Albert Van Kirk, Oral History
Recorded: October 9, 2009
Interviewed by Craig Simpson
Transcribed by Stephanie Tulley
[Interviewer]: Good afternoon, the date is October 9th, 2009 and my name is Craig Simpson. We're conducting an interview today for the
[Albert Van Kirk]: Al Van Kirk.
[Interviewer]: Where were you born, Al?
[Albert Van Kirk]:
[Interviewer]: Where did you go to school, to college?
[Albert Van Kirk]: I started college at
[Interviewer]: What made you decide to switch majors?
[Albert Van Kirk]: I decided I didn't want to go to seminary. And then my time in the service sort of reinforced that. Business was always, I guess, an avocation of mine from the time I was twelve years old, so I'm not sure how I got involved in philosophy and religion to begin with. It was clearly not where I was going to spend my life. I started college when I was seventeen, so I was very young, very immature. Frankly, I was frightened of the idea of graduating when I was twenty because I went straight through. Just decided to make a really dumb decision and took a year off. At which time I got an invitation for an all-expense-paid vacation around the world.
[Interviewer]: So you served in
[Albert Van Kirk]: I did.
[Interviewer]: How long were you there?
[Albert Van Kirk]: One year, eight months, and twenty-nine days.
[Interviewer]: And that was the Army?
[Albert Van Kirk]: Yes.
[Albert Van Kirk]: I'm sorry, I said one year. I was there eight months and twenty-nine days.
[Interviewer]: You were there eight months, okay. How many tours was that?
[Albert Van Kirk]: One.
[Interviewer]: It was one tour for all --
[Albert Van Kirk]: Well, actually, I got an early discharge to go back to school.
[Albert Van Kirk]: So I got out 90, I think 92 days early, or something like that.
[Interviewer]: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
[Albert Van Kirk]: I was. I was drafted.
[Interviewer]: How did
[Albert Van Kirk]: Well, you've asked me several different questions.
[Interviewer]: Take them one at a time.
[Albert Van Kirk]: My attitude toward the war was that the politicians were doing everything in their power to keep it from being victorious for the
The second question you asked was what was my attitude towards the protesters. And that was sort of a mixed bag. For the most part I think I felt a sense of sympathy for them, because they didn't know what they were talking about. They had taken media, what we would call today media talking-points, and created from that, oh, I think what they viewed as a political statement relative to the war in
[Interviewer]: I'm familiar with it, but it’s interesting you drew that connection. It’s been drawn kind of indirectly, but that's interesting.
[Albert Van Kirk]: Oh, it was very clearly stated by Jerry Rubin when he was on campus at the invitation of Dr. White. He specifically stated, "We're going to shut down" -- his staple was something to the effect of, "We're going to shut down this war machine, that Crystal Institute is going to be a thing of the past." He was here at White’s invitation the week before the riots. I along with five other guys from the Vets Club listened to him. We laughed. We thought he was full of baloney. And what he said came to pass. The riots took place, the ROTC building was burned down, and there was bloodshed on the campus. And he outlined all of that in his talk, speech, diatribe, whatever you want to call it, to the students.
[Interviewer]: And you said this was about a week before the shootings?
[Albert Van Kirk]: It was one week before, yes.
[Interviewer]: Backing up just a little bit --
[Albert Van Kirk]: Sure.
[Interviewer]: -- because you said you started in the Fall of ’69?
[Albert Van Kirk]: No, I started in the Spring of ’69.
[Interviewer]: I’m sorry, the Spring of ’69. The year before.
[Albert Van Kirk]: Yes.
[Interviewer]: Prior to the Spring of 1970, how would you describe the atmosphere on the campus -- say ’69, late ’69, early ’70?
[Albert Van Kirk]: I really am not a good person to ask about that, because I was married, I had a child, I lived in
[Albert Van Kirk]: [laughs] That would be a foolish argument.
[Albert Van Kirk]: But I had started a business, working to augment our income, and so I had that going. I was carrying, I think by the Winter Quarter, I was up to eighteen or twenty hours. I had taken as many as twenty-three hours. I don’t know if the hours still relate the same?
[Interviewer]: I’m not sure.
[Albert Van Kirk]: But in those days, a full course load was twelve hours. So if you had over, I think, sixteen or more you had to get a sign off by the Dean of the school to take the extra load.
[Interviewer]: And you’re on quarter, then, not semester?
[Albert Van Kirk]: Quarters, yes. I went straight through. I didn't spend a whole lot of time on campus, per se. I was there, and I spent some time in the Student Union with other guys from the Veterans Club in the mornings, in between classes; and then in the afternoons, for the most part, I was working. So I didn't hang out, I didn't live in the dormitories. I can't really tell you that.
I observed a lot of young people that I would call "malcontents" that were -- some of them came across to me as the kind of kids that if you gave them ten dollars they would complain because they didn't like the serial number on the bill or something. Others, I think, had a very sincere attitude toward the war. And I think there were others, maybe the vast majority -- particularly in the guys -- were using this as a justification for them not having to go and serve. And I guess I felt about it then as I do now: that's something they have to live with, not me. So I don't know if I've answered your question.
[Interviewer]: You answered it very well. I was just curious, what prompted you and the handful of vets to go to Jerry Rubin’s speech?
[Albert Van Kirk]: We were interested in knowing what in the world was going on, because you could tell momentum for bad things was building. Particularly the SDS Weathermen, who were becoming more and more vocal, more and more violently vocal. It wasn't uncommon if they could find one vet and there were five or six of them, that they would try and pick a fight. But did I know this was going to happen? No.
But I knew of Rubin from the “
[Interviewer]: You mentioned the SDS Weathermen. When you said that they were, I forget your exact words, but were you referring to them specifically on campus or nationwide?
[Albert Van Kirk]: I was only aware of what was going on on campus. It was only after the fact that I became aware of their network, and their organization, and their finances. But I was only aware of what was going on right here. I was a man focused on getting through school and getting on with my life.
[Interviewer]: What do you remember about those four days in May? And you can start wherever you like, some people start the weekend before.
[Albert Van Kirk]: I can't. I can't do that because I was in
[Interviewer]: You were in
[Albert Van Kirk]: We were driving back, I was driving back with my wife and daughter, and we heard on the news that the ROTC building was on fire. I'm going to guess that was maybe nine o'clock at night. I thought -- well, what I thought doesn't matter. I had some adjectives for the people who do things like that. Because at the end of the day I don't care if you protest. I'm all in favor of peaceful protesting, so let me make that very clear. I'm also all in favor of obeying the law, and I don’t grant individuals rights to break the laws simply because they feel like it.
Anyway, I went back to our apartment. We lived in Green Acres in
[Interviewer]: It’s still over there.
[Albert Van Kirk]: Is it?
[Interviewer]: I forget the street, too.
[Albert Van Kirk]: But anyway, I just started hiking across --
[Interviewer]: It’s a long walk, yeah.
[Albert Van Kirk]: Yeah, well [laughs], I was used to long walks.
[Albert Van Kirk]: And no one was shooting at me. So I thought. And so I was hiking across campus when the shooting started. I actually gave first aid to several students that were injured. Kept on going, and got my term paper typed.
[Interviewer]: Do you remember who they were, the wounded?
[Albert Van Kirk]: No, I had no idea. I believe -- well, one of them was dead. And I think that was Jeffery Miller. It was a guy. But I don’t know that to be factual. I know he was dead, because I was cross-trained as a medic, and I had seen dead people before.
So, I kept going. Dropped the paper off. The lady was all in a dither. And I just asked her point blank, “Are you going to be able to get this done for me?”
“Oh, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.”
So I left it and started back to my truck and I had to take a pretty circuitous route to get back, because by then the police had started to move in and seal the place off. I guess that’s what they were doing. Got back in my truck and went back to
[Interviewer]: Was there worry in
[Albert Van Kirk]: Oh, yeah. Huh! They had guys walking down the street with guns, there were guys sitting on top of the buildings with guns. They were not going to come to
[Interviewer]: Did you take classes that summer?
[Albert Van Kirk]: Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I took classes that summer.
[Interviewer]: Was it the correspondence courses or --
[Albert Van Kirk]: No, the University mandated that the professors give take-home exams to the students enrolled in the spring quarter. Unfortunately, I was in a calculus class that about killed me when the class was open. But I somehow managed to pass the final, much to the lady’s dismay who was the professor. Because there was only myself and one other person who passed the test.
[Albert Van Kirk]: She was visibly upset. She summoned me to her office wanting to know how I passed this exam. Anyway, then, the Summer Quarter, I think there were two six-week sessions and you could take two courses each session. I loaded them up and got through my statistics that summer. I don’t remember what else I took. Then in the Fall, I think I was up to 19 or 20 hours, because you want to get it done. That’s all. Just had to happen. Probably the most organized I’d ever been in my life. I had a whole chart laid out with all the prerequisites and when the courses were offered. That calculus course was critical because the operations research course that I took had that as a prerequisite and it was the only way it was going to work. So it was fortunate that I was able to get through that.
[Interviewer]: When did you graduate?
[Albert Van Kirk]: June of ’71.
[Interviewer]: Were you ever asked -- I mean, obviously you weren’t directly involved, but just the fact that you gave first aid and things like that, were you ever asked to testify or --
[Albert Van Kirk]: No, and I always found that interesting. No, I was never asked to testify, nor were any of the other guys in the Veterans Club asked to testify, and there were many of them who witnessed first-hand what took place. They seemed to be very selective about who they wanted testimony from. I had a working relationship with -- careful how I say this -- I had a working relationship with several fellas that were involved in the intelligence agencies that were on campus. I heard bits and pieces of information through them. It’s amazing what sitting down after the fact and buying a guy a beer will do. I got bits and pieces of information from these fellas, and what was clear to me even as a young student was that what took place was very well-planned, very well-financed, and very well-executed. According to one of the guys, by FBI count, there were twelve-hundred license plates in
[Interviewer]: So when you said “what was planned,” just to clarify, you were talking about the riots?
[Albert Van Kirk]: The riots, yes.
[Albert Van Kirk]: It was a large telephone system installed in the basement of one of the buildings on
And as I am walking across campus -- you know, things get blurry -- but it seems to me, I remembered one or two shots before a volley of shots. I wrote all this down at one point in time and I went looking for it in preparation for my time with you, but I couldn’t find it. Because I wrote it that week. It was fresh. I had to do my hunt-and-peck on a manual typewriter to do it. I do remember that. I don’t remember the specifics, whether it was two shots or three shots or what it was. But I do remember a “pop pop” and then a volley. I deduced from that the “pop pop” was what was claimed to be shot at the National Guard that subsequently struck that metal piece behind the Architecture building.
[Interviewer]: The Don Drumm sculpture, I think is what it is. Yeah.
[Albert Van Kirk]: I think there is a building in the way now, but if you were to look at that you’ll find that the building across the street, I think it was, where the National Guard claimed they were fired on from. Who knows what the facts are, but that piece seemed to make a great deal of sense to me at the time. But it was completely discounted, I suspect, because it didn’t fit the story that they wanted to tell.
So I don’t -- I’m glad you’re doing this. I have no idea what will come of this, but I don’t believe that all the facts that took place leading up to the riots, the riots themselves, and the subsequent issues that took place have ever been accurately told. I have had the occasion to be here.
Our youngest child was born with multiple birth defects, we believe probably because of my exposure to Agent Orange. But since the government hasn’t been terribly forthcoming with information on that it’s hard to draw a direct correlation, but we believe that. As a result, he was in a Special Ed school -- classes at
So I just started wandering around and this one guy, who was supposedly a professor, was pontificating about what had transpired on May 4th. I did some real easy math and figured I was just about old enough to be his father, which meant he wasn’t here. I just stood in the back, in back of the kids, and I just listened. Finally he singled me out, probably because I had a shirt and tie on like I do now, and said, “You look like you have some questions.” All of the kids turned and looked at me, and I said “Well, I do.” I said, “I’d like to know where you got your information.” He said, “Well, what’s that have to do with anything?” I said, “Because what you’re telling these students is not true!” With that, a feather floating through the room would have sounded like a jet. I said, “What you’re saying is just factually not correct. And if you want to state opinion, then you should tell the students this is your opinion. But it isn’t fact, it isn’t true.” He got very huffity and he stormed away. He didn’t care to discuss the situation. And that’s been my only exposure since I left
There was, supposedly, a couple of guns. Two or three, I’m not sure which, fished out of the river within an hour of the shootings, with witnesses, but that was just sort of deleted from evidence. They discounted or discredited the people that claimed they saw it. And that was the end of it. It ended that day. So it led me to believe that maybe there was something more at stake than just people’s reputations. I had no idea what, so I would not go to that level to say “I think this” because I don’t know. I have some ideas. But I think it was a complete error in judgment on the part of the president to have Jerry Rubin here. That added credibility and credence to the radical agenda that he was putting forth, and as a result of that four young people lost their lives. Several others are hurt badly for the rest of their life. I look at that and I say, “For what?” I mean, what was gained from that?
They were protesting liquid crystals. Do you know what liquid crystals do?
[Interviewer]: Not really.
[Albert Van Kirk]: Okay. Liquid crystals gives you the ability to see at night. Your night vision goggles. That’s liquid crystals technology, came right from
As I said, I fully agree with the idea that if people don’t like what the government is doing they have an absolute -- in my opinion -- responsibility to protest. But that protest, I also believe, needs to be within the confines of the law. You can’t take the laws into your own hands and call it civil disobedience. I mean, the reality of what -- I have very strong feelings about that.
[Interviewer]: Are there any other thoughts you would like to share?
[Albert Van Kirk]: No, I’m glad you’re doing this. I have no idea what will come of it.
[Interviewer]: Thank you, thank you.
[Albert Van Kirk]: You’re the first person that’s ever asked, from an academic perspective, what actually took place. I’ve read a number of the interviews you’ve conducted, and they all seem to come from a general bias of -- a general bias. I haven’t seen anything that, based on my perception of the facts, was factually based.
[Interviewer]: Well, Al, thank you very much for having time to talk to me.
[Albert Van Kirk]: My pleasure.