Monday, May 4, 2015

AN EARLY MEANING OF VIRAL....KENT STATE

It's an image forever etched in the minds of those who saw it.  And that was 45 years ago...today.  To say the least, it was shocking.  It went viral before the word viral was cool to say.  One only has to mention the words, Kent State and the mind knows where to go.  Some called it the Kent State Shootings.....others are more direct calling it the Kent State Massacre.  Whatever name you want to say, today marks its remembrance.  

At the feet of Jeffrey Miller, a 14-year old runaway, Mary Ann Vecchio asks WHY
Let's go back to that May 4th, 1970 day for some sort of explanation.

"Kent State occurred in the US city of Kent, Ohio and involved the shooting of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard.  The guardsmen fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis.

Some of the students who were shot had been protesting the Cambodian Campaign, which President Richard Nixon announced during a television address on April 30.  Other students who were shot had been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance.

There was a significant national response to the shootings: hundreds of universities, colleges, and high schools closed throughout the United States due to a student strike of four million students, and the event further affected public opinion—at an already socially contentious time—over the role of the United States in the Vietnam War".

Kent State became a word eliciting a quick response....for and against.  The "young" used it as a rallying cry against the government.  The establishment offered "they got what they had coming to them".  Newspaper headlines were sensationalized.  Much of it wrong. 

The headline was erroneous in so many ways. 
The shootings killed four students and wounded nine.  None were bums as the "Georgia Straight" suggested. Two of the four students killed, Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, had participated in the protest, and the other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, had been walking from one class to the next at the time of their deaths.  Schroeder was also a member of the campus ROTC
battalion.  Of those wounded, none was closer than 71 feet (22 m) to the guardsmen.  Of those killed, the nearest (Miller) was 225 feet (69 m) away, and their average distance from the guardsmen was 345 feet (105 m).   All of the students were in good standing at the University. 

Miller's death received much of the attention. The camera of Kent State photojournalism student John Filo captured a fourteen-year-old runaway, Mary Ann Vecchio,  screaming over the body of Miller, who had been shot in the mouth.  The photograph, which won a Pulitzer Prize,  became the most enduring images of Kent State, and one of the most enduring images of the anti-Vietnam War movement. 

Vecchio was visiting the campus to see the protest after befriending  Sandra Scheuer, who was killed and Alan Canfora. who was wounded.  Many wondered why a 14-year old girl would be in such a volatile situation.  Others, like Florida Governor Claude Kirk, called her a "dissident Communist" , others called her a "slut and whore".  Lost among all the dialogue from that day, is her cry of "why".  Can you imagine a 14-year old dealing with that? 

''I've been miserable since Kent State,'' she said years after the shootings.  ''Not for any political reasons, but after all the publicity I've received, I feel the police unnecessarily harassed me.''

Vecchio moved around a lot after the shootings before settling in Las Vegas.  She is currently employed as a respiratory therapist.
   
One unidentified person that day offered, "suddenly, they (the guardsmen) turned around, got on their knees, as if they were ordered to, they did it all together, aimed. And personally, I was standing there saying, they're not going to shoot, they can't do that. If they are going to shoot, it's going to be blank".

The site of the standoff at Kent State 
Another observer said, "the shots were definitely coming my way, because when a bullet passes your head, it makes a crack.  I hit the ground behind the curve, looking over. I saw a student hit.  He stumbled and fell, to where he was running towards the car.  Another student tried to pull him behind the car, bullets were coming through the windows of the car.

As this student fell behind the car, I saw another student go down, next to the curb, on the far side of the automobile, maybe 25 or 30 yards from where I was lying.  It was maybe 25, 30, 35 seconds of sporadic firing.

The firing stopped. I lay there maybe 10 or 15 seconds.  I got up, I saw four or five students lying around the lot.  By this time, it was like mass hysteria.  Students were crying, they were screaming for ambulances.  I heard some girl screaming, "They didn't have blanks, they didn't have blanks, no, they didn't". 

Nick Saban, the head football coach at Alabama was a freshman at the university in 1970.  He reflected on that tragic day to USA Today......
"I'd never seen anybody shot before," Saban told the newspaper. "Even though I didn't see them shot, I saw them after they were shot. It's a horrible thing. "There's not a May 4 that goes by that I don't think about it -- really think about it.  Forty years (now 45 )seems like a long time.  But it doesn't seem that long to me."
Over the years the courts became involved with a series of decisions, reversals and then a final outcome.  When all was said and done, the plaintiffs received $675,000 each and words from the defendants they regretted what happened. 

Could there be a reason for Kent State in the eyes of the National Guard?  Some of the Guardsmen on Blanket Hill, fearful and anxious from prior events, may have believed in their own minds that their lives were in danger.  A former Ohio National Guardsman who shot and wounded a Kent State University student says the general in charge of the troops did not have control of the situation that day. 

"If that general had had his head out of his - - -, he never would have put us in that situation," Larry Shafer, the former Guardsman. "The Kent State shootings could have been prevented with proper leadership. There was never any real need for the National Guard to be in Kent in May 1970."  Hindsight by university, guard and the public suggests another method could have resolved the confrontation.  The Kent State incident forced the National Guard to re-examine its methods of crowd control. The only equipment the guardsmen had to disperse demonstrators that day were M1 Garand rifles loaded with .30-06 FMJ ammunition, 12 Ga. pump shotguns, bayonets, and  CS gas grenades.

On a personal note, I vividly recall May 4th, 1970 and the days thereafter.  As a student at Mankato State College in Mankato, Minnesota,  I remember the TV footage of the killings.  I can easily look back at the days of protesting on campus and blocking roadways in the Mankato area.  At the time, I wasn't in tune with all that was going on.  I knew I was angry and disillushioned with so much of what was going on in our country.  And I felt like I had to do something.  Much like a number of students did in Kent, Ohio that May day.

Crosby, Stills and Nash released a song shortly after the shootings called "Ohio".  It reflects much of the tone of the time. 

"Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

45 years ago today.  Hardly seems possible.  And I mean that on so many levels.

YGG,

John

1 comment: