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.