Ken Schaub, Personal Narrative and Commentary
Submitted via email, May 16, 2000
I finally went back.
After 29 years I visited the KSU campus for the first time since my graduation in June of 1971. It happened to be during the May 4 activities.
Touring the campus, I was struck by the granite memorials and the new light posts in the parking lot in front of Taylor Hall that ring the sites where the dead fell 30 years ago. I couldn't help but have the feeling that there were more than a few kids put out by the fact that parking, no doubt still at a premium, just got tighter in that lot.
I also have no doubt that the students today, respectful and accommodating to the annual May 4 activities and the people who attend them, have no reason to be touched by those distant events as the Alan Canforas, Dean Kahlers, Jerry Lewis' or any of the other assorted family and friends of victims, former students, and even 'vicarious victims' from around the country whose lives are so empty that they are compelled to make what happened on our campus 30 years ago a significant event in their own lives.
It was at the memorial activities where I learned that there is an oral history effort underway by a seemingly enthusiastic lady who is interested in preserving the impressions of "what happened and why" from former students, and to no doubt find conflicting and corroborating versions of events of the time.
I was a thoroughly average student who was beginning to finally break the "hook" grade barrier with a few B's and even an 'A' or two in my junior year with more classes in my declared major; telecommunications. I was also an Air Force ROTC member.
It seems to me I recall that toward the end of April, rumors of visits by radicals and activists from other campuses around the country had paid visits to Kent to confer with our very own long haired SDS types at Kent. Nixon had announced the invasion of Cambodia (widening the war to win the peace).
I wasn't downtown on Friday May 1st when vandalism broke out in downtown Kent, nor was I present when the Army ROTC building (the old wooden structure in the middle of campus that would have caught fire if enough people cussed at it in unison) burned down. For the life of me, I don't know where I was or what I was doing. This has always bothered me because for that entire weekend is a blank in my mind. It always has been.
My first recollection of events that weekend is seeing the National Guard encamped somewhere around front campus. It seemed to be they were trying to keep a low profile about being on campus, and those soldiers who were out and about were in small groups and were actually mingling with curious students.
What I most vividly recall was Sunday night, May 3rd. While I was trying to study for exams that were to be given the next day, helicopters were circling overhead and shining spotlights down on the campus and, seemingly, through dorm windows. It was noisy, distracting, annoying and outrageous too!
By Sunday, May 3rd, the rumor mill was working overtime cranking out several Versions of the stories about the trouble downtown on Friday, the burning of the ROTC building, and why the national guard was on campus.
Seems the governor saw fit to call Guardsmen in fresh off of strike duty. We heard that the guardsmen assigned to the KSU campus had just come off of several weeks of 'peace keeper' duty keeping distance between striking teamsters and replacement scab truck drivers who took their places when the union called a strike. Apparently several of the replacement truckers reported being shot at on the highways. (For the life of me I never could figure out how riding shotgun for a scab trucker was going to prevent a union teamster from picking off who ever he wanted to as a truck sped by on the interstate at over 70 miles an hour).
We learned that the Governor, James Rhodes, had called the Guard in because of the burning of the ROTC building and he, as well as others in the media and local townspeople, began to bad mouth all students. Thus creating a acrimonious atmosphere and completely poisoning the well as far as the already strained 'town and gown' relationship went.
I don't know exactly when I heard about the rally scheduled for 12 noon on the commons. Maybe I read it in the Daily Kent Stater along with other news of the weekend.
Just after 12 noon, I, like thousands of other thoroughly average kids, passed by and through the commons on the way to class in Nixson Hall (how ironic the name if not the spelling) to take an exam in "clothing Appreciation:" a thorough waste of time and gray matter but a class that promised an easy B with just a little effort.
The Victory Bell had clanged and I remember somebody standing on the brickwork surrounding the bell trying to fire up the hardcore demonstrators with the usual rhetoric denouncing President Nixon, the war, injustice in general, the National Guard, the draft, and (for all I knew) rising beer prices at the Loft - - my favorite saloon. It struck me as a carnival-like atmosphere with a lot of curiosity seekers and passers-by stopping to take the spectacle in. I was vaguely aware that the National Guard was forming up near the burned out ROTC building but thought nothing of it . . . . I was an average student on my way to class to dutifully take a test in a thoroughly useless class.
The professor for that course was an attractive woman - - probably in her 40's at the time. In retrospect, probably a feminist man basher too. But she is the one who, bless her man-eating heart, told us to leave as quickly as possible when (I later learned) Alan Canfora, shot through the hand or wrist, ran into Nixson Hall, the Home Ec building, to wash his freshly made bullet wound!
I now know how cattle get spooked and start stampeding I can't explain it, but I know how it happens. Like wildlife we all knew something happened on the commons and that shots were fired. The panic and confusion was everywhere.
I ran toward Taylor Hall among scattering, scared kids and more curiosity seekers. By the time I got to Taylor Hall there were groups of people kneeling around shot and bleeding students. Ambulances were beginning to pull into campus and up to the scene. There was fear, hate and confusion all around. I saw national guardsmen, some still wearing gas masks, ordering people about with bunts. I remember seeing Dr. Glen Frank, a geology professor I had the year before, scurrying around trying to get peoples' attention and pleading with some to go home and pack.
I vaguely remember a bull horn blaring instructions for everyone to disperse and prepare to leave the campus.
A van load of about 12 Ohio Highway Patrolmen drove into the Taylor Hall parking lot. Although there would be many more Highway Patrol to arrive during the afternoon, the difference between those troopers and the national guard was striking.
The patrolmen were uniform in their appearance. They were all big and broad shouldered. All at least six feet or taller. All had uniforms that looked like they were painted on them, and they all carried riot batons. None carried rifles.
It seemed to me at the time that if the Highway Patrol had been there from the beginning instead of Rhode's Rag Tag Army, that more attention would have been paid to orders to disperse the rally. There is no doubt in my mind that the kids would have taken the patrolmen more seriously than they did the guard. And frankly, I don't think there were many people who would have had the courage to throw a rock at a highway patrolman knowing full well that he or she ran the risk of getting cracked in the head with a swat of a long, hard wood nightstick. I think the sight of the riot batons had more immediate effect than even the rifles carried by the guardsmen, who nobody even contemplated in their wildest imaginings were loaded and would be so irresponsibly used.
After seeing the confusion and more than a victim or two in the parking lot I ran back to the Music and Speech building and up to WKSU radio. I had been the program director one or two quarters of the AM carrier current station, and engineered many programs on WKSU FM, the "educational" station the university ran. I was familiar with all of the equipment.
Once up in the offices of WKSU I was amazed at how quickly the wire services had already "Flashed" the story of the shootings. Dumbfounded, I was literally learning what happened only 400 yards away from me from a Teletype machine spitting the story out one line at a time in bluish black ink on fanfold paper.
By this time we were aware that the phone systems were completely jammed. Calling out wasn't too much problem, but for anyone trying to call into the university, the phone system had collapsed.
One call that came through the station was from the ABC radio network in New York. I had a friend - - KSU graduate - - who was working there. I spoke with a producer who told me that his tape was running and what did I know was going on? I told him everything I knew, and even read him some of the AP wire copy I was holding in my hand. This producer gave me his direct phone number and asked me if I would get more information for him. I agreed.
I think the kid's name was Newman. I'm not sure and I'll probably never remember. He was a year or two behind me and hung out at the radio station. I don't know where he came from, how he got into the building (the rumor was the cops and the guard were sealing off all the buildings). But I gave him a cassette tape recorder from the music library and told him to take it out and about and talk to anybody who saw the shootings. "Just let em talk" is all I told him. And when the tape is full, come back here and get some more.
A short time later - - I'd guess within half an hour - - he was back and handed me a cassette which I copied over to 1/4" reel to reel on the station's studio equipment. I called the number the ABC radio guy had given me and told him to roll his tape for a high speed dub. John Horning, who was a university employee and music librarian at the station, set up the patch panel for the feed, and I remember pushing the "Start" button and listening to "Chipmunk" voices speaking as the tape rolled out at 15" inches per second down the phone line to New York.
It was shortly after the feed that we were ordered out of the building and that the university was officially closed. I gathered up some of my belongings, my girlfriend Carol and her stuff, and my roommate Neil McGinley, and drove to Pittsburgh to drop Neil off at home, and up to Butler where Carol lived.
On the drive to Pennsylvania I heard myself several times on at least three ABC affiliate stations (the interview I gave the producer), and I heard for the first time what had to have been excerpts from the tape "Newman" had recorded and I later sent down the line.
For this work I was later paid something around $100 by ABC.
I recall being angry at the notion that my school was closed down. The rumors were that it wasn't ever going to reopen again. Each night I'd watch on TV from my parents' home in Maryland how the FBI, the Justice Department, and the state were investigating the incident. Rumors flew that there was a student who first opened fire on the guard, who then opened fire in a panic.
In the end, it was an outrage to see that nobody ever had to pay for this travesty. James Rhodes faded into the sunset. The fat little General Canterbury wasn't far behind. I never knew what happened to Sylvester DelCorso, the state Guard Adjutant General. All I know is none were punished.
(For the shooters - - the guardsmen who pulled the triggers - - they were all exonerated. There is no doubt that they all later got glowing promotion recommendations in their annual training performance reports. No doubt General Canterbury was given glowing annual efficiency reports and retired with dignity, honor, and a medal. Something to look into for somebody interested in a topic for his or her psychology thesis).
As it turned out the campus was not permanently closed and I went back and finished my studies and got my diploma in 1971. At the time, the shooting were something that I think most kids wanted to forget happened and to get on with their lives and futures.
My future turned out to be 21 years in the service of my country in the Air Force. For several years in the early part of my career when it became known where I went to college, the question's invariably would be asked? Where were you? Did you see the shootings? What happened? When the what happened question was asked I would always say that the National Guard went crazy. Of course the story is much more complicated and complex than that. The National Guard going crazy is just the punch line to a long, complicated bad joke that nobody would ever understand. All they could ever understand was the punch line.
While standing in front of Taylor Hall last month and took a mental look back on the events of May 4th 1970. I am still amazed that nobody has ever had to spend one day in jail for what I believe was a crime.
We chased people like Lt. William Calley down like dogs to court martial them for shooting unarmed civilians at Mei Lai, Vietnam, but simply whitewashed the shooting of 13 unarmed American kids at KSU with quick acquittals and statements of "regret" from the empty suits who sent the guard in, to those who papered it all over with psychobabble, incomprehensible reports and findings, and sanctimonious statements of upholding law and order in the face of anarchy.
I used to joke with people that as an officer. I could enlist a drunken whore into the Air force. All I needed was a flag to stand her in front of and all she needed was a right hand to raise and a memory long enough to repeat these words:
"I solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I take this obligation freely - - without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. And that I will carry out the orders of the officers appointed over me, and that I will, faithfully and honorably do my duty, so help me, God."
This oath is given to anyone who enlists in the armed forces - - including the National Guard. Every trigger man that day took that oath.
". . . I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. . ."
Were they protecting the Constitution from "domestic enemies" that day? Or were they under orders to well and faithfully carry out orders to snatch Constitutional protection from a bunch of rag tag kids with burrs under their blankets who were exercising their right to assemble without tear gas being lobbed at them?
Having been a 'soldier' for more than 20 years, and having my turn in the barrel with Southeast Asia, Panama, and Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I can sympathize with someone who is scared, tired, hot, and covered over in a claustrophobic gas mask. Add to that several people screaming and some tossing rocks, and you have some conditions that would try the mettle and patience of anyone.
But to shoot your way out? I don't think so!
Not when it would have been easier to simply continue down the side of Taylor Hall and back across the commons. The only conceivable time where it might have made prudent sense to have fired weapons might have been when the guardsmen where 'cornered' with their backs against the fence on the practice football field: Not under the pagoda where the pathway was evidently clear to fall back.
Something happened that day with that group of men. The "Why" part of "What Happened and Why" of May 4 1970 will never be known until it's know what caused those Guardsmen to open fire - - all in unison - - all on cue!
". . . and that I will obey the orders of the officers appointed over me . . . "
I have always been intrigued with the photo showing those troops in the middle of their 13 second volley. That picture shows an officer with a .45 caliber pistol in his hand evidently firing. This officer apparently had his side arm detached even while retreating from the practice field. It was never replaced in it's holster. It seems to me an officer surrounded by more than 20 men with rifles will have no call to detach a sidearm unless he knows he's going to fire it.
Everyone up the chain of command should have been burned for the irresponsible actions of those men and their officers that day. Nobody had the guts to do it.
". . . That I take this obligation freely - - without any mental reservation . . .
Somebody should have gone to jail.