FIFTY YEARS ON….

May 4th, 1970 is the only anniversary date I recognize every year on my blog. That’s when four students were killed by members of the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. It was interesting today, fifty years on, to see the event marked by some of the Twitter feeds I follow, complete with photographs of the memorials put in place to mark the fallen in response to a peaceful protest in which I happened to participate in 1998. Though I haven’t been back since 2000–if you had told me then I wouldn’t be back for twenty years and counting I would have called you a liar, such is life–I have tried to mark the occasion in some way. For some years I stood vigil at the Viet Nam Memorial in front of the Florida Capitol buildings (yes, we have two) from noon to 12:28 p.m. (covering the time frame from the Guard’s initial deployment from their staging area to the shootings)  I am physically past that now so I have lately contented myself with remembrances on the blog which can be easily accessed by going to my Archives and searching for the May 4th entries each year from 2012 to the present. Even had I been able to attend the anniversary ceremonies this year–even if this were not the first year since 1970 when American universities are shut down (a student strike, standing in for so much else, then, a “virus,” standing in for so much else, now)–I wouldn’t have gone. If standing vigil at our local memorial is beyond me, i would not think of tackling the long treks required to cover the Kent State campus, perhaps the only place in America where the past is so fully integrated with the present.

But I’ve not forgot. Alison Krause had been radicalized by the actions of the Guard on the previous weekend, which included chasing her into the nearest dorm with bayonets. Jeff Miller was an activist. When his grandmother heard news of the shootings she asked “You don’t think Jeff was there do you?” His brother, not yet knowing Jeff was a victim, said “Yes, grandma. He was there.” Bill Schroeder, an R.O.T.C. member who won bar bets by naming every Rolling Stones’ track on every one of their albums in order, was trying to figure out where he stood on the war and the draft and had stopped to watch the Guard in action. His military training led him to recognize the sound of live rounds instantly and he threw himself on the ground where a bullet that might have taken him in the ankle had he, like so many others, mistaken it for buckshot, instead found his spleen. Sandy Scheuer was walking to class. She fell along a straight line from the front door of her sorority to her next class. She was perhaps twenty feet from the “radical” Alison Krause.

If I’ve not forgot, it’s because I know how easily, with only the slightest twist of fate, any one of us could have been any one of them:

IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN….KENT STATE, 2019

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.

KENT STATE….2017

Today is the 47th anniversary of the Kent State killings. For those new here, this is the only date I commemorate on the blog each year. That is a for a complex variety of reasons which I keep planning to lay out in detail some year but still haven’t gotten around to. If I ever do, it will come down to this: Lest we forget.

I won’t get around to it this year either. Time presses.

However, here are the links to previous years…and I especially recommend following the link to the lengthy article on the student photographers who took the iconic photographs (linked in the 2012 and 2013 editions below) which probably did more than anything to plant the event in the national consciousness (among other things, David Crosby showed one of those photos to Neal Young and Young went off into the woods and wrote a song based on the picture).

From 2012…

From 2013…

From 2014…

From 2015…

From 2016…

And, every year, I look for something new to post here. I was kind of stuck this year until yesterday, when, in browsing through the images available on the net, I happened across the photo at the bottom of this post….which led me to the three that precede it. In this year when it is clearer than ever that we never walked away from the divide that opened up over our leadership’s conduct of the Viet Nam war–that the breach has only grown deeper and wider–they say more than I ever could:

Here’s hoping we don’t hear the drumming in the long, hot summer that lies ahead.