Remembering the Kent State University Four…
By the Spring of 1970 the war in Vietnam was showing no signs of abating, Nixon and Kissinger had agreed incursions into Cambodia, the war was spreading and the American public did not like it. None more so than the student movement, vociferous in their opposition to the war and the secretive bombing missions which was devastating entire villages and its people.
On May 4th 1970, students at the Kent State University gathered to protest the escalation of operations into Cambodia. By noon the crowd had grown to around a thousand, a sizeable amount after three previous nights of protests. The night before had seen the protests turn increasingly hostile, the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps building was burned to the ground resulting in the summoning of the National Guard who arrested sixty-nine students and sent many more back into their dormitories for the night. These ‘Communists’ or ‘Hitler’s Brown Shirts’ as the Governor of Ohio labelled them, these students, ‘the worst type of people we harbour in America’ he went on would not be deterred.
The following day the students gathered once more and the tension was ratcheted up as the Guardsmen drove in, firing tear gas into the crowds only to see them being hurled back by those who had splintered from the pack. In the car park to the rear of the troops some five hundred students began advancing, cheering at the guardsmen, some throwing stones and bottles.
As the students advanced the soldiers turned and shots were fired, some students fell to the floor, desperate for cover, others, too shocked to believe their own soldiers were shooting at them stood or crouched in disbelief. On a hill slope a student keeled over, shot in the head. Sylvester Del Corso, the Adjutant General of the National Guard claimed his troops were responding to sniper fire, a claim firmly denied by the students and never proven by the Guard. Three students were pronounced dead on arrival, a fourth died later and nine others were treated for gunshot wounds.
Allison Krause was a nineteen year old from Pittsburgh, a bullet passed through her left arm and into her side. Sandra Lee Scheuer from Ohio was twenty, they shot her through the neck. The two young men who also perished were Jeffrey Glenn Miller aged twenty and nineteen year old William K. Schroeder who was shot in the back. Desperately young and yes, naïve to some degree but none of them ever believing they could be shot in their own country by their own soldiers. Miller, shot in the mouth from ninety yards away was photographed dead on the floor with a grief-stricken fourteen year old runaway, Mary Ann Vechio knelt beside him screaming for help. It was chaos.
The reaction by the press and politicians around the world was swift and damming, senseless deaths which only revitalised the protest movement and gave cheap, undeserved publicity to the North Vietnamese. There would be over a hundred student strikes per day, lawsuits taken out by the grieving families which would take nine years to reach a settlement.
When Republican senator Ronald Reagan spoke about unrest in the University campuses he remarked; “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.” Well, he got what he asked for.