Remembering Kent State

For those of us who were young adults or near adults, it should be a bit of a somber day. Fifty years ago, today, four Kent State students were shot, nine others wounded, one paralyzed.  Twenty-eight Ohio National Guardsmen fired approximately seventy rounds in less than fifteen seconds into students, some protesting President Nixon’s “Cambodian Incursion” by the US military, others who were simply watching from a distance, one was walking from one class to another.  Nixon had promised the day before to get us out of the war.

It had been a contentious period in our history, “The Kent State Massacre” was neither the beginning of the violence nor would it be the concluding chapter.  Three protesting students were killed and some thirty injured during a protest at South Carolina State in Orangeburg, SC in February.  Several days after Kent State, two students were killed, and a dozen injured at Jackson State.  Both were confrontations with the police and on a small scale exemplified the student unrest over the Vietnam War and Civil Rights.

Kent State had been a hot spot for student protest beginning in the middle Sixties.  Students For a Democratic Society (SDS), the Black Student Organization and the Youth International Party, (Yippies) all staged sit-ins, marches and other protests, including an attempted take over of the Administrative Offices by the SDS that led to fifty-eight students being arrested by the Ohio Highway Patrol.  There had been scattered violence, including the burning of the ROTC building, but no deaths until May 4, 1970.

Monday, May Fourth. was the culmination of four days of unrest that began the previous Friday after President Nixon announced the Cambodian Incursion on the previous Thursday.  From the aforementioned fire, a protest march, beer bottles and rocks being thrown at police, bonfires in the street, and numerous arrests, violence reared its ugly head, violence from the students, and from groups sworn to protect them.

Unconfirmed rumors of students with caches of arms, spiking the local water supply with LSD, and of students building tunnels for the purpose of blowing up the town’s main buildings added gasoline to an already volatile cocktail.  The city mayor requested National Guard Troops from the governor and the request was granted.  They came armed with loaded M-1 Garands, bayonets, tear gas, and smoke grenades.

The National Guard first became entangled on the Third, breaking up a rally and a sit-in, using tear gas and even bayoneting students.  A noon rally of some 2000 students on the Fourth became the catalyst for the shooting.  Again, rocks and tear gas were involved until the shots rang out.  It became a they said-they said situation after the gunpowder had cleared.

I was a struggling sophomore in college, less than a month past my twentieth birthday when news of the massacre flashed across the community tv screen in the basement of Brokaw Hall.  I remember the silence that followed and the debate that issued later.  Despite being a Southern liberal arts college, Newberry was not a fertile ground for liberal thoughts.

Near the end of the semester, I was more concerned about the effect exams might have on my grades than what had taken place in faraway Ohio or nearby Orangeburg.  I was also mourning the end of my first serious relationship, one I characterized as a hurricane waiting to happen.  You knew you were in for a big storm you just didn’t know when or where it would happen.  It had happened.  A hurricane that had turned my grades into a shambles.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t aware, I was.  A male, I had just participated in the first draft lottery and hadn’t won but I hadn’t lost either…April 9th came up 219…kinda in the middle.  My awareness was focused on my poor but improving grades and fear.

I had no desire to die in a rice paddy in a Southeast Asian country but like many of the young men surrounding me, I would have gone to my death rather than disappointing my family and friends.  I would do what was expected.

As I look back, I am both proud and ashamed.  Happy I wasn’t called while feeling I missed something by not being called to serve.  Ashamed for not taking a more active interest in protesting the war.  Confliction but I am a conflicted person.

There were several veterans on third floor Brokaw my freshman year taking advantage of the GI Bill.  They were good guys, damaged good guys.  Few returned for our sophomore year, fewer still graduated.   They were just too damaged.

I wondered which was worse, dying in a jungle or leaving a part of your soul there.  They all participated in the activities of college life, but it seemed they only participated from the periphery.  All still had the “Thousand Yard Stare.”

One vet, of Marine Force Recon, had been our protector during our freshman year.  I didn’t know what Force Recon was, I just knew from the whispers he was a badass dude.  He was much older and became a buffer against Rat Week and later the fraternity bull pledges whose grades were so low they had been moved out of fraternity housing and onto the freshman halls.  They weren’t happy and wanted to take it out on the ‘rats’.  Force Recon would have none of it and the bull pledges left us alone.

He sat next to me as Walter told us about Kent State.  A man of few words, he leaned over and asked, “Who gives fucking National Guardsmen live ammo against students?”  I wondered myself.  Several friends were National Guardsmen and I wouldn’t have trusted them with a pea shooter.  Thankfully, they were members of the SC National Guard Band.  They blew into their instruments instead of blowing things up.

Later, Force Recon would suggest in a bit of a drunken stupor, “If you get drafted, run to Canada.  It ain’t worth dying for.”  This from the same man who ‘liberated’ a Christmas tree from the Winn Dixie parking lot late one night so we could decorate with toilet paper and beer cans in our community restroom…good times.  Coming from a veteran I began to rethink the war.

Violence begets violence and the violence didn’t end in May of 1970.  Many more Americans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians would die before that little policing action was over.

The shootings at Kent State would trigger more protests, one in Washington estimated at a hundred thousand that caused President Nixon to be whisked away to Camp David.  Hundreds of college campuses would close involving over four million students due to student protest.  Eleven students were bayoneted at the University of New Mexico during a peace rally and peace protesters battled pro-Nixon construction workers in what became known as the Hard Hat Riots.

1968 was bad, ‘69 was a bit of reprieve if you didn’t look past the moon landing to the Manson Murders and Mai Lai.  ‘70 was a return to the bad but as some smart someone said, “it gets darkest just before the dawn.”  It would be five long years before dawn and the Vietnam War ended but the US had been out of the warzone for the last two.  I must believe Kent State and the protests that followed helped get us out of a war we should never have been involved in.  Helped to stop the killing.

***

I drew from a lot of sources but since I am not selling this I’m not going to footnote.   If you question something other than my sanity I will go back and do so.

The featured image is the iconic photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of student Jeffrey Miller, who was killed by Ohio National Guard troops during an antiwar demonstration at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

Don Miller writes on various subjects and various genres.  His authors page is at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2Iyegsi5CjQ4ZNPU2nA9C1e3q7jekDZ6e3T8qw5QUgwNhM9Yj_-dKOag4

 

Serendipity

I had no intention of getting married again.  I had no intention of falling into love again.  The previous memories and missteps were too painful….

Providence would intervene…has intervened for thirty-three years now…and still counting, I hope.  I am sometimes amazed I asked for your hand and am even more amazed you said yes.

I had no intention of meeting my bride on top of a football stadium’s press box or again at Halloween with an inflatable pumpkin perched upon her head.  I wasn’t looking…I was still recovering.  But she refused to be ignored.

Fate will not be denied.  Serendipity would intervene in the form of a hazel eyed, dark-haired sprite who would torment my thoughts, inappropriate thoughts because she was dating my roommate.  Destiny would step in when they broke up.

I can’t comprehend her not being around, it’s as if she has been around forever.  “Dear God, please take us together or take me first….”

I did fight it…the feeling REO Speedwagon sang about.  A song that tormented me every time it played.  I fought the feeling.  Even after she and my roommate broke their ties.  My loyalty is well defined and sometimes misplaced, and remember, I was never going to fall in love again.  We danced around the issue…maybe…maybe I danced around the issue.

We found ourselves at school and athletic functions, enjoying each other’s company.  She was a teacher and coach too.  She laughed at my stupid jokes…not as much now as she once did…she has heard them all, thirty-three years worth.

I found her captivating, intoxicating and any other ‘ating’ one might think of except ‘dating.’  I couldn’t quite pull the trigger and ask her out…I wasn’t worthy…I’m still not.  Finally, she tired of my tap dance and asked me out.  I’m slow but I’m not stupid.

A chance to accompany her to a local dive bar to hear an old friend of hers sing the blues?  Sure, why not?  It quickly turned into something else.  I’m the one who has been singing now for thirty-three years…but not the blues.

We go to family gatherings, get-togethers with friends, the occasional party…I would find myself close by…preferring to talk with her more than anyone else…close enough to touch and whisper in her ear.  I’m not being snobbish; I would just rather talk to her.  She has always been the most interesting person in the room.

We are more like leaves caught in a whirlwind…blown wherever our whims and chance send us.  Serendipity again.  She just doesn’t like to plan.  Where is the fun in that?

I remember an early anniversary when we decided to drive to the coast the weekend after our June twenty-ninth wedding celebration.  Our decision was an impulse masquerading as a great idea…a romantic idea.  I’m sure it was her idea.

As we rolled the old VW Bug into Georgetown it dawned upon us the weekend after our wedding anniversary was the Fourth of July weekend.  There were no rooms in the inn, and we weren’t Mary and Joseph.  Once again happenstance saved us in the form of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce.  One bed and breakfast with a room was available and for a price anything is possible.

According to Otto von Bismarck, “A special Providence takes care of fools, drunkards, and the United States.”  I don’t know about the drunks and the United States but for thirty-three years Providence has taken a liking to two fools in love…still in love.

Sometimes our safe harbor has been storm-tossed and I’m sure it will be again.  But we have each other to hold on to as the waves come crashing in.

I wish I had met her sooner…had fallen in love with her sooner…but then we weren’t the people we would become…I wasn’t.  I had to bleed first before she could apply her soothing anodyne.

Linda Gail, I love you and would do it all over again a thousand times.  My heart breaks at the thought that I might sometime lose you.

To my best friend, my lover, my wife…Ashley’s other mother, Grandmommy Linda to MK and Noie and mother of my beautiful, blind puppies, I love you.  I’m so glad you were crazy enough to say yes.

Call it serendipity, chance, a fluke, good luck, good fortune, fortuity, fortuitousness, happy coincidence, or a special alignment of the stars, you have made my life a wonder and wonderful.  Here’s to thirty-three more.

Lyrics and video Can’t Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon.

“What started out this friendship has grown stronger
I only wish I had the strength to let it show
I tell myself that I can’t hold out forever
I said there is no reason for my fear
‘Cause I feel so secure when we’re together
You give my life direction
You make everything so clear
And even as I wander
I’m keeping you in sight
You’re a candle in the window
On a cold, dark winter’s night
And I’m getting closer than I ever thought I might”

 

For more “stuff” go to Don Miller’s author’s page at                 https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM