"Hey Bill" Said Lori (a lady who works for County Parks). "Can you write a letter of recommendation for a grant application?"
"What's the grant?" I asked.
"We have a person who can do chain saw carvings for Camp Wilkerson. We are going to see if we can get a grant from the County Cultural Coalition;" answered Lori.
"Really?" I replied. "I was appointed to the Coalition last month."
"Oh, oh" said Lori. "I guess you won't be able to write the letter for me."
"Sorry," said I. "I love our Camp Wilkerson County Park. I would so like to see us do more up there. We need more camping areas."
"We need another new rest room," commented Lori.
I asked; "Did you ever know my friend Jim Russell?"
"I don't think so." Said Lori
"Too bad that you didn't know him," I replied. "Jim was quite a guy. Jim designed the rest rooms at Wilkerson and at Prescott Beach. He was a graphic artist as well as a designer. He used to work for the City of St. Helens and he did all of these jobs for County parks for free."
I continued: "Let me tell you more about my friend Jim. Jim was a graduate of Kent State University. Did you ever hear about the Kent State shootings?"
Lori shook her head. It occurred to me that that the shootings were in 1970, a time well before Lori's parents ever brought her into this world.
I quickly explained to her about the students that were killed, and wounded at Kent State, and at Jackson State a few days later. She had not heard about either.
I told her a short version of the story. I didn't have time to tell her about what happened, or more to the point why any of it happened.
What were the circumstances surrounding the Kent state shootings?
In 1970's America, young men were still being drafted into the military and the Vietnam war was no longer popular. Many people thought that if we did not fight the Communists there, we would be fighting them here. They preached that if Vietnam fell the rest of that part of the world would fall with them. In 1970 we had already lost almost 35,000 of our military to that war. Many young men joined the National Guard; others went to college and received student deferments so that they would not get drafted. Grades were important, and if your grades fell, you could lose your deferment. Richard Nixon had just replaced Lyndon Johnson as President. Nixon told the public that he was going to withdraw troops from Vietnam and bring about a "peace with honor."
Instead of a "peace with honor," Nixon began to systematically bomb Cambodia (a neutral country) and in April of 1970 ordered US troops to invade. These events were not appreciated by many, and from Berkley to Boston the voices of student activists were heard. Many students refused to attend class and a nation wide student strike followed. At the same time, air traffic controllers, truck drivers throughout the country and other members of the Teamsters Union went on strike.
Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes called out the National Guard to patrol the cities of Cleveland and Akron and this resulted in violent clashes with striking workers. Rhodes had other political ambitions and had plans to run for Congress as a "Law and Order" candidate. He had no intention of allowing lawless actions to go unnoticed in any city in his state.
May 1st 1970; daffodils were growing and it was a beautiful Ohio day. Toward evening, the mood of a group of students was less than beautiful. The College had just suspended the campus charter for the local Students for a Democratic Society.
"They don't want Democracy here," said a student.
"I can't believe it" said another, "Instead of ending the war, they're killing children in Cambodia.
That evening fights broke out in local bars as students and others expressed their outrage over the escalation of the war. A number of them took to the streets and started breaking windows, while chanting "One two three four, we don't want your effen' war." 43 windows were broken, 28 were at a bank.
The Mayor of Kent declared a state of emergency and a dusk-to-dawn curfew. He asked Governor Rhodes to send in the Ohio National Guard.
On the evening of May 2nd, a crowd of 300 students gathered at the campus commons and as the sun set, chanted "Draft beer, not boys, Hell no, we won't go, fight VD, not the VC, Make love not war, and the old standby ..One, Two, Three, four, we don't want your effen' war...! They marched through the dormitories and their numbers grew to thousands. Kent Mayor Leroy Satrom declared that his city was in a state of civil emergency. A citywide curfew was established for 8:00 p.m. Kent State's curfew was not until 1:00 a.m. The students knew that they would be arrested if they set foot in town, so they remained on campus protesting what they felt was an actualization of marshal law.
The students surrounded the old ROTC building. The building was boarded up and scheduled for demolition. Someone thought it would be a great idea to try and burn it down. One eye witness (Alan Canfora) described this event as "comical… It was like the three stooges trying to burn a building; throwing matches through windows…" Fire trucks showed up almost immediately with a contingent of police and quickly extinguished their pathetic fire. Canfora stated "When we left the fire was completely out." The group went out looking for more people, when they returned about an hour later; the building had burned completely to the ground. The burning of the old ROTC building remains a mystery to this day. It burned while it was under the control of the authorities, but the burning of the ROTC building was the excuse that was used to bring in the National Guard to Kent State.
Six years later, Senator Frank Church and his Senate investigation committee report was issued. The report exposed years of CIA, FBI, State and local sabotage of America's social and political movements. Though the report says little about Kent State, the FBI admits that only five days later on May 7th, 1970, they deliberately lit an ROTC building on fire in Tscaloosa, Alabama. FBI memos obtained under the Freedom of Information Act concerning Kent State has a multitude of blank pages. Entire pages were blacked out concerning the fire, and at least six pages of the ROTC fire reports have been listed as "deleted."
Before the smoke from the ROTC building disappeared, the National Guard appeared on campus. They arrived along with "Law and order" Governor Jim Rhodes. Rhodes wasted no time in speaking out against the radicals on campus. "We are going to eradicate the problem. We're not going to treat the symptoms," Rhodes said. The dissidents are "worse than the Brown Shirts in the communist element and also the Night Riders and the vigilantes. They're the worst type of people that we harbor in America. And I want to say that they're not going to take over a campus."
I remember my friend Jim Russell telling me that the Guardsmen had just finished dealing with striking Teamsters. They were mad, tired and didn't want to do anymore riot duty. Some, when told that they would be facing possibly violent protesters, went home and gathered up their own weapons. Others exchanged their rubber bullets, for more lethal steel jacketed rounds.
Jim was leaving Tylor hall when he heard the noise of the crowd as they climbed up the hill toward him. Up to this time, Jim was basically apolitical. He was in his 5th year at Kent State and his only concern was graduation. He could see students shouting and waving their arms. He saw what appeared to be smoke from tear gas or smoke grenades.
"I heard that they were going to be having a peace rally," Jim told me. "I assumed that the rally was over," It appeared to him that the students were returning home. He watched a group walk up blanket hill past Tayor hall toward the dorms and the Prentice parking lot.
They were followed by National Guardsmen. Several Guardsmen kneeled and pointed their rifles towards the student's backs. Jim could see puffs of smoke could hear the sounds of screaming, and was suddenly overcome by intense pain as shotgun pellets ripped into his thigh and forehead.
13 seconds later four people lay dead, and nine more were injured. No one expected to be shot. Many thought that the Guard only had blanks or rubber bullets at worst. The sounds of wailing and crying filled the air as Jim struggled to make his way to safety.
Jim dripped blood as he painfully made his way toward Lake Hall. He entered the building and his way was blocked by a resident advisor. "You're not going anywhere I'm calling the cops," said the RA."
"You're not calling anyone" said one of two female nursing students. "This man is going to a hospital."
Jim called the nursing students his "Angels of Mercy." They helped him walk to the health center and waited with him until an ambulance could be dispatched to take him to the hospital in Akron.
Once in the hospital, the doctors were able to patch up his leg, but were unable to remove the pellet in his head (which remained with him for the rest of his life). Jim was about to be released when he was told that he had to remain in his bed until the police had finished questioning him. Jim was determined to avoid the authorities and with the help of an intern escaped.