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.

ONE OF THESE DAYS….(May 4th, 2018)

…I really will get around to seeing if I can find my notes from my experiences of May 4th, 1998 on and around the campus of Kent State University (and my subsequent first trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame–an experience that taught me to never take that institution lightly). The notes aren’t where they’re supposed to be…and it’s a big house…with a lot of boxes. I probably wrote ten thousand words at the time.

Might still be interesting.

But, I confess, Neil Young–not to mention a thousand pictures worth a thousand words apiece–probably still said it better….

Links to past years here…

I ain’t forgot.

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.

MAY 4th….2015 EDITION

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(Generally useful map, from the Nixon Administration’s investigation, of the ground on which the Kent State shootings took place. Bill Schroeder’s body is placed a long way from where he fell, perhaps to give some validity to the one truly wry element, which is the caption placed next to Step 6 that reads “GUARD HEADED BACK UP HILL–STUDENTS FOLLOW.” Never mind that none of the hundreds of photographs taken show students meeting any rational definition of the word “follow.” One only needs to note the distance to the Prentice Hall parking lot, where the fire was heavily concentrated and where, in fact, all of the dead and most of the wounded actually fell. The parking lot is a hundred yards away and fifty feet downhill. I suppose a fully accurate map might have risked representing what a true “threat” the “rioting” students at Kent State University represented to men who were armed with high-powered rifles and literally a few paces away from the safety of no longer being offended by people yelling insults and giving them the finger.)

The murder of four college students at Kent State University on May 4th, 1970, by members of Troop G of the Ohio National Guard, is the only event I commemorate annually on this blog. For previous thoughts, photos and links you can go here (2012), here (2013) and here (2014). As always, I especially recommend the piece I linked in 2012 and 2013, a beautifully reported account of the the memories of the three student photographers who took the iconic photos which have kept the event much more alive in the nation’s memory than it otherwise would be (not least by directly inspiring Neil Young’s famous song).

After I visited the campus for the first time in 1998 (on the 28th anniversary, which happened to coincide with an ultimately successful protest asking the university to permanently close the parking spots where the murder victims fell and also place memorials on them), I “wrote up” my impressions for family and friends. At some point I’ll probably share some of that piece, but, for now, I’ll recount a memory from 2000, which was the last time I was able to be on the campus.

By the time of this, my third visit, I was familiar with the campus layout (my absolute unfamiliarity made my first visit very much a serio-comic tale of stumbling around in the dark). As such, I was able to fully comprehend the logistics of what had taken place thirty years earlier. I had a sense of the utter ineptitude of the Guard’s leadership on the day in question (worth a long post in itself some day), which, despite amounting to criminal stupidity, in no way justified the actions of the men under their command (whether or not those men acted on some kind of order).

Everything I had learned to that point led me to believe, then as now, that “Kent State” was both horribly inevitable (in the general sense of the times) and consummately preventable (in the specific sense of what actually went down).

But the thing that had changed most dramatically in the interrum for the purposes of the May 4th commemoration ceremony (when the Prentice Hall parking lot is closed anyway), was the presence of those permanent markers that closed off the four parking spaces.

The student organization at Kent State that runs the commemorations (which, by the time of my first visit, consisted entirely of students not born when the murders took place) had always taken on the task of marking the spots on the actual anniversary, so it wasn’t as though I hadn’t known where they were, or failed to be deeply moved by the tradition of students and others chalking their feelings on the pavement (many quite lengthy–you’d be surprised how eloquent chalk-on-pavement can be).

But seeing those new markers actually set in the asphalt gave the place a new feeling of permanence, significant, I thought, on a college campus where the very first impression a visitor gets is a sense of overwhelming ordinariness–of just how close to madness a society has to come for anything like the Kent State massacre to be conceivable, let alone actually happen, and, by extension, just how tenuous civilization really is.

So, with all that in mind, I once again set out to do what I do at any historical place. Stalk the ground and try to imagine myself one of the participants.

I had tried it with both guard and students in the two years prior and again on this visit. Step by empathetic step, I had come to my conclusions: craziness, madness, meanness, fear. The usual combinations for tragedy.

I had felt the ghosts–or thought I had.

And then, near the end of this third visit, something clicked. Some set of memories gathered around a sorority girl named Sandra Scheuer: leaving her dorm, walking to class, wearing a red sweater, stopping to talk to her boyfriend (who had taken part in the protest and was just leaving), being gunned down within seconds after breaking off their conversation to proceed to her next class.

Going to the class, I suddenly realized, that was in that building over there.

And leaving the dorm room that was in that building back there.

Standing next to Scheuer’s particular marker–looking up at the hill where the small (in spirit, not size), mean element in Troop G turned (in unison) and fired (in unison) almost certainly at specific targets they had picked out as the ones most worthy of offing (because they had flipped a bird, chanted an obscenity, waved a black flag, heaved a rock from some distance that James Michener, after conducting an experiment with a member of the Kent State baseball team, concluded couldn’t be covered by Willie Mays)–the parking lot I was in suddenly became a center of some larger picture.

If she was coming from over there and headed for that building up there

I suddenly realized that, unlike Jeff Miller (committed “radical”…”You don’t think Jeff was there, do you?” his grandmother asked when the news reached home…”Of course he was there,” Miller’s brother told her on the day (and us, thirty years later), “but I’m sure he’s okay.”) or Bill Schroeder (ROTC member committed to observing, thinking, wondering who was right) or Alison Krause (“radicalized” the previous weekend, when she found herself being chased on campus by tear gas and bayonets, last off the Landis Green on May 4th, shaking her fist and shouting “This isn’t right” a true threat to society), all of whom had wandered around a bit, Sandy Scheuer had walked a straight line from where she was to where she was going.

So, if I wanted to walk in the shoes of somebody who was simply going about her business while those other students were “rioting” or “assaulting the Guard” or “brandishing weapons” or any of the other multitude of crimes they were accused of in turn which were, in turn, made so patently ridiculous by the actual evidence that an establishment led by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, looking desperately to convict them in absentia,¬†finally had to give up and go home and hope the memory would die, she was the one.

Caught up in my idea, I went over to the main doorway of the dorm building Sandra Scheuer had left around 12:20-25 p.m. local time on May 4th, 1970.

Then I took a deep breath and I walked her path.

As I say, I haven’t been back since 2000. Details fuzz a bit. But not the essence.

The essence was a few steps to a sidewalk, a small left turn, another few steps. Look both ways. Cross a street that winds through that part of the campus.

Come up on the corner of Prentice Hall.

Take a few more steps.

Turn the corner to the parking lot.

Stop.

Look up.

See the top of the building she was heading for (the nursing school if memory serves).

Look down.

Imagine the day thirty years earlier.

What sort of scene was the student walking from her dorm to class encountering?

Riot? Pillage? A situation careening out of control?

Even a National Guard unit preparing for a slaughter?

I guess not.

Because she kept walking.

She kept walking straight toward her class. Without deviation.

The reason I know she kept walking without deviation, without any hint of the fear you would have if you even remotely suspected your life was at stake (walking in her new red sweater that some member of Troop G very likely mistook for another red sweater on another girl who had been active in the protest) is because when I stood in the place that was the logical entry to the Prentice Hall parking lot for someone coming from Sandy Scheuer’s dorm and looked straight over the top of the permanent marker that was now finally resting where she fell, what I saw was the top of the building where her next class was.

That’s when I realized Kent State really just came down to this.

Finally, they needed to shoot somebody.

We can each decide for ourselves who “they” were.

For my part, I’ll just say that the members of Troop G of the Ohio National Guard, who actually pulled all those triggers, were guilty as hell. But they were hardly alone.

You want to blame their commanders (present or absent)? The governor of Ohio? President Nixon?

Well, I’m hardly unsympathetic.

But the truth is we failed to meaningfully punish any of those people, troops included.

If we had, I wonder if those ghosts would have such a strong presence now whenever May 4th rolls around in Kent, Ohio.

For the record:

Killed (and approximate distance from the National Guard):

Allison Krause 343 ft. (105 m); fatal left chest wound
Jeffrey Glen Miller 265 ft. (81 m); shot through the mouth – killed instantly
Sandra Lee Scheuer 390 ft. (119 m); fatal neck wound
William Knox Schroeder 382 ft. (116 m); fatal chest wound

Wounded (and approximate distance from the National Guard):

Thomas Mark Grace 225 ft. (69 m); struck in left ankle
Joseph Lewis Jr. 71 ft. (22 m); hit twice in the right abdomen and left lower leg
John R. Cleary 110 ft. (34 m); upper left chest wound
Alan Canfora 225 ft. (69 m); hit in his right wrist
Dean Kahler 300 ft. (91 m); back wound fracturing the vertebrae – permanently paralyzed from the chest down
Douglas Wrentmore 329 ft. (100 m); hit in his right knee
James Dennis Russell 375 ft. (114 m); hit in his right thigh from a bullet and in the right forehead by birdshot – both wounds minor
Robert Stamps 495 ft. (151 m); hit in his right buttock
Donald Scott MacKenzie 750 ft. (229 m); neck wound

Memoria:

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(For a fine article on the memories of John Filo, who took the day’s most iconic photograph, you can go here.)

MAY 4TH….44 YEARS ON

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This is the only event I commemorate yearly on this blog. I have my reasons and maybe one of these years I’ll get around to writing about them. For now, I’ll let Mr. Young–who has also not forgotten, as evidenced by the date on this recording–have the floor. And, as ever, R.I.P: Jeff Miller, Allison Krause, Sandy Scheuer and Bill Schroeder.

(You can go to this date in the May 2012 and May 2013 archives at the right to link to the best article I’ve read on Kent State, which was published in a local NE Ohio paper in 2000 and can stand in for any number of books on the subject….Highly recommended for anyone who is new to the site in the last year and for anyone who may be laboring under the illusion that the shootings were somehow “justified.” Whatever the motivations of the actual shooters, they did not involve self-defense, any attempt to prevent damage or injury to life or property, or resistance to arrest. No amount of sound and fury coming from either the left or the right should be allowed to obscure this little inconvenient truth.)

For the emotional tenor of a Kent State memorial event, you can click on these two videos, which feature Allison Krause’s boyfriend, Barry Levine–by far the most accomplished speaker of those I’ve heard speak on behalf of the fallen. This is from 2010 and is pretty much the same speech he gave in 2000, on the 30th anniversary, where I was present but, alas, not in possession of a camera, video recording gadget, or the knowledge that YouTube would one day exist to preserve and disseminate such things. In one way this is better, though. In 2000, the sky wasn’t crying.