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

 

Bookmarks From My Book of Life

 

I’ve sung, played and danced badly all my life.  Some of my earliest memories include the old upright in my grandmother’s hallway, my uncle’s mandolin and the whiny bluegrass he sang…”Blue moon of Kentucky….”  Singing, first in the youth choir at church, then in the adult choir, the high school chorus and playing in the concert band, the college band and a brief stint as a discordant sax playing rock star.

Participating in a men’s quartet singing “Just Have a Little Talk With Jesus,” my thin baritone joining in at the Fifth Sunday Night Sing.  My Uncle James making a not so joyful noise unto the Lord, my cousins and I trapped in the cab of the old flatbed truck as we moved hay bales or corn to the songs he sang.  I’ll say this, he sang praise tunes with great gusto and vigor, but if notes were water molecules, he couldn’t have found one while standing in the ocean.  It didn’t stop him from trying.

I guess what I’m trying to say, on this fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock and the death of Easy Rider’s Peter Fonda, music has played prominently in my life…if not a backdrop for my life, a bookmark.  “Don Miller, A Rock Opera.”

Dancing in the privacy of my room to the songs played on WLS, Chicago.  Beach Music at The Cellar as a young adult.  A cute redhead, and Eddie Floyd singing “Knock on Wood” as I danced badly with her at a rural jook joint outside Newberry.  We danced badly around a divorce later.  Not all bookmarks lead to soothing anodynes.  Some are like sleeping in a patch of prickly pear cactus.

Doing the horizontal rumba for the first time in the backseat of an old Ford while Lou Christy sang “Rhapsody in the Rain”.  Humm.  That earlier relationship didn’t end well either, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with the music.

The movie Easy Rider was an eye-opener and for me heralded a change…although it might have taken forty years for the change to occur.  I’ve only recently embraced my hippie self.  I was a rhythm and blues, beach music, soul music kind of guy…probably still am but sitting at a drive-in with the cute redhead who became ex-wife number one, I became mesmerized, not by the film but by the soundtrack.  Later, I would add the complete Woodstock to my album collection…wonder what happened to those bookmarks, the albums not the ex-wife.

I walked today as I do nearly every day, my playlist playing in my earbuds, just like every day.  Today there was a little dance step to my walk as I thought about Peter Fonda.  I decided to dial up my Easy Rider playlist that includes three different versions of “The Weight”.  One can never get too much of a good song.  

I think I scared a local woman smoking an early morning cigarette on her front porch as I belted out “Born to be Wild”.  I flushed a pair of mourning doves, mourning my off keyed version of “A Little Help From My Friends” while doing my best Joe Cocker impersonation on the double lane. “Don’t Bogart that joint my friend….”  Fun memories bookmarked in my mind.

Some of the bookmarks haunt me but even those trigger warm memories. Ghost stories of friends now gone.  My coconspirators in crime the summers of ’68 and ’69 are both gone to the great cosmic rock concert that is the afterlife.  I miss them almost as much as my lost youth of the same time period.

I wrote about a haunted pink iPod in an earlier blog from a couple of years ago.  A former love now dead gave me the Crosby, Stills and Nash album that featured the song “Southern Cross.”  It’s a song about a long boat trip taken by a man trying to heal his wounds after a bad divorce…what is a good divorce?

We were both wounded, and the song spoke to us as we tried to console each other in ways men and women have been consoling each other for all recorded time, I guess.  After she died, I put the song on my playlist and for some reason, no matter how many times I changed the playlists, the lament was always there…haunting me along with her.

“When you see the Southern Cross for the first time

You understand now why you came this way

‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from is so small

But it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a coming day”

 

We were never truly in love, more like friends with benefits, but she is still one of the bookmarks that haunts me.  The old iPod is long since been retired but she is a bookmark, like Easy Rider soundtrack or an old Gospel tune that triggers warm memories in my book of life.

“So I’m sailing for tomorrow, my dreams are a dyin’

And my love is an anchor tied to you, tied with a silver chain

I have my ship and all her flags are a-flyin’

She is all I have left and music is her name”

Music is her name and I call to it often.  For the complete song…

 

 

Quotes and video are from the song “Southern Cross” and the album Daylight Again by Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

Don Miller writes badly about many subjects, both fictional and only somewhat embellished.  For more, go to his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The featured image is of Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, and Dennis Hopper.  It is from a movie review https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/easy-rider-review-movie-1969-1221117