Shots Still Reverberate For Survivors Of Kent State
by Noah Adams
May 3, 2010
Out in the world, when people talk about the shootings at Kent State
University on May 4, 1970, they call it "Kent State." But in the
small town of Kent, 35 miles south of Cleveland, and on the
university campus, they call it "May 4th."
It was 40 years ago Tuesday that the shootings which killed four
people and wounded nine others stunned the nation. Even at the
height of the Vietnam War protests, no one imagined that government
soldiers would fire real bullets at unarmed college students.
"I saw the smoke come out of the weapons, and light is faster than
sound, and so I knew immediately [they] were not firing blanks. So it
was almost instinctive to dive for cover," remembers Jerry Lewis, who
was 33 and teaching sociology at Kent State in 1970.
Often, at tense times, Lewis served as a faculty marshal. He had some
Army training and was worried about bayonet attacks and butt strokes
with M-1 rifles. He hadn't thought about live fire.
Lewis says that when he takes people to the scene of the shooting on
the Kent Commons, he likes to point out a particular mark a
perfectly round bullet hole in a steel sculpture.
"This is what an M-1 bullet, .30-caliber bullet, does to steel," he
says. "And the artist, to his credit, has refused to fix this. So,
ironically, the [National] Guard created their own memorial."
A Lingering Question
Shots rang out for 13 seconds that day, killing Jeffrey Glenn Miller,
Allison Krause, William Knox Schroeder and Sandra Lee Scheuer. More
than 60 shots came from 28 guardsmen. Some fired into the ground;
some fired high on purpose.
The students had gathered for an anti-war rally, and the Guard
command had wanted them to go away. Tear gas was fired, and then the
canisters flung back. The youths gathered were screaming insults,
giving the guardsmen the finger. Rocks were thrown.
Then a group of guardsmen moved in formation to the top of a small
hill. Some of them turned in unison, aimed and fired. They could have
just kept going over the hill. Most of the students were in a parking
lot downhill, more than 100 yards away.
For Lewis, after 40 years, that is still the question: Why did the
Guard start shooting?
'The Worst Type Of People'
"Obviously, if you turn together in close quarters with bayonet,
there must be some coordination, but I've always interpreted as that
they planned to fire but fire high because they were angry ... they
were poorly led ... their tear gas masks didn't work properly," Lewis
says. "But many people have used the turning together and there
were lots of eyewitnesses to that as [a sign] that there was a
rough agreement to do that, or that there was an order. But I haven't
seen any evidence yet that there was an order."
The issue for the students that day became soldiers on their campus.
The noontime rally had been scheduled to protest President Nixon's
plan to expand the Vietnam War into Cambodia. That news came the
previous Thursday. On Friday night, there was trouble, spilling out
of the downtown bars. By Saturday night, when the campus ROTC
building was set on fire, the National Guard was already on the way.
Ohio's governor, James Rhodes, a Republican running a law-and-order
campaign for the U.S. Senate, was in town on Sunday morning. He was
critical of the radicals traveling the country causing trouble.
"They're worse than the brownshirts and the communist element and
also the night riders and vigilantes," Rhodes said. "They're the
worst type of people that we harbor in America. And I want to say
this: They're not going to take over a campus."
"The first card that I opened up in the intensive care unit was a
very nice-looking card," recalls Dean Kahler, who was paralyzed
during the shooting. "But the note in it said, 'Dear communist hippie
radical, I hope by the time you read this, you are dead.' "
Kahler was a freshman at Kent State in 1970. He was from a farm
family and wanted to be a coach. He was against the war, but on that
day, he was mostly curious about the Guard, about his rights.
When Kahler heard the shots, he lay on the ground. Then he was hit in
the back. He has been in a wheelchair for the past 40 years.
After he graduated and became a history teacher, he would tell his
high school students, "Go home and ask your parents about Kent State."
Many of the reactions were positive and supportive. Sometimes, a
youngster would tell Kahler it was a bad idea: "They told me not to
talk to you about it," the students would say.
"I said, 'Well, you know, I'm teaching American history, so we're
going to touch on it,' " Kahler recalls. " 'If you need to be removed
from my room and go to another teacher to talk about it, go see the
principal and the guidance counselor immediately.' "
As the 40th anniversary of the shootings approaches, the Kent student
TV station has had stories to cover all over campus.
For Heather VacLav and Eric Snitil, two students who work at the
station, the events of May 4, 1970, meant "not much" when it came to
choosing a school. They were impressed with Kent State's academic reputation.
Snitil says he came for the broadcast journalism program "it's one
of the best in the country."
And VacLav believes the university has turned around what is kind of
"Kent State's claim to fame" by being open and creating a memorial.
"The original May 4 was very sad and tragic," she says. "I think now,
looking back at it, the university's kind of just taken something
that was negative and tried to turn it into something positive."
On Monday night, students, faculty, family and friends will honor the
four who were slain and the nine who were wounded four decades ago
with a candlelight march and a silent vigil.
Students Organize May 4 Kent State Remembrance Day
Cindy Sheehan, who is most known for her anti-war encampment at
former-President George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, will be
the keynote speaker at Kent State Remembrance Day at SUNY Cortland
Tuesday, May 4.
Cortland Students for Peace will mark the 40th anniversary of what
has become known as the Kent State Massacre with events throughout
the day. Most events, unless otherwise noted, will be held on the
steps of Corey Union. In the case of rain, the events will be held
inside Corey Union. Kent State Remembrance Day events are free and
open to the public.
Kent State Remembrance Day events begin at 11 a.m. with art and
presentations. A non-violent rally will be held at 11 a.m. Sheehan
will speak at 3:30 p.m. and a non-violent march and vigil will follow at 4 p.m.
A student panel discussion will take place in Old Main Brown
Auditorium at 6 p.m.
The event will serve as a reminder of the Ohio National Guard's
attack on students at Kent State University in Ohio as they attempted
to demonstrate against the wars in Southeast Asia. Four people died
on May 4, 1970, at Kent State University. Organizers hope the
anniversary will be a call to action to those who wish to support
peace instead of war.
Ever since her son, Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq in April 2004,
Cindy Sheehan has been working to end war. Student organizers said
Sheehan will join them as they "reflect on why these students were
killed, what those students were standing up for, and on what you,
and we, can do together to make peace a reality."
One purpose for the event is to call for an end to U.S. wars abroad
and to support more legal and peaceful solutions to the conflicts.
"Forty years ago it took a lot of work for people to realize that
killing millions of people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos was illegal
and morally wrong," said organizer Timothy Rodriguez, Institute for
Civic Engagement. "Now we have to realize that it is still wrong in
Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, Somalia, Honduras,
Colombia and elsewhere."
Cortland Students for Peace also want to discuss how the incident
energized the U.S. peace movement.
"This day is important not only because of the atrocity itself, but
because of its profound effect on the peace movement, especially the
student movement, which would become one of the largest social
movements in U.S. history, and would help bring an end to the wars in
Southeast Asia," the group's statement said.
Student organizers also want to address the police killings at
Jackson State University on May 14, 1970, which left two students
dead and many wounded, as well as the police killings in Orangeburg
near South Carolina State University on Feb. 8, 1968, that left three
students dead and many wounded.
The group says that, for students especially, the money spent on war hits home.
"We now have the largest military budget ever, but can't seem to find
funds for basic social services including a healthy public school
system," said Rodriguez. "Most students, even at state universities,
will be in debt for many years, and for only a fraction of the
military budget we could be providing more affordable or free
education for all."
Co-sponsors for Kent State Remembrance Day include Cortland Students
for Peace, the Philosophy Department, the Center for Ethics Peace and
Social Justice and the Center for Gender and Intercultural Studies.
For more information, contact Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bell tolls with history
Kent State fraternity's donation peals for 60th year, now with solemnity
By Mark J. Price
Monday, May 03, 2010
The loud, metallic clang still sounds the same, but the tone has
changed. Once it was a peal of joy. Now it rings with solemnity.
Kent State University's famous Victory Bell has transformed into a
symbol that its benefactors never intended.
The university is observing the 40th anniversary of the May 4, 1970,
shootings, in which National Guardsmen fired into a crowd of people
during an anti-war demonstration, killing four students and wounding
Housed in a brick-and-sandstone structure on the KSU Commons, the
Victory Bell played a role in the events leading to the shootings. It
will be a focal point today when KSU dedicates the 1970 site on the
National Register of Historic Places.
Sixty years ago, the bell represented triumph. Alpha Phi Omega, a
national service fraternity, donated it in May 1950.
''We had this idea that Kent didn't have a victory bell, and we
thought that was something that we'd like to do,'' recalled the Rev.
Gene Toot, 81, a retired minister from Trinity Presbyterian Church in
A Dellroy native who graduated in accounting from KSU in 1951, Toot
was president of the fraternity. The Epsilon Psi chapter began at
Kent State's Canton division in McKinley High School and moved to the
main campus in the late 1940s.
''I don't know if there was 25 of us or not,'' Toot said. ''Maybe 30 at most.''
The group's motto, ''Leadership, Friendship, Service,'' provided a
true-blue clue about the membership's composition.
Nationwide Insurance retiree William Kohler, 81, of Canton, a 1951
KSU business graduate, said the fraternity members had a
''One of the requirements was that you had to be a former Boy Scout
or currently an active member in scouting,'' he said.
The group's service projects included cleaning KSU bulletin boards,
sponsoring barbershop quartet contests and holding dances such as the
Hot Rod Hop.
''We made a lot of money by raffling off an old car,'' Kohler said.
''That's how we raised the money to buy the bricks.''
Calling ugly men
Richard Barnard, 81, a 1951 KSU graduate in business administration
who retired as director of Christian education and camp leader at
Christ Presbyterian Church in Canton, remembers another fraternity fundraiser.
''I think we ran an Ugly Man Contest,'' he said with a laugh.
''Basically, it involved finding someone who would be willing to run
in a contest to be the ugliest man on campus.''
One year there was mock outrage when judges picked a woman disguised
as an ugly man. Such a pageant might raise a few eyebrows in the 21st century.
''That would somehow not work today, although we see lots of ugly
people,'' Barnard joked.
Ravenna native Edward C. Stibbe Jr., 79, a retired dentist in Solon,
attended KSU for three years before going to dental school in
Cleveland in 1951. As an officer with Alpha Phi Omega, he helped
procure the bell with his father, Edward Sr., who worked at Pyramid Rubber Co.
''He was a traffic manager who dealt with the railroads and trucking
companies,'' Stibbe said. ''When I mentioned the project to him, he
said, 'Let me see if I can get you a bell off of one of the old trains.' ''
The Erie Railroad donated a locomotive bell from the repair shop at
the Brewster yards near Navarre in Stark County.
The fraternity won permission to place the bell in the atrium of the
KSU Administration Building. Toot dreamed up a publicity stunt to
post a giant question mark at the site where the bell was to be unveiled.
''Well, the good Lord didn't give me any artistic ability at all, but
I couldn't find anybody to make the question mark,'' Toot said. ''So,
finally, with great labor, I made it myself and I put it up in there.''
The poster hadn't been up for long when Toot heard razzing. To his
embarrassment, he drew the question mark backward.
''That was the extent of my artwork at Kent State University,'' Toot
said with a laugh.
Alpha Phi Omega member Arvid Johnson, an architecture student,
designed a brick-and-sandstone frame to serve as a permanent
structure for the bell.
Kent State President George A. Bowman gave his blessing for the
monument to be built at the foot of Blanket Hill, where students
enjoyed sunbathing and taking moonlight strolls.
The fraternity didn't know the bell-ringing tradition would be
popular given that winning seasons weren't guaranteed.
''Heaven's no,'' Barnard said with a laugh. ''We just hoped that we
got to ring it enough.''
Unfortunately, the bell's wall took a few years to complete and the
donors graduated before it was formally dedicated.
For more than a decade, KSU sports fans rang the bell to celebrate
wins. In the turbulent 1960s, though, the monument took on another function.
Students rang the bell to signal the start of political rallies.
Such was the case in 1970.
Upset with the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, students organized a
protest May 1 to bury a copy of the U.S. Constitution at the bell.
Late that Friday night in downtown Kent, a mob broke windows and
clashed with police. Mayor LeRoy M. Satrom called Gov. James A.
Rhodes to send the National Guard.
On Saturday night, protesters torched Kent State's ROTC building
across the Commons from the Victory Bell, and cut hoses when
As students rallied Sunday night at the bell, police read the Riot
Act and guardsmen fired tear gas to break up the crowd.
About 2,000 protesters gathered at noon Monday, May 4, on the Commons
in defiance of an order prohibiting a rally.
The Victory Bell rang.
Guardsmen fired tear gas, and protesters hurled rocks and shouted
obscenities. Anger, fear and chaos escalated.
With bayonets fixed on M-1 rifles, guardsmen marched up Blanket Hill,
forcing protesters to the other side of Taylor Hall. The Victory Bell
was out of view at 12:24 p.m. when more than 60 shots rang out in 13 seconds.
''It was just so unlikely that that would have happened at Kent,'' Toot said.
Time for prayer
Earlier that day, a KSU dean had invited the minister to give the
invocation and benediction at the June 13 commencement. The campus
shut down after the shootings, and officials debated for weeks
whether to have the ceremony. Amid tight security, exercises were
held at Memorial Gym, and Toot led the prayer.
''I was the first person to say something publicly on the Kent State
campus after the kids were shot,'' he said.
Every May 4, the Victory Bell is the setting for candlelight vigils
and political speeches. The bell is rung at 12:24 p.m. to honor the
students killed or wounded.
The 1970 shootings altered the landmark in the eyes of the men who
donated it to KSU.
Kohler's interest in seeing the bell has diminished ''because it's
related to such a sad situation.''
''That's the unfortunate part about it,'' Kohler said.
To this day, he blames the 1970 disturbances on ''outside agitators''
and believes KSU should have ''set some parameters'' to allow
peaceful debate without letting violence erupt.
When he entered the Marine Corps in the early 1950s, none of his
classmates at Quantico, Va., had heard of his alma mater.
''Now everybody knows where Kent State is, thanks to the 1970s,'' he
said. ''It's a damn way to make a name for yourself, I'll tell you that.''
Stibbe hopes that KSU can move beyond the shootings. ''It's sure
taken a long time,'' he said.
Hearing about the 1970 events every May 4 is ''one of my biggest sore
spots,'' he said.
Even so, the Victory Bell still reverberates for its 1950 donors.
''It was a good project for us,'' Barnard said. ''We're glad that it
added something to the campus.''
Mark J. Price is a Beacon Journal copy editor. He can be reached at
330-996-3850 or send e-mail to email@example.com.