By Rachel Dissell
May 02, 2010
KENT, Ohio -- Spirited debate about the Vietnam War and its legacy
lives on at Kent State University.
War veteran and anti-war activist Country Joe McDonald screened two
short documentary-style films about the war's impact at a gathering Sunday.
The reaction to the movies at Kent State -- where the impact of that
war may have been felt more than anywhere else -- was divided and passionate.
The first film, "The Vietnam Experience," a 29-minute musical montage
directed by McDonald, follows the war from the recruitment and draft
of clean-cut kids to the rocky return home of bearded veterans with
blank stares. It features music from McDonald's recording of the same name.
The second film, "Welcome Back Vietnam Veterans," documents the 1985
ticker-tape parade for veterans in New York City.
The discussion, sponsored by the May 4th Task Force, was part of
events marking the 40th anniversary of the May 4, 1970, shootings on
campus. It was meant to paint the mood of the war as the backdrop for
student protests at the Portage County university four decades ago.
Ohio National Guard troops fired on a crowd of students that day,
killing four and wounding nine others.
Alan Canfora, who was wounded by a National Guard shot on May 4, said
the link between the deaths in Vietnam and at Kent State are often
overlooked, as are the reasons the students were protesting.
The protests at Kent, and other American campuses, began in earnest
after President Richard Nixon announced on April 30, 1970, that U.S.
troops were invading neighboring Cambodia.
"It was because you guys were our friends, our neighbors and our
relatives and we didn't want to lose you," Canfora said to the crowd
of mainly veterans.
Canfora and other students lost a 19-year-old friend to the war and
attended his funeral shortly before the protests began.
But some veterans in the audience took exception to the tone of the
parade film, calling it revisionist history.
"I am absolutely horrified and ashamed through my entire [expletive]
being for the things I did in Vietnam personally and collectively,"
veteran and activist Mark Lencel said, lashing out at McDonald for
showing the film.
"I don't want that video shown anywhere. It doesn't help anything."
Lencel argued -- and some other veterans in the audience of 50 showed
their agreement by pounding on the tables in front of them -- that
the ticker-tape parade, held more than a decade after the war was
over, only aimed to placate veterans.
McDonald, a 1960s music legend and anti-war activist who played at
Woodstock, volleyed back that he came because he was invited and that
there was obviously still a lot of anger over the issue. He then
abruptly ended the discussion and left the stage.
Cathy Nagy, one of only three university students who attended the
film discussion, said she grew up in nearby Hudson and both of her
parents graduated from Kent State.
She said the narrative of the war, the protests and the shootings
have always been a part of her life. But she didn't quite expect to
see the still-raw emotions.
"To see the veterans and how they are still affected today was
interesting," the sophomore English and business major said.
Members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War participated in the
discussion and urged people to recognize the victories -- such as
fighting to get post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosed and treated,
even though some people have taunted the traumatized veterans as "crybabies."
They also reminded those present that people in Vietnam are still
being killed and deformed by Agent Orange and dioxin left behind.
"And our government needs to take responsibility," Marty Webster, a
national coordinator for VVAW said.
Webster said he had volunteered for the Vietnam War only to come home
and be put down by veterans of previous wars. But on Sunday, he said
he realized more during this 40th anniversary week of the tragedy
what the students' actions meant to him.
"I have a tremendous feeling of gratitude toward those at Kent
State," Webster said. "Because they were demonstrating for me."
The May 4 Task Force and Kent State University are marking the 40th
anniversary of the shootings on that campus in various ways this week.
•At 3 p.m., the university will dedicate the May 4 Walking Tour and
the site's listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The
ceremony will be in Room 214 of Oscar Ritchie Hall, 225 Terrace Drive
on the Kent campus. The event is free and open to the public.
•From 6 to 7:30 p.m., U.S. Rep. John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, will
speak in the Kent State Ballroom.
•At 8 p.m., civil rights activist Bobby Seale will speak in the Pan
African Affairs Department in Oscar Ritchie Hall.
•At 11 p.m., the Task Force will hold its annual candlelight march
and vigil on the Kent State Commons at the Victory Bell.
•From 8 to 9 a.m., journalists will speak at a forum hosted by the
school: "The Reporters Who Were There" at in the Student Center.
•From noon to 2 p.m., classes will recess and the official
commemoration will begin on the Kent State commons. Speakers will
include eyewitnesses, family members of the deceased, musicians and activists.
•At 12:24, the time of the shootings, the Victory Bell will be rung
13 times -- four for the students who were killed and nine for the injured.
•The commemoration will be followed by a reception from 3:30 to 5:30
p.m. in the Student Center, including a screening of professor Drew
Tiene's documentary on the shootings at 5 p.m.