The Shooting at Kent State (1970)

My first class of the day was at nine-fiftyfive and my girlfriend was in the same class. Because of all the tumultuous disorder that had gone on for the preceding days, the professor, being an understanding man, gave people the option of leaving and taking the exam at another time if the events had interfered with their studying, or going ahead and taking the test. My girlfriend chose to make an exit;  history was not her strong point. As far as I was concerned, I had no problem taking the test. So she left and I stayed....

Toward the end of the class, I recall a student standing and saying that there was going to be a rally on the commons as soon as the class was over. I sat there for a few minutes deliberating as to whether I should go or not, and I remembered my earlier assurances to my girlfriend.

Then I thought to myself, this is too momentous;  it's too important for me to stay away. Certainly I couldn't see any harm in my going over just to watch. So I went over there really with the intention of more or less surveying the scene, not knowing what I was going to find.

It was only a short five-minute walk to the commons. I found several hundred students, and some of my roommates, Alan Canfora and Jim Riggs, had flags, black flags, I believe. Alan had spray-painted "KENT" on it, and the other one was just a black flag, and they were waving these things about. So I was drawn to them right away.  There was some chanting going on: "One, two,three, four, we don't want your fucking war" and "Pigs off campus."

The crowd had grouped around the victory bell, which had been historically used to signal victories in Kent State football games, and the bell was being sounded to signal students to congregate. There was at the very least another thousand or so observers and onlookers ringing the hills that surround this part of the commons.

At that point, a campus policeman in a National Guard jeep ordered the crowd, through the use of a bullhorn, to disperse and go to their homes. The policeman was riding shotgun, and I believe a National Guardsman was driving the jeep. "All you bystanders and innocent people go to your homes for you own safety," is what we heard.  I think he had the best intentions in termsof asking the crowd to disperse, but it did nothing but whip the crowd into a further frenzy. We have to remember here the mind-set of people and everything that had gone on. A very adversarial atmosphere existed, and we felt that this was our campus, that we were doing nothing wrong, and that they had no right to order us to disperse. If anyone ought to leave, it's them, not us. That's how I felt.

I was standing there yelling and screaming along with everyone else, and then someone flung either a rock or a bottle at the jeep, which bounced harmlessly off the tire. I don't think it was necessarily meant to bounce off the tire;  fortunately the person was not a very good shot. That, of course, alarmed the occupants of the jeep. I think they realized at that point because of the crescendo the chants had reached, and also the fact that people were pitching objects in their direction that we weren't going to leave.

So the jeep drove back to the National Guardlines which had formed on the other side of the commons in front of the remains of the burned ROTC building. Then the National Guardsmen leveled their bayonets at us and started to march across the commons in our direction, shooting teargas as they came.

I was teargassed along with perhaps a thousand other people. Unlike some of the students, who delayed to throw rocks or tear-gas canisters back in the direction of the National Guard, I chose to leave the area as fast as I could.  I retreated to a girls' dormitory where there were some first floor restrooms. The female students had opened up the windows and were passing out moistened paper towels so people could relieve the effects of the tear gas. So I went and I cleansed my eyes to the best of my ability, and that seemed to take care of me at the moment.

In the meantime, one group of National Guardsmen had advanced the same way that I had retreated, but they did not chase the students further. But another troop of the National Guard had gone right past and proceeded downhill to the practice football field. There was a rather abrupt drop-off and a chain-link fence where some construction had been going on, and on the other three sides the National Guardsmen were ringed by students.

I cautiously moved a little closer and watched. Some students were throwing rocks at the National Guard, and some of the National Guard were picking up the rocks and throwing them back at the students. I didn't see any National Guardsmen hit by rocks. They seemed to be bouncing at their feet.

Then I remember that the National Guard troop seemed to get into a little huddle before leaving the practice football field. They reformed their lines and proceeded back up the hilt   It was almost like the parting of the Red Sea. The students just moved to one side or the other to let the National Guardsmen pass, because no one in their right mind would have stood there as bayonets were coming.

A lot of people were screaming, "Get out of here, get off our campus," and in the midst of all this were some students, oddly enough, who were still wandering through the area with their textbooks, as if they were completely unaware of all that was taking place.  I felt that I was still  a safe distance. I was 150, 165 feet away.  I know that because it's since been paced off.

When the National Guardsmen got to the top of the hill, all of a sudden there was just a quick movement, a flurry of activity, and then one or two cracks of rifle fire, and I thought, Oh, my God! I turned and started running as fast as I could.  I don't think I got more than a step or two, and all of a sudden I was on the ground   It was just like somebody had come over and given me a body blow and knocked me right down.

The bullet had entered my left heel and had literary knocked me off my feet. I tried to raise myself, and I heard someone yelling, "Stay down, stay down! It's buckshot!"  I looked up, and about five or ten feet away from me, behind a tree, was my roommate Alan Canfora. That was the first time I had seen him since we were down on the other side of the commons, chanting antiwar slogans.

So I threw myself back to the ground and lay as prone as possible to shield myself as much as I could, although like most people I was caught right in the open. I couldn't run, because I had already been hit. There was no cover. I just hugged the ground so as to expose as little of my body as possible to the gunfire. It seemed like the bullets were going by within inches of my head.  I can remember seeing people behind me, farther down the hill in the parking lot, dropping. I didn't knowi f they were being bit by bullets or they were just hugging the ground. We know today that it only lasted thirteen seconds, but it seemed like it kept going and going and going.  And I remember thinking,  when is this going to stop?

So I was lying there, and and of a sudden this real husky, well-built guy ran to me,  picked me up like I was a sack of potatoes, and threw me over his shoulder. He carried me through the parking lot in the direction of a girls' dormitory.  We went by one body,  a huge puddle of blood.  Head wounds always bleed very badly, and his was just awful.

The female students were screaming as I was carried into the dormitory and placed on a couch, bleeding all over the place. A nursing student applied a tourniquet to my leg.  I never ready felt that my life was in danger, but I could look down at my foot and I knew that I had one hell of a bad wound. The bullet blew the shoe right off my foot, and there was a bone sticking through my green sock. It looked like somebody had put my foot through a meatgrinder.

The ambulances came.  Some attendants came in, put me on a stretcher, and carried me outside.  The blood loss had lessened because of the tourniquet that was on my leg.  I remember having my fist up in the air as a sign of defiance.  They put me into the top tier in the ambulance rather than the lower one, which was already occupied.  I remember my foot hitting the edge of the ambulance as I went in.  From that moment on, until the time that I actually went under from the anesthesia at Robinson Memorial Hospital,  I was probably in the most intense pain that I've ever experienced in my life.

They had the back doors closed by this time, and the ambulance was speeding away from the campus.  I looked down and saw Sandy Scheuer. I had met Sandy about a week or two beforehand for the first and only time. She had been introduced to me by one of the guys who lived downstairs in my apartment complex. They were casual friends, and she struck me as being a very nice person. She had a gaping bullet wound in the neck, and the ambulance attendants were tearing away the top two buttons of her blouse and then doing a heart massage. I remember their saying that it's no use, she's dead.  And then they just pulled up the sheet over her head.

The ambulance got to the hospital, and it was a scene that's probably been played out any number of times when you have a big disaster. There were people running around, stretchers being wheeled in, and I was just put out in a hallway because the medical personnel were attending to the more severely wounded.  I had the tourniquet on my leg, so I wasn't bleeding all over the place, but the pain kept getting more excruciating.  I was screaming by that time, "Get me something for this pain!"  Then I was wheeled into an elevator and brought up to one of the other floors.  I remember receiving some anesthesia and being told to count backward from ten. I didn't get very far and then I was out.

The next thing I remember was waking up in a hospital bed.  I looked up at the ceiling and then all of a sudden it came to me what had occurred.  I didn't know how long I had been out, and I sat up as quickly as I could and looked down to see if my foot was still there. I could see the tips of my toes sticking out of a cast.  I just lay back, and I breathed a big sigh of relief . .

Today, if I engage in any strenuous exercise,  I'll have a noticeable limp for a couple of days afterward.  But on the whole, I consider myself to be rather fortunate. I could have lost my foot;  I could have been killed. Four people had been shot to death: Sandy Scheuer, Jeff Miller, Allison Krause, and Bill Schroeder.  My roommate Alan Canfora was struck by gunfire. He was among the least injured of the thirteen people who were either mortally wounded or recovered.

Eventually federal indictments against enlisted men and noncommissioned officers in the Ohio National Guard were handed down. But, as it turned out, the judge ruled that the Justice Department failed to prove a case of conspiracy to violate our civil rights and dismissed the case before it was ever sent to the jury.  That was the end of criminal proceedings against the Ohio National Guard. They got off scot-free.

But I think there are some guardsmen who are sorry for what happened. One guy in particular seemed to be genuinely remorseful.  I remember his testimony. He has very poor eyesight, and on May 4 he couldn't get the gas mask on over his glasses, so he had to wear the gas mask without glasses. He was blind as a bat without them, and he admitted he just knew he was shooting in a certain direction. That was a startling admission.  There was a guy out there who could hardly see, blasting away with an M-l.

. . . Every year From May 1971, which was the first anniversary of the killings, there has been a commemorative ceremony at Kent State that has attracted anywhere from one thousand students to eight thousand. So the issue has been kept alive there, and I'd say that the main focus now is to erect a proper and suitable memorial to the people who were killed there. The university has finally agreed to do that. They have commissioned a study as to what the memorial should look like,and what it should say.

I'm more concerned about what it says than what it looks like. Ever since I was young, I've been an avid reader of history, with a particular focus on the American Civil War, and for that reason I have more than the usual interest in the subject. When I go down to the Gettysburg battlefield or Antietam, I can read on those monuments about what took place there, what the casualty figures were, and I can try to envision what took place. Somebody should be able to do that at Kent State as well.

I think the memorial should state: "On May 4, 1970, units of the Ohio National Guard Company H. 107th Armored Cavalry (Troop G) and Company A, 145th Infantry Regiment shot and killed four student protesters and wounded nine others during a demonstration against the U.S. invasion of Cambodia."  Straight-out, simple facts.

From From Camelot to Kent State  By Joan Morrison and Robert K Morrison, pp. 329-35.Copyright by Joan Morrison and Robert K. Morrison