Darcy Bortner Geders, Personal Narrative
Submitted via email, February 21, 2000
Although the May 4, 1970 incident at KSU was thirty years ago this May, I can still see that day clearly and vividly in my mind. I was finishing the last quarter of my freshman year on campus and residing at Verder hall. I happened to be off campus the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd so I was completely shocked and amazed to see the National Guard moving onto my campus with tanks on the television Sunday evening as I watched the news with friends many miles away. The news broadcast revealed that Kent State University was under "Marshall Law" due to rioting over the weekend and the burning of the ROTC building on campus.
The next day, Monday, May 4th, I arrived on campus in time for my classes to begin. I remember experiencing a multitude of feelings; bewilderment, fear, excitement, an overwhelming sense that his was all surreal. The Guardsmen, peering over their tanks with rifles, looked so completely out of place on our beautiful campus of rolling hills and lush foliage. I recall the weather was typical of a lovely Spring day but the atmosphere was so charged with electricity due to the military presence all over the campus, that none of my circle of friends had any desire to do anything but meet at the Hub (student union) and discuss what had happened over the weekend. There were students distributing flyers urging us all to meet at the Commons for a noon rally to protest the war in Vietnam and the presence of the National Guard in our midst. I had never been very politically active or interested in participating in demonstrations either on or off campus, but my curiosity was peaked and like so many others, my boyfriend and I joined the throng of thousands on the Commons at noon in eager anticipation.
The rally began with chants of "Hell, no! We won't go!" and similar popular slangs and slurs. Scores of students were sporting black cloth arm bands to signify their dissatisfaction regarding our government's involvement in the Vietnam War, particularly President Nixon's part in it. As the congregation gathered and chanted, and we heard the president of KSU demanding that we disperse and break up the rally, the National Guard assumed their strategic positions in preparation for tear gassing the crowd. We were warned via bullhorn by a Guardsman that if we did not disperse immediately, the Guard would begin tear gassing. The majority of us were unwilling to move and did not take their threats seriously. After all, this was a peaceful rally so the crowd remained until the tear gas (pepper gas) was lobbed in our midst. A canister dropped about 20 yards from where I was standing, the yellow smoke penetrating my throat and nostrils. I struggled up the hill from the Commons in the direction of my dormitory, choking and gasping for breath with tears streaming down my face that burned more intensely the harder I cried. My boyfriend ran in an entirely different direction in order to capture what he could on camera. Then we heard the shots. Lots of them, like firecrackers going off in rapid succession. Someone said, "Don't run! They're blanks!" but I was so frightened and panicked that I didn't stop until I was safely inside the confines of my dorm.
Some minutes later and I don't recall how long, I ventured outside and walked back down to the Commons. We were told by a KSU official that the school was closed indefinitely and we were all to go home and leave the campus at once through whatever means necessary. The word was circulating that some students had been wounded and possibly killed. I was still in a daze over the recent events when I returned to the dorm to call my parents to pick me up as soon as possible. In the interim, I learned that some of the students had indeed been killed and many others wounded.
That was the quarter in which no one failed, final exams were "open book," and students had the opportunity to suggest their own grades. The campus remained closed until the Fall quarter of 1970. In my opinion, the campus atmosphere was changed forever and I would never think of Kent State University as I once did as a wide-eyed and eager 18 year old freshman, ready to embark on a new adventure. I didn't realize it then, but we had all become a very important part of history on that fateful Spring day, and the tragedy would be recorded in textbooks and essays for years to come. I only hope we learned something valuable from it and that the deaths of those four unfortunate students are not forgotten.
I am now 49 years old and to this day, each time I hear the song written by Neil Young, and recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young entitled "Ohio," I am back again on campus at noon on May 4, 1970, and I weep.