May 4th, 2019 marks the 49th anniversary of the Kent State killings, the only historical event I recognize each year on my blog.
I always try to find some unique angle and this year, I was inspired by Steven Rubio’s re-post of something he wrote in the late nineties addressing the significance of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. I encourage you to read the piece in full.
Reading it so close to a Kent anniversary, I immediately linked Maya Lin’s memorial to the Prentice Hall parking lot where Allison Krause, Jeff Miller, Bill Schroeder, and Sandy Scheuer were murdered on May 4th, 1970 in a way I hadn’t before. Not quite.
I’ve been all over this country. I’ve stood at the crest of Little Round Top and the base of Cemetery Ridge. I’ve crouched inside the trees at the Hornet’s Nest and walked the siege lines at Vicksburg. I’ve gazed across the bay at Yorktown where French ships bottled up Lord Cornwallis’s army. I’ve seen Stone Mountain, Lookout Mountain, Horseshoe Bend, Mt. McKinley, and the Grand Canyon as up close and personal as the law allows. I’ve hiked up Bunker Hill and knelt by “the rude bridge that arched the flood” on a cold, gray Christmas Eve. I’ve seen the Alamo and the Smithsonian, the Empire State Building, the Met, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, the monument to George Washington in the nation’s capital and his stately home across the river. I’ve been to most of our great cities and visited every museum I could find from New York to North Dakota. I’ve spent time on Bourbon Street, Beale Street, Times Square. I’ve trotted around Wrigley and Fenway and the Rose Bowl and watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
I’ve stood on a sand spit two miles from my house and watched the first rocket ship that carried men all the way to the surface of the moon lift off the pad.
Heck, I’ve even been to Disney World.
All that and a thousand more.
The only two places that stopped me cold, so cold I felt my spirit leave my body and wander away to gaze down on me from the top of a mountain my eyes couldn’t see, were this one…
..and this one.
I got my love of both history and travel from my father, who had registered as a Conscientious Objector after Pearl Harbor, had his status rejected by the draft board and spent the war fighting forest fires in the Appalachians and then the Rockies.
The second time I saw the Vietnam Memorial was in 1989 when I was on a driving trip with him a couple of years after my mother passed away. Dad had just retired from his post as a home missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention. We didn’t say anything and when we came to a stop in the middle of the “crease” (visible above) he remained there while I walked to the far end.
When I turned back, I saw a young man around my age (I was 28) leave the wall and walk straight through the crowd into Dad’s arms. I was just within earshot when I heard Dad ask him if the name he had been fingering was his brother? The kid nodded. Eventually, he was able to tell us he was from Atlanta and it was the first time he had been there. We chatted a minute or two and he thanked my dad and then walked slowly away. We stood there in the lengthening shadows thrown by the late afternoon sun and, after a decent interval, finally began walking back towards the car still not saying much.
When we reached the end of the memorial we stopped and my dad looked up and down the mall a couple of times as if he wanted to remember it, as if he knew it was the last time he would be there.
Then he looked back at the memorial itself and gave a little nod.
“Almost hidden,” he said. “Like that war.”
My body walked to the car. My soul watched from a distance, a feeling I never had again until 1998, the first time I stood in the Prentice Hall parking lot on a May 4th.
R.I.P. to the Kent State Four then. Again.
Nothing is settled.