Forty years ago, on May 4th, 1970, The Anti-War Movement against The Vietnam War came to a peak with the shooting of four students at Kent State University. America was forever changed that day. Anyone who remembers one of the blackest marks against our freedom has an opinion about who was right or wrong and who was to blame for the shootings.
I was fifteen years old when the shootings occurred at KSU. Kent was only an hour's drive from my home in Struthers, Ohio. One of the four students that was shot that day was a girl from Boardman, a suburb next to us in the Youngstown area, so it really hit home literally to anyone from our geographic location. I recall following the news intently on the television that day as grainy videos were shown of the mayhem that resulted from The National Guard firing upon students as they marched towards the Administration Building up The Blanket Hill Area of campus. I will never forget the photograph of a girl kneeling over a slain student and the horrified look on her face as she screamed for help.
Governor James Rhodes was vilified by the students for allowing the National Guardsmen to carry live ammunition and fire on the students if threatened. The Guard always claimed that the students fired upon them first. Even after years of scrutiny and debate, No one can definitively say exactly what happened. A lot depends on what side of the issue they were on. America became very divided over the Kent State Shootings and did hasten the politicians to taking great strides to end American involvement in Vietnam.
Because of my involvement and leadership in DECA, The Distributive Education Clubs Of America, I was offered a "Full ride" scholarship to Kent State. KSU was the only university that offered a Major in Distributive Education in Ohio. I declined the offer directly because of what happened there and the student unrest. I didn't want to be any part of it. At least, that's what my 18 year old mind was telling me. Three years had past and the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was winding down and The Draft had ended. I suppose I used it as a convenient excuse to stay close to home.
Ironically, my Senior year, we had a student teacher in Distributive Education that came from Kent State. He had the unique prospective on that fateful day on May 4th, 1970, to be a student AND a National Guard Soldier. Talk about conflicted. He told my class, no matter what, he knew he would not fire his rifle that day. If commanded to do so, he said he would have fired over every one's head. He took us for a tour of The KSU Campus and showed us Blanket Hill and a abstract sculpture that had two bullet holes in it. If you looked through the holes and lined them both up in your field of sight, you can see that it was in direct line with a fire escape on a student dormitory building. This supposedly supports the allegations from the Guard that the students fired upon them. Again, I don't think we will ever know the whole truth.
In the Summer of 1973, I had just graduated from high school and attended my first major rock concert at Cleveland Municipal stadium, called "The World Series Of Rock". Among the performers that evening was Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. They played their recently released anthem of the Anti-War Movement, "Ohio", a moving song about The KSU Shootings. Over 100,000 kids sang the song along with them while holding up their Bic Lighters. Chills ran down my spine and as I looked around, there were not many dry eyes to be seen. That was my first experience of the power that music can have on our lives.
In a perverse way, I suppose I'm glad I lived through those days. I learned a lot about how powerful a movement of people can be when supporting an issue. Our forefathers fought for our independence much the same way. America's heroes were those that stuck their necks out for all of us. This includes our soldiers and the protesters that believe the course our country is headed is in the wrong direction. That's freedom, like it or not. We all need to defend it to our last breath.