Tom Thompson, Oral History
Recorded: May 4, 2000
Interviewed by Deborah Frazier
Transcribed by Maggie Castellani
[Deborah Frazier]: Hello. I'm Deborah Frazier and I'll be helping Tom Thompson with his oral history today. We're at the Alumni Center. It's May 4th, 2000.
[Tom Thompson]: My name is Tom Thompson and I started Kent State University in 1968. And my recollection of what happened that day really ... I'd like to really start maybe the Friday before everything started in downtown Kent. I was down there. I didn't do anything down there. I saw what was going on. I went back to the dorm, Johnson Hall. And I just really wasn't quite aware of what was going on and why they were doing this down in Kent downtown. But from that moment on, I think ... it's just hard to explain what my feelings were about that.
I just could not believe people burning down a ROTC Building. Watched it from the dormitory. I really didn't participate in any of the rallies or anything. I was mainly an observer. I wasn't the type to get involved with too many things. Really, in fact, I didn't get involved with very many things other than my education here. I do recall a lot of National Guard troops running around and also observing it from mostly inside the dorms. Trying to go to classes back and forth without getting in their way. This is going to sound like rambling on and on, but just the thoughts that come to my mind. I just ... when I saw Guardsmen on campus, I had no doubt that their guns were loaded. You don't fool with people that carry guns. I don't care ... you don't know whether they're loaded or not. You just don't fool with people who carry guns! I'm not saying that in one way or another, it's just why I didn't get involved with anything.
I lived in Johnson Hall that year. One of my good friends was Joe Lewis. [pause] It's hard to talk. It could have been ... any of us could have got shot out there. I just thank God that I didn't. I didn't know the people, any of the other people who got shot other than Allison Krause. I met her one time. She came in the dorm once and bummed a quarter off of me. You know how your paths cross. I didn't know her personally but I knew who she was. My daughter's graduating this semester from here. I can't imagine what it would be like to ... if your kid got shot. I never really talk too much about this. Only some people ask me about it. We went, we tried to see Joe after he got shot. They wouldn't let us in, the hospital. I came back to the dorm, got my stuff and we left. These are just recollections just coming back and forth. This is all hodge-podge. You can put them together later on 'cause everybody knows the chain of events. I just remember getting teargassed one time. This is right before the kids got shot. We were coming from the dormitory across from Johnson Hall. It was Lake Hall. We came back out and got teargassed. I jumped through the lower bathroom window in Johnson Hall to get back in the dorm. And about five minutes later we heard some shots. And I didn't know what the heck had happened. And then later, one of my other friends came by and said, "Joe Lewis was shot." I just couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it. Joe Lewis. And I didn't even know he was out there. I didn't know what he was doing. But we eventually did go see Joe about a week later when we got a chance to go out to Robinson Memorial. Thank God he was still alive! Later on that summer I went to New York with Joe to visit one of his girlfriends from Kent. We were travelling through a bunch of towns and he still hadn't cut his hair! Everybody looked at him. It was so funny. It was just so funny. I haven't seen Joe, maybe one time after that a year later. I hear he's on campus today. I hope maybe I can maybe get a chance to talk with him. 'Cause we haven't kept in touch.
I just think when I look back on it that it just shouldn't have happened. That just would have ... maybe something else would have happened that first day - it was cold or something - and they wouldn't have done anything downtown. They wouldn't have done anything. You know, a chain of events -- it's just ... you can't control it. I usually come back every, every year and just mosey around the campus, not during May 4th. This is the first time I've been here. I don't think I could have, you know I just ... back then, I would come a week before or a week after. Just walking around here today seeing all these people standing around holding candles, it's just, it just makes my heart sad. I guess that's about all I have to say. There's all kinds of other thoughts but that's just my feelings on the whole thing. God rest their souls.
I just wanted to say that I had some other recollections. Like I said, it could've been any of us who had could've got shot. I mean I realized that there were Guardsmen carrying guns. But I was kind of curious that day right after we jumped into the dorm, my friend and I jumped into the dormitory bathroom window, I did go out before that, before the shooting, and from a distance I saw the Guardsmen kneeling down. And they were pointing their guns towards my way. But I thought, "My God, I gotta get out of here! This is crazy!" So I did run back up the hill and got out of there. Jumped back into Johnson Hall through a regular doorway this time. And like I said, then five or ten minutes later as I recall it, I heard some shots.
I remember my mom and dad, they just could not get through. All the phone lines were tied up. There was no way I could tell them I was O.K. I guess they had to assume that I wasn't taking part in anything. You know, it's ... two of the kids that got killed were not even involved with anything. That's what's double tragic about it. I remember all I took home was my dirty clothes. I left all my equipment, my guitar, everything. They told us to get out of there. You know, you've got to get out of here. The University is closed. It was just unreal. My dad finally got through to pick me up. I didn't come back until ... I don't know, I forget, it's been so long, how many weeks it was when we'd come back to get our stuff. And another thing was finishing the classes. My God. I was in industrial arts. Can you imagine trying to finish up physical projects without the facilities? I had to make business cards just by hand rather than print them out. Geology courses, Mr. Frank. It was just too much. Taking a take-home test in history -- now can you imagine how easy that would be? Yeah, it's just amazing that they finished out the quarter at home. I think it was about a month that we didn't go to school, May 4th, yeah June, whatever. This was quarters back then, not semesters. Unbelievable. I haven't drifted far from home. I'm in Tallmadge, ten miles away. I'm a home boy. I don't teach anymore. I quick teaching years ago. I decided to do something else. I'm thinking about retiring really. Thirty years, I can't believe it. Thirty years! I think that's about it. That'll do it.