A day in the life of Long Island: July 4, 1969

Newsday’s recent “Day in the Life” project brought readers an intimate look at the joyous, mournful and complex moments that make up a day on Long Island.

Whether chronicling bagel makers and fishermen at work in the early hours of the morning or sharing in late-night celebrations at senior prom, Newsday staff sought to capture the unique perspective of life on Long Island.

The project raised the question – what would a day in the life on Long Island have been like 10, 30, 50 years ago?

As it turns out, it doesn’t seem much different than it is now. On July 4, 1969, crowds flocked to local beaches, service problems on the Long Island Rail Road were the talk of commuters, and a horse partly owned by a famous singer made the news.

Here’s a day in the life on Long Island from July 4, 1969, as told through the day’s news.

A day in the sun

The forecast had promised perfect July Fourth weather, warm and sunny. As temperatures reached the upper 80s, thousands of people headed to the beach to swim, boat and soak up the sun.

At Tobay Beach in Massapequa, dozens of people docked their boats and set up chairs to sunbathe beneath waving American flags.

July Fourth, on duty

In Zachs Bay, near Jones Beach, Nassau County police were stationed on boats, ready to respond if tragedy happened. The holiday meant “some of their busiest hours,” they told a Newsday photographer.

Ptl. Donald Swenson and Ptl. Henry Penna manned a 33-foot police boat, searching for boaters in distress. The pair mostly responded to smaller boats, including one driven by two Massapequa 15-year-olds, Gary Brook and Brad Keller.

The teenagers’ engine had died and they were waving a white cloth. The officers towed them back to the marina.

The rising toll of war

July 4, 1969, marked nearly a week since the family of Spec. 4 Gerald C. Daley received word from the army that Daley, 21, of Uniondale, had been wounded in battle west of Danang, Vietnam.

Daley was shot in the back, shoulder and spine, and died the next day, making him the 400th Long Island soldier to die in Vietnam.

“He was an honest, decent kid with a lot of friends,” his mother Grace Boyer said. “He felt he was needed over there. My son was proud and said that was what he wanted to do. It was not what his mother wanted him to do . . .”

Boyer said Daley had dropped out of Uniondale High School to enlist in the Army. He spent 11 months in Germany and four in Vietnam before deciding to continue as a soldier there.

Long Island Rail Road woes

July 4 wasn’t a positive day for the Long Island Rail Road. Newsday reported that nearly half of 94 new train cars – with a price tag of $216,000 each – had electrical issues that required them to be pulled from the tracks.

About 25 experts were called in to diagnose the specific issue with the Budd manufactured cars. Suspected issues ranged from pinched wires to “grounded train lines,” which could cause electricity, brakes and air conditioning to fail.

The MTA had hoped to replace all cars with the Budd model, having placed a $134 million order for 620 of them.

After a hospital visit, a game of slowpitch

Softball teams from Hicksville and Wantagh were declared finalists in the winner’s bracket for the Long Island Invitational Slowpitch Softball Tournament, the culmination of 15.5 hours of play on July 4.

The Astros had not expected to fare well in the tournament. One important factor in their victory was pitcher Ron Mekalavage, a high school football coach who played in the July 4 evening game after receiving treatment in the hospital for a kidney condition just hours before. The Astros went on to beat the Climactic Air Rams 7-5 to secure a spot in the final round.

The Hicksville Astros and Wantagh Hotel were scheduled to play late the next day.

A horse owned by Sinatra has its day

Frank Sinatra and his attorney Martin Rudin had more to celebrate than just Independence Day. Sinatra and Rudin each owned a one-third stake in a 6-year-old horse named Mr. Right, who ran to victory in a July 4 race at Aqueduct Racetrack in Ozone Park.

Mr. Right, also partly owned by a businessman named Daniel Schwartz, won his owners $69,550. Jockey Angel Cordero said it was the first time he’d ever ridden the horse.

“He was galloping easy, you know,” Cordero said. “I only thought I was in trouble one time.”

In tense times, Americans look to the sky

As President Richard Nixon prepared to head to Romania to help foster goodwill between the two countries, he faced criticism domestically for his handling of school desegregation in the south.

Nixon had relaxed a previously hard deadline on desegregation, prompting the National Education Association and civil rights groups to denounce the decision.

The country was also gearing up for the launch of the Apollo 11 space mission, scheduled to take off from what is now known as Cape Canaveral on July 16. The mission famously landed astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on the moon, the first men to set foot there.

Poppies, poppies

Newsday’s gardening section recommended planting oriental poppies, a “robust and dazzling” flower sure to “brighten a garden” with low maintenance. However, for gardeners seeking something blue – “one of the most wanted colors in gardens” – editor Bea Jones suggested planting veronicas.

Bringing the lab outside

Budding scientists in the State University at Stony Brook’s natural sciences summer program examined some crustaceans.

Helicopter parents?

A generational divide emerged with a question in Newsday’s opinion section: Are kids these days too coddled?

“How can (parents) expect their children to know the value of a dollar when allowances are handed out regularly and nothing is expected in return?” an “old timer” wrote to columnist Ann Landers. “When I see my grandsons growing up to be loafers it makes me sick.”

In the syndicated column, Landers wrote back: “There’s more to this problem than meets the eye.” Child labor laws are complicated and the world isn’t the same as it was decades before. “So don’t put the blame on the parents, grandpa.”

See more from Newsday’s recent Day in the Life of Long Island project.