Special Collections and Archives

Gregory Gibson Narrative

Special Collections and Archives

Gregory Gibson Narrative

Gregory Gibson, Personal Narrative

Submitted September 2015

Foreword

 

I was sitting in my family room, reading a recent book by Deepak Chopra on finding God. It was Sunday, around 10:30 a.m. I was preparing for my regular helping of “This Week” with Sam and Cokie, looking forward to the verbal fencing that the two Georges often engage in. Of course, one’s worldview is predictable; he wears the cloak of his party well. A love well buttoned over the suit of intelligence and elitism. The other George is less predictable and, of course, more erudite and crisp in his intellectual positions on issues because, most of the time, he agrees with me.

My younger son, Scott, came downstairs and told me that his female friend from Chicago talked with him the previous evening about her excitement over the professor she had for history, an individual that had been pardoned by Bill Clinton just before he left office. I think that there must have been at least two thousand or more pardoned by Clinton in those last days. Let’s see, 5 seconds to sign a pardon, 2000 pardons, 10000 seconds, that’s 166 minutes, about three hours of signing. Probably his last three hours in office. Anyway, she told Scott this professor was interesting, engaging and that he had been one of the leaders of the Columbia sit-in in the mid-sixties. It was strange, really. I felt the twinge you feel when the file folder you’ve had on your desk for about a year falls on the floor and you realize, when you see the contents spewed about, that you have forgotten some pretty important material.

I asked Scott what the name of this individual was and, of course, the name struck a chord. I then began a long, lumbering, meandering lecture on my experiences in college in the sixties, especially the academic year 1968-1969. I shared my feelings about my peers, my professors, the college paper, the English papers that had to have a US imperialism spin to get a grade, how I encountered a “talk” and movie session on the Columbia sit-in sponsored by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a Black Student Union walk-out, my meeting Hubert Humphrey, my observations of SDS mob manipulation, my polish born mathematics professor’s impassioned plea. I held back my emotion at times. I stood up and talked about how we, the majority of the students at this University during this time, were for the most part the pride of working class parents. I was not at Harvard or an Ivy League University; it was not west coast. Its population did not consist of people already inside or seeking to be inside a network. It was a mid-western state university, dedicated to the well-rounded education of the children of its taxpayers. I recounted how, during graduation in 1969, I saw parents and grandparents of my classmates stand by and hug them and cry. We were their progeny, we stood where they could not, we had arrived, we had graduated from college. We were on their shoulders now; the epitome of their hopes and dreams. We were not going to let them down. I harped on how our views, the views of the vast center, were never really heard during that time. Sure, our more militant anti-war colleagues were vocal enough, but there were tens of thousands of us across the country and at this University and there were only tens or hundreds of them. Scott said that he thought my story should be told; that a certain voice and view of that time and place should be heard. “Write the book…just write it,” were his words. So, this book is for Scott and his generation and all those students who were there with me during the greatest and most terrifying time of my life, 1968 to1969 at Kent State University. 

One Final Note

 

I want to caution you about me, the author, and how I feel about worldviews. I have long since marveled at how people adopt a view of the world, whether based on politics, technology, science, or religion. They somehow arrive at a point where they contend that their view is somehow right and that those that do not agree with what they have concluded through their own personal lens on reality are wrong. One hears words like right and wrong over things that in no way can be totally certain. These views bring with them an embedded vocabulary where subtle interpretations on the meanings of words used in writing or conversation are prevalent. If you don’t believe me, re-read the first paragraph. I contend that your worldview will dictate which George you believe agrees with me. Not necessarily objective, is it?  What I am going to be relaying to you is my interpretation of the events that I observed during this academic year at Kent State University. I have recounted them on any one of a number of occasions to classes I have taught as well as to my sons and their friends. I am well aware of the human frailties of embellishment and deteriorating accuracy over time. I know about the cognitive illusions our species possesses and, to quote an acquaintance of mine who is a specialist in Operations Research and Decision Theory, “ We are generally very precise, yet totally inaccurate about things we don’t know.” I do know about these occurrences; I lived through them. My interpretation, of course, is overlaid by thirty plus years of living, working, and raising a family in the world. I have tried to get back to that young man I was so that my accuracy, given my worldview at the time, is as precise as possible for me.

 

Before We Really Get Started

 

I began my quest for a degree at Kent State at one of their branch campuses in the Fall of 1965. I completed my first year off-campus and then transferred to the campus in the Fall of 1966. During that first term I took a class entitled “Introduction to Sociology,” a required course for almost any undergraduate degree, of which mine was no exception. The class lectures were held in a fairly old amphitheater-like room that reeked of history. The blackboard that stood in front embraced the length of the main lecture level and was surrounded on the left with high rising wood framed windows that ran from the floor to the ceiling and on the right with freshly painted off-white plaster walls. It was outfitted with at least fifteen stepped levels as I remember. It had the initials of lord knows how many generations carved into its old wooden desks. I would marvel at their variability in message and style when my mind wandered. There were at least one hundred of us in the class. The room’s multi-tiered wood floors creaked and groaned under our weight, with each little noise amplified by every one of our movements as the lecture moved slowly towards its time limit. I always sat in the back rows because I had difficulty understanding why such a course was really required or really needed for that matter. I was majoring in Mathematics; the world was pretty simple, really. Calculus, Algebra, Advanced Calculus, Complex Variables, Linear Algebra you know; this was real learning. Remember, this is the thought process of a nineteen year old at the time.

During one lecture the professor was enticing us to participate, to challenge his points-of-view. He wanted us to engage with him; he wanted to hear our views on the reading materials we were assigned. He stopped suddenly. He looked out at us and started talking about his experiences as a young assistant professor right after the war. As I recall he said, in part, “…they sat here, in this room, in your chairs. The room was even more packed, if you can believe it. (we all laughed)  They sat in these aisles, bringing boards to write on, like portable desks. But…I can’t describe the way it was here. They drank up every moment. Their attention was spell binding…they were demanding. They pushed me, they challenged me. Every second, every minute they listened. I could see, at times, when I looked at them, such age in their eyes…of primarily young men who had to see and live something that made them appreciate what they were getting here. I have watched that environment slowly fade. I want to get you back to that. I want you to get engaged with me…I want you to appreciate this…this gift that most of you are getting from your parents.”

He then continued on with a discussion of mores, social norms, and so on. Did we get better at participating? Yes, probably a little. But, I realized that the generation that came before us after the war was special at Kent State and that there were professors who missed them and the hunger that they had. It was felt, generally, that our generation was apathetic in general and that we students at Kent specifically exhibited those same traits. Remember, though, that this was the Fall of 1966. Things would change.

 

Registration – Fall 1968

 

I remember the walk to the registration center, which was really the gymnasium, of course. It was late summer, but already a few of the very youngest trees had the faintest hint of color change. I lived off-campus in an upstairs room with an elderly couple that had been renting to students for years. The neighborhood I lived in consisted of homes that were all probably built around the 1920’s to 1930’s. I recall that there were 12 to 14 square blocks of these homes around me, most within a ten minute walking distance to the front of campus. These homes had large front or even wrap around porches and could accommodate families of six to seven people. They all had the same internal layout for the most part. Walk into a large foyer, off to the right the living room. In the back of the living room was the dining room and to the left of that usually a large country kitchen. Back in the foyer and off to the left there was usually access to a stairway that went up to the second floor to three to four large bedrooms. Some homes even had a third level, with two more attic-like bedrooms. They lined each side of the street, each off the same 20 to 25 feet from the sidewalk, these homes did. Their colors were beiges, browns, mint greens, and whites. Most were wooden sided, but there were some brick. Their deep porches hid their faces in the early morning, since sunlight hadn’t quite yet been able to break through the leaf tapestries of the old and majestic maple, ash, and oak trees that sat in their tree-lawns. I can still see those yards. Twenty feet by twenty feet of rigid standing, cleanly cropped weed free rye grass that stood in front of the five or seven step entrance to the porch and front door. The sidewalk was the dividing line between the yard and a 4 foot by 20 foot strip of sometimes more sparsely populated grass that encased an old tree. The street followed, of course, trying to accommodate the uneven intrusions of the old trees roots while maintaining a semblance of flatness. The sidewalks themselves had long since heaved up, down, and sideways as a result of the antediluvian trees’ root travels. I walked up and down as the sidewalk took me towards the front of campus, looking first at the trees and then back at the houses, imagining on this day in particular the students that lived in these homes, and how this neighborhood housed their dreams for the future, their aspirations for academic or social achievement, or their desire to escape the draft.

Registration was always interesting, but for me, a senior and on track to graduate in the spring, there weren’t the usual difficulties with getting classes.  Not that there ever were difficulties for me, since I majored in mathematics and courses like Differential Equations or Advanced Calculus rarely filled up to their maximums. I followed the arrows that mapped out the process for those people with the last names staring from A and going to H and began meandering through, interacting with the student volunteers or graduate students forced to work registration at the appropriate stations. Yes, here is my student ID, here is my course schedule, no I did not pre-register (if I would have, I would have also had to pay early), yes these are my classes and yes, Differential Equations does sound hard.  And yes, I am sure that this should be my schedule; I do have an adviser. During my cycle through I saw those old familiar faces, students that I didn’t really know, but that I had seen on campus for a number of years. We recognized each other and our body language would usually acknowledge that recognition. About two-thirds of the way through, a familiar voice startled me from behind.

“Greg!” the voice boomed.

“Don…hey man…how’s it goin? How was your summer?” We exchanged that aggressive handshake with the accompanying smile that had mischief embedded within it that only friends who lived together would know about. Don and I had rented an apartment for the previous year with another fellow, Russ. We had decided to go our separate ways for this coming academic year, however, do in no small part to my inability to help pay my share of the rent. I had been a financial strain on the two of them, so we decided to go our separate housing ways, but we were still friends.

“Well, you can’t do much in Bucyrus, but I managed. I also came back and took a course here…summer courses are interesting, never took one before…not the same workload.” Neither had I. I relied on summer time jobs to help me get my financial reserves built up to their minimum for the next year. “Really…more…or less,” I recounted.

“Well…I thought less at first…but it turned out to be more.” Don replied.

“But, hey…Don…what about chicks…huh…action?” I inquired mischievously.

“Yeah…there was that…but…there was something else...and I struck out as usual. As far as women are concerned, I don’t seem to have that, you know, thing with them. Anyway, the SDS opened a branch or a cell or whatever you call it here. There’s been a lot of talk about it”

“SDS…Students for a Democratic Society? I thought they were raising hell at the up-scale schools…Columbia, Berkley…taking over administration buildings, striking, what the hell are they doing here at Kent State…at Kent State for God’s sake.”

“Hell, who knows…my buddy down at Ohio State says they are there too…and he hears also at Miami of Ohio, Ohio University, and even Michigan,” Don responded unemotionally but still interested.

As we talked we saw one of the supposed members of this now formal yet considered newly formed organization called the SDS. I say now formal because there were anti-war activists on campus since I had started attending full-time in 1965. Word on campus was that they were supposedly all from the arts and industrial arts departments and weren’t taking full loads so they had plenty of time to run their mimeograph machines and distribute their materials. There were also rumors that one or two of the English professors were anti-war and, if one had one of them for a course and wanted a good grade, one merely had to figure out how to link every theme topic in some way to American imperialism and Empire Building in Southeast Asia and around the world. On a side note, I actually tried to do this for a required paper I had on the nature of Hemingway heroes, to convince myself this absurd linkage could be accomplished. Believe me, it was tough to get there but I did.

The SDS, in my mind, probably would provide an umbrella of formalization for these activities and give these same people the ability to tie in with an organization that seemed to have a directed view of the world.

Anyway, this SDS member was about 5ft 10 as I recall, had fairly long hair with a Fu Manchu mustache and was wearing an Army fatigue jacket that had what I had come to know as piece symbols sewed on the sleeves along with other insignias as well. The important thing to realize here was that this fashion, the long hair and anti-military garb, was almost completely foreign at the time in this region of the country. I lived in a world of white and beige Levis, jeans, madras shirts, sweaters of all varieties and something called CPOs, long-sleeved shirts with shoulder epileps and tails that one wore outside of one’s pants. The SDS fashion, of course, drew attention and notice. This was something I was to learn more about during that year and later – that gaining notice was as important if not more so as having an opinion that one wanted to convey and get others to understand. As I continued to look at him, I tried to reconstruct the beliefs of this organization based on what I had heard about them and had read. Remember, I was not someone paying close attention to such information necessarily. I was in college and had little money, so I was either figuring out how to pay people back for money I had already borrowed or how to work to get more money, all while continuing to see my fiancé and attend class. The last thing I and most of my peers had was time to consider and protest the actions of our imperialist government around the world. I want to emphasize this point here. In my senior year at Kent State there were roughly 14000 students and approximately 450 members of the SDS. As far as sympathizers, as you will see that the numbers were not compelling. 

I continued to glance over periodically… [Editorial Note: This portion of the narrative is incomplete.]

 

Hubert Humphrey Rally

Fall quarter was in full swing when we heard that Hubert Humphrey, the democratic presidential candidate, was going to be visiting Kent State University.  Since I had been a fan of Humphreys, I was extremely interested and excited about the fact that he was coming to our campus.  I immediately tried to find out his schedule and thought perhaps that I might be able to meet him.  It turned out that there was going to be a receiving line for students and faculty prior to his address to the student body in the Kent State Auditorium, and so I made it a point to see if I could get into that receiving line.  

The day that Humphrey was speaking was one of those crisp, early fall days.  The air was clear and there was a lot of anticipation in the air because Humphrey was really quite an important individual to be visiting Kent State.  I knew that his receiving line was going to occur roughly two hours before his speech and made it a point to get to the line, and I was successful in doing so.  I’ll never forget meeting him, because when I shook his hand and said, “Welcome to our campus, Senator Humphrey,” that’s all I could say.  I had never encountered anyone that had the kind of energy that Senator Humphrey had.  It was so surprising I was speechless…speechless while I was holding his hand so we kind of stood staring at each other for about 10 seconds.  He, waiting for me to say something, and me, not knowing what to say given this feeling I had.  So we stared, said nothing, he smiled, I smiled.  I finally wished him luck in his presidential campaign and I moved on in line meeting other Ohio Democratic Party dignitaries.  I exited the back part of the auditorium and came around the front and got in line with all the other students preparing to enter the auditorium for the Humphrey speech. 

Standing in line waiting to see Humphrey speak was really a lesson in contrasts.  The auditorium, like all auditoriums, sits on a huge plot of land and is surrounded by broad walkways.  At Kent it is no different.  But the auditorium has a walkway surrounding it and it ends on a road.  And across the road are other walkways not quite as broad and those other walkways lead to other university buildings.  And it was on those walkways that the 200 or so Students for a Democratic Society were demonstrating.  The co-mingling of hairstyles, fashion, or lack thereof, clothing variety had not yet occurred.  So imagine standing in line with students that are wearing white Levis and madras shirts and V-neck sweaters or sweatshirts, and across from them 200 individuals dressed in old army fatigue jackets adorned with peace symbols, tie-dyed t-shirts: a whole variety and assortment of clothing that was really unheard of in Kent at the time.  Of course there was the long hair too.  I’m trying to paint a picture.  One of the things I learned about the students of the Students for a Democratic Society is not only their political point of view which was very, very hard to determine, the best I can say is that they were anarchists as far as I could tell, but it was their necessity for flamboyance and insult and aggravation.   I can still see their leader, all these years later, standing at the edge of that walkway across the roadway screaming, “Johnson lies while GIs die!  Johnson lies while GIs die!”  Taunting us, goading us.  By us I mean those who were standing in line waiting to get into the auditorium to see Humphrey.  I was to find out that this technique was usually used and that it was not meant to engender debate but to generate an incident, one that might create conflict.  Kent State University had 14,000 students at the time and I swear 10,000 were trying to get into the auditorium and I was one of the 10,000.  But think of this, standing outside with thousands of students, waiting in an orderly fashion, waiting to get in to see the Senator, and across from them 200 or so bent on creating some sort of an incident.  The restraint was really based on ignoring the SDS or at least understanding that they had a point of view and they were certainly entitled to it: a courtesy that I came to believe throughout the year that the SDS would never, never allow for someone who disagreed with them. 

Well, the demonstration continued outside but I did meander my way into the auditorium and managed to get a seat on the floor roughly 2/3rds of the way from the podium to the back of the arena.  Later accounts said that there were anywhere from 14 to 18 thousand people who had attended the rally. 

There was a hush in the crowd when the proceedings started.  On the dais were 4 students who were going to be questioning Humphrey and of course the Senator.  The Senator’s opening remarks of course had to do with Vietnam and civil rights and the problems confronting the country in the fall of 1968.  I don’t remember much.  I do remember cheering a number of times especially when the Senator talked about trying to find a reasonable solution to a withdrawal from Vietnam.  Then the student questioning started.  I wish I had paid more attention but of course even if I had paid more attention and I hadn’t written anything down I don’t know if I would have remembered it correctly.  Time permutes memory.  It takes away some memories all together and creates others that never really occurred.  I do remember the colored student asking a pointed question about civil rights.  The student obviously hadn’t done his homework and didn’t know who Humphrey was, but that’s neither here nor there.  Humphrey responded and the crowd cheered.  And then suddenly after that question, an anti-war demonstration broke out inside the auditorium and as I recall roughly 200 students stood up in the front of the auditorium screaming and yelling and shouting the standard anti-war exploitives [sic] that I had come to understand or at least hear for the first few months of the fall.  Security escorted them out, and what was interesting is that as security escorted them out, security allowed students who were trying to get in but couldn’t get in because of the head count restrictions, security let those students in.  The roar from the crowd is something I’ll never forget.  And it was almost like “you go ahead and walk out and they’ll be people to replace you”.  As the students came in who are allowed to now come in, as they paraded up the aisle ways to find seats, the roar continued.  In my mind there was something symbolic in that replacement.  After the crowd calmed down Humphrey again addressed the crowd, the students asked additional questions.  I don’t really remember much of that.  All I do remember is what happened when the demonstrators left and the students came in. 

You may think that I’m, or that younger version of me, is being close-minded.  On the contrary.  I was brought up in a world of civility.  Raised in Catholic grade schools and high schools.  Taught that healthy disagreement is reasonable, but healthy disagreement with respect was the appropriate course.  Intellectual hoodlumism and outlandish abrupt language for the purpose of intentional insult to illicit response was not acceptable to me.  It was only not acceptable to me it was not acceptable to most of the student body.  Remember as I said earlier the majority of the students at Kent State were sons and daughters of blue collar workers: families who never had anyone graduate from college.  But most of us were brought up the same way, so the antics of an organization like the SDS were so foreign to us by and large, that their message really never got through, if indeed there was any message at all other than kill your parents, tear down the institutions and rebuild everything.

 

Black Student Union Walk Out
[Editorial Note: The author uses the name “Black Student Union” to refer to the Black United Students organization.]

 

If you’ve been to the Kent State University campus lately you’ll see that it’s a sprawling “mega-versity” with wonderfully architected buildings dedicated to science, the arts, architecture.  Kent State University in 1968 was just as wonderfully architected.  Those buildings still stand but they now house the administrative and other functions and no longer serve the purpose they did serve in 1968.  But I’m talking about the Kent State campus in 1968.  As one walks across Main Street to the corner of Summit and Main, the first thing one encountered was the Kent State seal.  You certainly didn’t want to walk onto the seal, that would show disrespect, but walking around the seal and heading up a walkway, the library would be up and off to the right:  a multi-story building, modernistic looking, modernistic looking by 1968 standards.  And if one continued on the walkway and walked beyond the library, the walkway would steeply roll upwards headed toward a horseshoe driveway that extended from Summit Street all the way back to Main and that was about ¼ mile in length.  The steep walkway would take you up beautifully landscaped lawns with gorgeous trees populated by irritating little black squirrels which Kent was known for.  Getting to the top of the walkway, once now standing on the horseshoe driveway, and almost dead center on the driveway between Summit and Main, was the Administration Building.  And there in front of the Administration Building the Black Student Union was gathering.  Rumor had it that they were going to walk off campus.  And so, I had some time between classes, I was curious to see why they were walking off. 

Now, I would ask you to keep in mind, that except for what I saw on television when I was even able to watch television which was before college, what I knew about the civil rights movement seemed remote and something I couldn’t relate to.  I lived in a part of the country where there didn’t seem to be any difference between blacks and whites as far as bus seating, and restaurants, restrooms, and what have you, so a lot of what I saw on television was foreign to me as I said. 

The spokesman for the black students, who by the way I thought was extremely well dressed, as a matter of fact I think they were all extremely well dressed as compared to me who barely got my clothing laundered at appropriate intervals of time, addressed the crowd, and of course there were media there, and talked about the university black student rights and as I recall now perhaps African American studies although I can’t corroborate that, felt that the university had not been doing enough and so believed that it was time to make a statement. 

As he was talking I was struck by the time of year.  It was late fall.  Most of the leaves were off the trees but there was still some blowing.  The air had a coolness about it and a dampness that usually foretold of the coming winter.  The day was kind of gray. There was cloud cover, which only added to the somber tone being conveyed by the black student leader. 

And so after about 10 minutes of remarks, the students walked off campus.  Going down that steep walkway I talked to you about. And it was interesting standing there, watching them.  I decided about halfway through their exit that I would follow them so I walked down the walkway with them partially and watched them slowly disperse into groups of 5 and 6, eventually crossing Main Street and disappearing down the side roads that have houses and fraternities and homes where students stayed and that was it.   They had walked off peacefully, respectfully, for something they believed in.  I couldn’t quite relate, but then again I’m white, and I probably not only couldn’t relate then, but can’t relate now. 

My Advanced Mechanics class was at 3 in the afternoon.  So, it was around 11:30, I went back down to the front of the campus to cross the street to my favorite Perkins restaurant and had my eighteen hundred and fifty third stack of buckwheat pancakes for seventy-five cents.  I can still taste those buckwheat pancakes by the way.  God bless Perkins.  Cheap food, filling food, starches…wonderful.  Made my way over to the library, stayed there until about 2:15 and then went over to my class. 

The new Physics Building had just opened up, it was all very exciting, and I enjoyed my advanced mechanics class even though my professor showed his predilection toward F=MA as opposed to E=MC².  As I walked into the lecture hall, I noticed Mike, a black student, in class.  One of the sharper students, I went over and sat down next to him and very politely just wondered why he hadn’t walked off with his mates.  He looked at me sternly and said, “I’m not going back.  I’ve worked hard to get to where I am now.  And I’m not gonna let anybody affect that.  They can go ahead and walk off.  Most of them have the money, they can afford it.  I can’t. I’m on scholarships.  Most of them talk about ghettos but they wouldn’t know a ghetto if it hit them right in the face.  Me, I know about ghettos, I’m not going back.  I’ve got things to do.  So I’m here.” 

“Aren’t they giving you a hard time about that?” I asked. 

“Oh yeah, I’ll hear about it…they’ll call me an Uncle Tom.  I don’t care. It’s not that important.  What is important is that I finish, I get my degree and move on.” 

We had our lecture, and as always I said goodbye to Mike at the end of the class, told him to have a nice weekend, and I went my way and he went his way, as we always did.  I had a lot of respect for him and the position that he took.  I began to realize that the goals of an organization or a particular group may seem to require certain actions, but goals of the individuals in that group may require almost the opposite simply because of what those individuals have encountered in their lives.

 

Columbia – An SDS Lecture (?)

After the Humphrey rally it was announced that Mark Rudd, one of the leaders of the Columbia University administration building takeover, was going to be speaking on campus.  First of all I could not believe that the university would allow Mr. Rudd to speak, but I suppose in the spirit of debate, the university felt it was appropriate.  I believe Rudd’s appearance was being sponsored by the SDS, the Students for the Democratic Society. 

When I heard about Rudd’s impending visit, this was something I definitely wanted to attend.  The Columbia University Administration Building takeover had a lot to do with student rights, curriculum, and what have you, and of course I wondered about all that.  And given my major, why wouldn’t I?  Mathematics is pretty straight forward: Advanced Calculus, Topology, Projective Geometry, Differential Equations, all pretty standard stuff. 

As I recall it was Thursday night and Rudd was speaking in one of the old theater buildings.  Attendance was heavy.  I managed to get a seat upstairs in the balcony area, roughly two rows from the edge of the balcony.  So I had a fairly good view of the downstairs area and also the stage.  The auditorium itself was probably built in the 1920s, looked like it seated about 200, maybe 300, people downstairs and maybe another 150 or 200 upstairs in the balcony, and of course it reeked of history.  I wondered how many Shakespearian plays had been shown there given by students and how many concerts.  As I understood it, it used to be one of the primary theaters used by the music school until the new buildings were built in the mid to late 60s. 

So, we’re all sitting with great anticipation.  There’s a brown curtain that is encasing the entire stage.  Mark Rudd comes from beyond the curtain, comes up to the podium and proceeds to tell everyone that he’s brought with him a film of the Columbia takeover and that he’d liked to show the film and then follow-up with any questions or discussion people might have.  And then the film started.  First and foremost, it was excellently done.  In my mind it looked like it had been done by professional film makers.  It didn‘t look amateurish at all.  There were the obligatory scenes of police hitting students, students being bloodied.  One particular scene right at the end of the film showed a student that had been bloodied looking at the camera and showing the familiar V symbol with the index and next finger as blood was coming down his head: an interesting and poignant scene. 

What was the Columbia sit-in all about?  As I recall, and I’m recalling memories from a very long time ago, more student rights, some additional curriculum options for students, especially in feminine and black studies, and of course no support for the war and ROTC involvement in Columbia and so forth.  So the takeover eventually ended with compromises supposedly achieved that satisfied both sides. 

The film was over, the brown curtain drawn back.  Mark came out this time standing on a very wide open stage with no curtain behind him and began taking questions from the audience.  The first wasn’t really a question, it was more like a statement followed by a hope.  It went something like this.  Rudd pointed to this particular individual and the individual said, “You know man, I’ve been reading Walden Pond you know.  And I mean it’s like everything is so simple.  It’s like everybody is out in nature and everything is just kind of simple.  Is that what we’re talking about?  Like getting to a place where we can all be like living around a Walden Pond like thing?”     Rudd paused, and Rudd said “Yeah, that might be a way to look at it.  We’ve got to figure out a way to bring everybody into the fold.  We’ve got to figure out a way to energize the labor unions in the US.  We’ve got to figure out a way to energize minorities.  But yeah, tear down the institutions and rebuild them”. 

Now I had a tough time with this whole conversation but hey, it’s me, and maybe I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about.  Next to me in the balcony was, I think, a professor of history, and he raised his hand.  And Rudd recognized him and he said.  “But you’re trying to act as though this is a democracy.  It’s not, it’s a representative republic.”             I certainly knew what he meant.  Democracy is you know one person, one vote and we all get into a big auditorium and vote.  A representative republic is well I’m gonna give my right to vote on something to you, you represent me, and you vote on it.  I’ll never forget Rudd’s response.  “What the hell kind of profane fucking bullshit is coming out of your mouth man?”  At which point, the whole downstairs, 98% of them were SDSers, screeched with joy and applause.  And that’s when I knew that Rudd was an intellectual Hoodlum.  An individual who had certain predispositions that he was entitled to and that would steamroller over anyone whose opinions might differ.  And this wasn’t even an opinion.  This was a fact.  We do live in a representative republic.  The SDSers were using language imprecisely, and the professor rightly tried to point that out much to his dismay. 

I don’t remember much more of the question and answer period.  Those two incidents were enough for me.  They helped in completing a picture on the SDS that I actually began formulating way back at registration when I noticed the first few SDS members.

 

The Debates Get More Heated – Sorenson Visit

 

Winter quarter 69 had started.  I had my typical classes in what I call II:  Modern Operational Mathematics II, Complex Variables II, Advanced Calculus II.  We had heard that Ted Sorenson was visiting, again as part of the Kent State University speakers forum.  Of course Sorenson was one of my heroes because he worked with John Kennedy. 

I want to divert here for just a minute and talk about Kennedy’s assassination.  Not so much the facts, or lack there of, regarding what happened to him, but more like the aftermath.  People my age and perhaps younger, I don’t know about older, there was a definite hurt if that is even a word that could be used to describe it.  If you could take hurt, doubt, sorrow, and anger, and if you could put them all together maybe that would describe the small space that sat inside, and of course those feelings would only be exacerbated with the assassination of Robert Kennedy.  Anyway, so seeing Sorenson to me was seeing what was at one time and that what might have been. 

One other side note, there was an ongoing debate among myself and my peers whether it be in bars or at the student union or in nightclubs over a beer or in fraternities, regarding the Vietnam war.  My position was simple.  I was born a male child in the United States of America, and unfortunately being a male child that brought with it a certain duty and responsibility.  That duty was to respond if called to service in the armed forces even if that service might result in my death.  So, this position was considered by many of my peers as being one of blind faith.  The question being posed to me was, “What happens if you’re being asked to fight in a war that’s not justified?  What happens if you’re being asked to engage with an enemy that shouldn’t be engaged with?  What then?” 

My response was “Who’s to judge what is a justifiable war and what isn’t a justifiable war?  Are we to judge?  Don’t we have people in places in government that make those judgments for us?  And shouldn’t we accept those judgments?  How do we know that the Vietnam War is not a justifiable war?  Do we really know that?” 

Of course the positions taken by myself and others that I knew were really more a function of whether or not Vietnam was a justifiable war, a necessary war.   While today on college campuses I’m sure there are debates about females and drinking and what have you, in those times not a day went by when we didn’t have these thoughts and discussions.  You’ve got young men, 19, 20, and 21 years of age who should be looking forward to their careers and what they’re going to be doing but who instead see ahead of them the inevitability of having to go to war or go to Canada.  I realize I’ve made this rather simplistic and melodramatic because in reality these young men have choices as to which branch of service they go to and that that branch of service may dictate what exposure to harms way they may encounter.  Given that there were choices, this still represented a mandatory period of service that had to be given to the armed forces.  Which meant for most that it needed to be taken care of as soon as possible so that one could then go on with one’s life. 

Sorenson appeared at the same theater that Mark Rudd had appeared in the fall.  This time, I got a chance to see Sorenson from the lower floor.  There were SDSers there and they did their appropriate heckling, but I was struck by the sorrow that Sorenson showed, implicitly not explicitly, particularly his eyes.  He actually during his talk, asked us not to give up on America.  Not to give up on the institutions.  Not to give up on what had gotten us to where we were.  I was saddened by the fact that he even had to say things like that.  I certainly hadn’t given up on America.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, the assassinations bothered me, beyond belief, but assassinations are people.  Many years later I was in a conversation with a friend of mine at work at lunchtime, and he was bemoaning the fact that our government was so screwed up.  I pointed out to him that “You wanna know why it’s screwed up?  ‘Cause we’re involved.  Anytime you get people involved you’re imperfection, you’re away from perfection. The only thing you can do is try to get better at what you do.”  Anyways , I digress.  So Sorenson talked about the history of our republic.  About the great men and women who built the blocks that now make up our institutions.  The SDS of course, saw the institutions as instruments of big business, big defense, and felt that the institutions had to be completely dismantled in order to break these interlocking relationships of which I’m sure there were many.  But to completely dismantle a country’s structure and replace it with anarchy, or better yet, replace it with a system where we all hold our hands in a big circle and sing Kumbaya, seemed to me a little outlandish.  One of the SDSers was bemoaning the fact that the institutions were inhibiting peace.  And I thought to myself “There is no way that you’re going to energize the labor unions in this country to support you, because most of them believed that a strong military and that strong defense meant peace.” 

At the end of the Sorenson visit he thanked everyone.  A number of us went up and thanked him afterwards, me being no exception because he was one of my heroes.  But I’ll never forget the look on his face and I thought, “Nobody’s going to tear anything down.  This will all be here long after we’re gone: Vietnam or no Vietnam.”  

 

Professor Iwanchuk and the Noon Time Friday Rallies

 

It was mid spring term and I was beginning to get anxious about graduation.  I was graduating on June the 7th and I was getting married on June the 14th.  So there was quite a lot running around in my head.  I had been a part of air force ROTC at Kent my first two years and during that time I did what ROTC cadets do: marched, went to military balls, attending classes on military planning exercises, and so on and so forth.  At the end of my second year at Kent I took the pilot navigator bombardier test and passed.  I can still remember my air force counselor being excited at the fact that I passed and pointing out to me that I was now eligible to go to navigator bombardier training.  Pilot was not possible because I required glasses.  I was pretty excited about that myself until one day in the ROTC building on the bulletin board was a notice that had been sent to all B-52 bomb crews about what to do if shot down over North Vietnam.  The directions were rather stark, but it got me to realize that if I did go to bombardier navigator school I would be assigned to a B-52 crew.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the idea of being part of a B-52 crew it was the whole idea of getting shot down and being in an aircraft that falls 30 some thousand feet or parachuting in enemy territory with the very definite possibility of torture, and a long stay in a very unpleasant prison camp.  So I decided not to make the commitment to the air force for my junior and senior year.  I opted to take the chance that I would be reclassified 1-A at the end of graduation and that that reclassification would eventually end up in me being drafted and potentially ending up in Vietnam.  But in my mind, losing my life on the ground in Vietnam seemed a much more viable option than perhaps losing it from the air. 

So the graduation, my upcoming wedding, and the draft were all on my mind.  They were on my mind as I walked down the hall of the Math Building to go to my Modern Operational Mathematics class which was Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at noon.  The class was taught by a Professor Iwanchuk.  A person with a foreign accent that I couldn’t really pinpoint until this particular day during spring term.  Professor had just written out something called the Sturn-Luisville problem and an appropriate solution.  I can remember him standing back and looking at the board and then looking back at us and saying “Isn’t this wonderful?  Can you see the beauty in this?  Can you see the art? It is symmetrical…Can you see it?”  I of course had so many thoughts in my mind…I was trying to concentrate but it was only until much later in my life that I began to appreciate the art that existed in mathematics particularly in Mathematical proofs. 

Now it turns out that our classroom was on the third floor and it abutted up against a fairly large commons area where demonstrations against the Vietnam War were held every Friday at noon.  Since we were in mind-term which puts us in the middle of April, the weather was getting warmer, and as the weather got warmer it felt like the demonstrations got louder with more people involved.  Of course a lot of us had heard rumors about a CBS film crew chiding students to come to the commons area noon on Friday asking them if they wouldn’t like to get on national TV.  This may not be true but the perception was the major news networks were trying to get something to happen which we didn’t particularly appreciate.  On this particular day the demonstration got ruckus fairly quickly.  And by 12:30 there was a fairly large crowd in the commons area chanting “Johnson lies while GIs die.”  Screaming exploitives [sic] about American Imperialism and so on and so forth. 

Professor Iwanchuk stopped in his lecture and walked over to the windows and looked down at the mayhem and he turned and he looked at us and he said, “What are we becoming?  What is happening here?  What is happening to this great country?  You know,”  he continued, “I was 19 years old in Poland when my parents insisted that I leave.  It was right before Germany invaded and I saw what was happening and I was scared.  But my parents insisted that I leave.  And so I did.  I went with a number of others.  We traveled by night.  We eventually made it to Switzerland and I eventually came to be with distant relatives in the United States.  I never saw my parents again.  They left to get away from this.”  And he pointed down to the mayhem below.  “They left to get away from this kind of hatred.  Why are they acting this way?  You can be against the war and yet not act the way we’re acting.  So, I don‘t understand.  Does anybody here understand?” 

Now it’s interesting that he asked us this question because most of us were graduating seniors majoring in Mathematics and a number of us had jobs already identified.  With our course loads, particularly in Math, Physics, Chemistry, I hate to put it this way but we didn’t have the time to object to the world around us.  We were trying to get through the world.  It was kind of known among the arts and sciences students that the majority of the demonstrators were part time students or full time students in, let us say, disciplines that didn’t seem to require the kind of study and rigor that we were involved in.  I’m a statistician by nature so I caution you that this was all anecdotal.  I have nothing to base it on…just hearsay among students who knew students that supposedly knew students who were involved in the cause.  There were professors as well involved in the cause so there were professors demonstrating and that was something that Dr. Iwanchuk had a hard time with too. 

Well eventually the University police dispersed the crowd and our lecture ended with us gaining a better appreciation with the Sturn-Luisville problem.  I’ll never forget though Professor Iwanchuk standing at the window and when he talked about leaving his parents.  I’ll never forget his eyes tearing up and his voice choking momentarily before he regained his professorial nature and continued on with his lecture.

 

The Music Building Takeover

 

My 11 o’clock Complex Variable class had just let out, and as I was walking out of the Math Building I had heard rumors to the effect that the SDS was in the process of taking over the Music Building.  So, me being curious, I wandered over to the Music Building to see what was going on.  Indeed the SDS had taken over the building.  And by takeover I mean closed and barricaded the doors so that security guards couldn’t get in.  I really don’t know what happened to the professors and the people inside the building.  I do remember the SDS spokesman with his loudspeaker sticking his head out of a second story window, as I recall, talking about how everyone has to understand why this is happening.  That the imperial America is involved in an unjust war in Vietnam, that college students have no rights, and that the college student right problem should be addressed. 

I always found it interesting about this college student right argument.  Evidently some students didn’t like the standard requirement suite of courses that had to be taken,  for example Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, History, English, Mathematics, one course in the sciences.  As a matter of fact there was even a course called Physical Science that kind of accommodated physics and chemistry for individuals who were going into business administration or the social sciences.  These were required courses that had been established over probably a hundred years, but the students in their wisdom felt that some of them should be replaced by other more interesting courses.  I never agreed, but then again, I’m a traditionalist and was even at that time. 

Anyway, the SDS spokesman implored his small audience standing below him to stand with the SDS in solidarity and to support them in their protest endeavors.  I thought it was rather funny that the SDS hadn’t been in the building more than about 15 minutes as I could recall, and suddenly somebody was passing up a basket of food to them on the second floor and I thought “Wow”.  It was actually pretty funny.  A number of us observers actually laughed at the notion of them getting food so shortly after they had taken over the building. 

I had another class at 1 o’clock so I wasn’t around when they were removed from the building but I knew they would be.  The security guards had already been gathering around the building.  And none of us thought that there would be anything violent.  The security guards seemed fairly confident so I left.  I was interested but not interested enough to cut my Advanced Mechanics class.  It was this incident that would prove to be the hinge pin for what was to come over the next few weeks.

 

The Concerned Faculty and Students of Kent State University Rally

 

After the Music Building takeover and the subsequent punishment of three SDS members, I was headed back to my rooming house when I ran into my roommates who told me that there was being a rally held at the Commons Field for an organization called the Concerned Students of the Kent State University Community. 

It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon; I believe it was the second week in May.  The weather outside was just wonderful.  The leaves were almost in full bloom.  I didn’t have any classes. Most of my classes were done after my noon class so I and my roommates decided to go to this meeting. 

Now picture if you will, an open, sloping field, almost like a natural amphitheater-type field, about the size of a football field with a fairly large dormitory on one side, I think I want to say 5 or 6 stories if my memory recalls, and another dormitory on the other side of about the same size. So nestled between the two dorms is this amphitheater-like, football-size field, where people were sitting down and they had blankets and everything or if not just sit on the grass and we were going to listen to the Concerned Students, and it turns out it’s the Concerned Students and Faculty, of the Kent State University Community. 

Now, it’s Spring, it’s a college campus.  Winter was what winters usually are in Northeast Ohio, so it was kind of a celebratory nature in the crowd to begin with.  As I recall about 10 minutes before the speeches were to start, suddenly out of thin air came a water balloon and the water balloon landed in the crowd with a great deal of surprise and then laughter.  The water balloon came from the right side.  So there’s a dormitory on the right, a dormitory on the left, this kind of football-sized field, and then looking down toward the base of the field is a podium that’s been set up for what appears to be a series of, or what will be a series of, speakers.  So the water balloon was launched from the right…splatted in the middle of a bunch of people.  Nobody seemed to care.  Everybody was laughing.  And then suddenly another water balloon appeared from the left.  That water balloon traveled over the crowd and splattered again in the middle.  My roommates and I were kind of getting a big kick out of it…trying to see what was going on and it turns out there was some sort of a water balloon skirmish going on between the two dormitories…I should say more specifically between residents of the two dormitories. 

So in this festive atmosphere now that there’s probably five, maybe six-hundred students sitting on this grassy knoll.  There’s certainly the hardcore who are sitting up front and then the rest of us who are curious about what’s going on.  The first speaker stands up and talks about the Music Building takeover and the unnecessary suspension of three students who were involved in the takeover and the harshness of the penalty and the concern that all students should have about such situations. 

I thought to myself, “Well, let’s see, you took over state property.  You locked the doors.  You wouldn’t allow security guards in for the whopping time of about an hour and didn’t expect to have anything done to you?”  That seemed irrational to me at best.     Anyway, the first speaker sat down.  The second speaker stood up who was a professor and talked about the need for student rights and the need for honorable debate and a whole bunch of other things as I recall.  Now we were trying to listen to him amidst people running through the crowd tossing water balloons at each other and a great giddy atmosphere in the crowd certainly one that was not focused on the speakers necessarily.  After the professor sat down, the first student speaker got up and said, “Now I want to know what we’re going to do if the University doesn’t meet our demands.” 

I thought this was pretty interesting because I hadn’t heard any demands.  I had heard about concerns and “gee shouldn’t we perhaps reexamine the punishment for the students who had taken over the music building,“ but I didn’t hear demands.  What was interesting was that the student asked the question and then almost equally spaced throughout the crowd, fists went up into the air and people yelled, “Strike!“ 

Now I would say no more than 25 or 30 people raised their fists for the first time to yell “Strike!”  Then, they sat down and another speaker came up, a member of the student council, who was sympathetic to the SDS cause and talked about needing to have the administration show a little more tolerance; that the SDS was trying to make a statement about policies and procedures, Kent State University, and the war in Vietnam.  Now what’s interesting is that that second person sat down and the same student that had asked the question, “What are we gonna do?” stood up again and said, “What are we gonna do if the University doesn’t meet our demands?” 

Now students stood up and said, “Strike!” but there were more this time, not many more, probably went from about 25 to 50 and other students were about to take notice.       This cycle of speaker, “What are we gonna do if they don’t meet our demands?”, speaker, “What are we gonna do if they don’t meet our demands?”, went on another three times.  The last time the student asked the question “What are we gonna do if they don’t meet our demands?“, everyone was standing up with their fists in the air screaming “Strike!” 

I couldn’t believe it.  My roommates with big smiles on their faces were screaming “Strike!”  Now keep in mind maybe people were thinking “hey if we strike we’ll get a couple of days off from class” as opposed to “hey if we strike we’re really jeopardizing the operation of the school.”  I don’t know if everybody was thinking that particularly. 

So, in roughly a 45 to 50 minute period we went from a situation of water balloons and frolic to marches and strike.  It was one of the most interesting dynamics that I had ever observed or probably ever will observe.  As I related this story down through the years to folks, they‘ve all told me the same thing: an exercise in true mob psychology.  What this means is that the SDS was organized: had a script that it followed to insure that something like this would occur.  The next few days proved to be the most interesting to say the least. 

 

The Kent Stater Exposure

 

Momentum was building on campus for a strike.  A strike to show the administration the solidarity of the student body with the students that had taken over the Music Building and had subsequently been expelled. 

The Kent Stater, our university newspaper, however, came to the rescue and published an article that laid out in great detail the agreed to SDS approach for taking over and eventually closing a university campus.  That article, based on materials obtained from Students for a Democratic Society organizations throughout the country, showed how the process worked.  First of all with the mimeograph machine and dedicated individuals, disrupt the university environment by passing out flyers and staging demonstrations against the war in Vietnam and also against university policies deemed inappropriate by the SDS for the modern day student. 

Next is to create an incident.  That incident being for example the takeover of a particular building to dramatically exemplify the demands that have already been advertised to the university community via the handouts, meetings, demonstrations, and what have you.  Taking over a university building of course will mean eventually that the building will again be taken back by the university, but the action of taking the building over will have consequences.  These consequences usually include suspension or expulsion of the individuals who were in charge of the takeover. 

Once the decision is made by the administration on disciplinary action for the students involved the SDS then forms, along with other student groups, a Concerned Student and Faculty Committee that schedules meetings to discuss the severity of the punishment for the students involved verses the crime committed.  The intent is to draw in the students that are more neutral but do have a sense of loyalty to their comrades for student rights.  The end result, according to the SDS approach for university takeover, is to get enough of the neutral students involved to execute a strike that will close down the university. 

When the Kent Stater published this exposé there were demonstrations but it definitely took the steam out of what the SDS was attempting to do.  There was no strike, and the last few weeks of the spring term in 1969 were fairly incident free.

 

Graduation 1969

 

For me graduation day was exciting, interesting, and a relief.  I’m sure all students that go through college experience the same types of emotions on graduation.  It had been a very, very interesting year.  I had done reasonably well grade-wise given the difficult course load I had and the odd jobs that I had to give me spending money.  As I stood in line though, I suddenly realized how many people around me in line were first time college graduates from their families.  I saw grandfathers and fathers and grandmothers and mothers, all with tears in their eyes, hugging their children, saying very proudly, “You’re our first college graduate.”  I didn’t hear this once or twice.  As I walked through line I heard it tens of times.  This is why very early on in this book I made the comment that Kent appeared to me anyways to be a school of students whose parents were primarily blue-collar.  This of course is anecdotal and my statistical background screams at me to make sure you understand that it’s anecdotal.  I didn’t take a survey, I have no data of the graduating class of 1969 or from the 12,000 students that were attending Kent campus that year.  I’m merely relating to you what I saw and heard immediately around me that graduation day. 

I also was a first time college graduate from my family on both sides.  My roommates were the same way.  As we filed into the auditorium, the same auditorium that Hubert Humphrey spoke at only nine months earlier, I got the sense of real accomplishment that I and my fellow students felt and how really important and meaningful this day was to us. 

During the ceremony I remember the president of the university talking about the tremendous growth that Kent had undergone in the prior four years and how the student body had grown to 12,000.  And amidst that growth, Kent had to adjust:  its bigness drawing more than just students but different organizations that perhaps might not have paid that much attention to it were it a smaller school.  The president asked the audience to stand up and congratulate us, give us a hand, to which the audience enthusiastically did. 

The speaker, I wish I could recall his name, and I’m sure it’s a matter of record at Kent, talked to us about the challenges facing us and relayed the challenge that faced him.  Turns out that I recall the speaker was not much older than I am now.  He reminisced about the challenges of the depression of World War II to which we could all relate.  At one point during the speech he melodramatically said to us, “We who are about to die, salute you.”  That phrase always stuck with me. 

At the end of the ceremony, we were awarded our degrees.  There were so many of us that there were multiple lines being given their degrees.  Amazingly, when I got to my position, there’s my degree: Bachelor of Science in Mathematics.  As I walked back to my chair I saw many, many familiar faces.  Didn’t know their names, but knew the faces.  Faces that I had seen for a number of years.  We all knew each other.  We had all completed this first part of our journeys.  I can remember sitting down in the chair.  And I remember thinking that this was it.  That worries about making class on-time, getting through tests, getting grades, were all behind me.  In the years since, I’ve realized as so many of us I’m sure have, that those worries, and having only those worries, were really the best times of my life.  I was getting married in a week, didn’t have a job, and had a lot of challenges coming up.  I could at least though sit there satisfied that I had met one challenge.  That I was the first college graduate in my family.

 

A View From My Son’s Crib

 

I had been out of school for almost a year.  It was Friday May 1st, and I was with my wife and newly born son living in an apartment building on the 3rd floor at a very high point just off campus.  By high point I mean we could see a lot of the campus from our 3rd floor apartment.  My young son was just 2 months old and was resting in the crib and I walked over to the living room where I was putting, and I looked out of our plate glass doors and off in the distance I saw huge flames licking up into the sky in the direction of where the army ROTC building was.  I opened the plate glass doors and went on our little patio and down below there were a group of students jumping up and down screaming and yelling, “We got the pigs!  We got the pigs!”  It appeared that police and fire were trying to get to the building that was burning but were being encumbered by students who I later found out were throwing potatoes with razor blades in them and so on and so forth at the emergency personnel.  It was a fairly bizarre site.  As I said I was working and going to school at Akron University so I was really not familiar with what was going on on the campus…not like I was the previous year.  This young lady continued to jump up and down about how they got the pigs, and suddenly down towards the bottom of the hill on Summit street, off in the distance, I saw helmeted men marching up, many helmeted men, and I realized that somebody must have activated the national guard. 

So I stood on my little patio and looked down below me in a parking lot having people jump up and down in joy about “getting the pigs” and then looking further out from the parking lot onto the street that ran in front of my apartment and that gently sloped downward to Main street and Kent over a period of about a tenth of a mile and watched as these national guardsmen, armed, teargas helmets, were marching up toward the ROTC building.  The view was unreal.  I watched as the students dispersed in the parking lot as the guards got closer and I watched the guardsmen march over and onto campus where they were dispersed.  I was totally surprised and realized that the unrest on campus regarding the war hadn’t diminished much.  My wife decided to take our son and go up to our in-laws in Aurora, Ohio, which was a small town roughly 12 miles away, because she was afraid about staying in Kent, and I agreed with her.  Told her I’d join her sometime over the weekend. 

The next morning I was doing some errands in the apartment and I noticed there were a collection of National Guardsmen who were parked just across the street in a jeep and they were apparently monitoring traffic.  So I decided to go over and talk to them.  I walked across the parking lot and of course now I don’t look like student as much anymore.  They were somewhat skeptical at first but decided to talk to me.  Found out a few things.  The first thing was that a lot of them were Kent State students.  Secondly, that they had just come off 72 hours of working the trucker’s strike, the teamsters strike, where they were monitoring bridge overpasses to make sure trucks weren’t being fired on and then they had to come to Kent.  They told me about how the students had kind of gone on a rampage in the town, had overturned cars and things, and that was one of the reasons they were called in, to prevent further destruction of property and of course also because of the ROTC building burning down.  They seemed tired but professional.  And I wished them luck in what they had to do and then proceeded to go back to my apartment to do whatever I needed to do and then go up to Aurora to join my wife and my son.

That Monday morning, the following Monday morning, I went to work as I usually did.  My wife was still in Aurora and while I was at work I heard about the shootings.  Four Kent State students shot.  Then heard that the University was going to shut down and that students had something like 4 hours to pack their bags, get on buses, and get out of Kent.  I remember calling my wife, was a little bit concerned about our apartment and everything.  She wasn’t concerned so I said “okay.“  And a curfew was declared starting at I think 4 o’clock or 6 o’clock where no one was allowed on the streets. Rumors had it that the SDS was going to lace the water systems with LSD.  That the SDS was going to do some terrible thing to draw attention to the shootings.  What has to be kept in mind is the students started by destroying property in the town and then burning the ROTC building which precipitated up perhaps over response from the governor, Rhodes, at the time.   So I thought to myself, you take fatigued National Guardsmen in what appeared to be a more volatile student situation than there was in 1969 and that pointed to a very unfortunate tragedy. 

As I said I was going to school at Akron University and had a class that night but wanted to stop off and get something from our apartment so I made what was probably a mistake, and drove into Kent about 8 o’clock at night and I was stopped.  I was asked to get out my car by the guardsmen.  I was searched.  They asked me what I was doing.  I told them what I was doing.  That I had just gotten out of class and so on and so forth.  They opened my trunk and in my trunk were two very large empty bleach bottles, glass bleach bottles, that you don’t see anymore.  That really got them to wondering but after a good deal of conversation with them I convinced them that they were bottles that I was going to return for deposit and so they let me go and it was definitely an eerie feeling to drive through Kent with absolutely no other vehicles on the road save the National Guard.  I got to my apartment and decided to stay there for the night.  All that I had seen the year before seemed to not make a difference at all.  The Kent Stater exposure which I thought would put the notion of demonstrations to bed once and for all seemed irrelevant. 

Epilogue – May 1970

 

During the Vietnam conflict, there were no cable news channels.  There was no internet.  There were no alternative sources of information regarding Vietnam and our involvement.  There have already been studies done by schools of journalism that have shown that the major networks reporting on Vietnam during that era were mostly against rather than neutral.  I don’t mean to open old wounds, but this situation should be looked at under the harsh lens of history.  Even now, the pictures painted of the 60’s and that era usually concentrate on huge rock festivals, Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and the 1968 Democratic Convention Chicago riots.  The generation that fought World War II, some have called the greatest generation.  The generation of the 60’s is anything but great, according to what’s been shown, and even reported on.  This was an attempt to show that in the heartland there were other voices and other opinions on Vietnam.  Whether or not our involvement in that war was beneficial can never be judged accurately because we simply can’t roll the clock back to 1962 and decide to do nothing and then let it roll forward.  What we didn’t do as a generation was treat those who fought in the war with the respect that they deserved at the time.  The world was centered around youth in the ‘60s.  Our motto was don’t trust anybody over 30.  For those of you who don’t believe this, I would ask you one question. Today, there are any one of a number of oldies radio stations that play music from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.  How many oldies radio stations were there that you can recall during the 1960s that played music from the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s?  I would bet that you can’t recall any, or maybe one.  We completely overwhelmed the generation before us and whether or not that was a good thing remains to be seen.  This discussion again was an attempt to add to the conversation about those tumultuous times, from one individual’s perception of occurrences that happened at a Midwestern university that reflected the variety of moods that existed at the time.