Tag Archives: richard nixon

Four Dead in Ohio

Much of America’s history was made during times of war, which is sad, but not surprising, since our nation has been involved in so many conflicts.

Today marks the anniversary of one of the darkest days of the Vietnam War – which is saying a mouthful – when in 1970 the Ohio National Guard gunned down four unarmed students on the campus of Kent State.

The tragedy was sparked by President Richard Nixon’s speech a few nights earlier when he announced his expansion of the war into neighboring Cambodia.

Student protests erupted on campuses around the country, including at Kent State in northeastern Ohio. After an ROTC building on campus was torched, the mayor of the city of Kent asked Ohio Governor James Rhodes to send in the Ohio National Guard to protect the school.

Another protest took place on the afternoon of Monday, May 4, where for reasons that remain unclear, 29 of the 77 National Guard members fired 67 rounds of ammunition at the unarmed students, killing four and wounding nine others.

The dead were Jeffrey Miller, 20; Allison Krause, 19; William Schroeder, 19; and Sandra Scheuer, 20. None of the four were a threat to the Guardsmen, as they were on average 345 feet away from the shooters. Scheur and Schroeder were not even participating in the protest, but were walking between classes.

The country was sharply divided by the shootings between the "My-country-right-or-wrong" Americans, and young people who feared that Nixon’s incursion in Cambodia had just punched their ticket to Vietnam.

Governor Rhodes, representing the view of the old guard, blamed the violence on “communist militant revolutionaries.” Nixon, in typical ham-handed fashion, reached out to a group of student dissidents a few mornings later at the Lincoln Memorial, but alienated them even further when he called them “pawns of foreign communists.”

The killings sparked even larger protests around the country, prompting 4 million students to go “on strike.” A huge antiwar protest took place later in Washington, prompting Nixon to flee to Camp David for his own safety.

Some well-known people who were attending Kent State at the time include Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, and Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale of Devo. Casale was at the protest and was standing just a few feet away from his friend Allison Krause when she was killed.

The massacre is remembered every time Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young comes on the airwaves, with it’s oft-repeated refrain of “Four dead in Ohio.” The band performed the song at the campus of Kent State on May 4, 1997, the twenty-seventh anniversary of the tragedy.

Will America’s Best Idea Please Stand Up

When the books close one day on the “American Experiment,” I hope history will remember us more for our great ideas and accomplishments than for the Manhattan Project or the thousands of cubic miles of landfills that we left behind.

Hopefully, people will still be benefitting from some of our most worthy contributions to world culture, like the Internet, rock and roll, and Andy Griffith reruns.

Another of America’s best ideas began 50 years ago this week with the debut of the Peace Corps, which was created on March 1, 1961, during the first six weeks of JFK’s administration.

Kennedy first proposed his idea for an agency of American volunteers who promoted peace through labor in undeveloped countries while campaigning for the presidency in 1960. Many critics knocked the idea, including Kennedy’s presidential opponent Richard Nixon, who felt that it would simply be “a haven for draft dodgers.”

Over the past 50 years, over 200,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in over 140 countries, including the mother of President Jimmy Carter.

I signed up for the Peace Corps a decade ago and was selected to spend two years teaching English in Kazakhstan. I ended up not going, as a nasty little thing called 9/11 happened at about the same time. This made me think that being stationed in a ‘Stan at the request of the U.S. government was probably not the smartest career move.

I ended up staying stateside and joining Warner Bros., where I met my beautiful wife Kimi, so everything worked out for the best. I still hope to serve in this or a similar organization at some point later in life, but only with my wife at my side.

Just as the “myth of America” sometimes doesn’t jive with the “reality of America,” the Peace Corps has not always lived up to its ideals, and has been accused of being a governmental tool used to advance the American agenda more than to aide the host countries.

This kind of thing often happens whenever bureaucrats get involved. But on a personal level, I have rarely met anyone who ever volunteered who wasn’t positively enhanced by the experience or who didn’t feel that they had made a worthy contribution.

I hope that when America is remembered by future generations, that the discussion won’t focus simply on our addiction to Big Macs, or the dozens of dirty little wars we fought to keep the oil flowing, or why we were too busy to cool down the atmosphere because Dancing With the Stars was on.

Maybe if we get our collective ca-ca together, we’ll be remembered for helping start a worldwide trend of global volunteerism. If so, the American Experiment may ultimately be deemed a successful one.

The President & the King

Meeting a king is no big deal for a president, but when the “King of Rock and Roll” shows up at the White House asking to come inside … that is a big deal!

This actually happened forty years ago today, when Elvis Presley, traveling under the name “Col. Jon Burrows,” walked up to the White House, presented the guards with a five-page handwritten letter, and asked to meet with President Nixon.

The story begins three weeks earlier when Presley was in Palm Springs hanging out with Vice President Spiro Agnew (huh?!) and decided he wanted to enlist in the “War On Drugs.” He soon found himself flying to Washington in the company of California Senator George Murphy (huh?!) writing the letter he would later present to the White House on American Airlines stationery.

In it, Presley stated that he was fully aware of the “communist brainwashing techniques” that were eroding America and offered to report back on a host of America’s enemies, stating “the drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers etc., do not consider me as their enemy, or as they call it The Establishment. I call it America and I love it.” He hoped to be made a “Federal Agent At Large” by Nixon, a position that didn’t officially exist.

The letter was passed to David Chapin, one of the president’s aides, who wrote a memo to Nixon’s Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman recommending that Nixon meet with Presley later that same day. The White House then called the Washington Hotel, where Elvis was staying with two of his bodyguards, to offer the invitation. At the time of the call, Presley was at the FBI Headquarters hoping to meet with J. Edgar Hoover (huh?!) but left for the White House when the invitation to the Oval Office arrived.

Presley was escorted in to meet the president, but was barred by the Secret Service from presenting him with the chrome-plated World War II .45-caliber pistol that he brought along as a gift. He then spread out his own collection of police badges on the president’s desk and asked for an FBI badge of his own, which the president okayed. The two men spoke of ways Presley could help the president’s efforts in thwarting the radicals, and Elvis even took a few shots at the Beatles, who he felt were spreading an “anti-American” message. A few pictures were taken of the meeting, which have since become some of the most requested photographs in the entire National Archives collection. After an awkward hug between the two men (and again, huh?!), the Presley party was given a tour of the White House and served lunch. At the conclusion of their visit, “The King” got his presidential Christmas present in the form of his new badge.

Nixon sent a letter to Presley on December 31, thanking him for the visit, and for the gift, which is now on display at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

Elvis, of course, died of a drug overdose in 1977 at the age of 42.

Nixon and Presley. Just about the only Christmas-time pairing in history weirder than that Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet.