May 4…Missed it once more!
And this was going to be the year that I would write about my life experiences at Kent State University forty-five years ago in May of 1970, when I was a sophomore wandering about in pursuit of a degree of some sort. But it’s May 5, and that anniversary day has come and gone.
Yep, every year seems to come and go like that, without me having written about what I felt about that time period—not just that day when the students were shot—but the whole chunk of days and weeks—before and after—the infamous event there on a beautiful, sunshine-filled weekend. And the older I get, and the farther removed I am from it all, the harder it is to reconcile all that transpired during that period of my young life.
However, had I been so inclined to do as so many others did yesterday, I could have written about my anger at things that were happening on campus and in the community of Kent during that spring. For instance, the unfamiliar long-hairs, with their hardened, bitter faces and disheveled dress, who made it difficult for those such as me, not in “the movement,” to go about the business of playing student.
Even for a campus the size of Kent’s, it was fairly easy to recognize other students as we came and went during the course of a school year. Suddenly, though, in the spring of 1970, there was a whole host of new “students” on the scene, seemingly serious and intent on making their radical points known. They were part of a group—Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)—that was more interested in upheaval and anarchy than being “students” is how I thought of them. (Still do, for that matter!)
I could have written about the Friday night, May 1, when downtown Kent was trashed by rioters and agitators, all in the name of peace! This was an ugly, ugly scene, and I’m glad that I chose to stay at the fraternity house. At that point, the city was out of control.
I could have written about Saturday night, May 2, when the ROTC building was burned, and those responsible cutting the fire hoses and preventing the firemen from doing their jobs.
I could have written about the bomb threat that cancelled the final exam I was scheduled to take that Monday, May 4. At the time, I wasn’t all that upset, figuring it would give me some much-needed extra time to better prepare for the thing. After all, I was very much in need of getting some better grades this time around to help raise me from the abyss of Probation.
I could have written about riding the bus back to my apartment a few blocks from campus and then, shortly after plopping down on the old saggy couch to study, taking advantage of the bomb scare reprieve, hearing a string of sirens racing past on the street outside, back toward the university. Although I wasn’t aware of what actually had happened, I had a feeling that things had finally come to a head, after a weekend of building tension and violence.
Curious, and no longer compelled to study, I walked the few blocks over to our fraternity house. On the way, I was confronted by two national guardsmen in a jeep (martial law, you know!) and was told that I needed to get off the streets. I indicated that I would be doing so very soon and continued on to the house.
I could have written about the confusion and complete shock that was surrounding everything and everyone at our fraternity. Many of the brothers had been on the scene, up near Taylor Hall, where the tragic event had taken place, and were fighting back tears now. As best as I could, I picked up bits and pieces of what exactly happened, but, like everything else about the event, no set of details seemed to match up. Someone would say one thing, someone else another. The only thing that was certain was at least four students had been killed and many others injured.
I could have written about what happened next: the university closing down, as though someone had thrown a big master switch, and we all had to get out! NOW!
Imagine, if you can, trying to make phone calls to family, in a time long before social media, smart phones, and text messaging. Fortunately, I was able to get to my apartment and packed what I could to take home to LaGrange, Illinois. What was to become of student life at KSU as we had known it, no one had any idea!
I could have written about how that summer unwound and how we all were able to complete our coursework from home. I could have written about my feeling cheated because of the actions of those who had a totally different agenda than I.
I could have written about how life goes on—and it did…and does—and things sometimes turn out for the better. If nothing else, I could have written that all actions have consequences, and that sad weekend at Kent State, forty-five years ago, didn’t have to turn out the way it did.
But…I missed May 4…