1968 in the United States
The year began with relative peace until January 21 when the North Vietnamese Army PAVN attacked the Marine base at Khe Sanh Combat Base Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. This was the beginning of the Battle of Khe Sanh and the attack focused US command on Khe Sanh near the DMZ. The initial attack was followed by the North Vietnamese country-wide launch of the Tet Offensive on January 30, 1968, resulting in a South Vietnamese-US victory, eliminating the Viet Cong as an effective fighting force. The attack included a North Vietnamese assassination attempt on South Vietnam's president Nguyễn Văn Thiệu which failed. North Vietnam premised the attack on a South Vietnamese uprising against South Vietnam and US forces but this uprising did not occur as the South Vietnamese populace did not rally to the North. Also, on January 23 the North Korean government seized USS Pueblo and its crew of eighty-three in an attempt to divert attention from a failed January 21 assassination attempt on South Korean President Park Chung-hee known as the Blue House raid. In Greenland a B-52 bomber on a Cold War mission known as Operation Chrome Dome crashed with four nuclear bombs on board. One airman was killed. The cleanup operation was informally known as Operation Freezelove, a play on words on the movie Dr. Strangelove.
The year also saw the highest level of US troop commitment when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation that increased the maximum number of United States troops active on the ground to five hundred and forty-nine thousand and five hundred (549,500). This did not count US forces in the South China Sea, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, North Vietnam, and China with reserves in the Philippines, Okinawa, Japan, Korea, Guam, Hawaii, the United States, and worldwide totaling over three million (3,000,000). South Vietnam in the same year fielded a total force of eight hundred and twenty thousand troops (820,000). It was also the most expensive year of the war, with a cost of $77.4 billion. The support of the United States for South Vietnam was at its peak. Antiwar sentiment continued to grow as an increasing number of Americans questioned United States involvement in Vietnam, as the United States was drafting young men to fight for South Vietnam while South Vietnam did not have a draft for its own citizens; however, the war continued despite changing US public opinion.
North Vietnam benefited politically from the Tet Offensive when Walter Cronkite, a respected television newscaster, swayed many Americans and President Johnson, by giving his personal opinion on a national prime time editorial: "It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could." This may have marked a transition in journalism where a news reporter became a news and policy maker. President Johnson cited Walter Cronkite's changed opinion as a factor in his decision not to seek reelection stating to his advisers: "If I have lost Cronkite I have lost middle America." President Johnson later died on January 22, 1973, at age 64 from heart problems.
On April 4, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The United States erupted in violent riots, the most severe of which occurred in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Baltimore. Extensive areas of these and many other cities were looted, burned, and destroyed by the rioters and more than 40 people were killed during the month of protest, which led to greater racial tensions between Americans. Despite this, a landmark piece of legislation, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which was President John F. Kennedy's legacy, was passed by the expertise of President Johnson in April. This legislation was passed with bipartisan Congressional support and effectively prohibited housing discrimination based on race.
The 1968 United States Presidential election became a referendum on the Vietnam War. A peace candidate had previously emerged in the Democratic Party when Senator Eugene McCarthy challenged the Vietnam War policies of President Johnson, who had refused to seek or accept another nomination for president and had endorsed his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Senator McCarthy's support came primarily from young people, most of whom were subject to the draft or were in deferred status. This divided the country by age as older citizens, a so-called silent majority, tended to support or not actively oppose government policies. This division of the populace encouraged Senator Robert F. Kennedy to seek the Democratic Presidential nomination. Senator Kennedy was assassinated after winning the California primary and defeating Senator Eugene McCarthy. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in June led to uncertainty in the race for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. After Vice President Humphrey won the Democratic nomination at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, another wave of violent protests emerged, this time between the mostly young antiwar demonstrators and police. The uncertainty within the Democratic Party benefited Richard Nixon, a Republican and former vice president, as he successfully won the presidential race by appealing to the "Silent Majority" under the promise "Peace with Honor". Nixon, a staunch anti-communist, had gained the voters' trust. A particularly strong showing by segregationist George Wallace of the American Independent Party in 1968's presidential election highlighted the strong element of racial division that continued to persist across the country.
In popular culture, 2001: A Space Odyssey was the most profitable film of the year, earning $56.7 million, while Oliver! won the Academy Award for Best Picture. "Hey Jude" by the Beatles was the hottest single of 1968 in the U.S. according to Billboard, demonstrating the continued popularity of bands associated with the British Invasion that began in 1964.
- President: Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Texas)
- Vice President: Hubert Humphrey (D-Minnesota)
- Chief Justice: Earl Warren (California)
- Speaker of the House of Representatives: John William McCormack (D-Massachusetts)
- Senate Majority Leader: Mike Mansfield (D-Montana)
- Congress: 90th
- January 2 – The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 906.4.
- January 5 – The United States indicts Benjamin Spock, a pediatrician and famous author who told mothers "You know more than you think you know." (age 65) for conspiracy to violate the draft laws. Dr. Spock was a graduate of Yale University and winner of an Olympic gold medal for rowing on the Seine River in Paris, France in 1924.
- January 6 –
- Dr. N.E. Shumway performs the first adult cardiac transplant operation in the U.S.
- Surveyor 7, the last of the series of unmanned probes, is launched by the U.S. for soft-landing on the Moon.
- January 7 – First-class US postage was raised from 5 cents to 6 cents. US Prime rate 6%.
- January 13 – Johnny Cash records At Folsom Prison
- January 14 – The Green Bay Packers win Super Bowl II.
- January 17 – Lyndon B. Johnson calls for the non-conversion of the U.S. dollar.
- January 18 – The USSR performs a nuclear test at Eastern Kazakh/Semipalitinsk.
- January 19 – At a White House conference on crime, singer and actress Eartha Kitt denounces the Vietnam War to Lady Bird Johnson while attending a "ladies' lunch".
- January 21 – Battle of Khe Sanh, Vietnam begins: A U.S. B-52 Stratofortress crashes in Greenland, carrying four nuclear bombs which did not explode.
- January 22 – Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In debuts on NBC. This launched the career of Goldie Hawn, who became an instant sensation.
- January 23 – North Korea seizes USS Pueblo, claiming the ship invaded its territorial waters while spying.
- January 30 – The Viet Cong of North Vietnam launch the Tet Offensive against South Vietnam, the United States, and their allies.
- January 31 – Viet Cong soldiers attack the US Embassy, Saigon. Their leaders are killed by the two United States Military Police on duty at the gate. The 101st Airborne lands on the Embassy roof and eliminates the remaining leaderless soldiers.
- February 1
- Vietnam War: A Viet Cong officer named Nguyễn Văn Lém is executed by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, a South Vietnamese National Police Chief. The event is photographed by Eddie Adams. The photo makes headlines around the world, eventually winning the 1969 Pulitzer Prize, and sways U.S. public opinion against the war.
- The Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central Railroad merge to form Penn Central, the largest ever corporate merger up to this date.
- February 8 – American civil rights movement: A civil rights protest staged at a white-only bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina is broken up by highway patrolmen; three college students are killed.
- February 11 – Madison Square Garden in New York City opens.
- February 12 – Memphis sanitation strike: Provoked by the crushing to death of two black workers, over 1,000 black waste collectors in Memphis, Tennessee, begin a strike that lasts until April 16.
- February 13 – Civil rights disturbances occur at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- February 19 – The Florida Education Association (FEA) initiates a mass resignation of teachers to protest state funding of education. This is, in effect, the first statewide teachers' strike in the U.S.
- February 20 – Farmington Mine disaster
- February 28 – The influential American news reporter Walter Cronkite shows his disdain for the Vietnam War effort during a broadcast, which influences President Johnson not to seek another term.
- February 29 – The Kerner Commission release its final report on the causes of the 1967 race riots.
- March 11 – U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson mandates that all computers purchased by the federal government support the ASCII character encoding.
- March 12 – U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson edges out antiwar candidate Eugene J. McCarthy in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, a vote which highlights the deep divisions in the country, as well as the party, over Vietnam.
- March 14 – Nerve gas leaks from the U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground near Skull Valley, Utah.
- March 16
- March 17 – A demonstration in London's Grosvenor Square against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War leads to violence; 91 people are injured and 200 demonstrators arrested.
- March 18 – Gold standard: The Congress of the United States repeals the requirement for a gold reserve to back U.S. currency.
- March 19–23 – Afrocentrism, Black power, Vietnam War: Students at Howard University in Washington, D.C., signal a new era of militant student activism on college campuses in the U.S. Students stage rallies, protests, and a 5-day sit-in, and they laid siege to the administration building, shut down the university in protest over its ROTC program and the Vietnam War, and demanded a more Afrocentric curriculum.
- March 21 – Vietnam War: In ongoing campus unrest, Howard University students protesting the Vietnam War, the ROTC program on campus, and the draft, confront Gen. Lewis Hershey, then head of the U.S. Selective Service System, and as he attempts to deliver an address, shout him down with cries of "America is the Black man's battleground!"
- March 26 – Joan Baez marries activist David Harris in New York.
- March 31 – U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announces he will not seek re-election in the 1968 presidential election.
- April 2
- April 3 – Civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee.
- April 4
- April 5 – Robert F. Kennedy gives a speech at the Cleveland City Club.
- April 6
- April 11 – U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
- April 23–30 – Vietnam War: Columbia University protests of 1968 – Student protesters at Columbia University in New York City take over administration buildings and shut down the university.
- April 29 – The musical Hair officially opens on Broadway.
- May 14 – The Beatles announce the creation of Apple Records in a New York press conference.
- May 15 – An outbreak of severe thunderstorms produces tornadoes causing massive damage and heavy casualties in Charles City, Iowa, Oelwein, Iowa, and Jonesboro, Arkansas.
- May 17 – The Catonsville Nine enter the Selective Service offices in Catonsville, Maryland, take dozens of selective service draft records, and burn them with napalm as a protest against the Vietnam War.
- May 22 – The U.S. nuclear-powered submarine Scorpion sinks with 99 men aboard, 400 miles southwest of the Azores.
- June 3 – Radical feminist Valerie Solanas shoots Andy Warhol at his New York City studio, The Factory; he survives after a 5-hour operation.
- June 5 – U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California by Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy dies from his injuries the next day.
- June 26 – Bonin Islands are returned to Japan after 23 years of occupation by the United States Navy.
- July 1 – The Central Intelligence Agency's Phoenix Program is officially established.
- July 18 – The semiconductor company Intel is founded.
- July 23–28 – Black militants led by Fred Evans engage in a fierce gunfight with police in the Glenville Shootout of Cleveland, Ohio.
- August 5–8 – The Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida nominates Richard Nixon for U.S. president and Spiro Agnew for vice president.
- August 21 – The Medal of Honor is posthumously awarded to James Anderson, Jr. — he is the first black U.S. Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
- August 22–30 – Police clash with anti-war protesters in Chicago, Illinois, outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention, which nominates Hubert Humphrey for U.S. President, and Edmund Muskie for Vice President.
- September 7 –
- 150 women (members of New York Radical Women) arrive in Atlantic City, New Jersey to protest against the Miss America Pageant for being exploitative of women. Led by activist and author Robin Morgan, it is one of the first large demonstrations of Second Wave Feminism as Women's Liberation begins to gather much media attention.
- The Banana Splits Adventure Hour begins airing on NBC. It went on for two seasons, ending on December 13 a year later in the middle of Season 2.
- September 13 – Army Major General Keith L. Ware, World War II Medal of Honor recipient, is killed when his helicopter is shot down in Vietnam. He is posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
- September 24 – 60 Minutes debuts on CBS.
- October 2 – North Cascades National Park is established.
- October 8 – Vietnam War – Operation Sealords: United States and South Vietnamese forces launch a new operation in the Mekong Delta.
- October 10 – The Detroit Tigers win the 1968 World Series, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 4–3.
- October 11 – Apollo program: NASA launches Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission (Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele, Walter Cunningham). Mission goals include the first live television broadcast from orbit and testing the lunar module docking maneuver.
- October 14 – Vietnam War: The United States Department of Defense announces that the United States Army and United States Marines will send about 24,000 troops back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours.
- October 16 – In Mexico City, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two black Americans competing in the Olympic 200-meter run, raise their arms in a black power salute after winning, respectively, the gold and bronze medals for 1st and 3rd place.
- October 20 – Former U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy marries Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis on the Greek island of Skorpios.
- October 25 – The Jimi Hendrix Experience releases Electric Ladyland.
- October 31 – Vietnam War: Citing progress in the Paris peace talks, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson announces to the nation that he has ordered a complete cessation of "all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam" effective November 1.
- November 5
- November 11 – Vietnam War: Operation Commando Hunt is initiated to interdict men and supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, through Laos into South Vietnam. By the end of the operation, 3 million tons of bombs are dropped on Laos, slowing but not seriously disrupting trail operations.
- November 14 – Yale University announces it is going to admit women.
- November 17 – The Heidi game: NBC cuts off the final 1:05 of an Oakland Raiders–New York Jets football game to broadcast the pre-scheduled Heidi. Fans are unable to see Oakland (which had been trailing 32–29) score 2 late touchdowns to win 43–32; as a result, thousands of outraged football fans flood the NBC switchboards to protest.
- November 20 – The Farmington Mine Disaster in Farmington, West Virginia, kills 78 men.
- November 24 – Four men hijack Pan Am Flight 281 from JFK International Airport, New York to Havana, Cuba.
- November 26 – Vietnam War: United States Air Force First Lieutenant and Bell UH-1F helicopter pilot James P. Fleming rescues an Army Special Forces unit pinned down by Viet Cong fire, earning a Medal of Honor for his bravery.
- December 3 – The NBC special If I Can Dream marks the concert return of Elvis Presley.
- December 6 – During an airing of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, NBC renews The Banana Splits Adventure Hour for a second season.
- December 8 – NBC airs Pinocchio starring Burl Ives and Peter Noone as part of Hallmark Hall of Fame.
- December 9 – Douglas Engelbart publicly demonstrates his pioneering hypertext system, NLS, in San Francisco.
- December 11 – The film Oliver!, based on the hit London and Broadway musical, opens in the U.S. after being released first in England. It goes on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus is also filmed on this date, but not released until 1996.
- December 20 – The Zodiac Killer is believed to have shot Betty Lou Jensen and David Faraday on Lake Herman Road, Benicia, San Francisco Bay, California.
- December 22 – David Eisenhower marries Julie Nixon, the daughter of U.S. President-elect Richard Nixon.
- December 23 – The crew of USS Pueblo are released after spending 11 months in captivity by the North Koreans.
- December 24 – Apollo Program: U.S. spacecraft Apollo 8 enters orbit around the Moon. Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and William A. Anders become the first humans to see the far side of the Moon and planet Earth as a whole. The crew also reads from Genesis.
- Cañada College opens in Redwood City, California.
- In or about this year the HIV virus is thought to have first arrived in the U.S.
- January 2 – Cuba Gooding, Jr., actor
- January 4 – Mike Wilpolt, American football player and coach
- January 6 – John Singleton, African American film director (died 2019)
- January 29 – Aeneas Williams, American football player and pastor
- February 12 – Pauly Shore, comedian, actor, director, and producer
- February 12 – Josh Brolin, actor
- February 17 – Bryan Cox, American football player and coach
- February 22 – Jayson Williams, basketball player and sportscaster
- March 12 – Aaron Eckhart, actor
- March 23 – Mitch Cullin, author
- May 1
- May 2 – Eric Holcomb, 51st Governor of Indiana
- May 2 – David Benoit, basketball player
- May 12
- May 22 – Tony Hawk, skateboarder
- June 2 – Jason Falkner, singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer (Jellyfish, The Grays and The Three O'Clock)
- June 27 – Kelly Ayotte, U.S. Senator from New Hampshire from 2011 to 2017
- July 2 – Ron Goldman, murder victim (died 1994)
- July 7 – Allen Payne, actor
- July 16 – Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia
- August 9 – Gillian Leigh Anderson, actress
- September 4 – John DiMaggio, voice actor
- September 25 – Will Smith, actor, producer and rapper
- November 13 – Pat Hentgen, baseball player and coach
- March 11 – Pearl Doles Bell, film scenarist, novelist and editor (born 1883)
- April 4 – Martin Luther King, Jr., activist, clergyman and leader in the Civil Rights Movement (born 1929)
- May 10 – Scotty Beckett, actor and singer (born 1929)
- June 1 – Helen Keller, campaigner for the deaf and blind (born 1880)
- June 6 – Robert Kennedy, younger brother of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, U.S. Senator, presidential candidate (born 1925)
- August 18 – Arthur Marshall, ragtime composer and performer (born 1881)
- September 7 – Harold C. Train, rear admiral in World War II, Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence (born 1887)
- November 25 – Upton Sinclair, novelist (born 1878)
- December 11 – Bob Bartlett, U.S. Senator from Alaska from 1959 to 1968 (born 1904)
- December 20 – John Steinbeck, author (born 1902)
- McLaughlin, Katie (July 31, 2014). "Eight unforgettable ways 1968 made history". CNN.
- Lyndon B. Johnson (March 11, 1968). Memorandum Approving the Adoption by the Federal Government of a Standard Code for Information Interchange. The American Presidency Project. Accessed 2008-04-14.
- Mitchell K. Hall (2008). "Chronology". Historical Dictionary of the Nixon-Ford Era. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-6410-8.
- Pickrell, John (September 4, 2006). "Timeline: HIV & AIDS". New Scientist.
- Media related to 1968 in the United States at Wikimedia Commons