May 4 and the things I could have written…

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.

may4197005
Burned ROTC Building Photo: ohio.com

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.

Perspective_of_Ohio_National_Guard_at_Kent_State
(Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)

But…I missed May 4…

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9 thoughts on “May 4 and the things I could have written…

    1. Hi, Jill! Every year I resolve that I will write about that weekend, and I more or less shove the idea to the back burner. This year, I’ve finally reached back there and put some words down in this post. I could write so much more about that whole period of unrest and “student” activism, and maybe I will do so in another post–before I’m too decrepit and doddering! Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

  1. So evocatively written, thank you for sharing. This post inspired me to go google what had happened (Kent State rang a bell, but I wasn’t sure of the details) so now I’m more informed – thank you!

    1. Thank you, Claire. I appreciate your kind words, and I’m pleased that I struck a cord of interest regarding a sad chapter in our modern history. I suppose it shows my age, but that’s OK, as long as I still feel like that twenty-year-old kid I was back in May of ’70! Please check in again. 🙂

  2. What an amazing experience, Mark! Wow, you were right there. I can’t imagine. But thank you for giving me an idea of what went for you and probably many many others at that time. Every students wasn’t out there rioting, apparently!

    1. Hello, Luanne.You are right about not every student choosing to be out there in the midst of turmoil and unrest, although it would seem that way–if one were to believe the media coverage through the years. No one deserved to die or be injured, and that’s the lasting sadness about that chapter in May of ’70. As in everything, there are two sides to the story, and the entire picture has never really been clearly presented, and that has gnawed at me over the years. Thanks for your kind thoughts. 🙂

  3. It was a tough period of time and I appreciate your firsthand story. I visited Kent State in the 60’s for Little Sibling weekend with my babysitter. I was in high school in 1970. It has been hard living in Ohio, knowing that horrible and tragic things like this went on.

  4. In 1970, I was a freshman in high school and Kent State was just a hop and a skip from the suburbs where I lived, Mark. It was a horrible and terrible time, when students wanted to be pacifists and sometimes, when push came to shove were not able to hold back. This meant the militia were there, and I have stood on the Kent State Memorial for the 4 students that died, Mark. My youngest brother got his education there, so we stopped to look at the location where the shooting occurred. This was a great way to ‘take us back’ and feel like we were really there, Mark!

    1. So you were just a young babe at that time of my life! Yeah, the “students” who caused most of the problems were on a different plane as I was. Many of them were outsiders who came to agitate and stir the pot and then disappear into the night when the trouble boiled over and kept going all that weekend. Anarchists at work, and I will never glorify their actions. Even so, I love Kent State and enjoy returning for fraternity gatherings or just heading there for a few days on my own. The university and the town have changed so much–all good changes. Still, I walk around and remember back to freshman year (fall of ’68) and all the things I experienced from that point forward. Gee, I’m ready to head back right now… 🙂

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