Days in May: Kent State remembered

“Four Dead in Ohio”

Monday, May 4, 1970.
The first reports came from Kent State via a Telex machine in our College Press Service office, part of a small Telex network linking college newspapers around the country: National Guard shoots at students. Unknown number killed and wounded. We had been gathering then disseminating news about the national student strike that had been organized to begin that day to protest the U.S. expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. This was our best instant communication. As I recall, we tried to call, but I can’t remember if we got through. A Washington Post reporter showed up in our office to see what we had heard. This was before IPhones or cellphones, before YouTube or CNN or the Internet or National Public Radio. The images and information would filter out during the afternoon, first on network TV, then in the morning newspapers: In 13 chilling seconds, the guardsmen had fired 67 rounds, killing four students and wounding nine others. There was a new escalation to the war: on the home front. Neil Young would write the song the following week after seeing photographs of the killings in Life magazine.

One year later, on Monday, May 3, 1971, US marshals wearing yellow jumpsuits dropped out of dozens of helicopters at the foot of the Washington monument, fanned out over Foggy Bottom toward the Lincoln Memorial and herded anyone on the street – student protesters, veterans, tourists, journalists – into buses that delivered nearly 10,000 people to makeshift barbed-wire enclosures in southeast Washington. No names, no arrests, no charges, no prospect of release. The dragnet was a new tactic to break up anti-war demonstrations that had blocked commuter traffic to protest the widening war in Southeast Asia and commemorate the killing of students at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970. The next day, thousands more were arrested at sit-ins in front of government offices across the city. Wednesday afternoon, after two nights in the old DC Coliseum and two meals of stale baloney sandwiches and water, the final 2,500 “John and Jane Does” were released by US District Court judges on habeas corpus petitions filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

As one of those John Does, I had a profound new appreciation of freedom, and how easily it could disappear. I left Washington the next week in my yellow Ford van, bound for a job as a police reporter in Upstate New York. Every year at this time, my thoughts roll back to those days in early May of ’70 and ’71.


About mountain barry

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., I grew up in a beautiful small town, where I could bicycle to the local golf course and to the Buffalo Bills training camp. My dad was from Kentucky and was a Naval officer in WW II. My mom was from a similar small town and could beat my dad at golf. I started my first publication, a weekly newspaper, in 9th grade, and have been at it ever since: college newspaper, graduate school, college press service, daily newspapers in New York, North Carolina and Kansas, business journals in Kansas and California; also corporate communications/p.r. in Kansas and the SF Bay Area. I have two beautiful children, one extraordinary grandson, three remarkable stepchildren and a patient, loving wife who also happens to be an eBay trading assistant. My dogs, cat, gardens and the basketball goal in the driveway round out the picture of my home in a small town in the redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where mornings are foggy and afternoons are sunny.
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1 Response to Days in May: Kent State remembered

  1. Robert Reges says:

    On the 4th of May, every year, I give a moment of silence for those who were killed, wounded or simply traumatized by this mini Civil War betweent the “hawks” and the “doves.” My own response was to lower my High School’s flag to half mast for which I was suspended but not before my math teacher called me a “commie pinko.”
    Thank you Kent State students for ringing the bell of liberty and freedom. I regret that it cost you so much. I will never forget.

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