers. The walls were dirty. You could still see bullet holes in the buildings from World War II. The clothing was drab and colorless. The Trubbis — the little cars they had — were all in shades of pale, pale yellow, or blue or black or white.
I was in uniform, and people were very afraid of me. I tried to eat in restaurants in East Berlin, near the Soviet Embassy, and nobody would wait on me. You know, in Eastern Europe, I was still the enemy.
You could see people running up and down no-man’s land, and that just freaked me out because three months earlier, you would’ve been shot for doing that.
I just thought, ‘Wow. I’m not going to be shot at if I stand on the wall.’ And I actually stood on the wall with a bunch of British sailors who were there.
But the real exciting time was a year later when Germany was reunited. That was awesome. To be in a country reborn was more emotional than the wall coming down. When Germany reunified, it was wild and crazy, and we celebrated and celebrated, and then we realized we were out of a job.
But the exact same time that Germany reunified, Desert Shield was starting. And so people didn’t pay much attention to the wall and what was going on in Germany after that.”
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