Paul Beckwith, Personal Narrative
Submitted via e-mail, Sept. 30, 1999
In May of 1970, I was in the ninth grade at Davey Junior High School in Kent, Ohio. I lived in Twin Lakes. My parents met at Kent State as students. I delivered the Record-Courier newspaper. Customers on my route included geology professor Glenn Frank, journalism professor Harvey Salsberg, track coach Doug Raymond, psychology professor Seymour Baron, and drama professor Jim Bob Stevenson. I remember Saturday morning after the damage on Water Street because it was a collection day for the newspaper and at my very first customer's house, Mrs. Perkowski, said to me that they sure did tear up downtown last night.
I guess that it is cliche anymore to say that Monday, May 4, 1970, was a beautiful day. That is really what I remember the most. It was spring, warm and sunny. We had an away track meet scheduled that afternoon in Ravenna. I was in wood shop. The class was a double period after lunch. Mr Griggy was my teacher. Mr. Engelmann, my German teacher, stopped in to talk with Mr. Griggy as he often did. Mr. Engelmann taught in the morning at Kent Roosevelt High School and at Davey in the afternoon. A student, Luann Helming, walked into class. She gave a note to Mr. Griggy. He in turn gave it to me. My mom had called the school. The note said to come right home on the bus. Do not go to the track meet or practice if it was scheduled. Do not go to the Kent State campus. I showed the note to Mr. Engelmann, my German teacher, and my track coach as well. He said that she was probably worried about the trouble on campus. he told me to telephone home. I did not want to miss the track meet. This was the only time my mom ever called school or I got a note from the office. I called home and my mom said there had been shootings at Kent State. I first heard about the Kent State shootings from my mom in my ninth grade wood shop teacher's office.
Very soon after this, our principal Marlin hardy got on the PA system and called the students to the cafeteria. This was the only time that we ever had an early dismissal from school. The busses arrived. Instead I got a ride home with Tom Peck. His mom was there with a truck. We went home from Kent to Twin Lakes by the back roads, Hudson Road to Ravenna Road.
Seeing Kent State on the CBS Evening News, hearing Walter Cronkite's voice, seeing it on the cover of Life Magazine, and at that stage in my life not really having a firm understanding of the facts left me afraid and confused. I guess anyone who grew up during the Great Depression or fought in a war cannot believe what I felt. I thought Vietnam would never end. I remember in elementary school when President Kennedy was assassinated and the only quiet school bus ride I ever had home. I remember seeing photographs of the firehoses and the police dogs in Life Magazine during the civil rights demonstrations. I remember the film footage of the riots in Watts. To me, at that time in my life, the Kent State shootings were a hybrid of these events plopped right down in the most unlikely of all places, my own quiet little northeast Ohio backyard. It has been said that television brought Vietnam home. It was Kent State that did.
This August I visited Gettysburg. When I was home in September for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary I visited the parking lot on campus where the spaces are now marked. I feel both places were turning points in American history. Both places were the spots of terrible carnage. They deserve preservation and respect.