The Vietnam Vets Against the War contingent at the “We Have Carried the Rich for 200 Years, Let’s Get Them Off Our Backs” demonstration in Philadelphia at the Bi-Centennial
NEVER FORGIVE, NEVER FORGET
This is the first part of a documentary about Kent State where four students were killed.
This is the second part
THIS IS FROM RETURN TO ’55, OUR VISIT TO KENT STATE
44 years and now Kent State wants to wash itself of the memory of the murder of four young people by a trained National Guard. It’s unacceptable. Going to Kent State was something I had to do. Anyone who knows me, will know how much my experience with the National Guard made on me. Being in the same room with the folks that talked frankly about killing people who were leaders of the anti-war movement and the Black Liberation struggle had a greater impact on me than almost anything other than the death of my father and the birth of Christy. How would you react to reps from the Seattle Mayor’s office, Seattle PD, Seattle Fire Department, the State Patrol, the Sixth Army, NG Command at Camp Muuray ….. FBI too. All talking about how to respond to a ‘massive’ demonstration, mock, in Seattle’s Volunteer Park. It’s located in between the Central District and the University and Capital Hill. Their solution was to kill if necessary. This is why I don’t believe the Kent State Grand Jury’s verdict that the National Guard was not guilty of any crime.
The issue, some four decades plus change later, who, if anyone ordered the guardsmen to fire. Several websites have collected eyewitness accounts. One of the most common, the guardsmen did an abrupt turn to the right. Then got into position to fire. Here is a picture that was used in many of the court sessions.
In a new documentary, members of DEVO who were at Kent State say they saw the guard get into a position to fire. It would be very unusual for guardsmen to assume this position on their own. Especially since there was at least one General, one Lt. Colonel, one Major and at least one Captain as well as many Lieutenants. Enlisted men don’t take upon themselves to fire into a crowd, no matter how much they would want to.
No one from the NG command acknowledges their men had any riot control training, yet at the time of the shooting there had been at three years since Operation Garden Plot had been issued as National Guard and US police strategy. Reading many comments from guardsmen they contradict themselves, at all levels, whether training occurred or whether the guardsmen had served their six month active duty, including basic training and advanced infantry training. There would be chemical training and weapons training. These would all have happened. At the orders of Johnson and Nixon, guardsmen would go through, at least monthly riot control training.
The question must be, why weren’t the Governor of Ohio, the Mayor of Kent and the President of Kent State forced to testify about this. Here is a wonderful quote from Major Jones of the Ohio National Guard.
But it was basically your conclusion as a professional officer that that firing was not justified under those circumstances?
A) That is my own personal opinion.
Q) As a military officer?
A) As a military officer…and it’s my honest opinion it should not have happened. As I see it from where I was standing and from what I know about the incident, it was against the concepts and the procedures that we had trained in. So if you were in violation of those guidelines and concepts and procedures, whichever one you want to call them, then something is wrong…
Q) And in fact, not justified?
A) I will have to go on record as saying that, sir, yes.”
–Major Harry Jones, Ohio National Guard, testimony under oath, 1974
In this quote you must of noticed he mentions “trained in”. There are so many other quotes that are out there but, except for a few are not put together. That is why I want to do this. Take some quotes and put together. The importance of doing this is if you believe the demonstrators deserved to be killed, then the fact that the leaders of the National Guard are not taking responsibility must bother you a little. Bear with me, see what you think.
And it really only became clear to me, in looking at diagrams this past week–I don’t know why I’ve never really thought about this, or realized it–but the line of fire that killed one of the victims, [Bill] Schroeder, was actually just a very few feet from where I was standing. I was over, at the time that the Guard came back up from the practice field and turned around, and shot — I actually saw them do this, I was staring right at them when they turned and fired — it looked very coordinated at the time. I was certain, when it happened, that it was signalled, and it did not look random at all to me. Because of their all being aimed pretty much in the same direction. With one exception. And that was the rifle that was aimed over, as it now turns out, my direction. The one that killed Bill Schroeder. I didn’t realize anybody was hit around there, but a lot of people were just dropping to the ground. I felt they might be firing rubber bullets, or things like that. And then people just got up and ran the other direction, including me. I went down between Memorial Gym and Lake Hall. I thought, “Well, that’s it. Everybody’s going to all scatter and go home now, and complain, and everything like that.” Walter C. Adams, Kent State Professor
“By early 1969, it was clear that [Ohio Governor James] Rhodes…was preparing to run for the United States Senate…Life Magazine…in late April 1969 featured a picture of Rhodes on its cover along with the headline ”The Governor and the Mobster”… Congressman Robert Taft, Jr…announced he would oppose Rhodes in the [May 5,] 1970 Republican primary election for United States Senate…Rhodes again defended his hardline approach to putting down continuing campus upheavals and again suggested Taft would not be nearly as tough…By one count, Rhodes had called out the Ohio National Guard 44 times…After the Kent ROTC building had been torched the night before, Rhodes ordered troops to the campus…dramatically pounded the table at the Kent firehouse and vowed [on May 3, 1970] he would not cave in to this kind of disorder, emotionally calling the students ‘worse than the brownshirt and the Communist element and also the nightriders and the vigilantes. They’re the worst type of people we harbor in America’…On Monday, May 4…four students were killed…”
–from the book: OHIO POLITICS by Alexander Lamis and Mary Anne Sharkey, 1994
Question: “Isn’t it a fact sir, that there are…circumstances in which a Guardsman may discharge a weapon in a civil disturbance…?”
Answer: “That is correct…if there was an order given by a commissioned officer…preferably a commanding officer…”
Question: “…it is a fact, is it not, that you became in charge of developing the plan that would be implemented by the command, is that correct?”
Answer: “Yes…I was in charge of developing the plan, only the plan.”
–Ohio National Guard Major Harry D. Jones, Federal Court testimony, 1975.
“Shortly after hearing about the fatalities…two coeds went over to a group of three Guardsmen standing in front of Memorial Gymnasium…’Two of the men were older and one was very young…I said that I thought [Governor] Rhodes had a lot to do with it. The younger Guardsman said, ‘You’re damn right, sister—this is all Governor Rhodes’s political stunt’. He was about to say more when the older one told him to shut up. We left.”
—KSU student statement, Commission on KSU Violence, KSU report, Kent, 1971.
And now we’re on Monday morning. And we both went to sleep. And he woke me up and said, “Hey, we’re going to miss that noon rally on campus, or on the Commons.” So we hurriedly got dressed, or I hurriedly got dressed. And we ran over from our dorm over to the Commons. Got over there and wondered where our friends were. My friend rang the Victory Bell. And I went — and we heard that my other dorm friends and good friends were on the other side of the hill, on the other side of the architecture building. So I went running up the, while my friend was ringing the bell, I went running up the side of the south side of the architecture building’s hill. And as I got almost, almost about half way up, I was along the wall of the building there, and the National Guard came up the other side and crested the hill. And what was the, what would have been the rear of this group, basically the whole group started to turn around, but the front, looked like the front row turned around all in unison. And some of them squatted down so the other guys behind them could shoot over their heads. And one of the guys didn’t turn around and just trained his gun on me. And I just stood there looking at that guy. And he just stood there looking at me. Although I guess you can’t see them with those masks on anyhow. Those gas masks make them look like … Well anyway, O.K., so I could see what was happening. They were shooting at where my friends were supposed to be. And so I stood there until that guy took his gun off of me. And then they kind of looked like they were starting to mill around just a bit. And so I went running down to the Commons yelling, “They’re shooting! They’re shooting at us!” And anyway, something to that effect. And somebody, a couple people grabbed me and shoved me and somebody punched me in the ear, which ended up bleeding, telling me, “Nobody’s shooting anybody!” Well, I decided it might be safer to go back up over the hill. So I turned around and ran back up over the hill. And I got to the top of the hill, I had to go right by the Guard. And the Guard, now they were definitely just milling around. And these two girls came over by me, and as I was coming up the hill, and said, “We got to get them to get help, get ambulances! A lot of people hurt!” So, they kind of dragged me over with them towards the Guard. And the Guard said, “Nobody’s hurt! Nobody’s hurt!” And then the girl said, “Do you have any dimes? We’ll go call ambulances ourselves!” And so we frisked my pockets and I happened to have dimes. I don’t know why. So they dragged me into, these two girls dragged me into the architecture building and I was just shaking, giving them my dimes. And they’re trying to call ambulances. And then we went back out, I went back outside. And we tried to keep people back away from some of the wounded, so not too many people over them to give them air. Kind of forming a ring to hold back. And then we went back down the hill into the Commons and sat there. And decided it was time that now we weren’t going anywhere. And it was time for them to leave our campus. And we sat there. It was the most emotional time of my, well, one of the — [tape ends].eye witness, annonymous
It wasn’t long after that that I noticed that this straight line suddenly turned like this, at a right angle, with several Guardsmen facing the parking lot. They knelt down on one knee, they took the rifles and aimed into the crowd. I know a lot of people scattered, but I don’t think that they had proved that they were a force to be feared at that time. Mostly just a bunch of silly guys in uniforms. This is one of the main reasons why I spoke earlier about the events at Music and Speech the year before. The army itself was the symbol of what everyone was angry about. The National Guard, as I understand the law, the National Guard should have been the one to come in before the–or, the State Highway Patrol should have come in before the National Guard onto a college cam–a state campus. Those guys would have moved around and gotten people out of the way and nothing would have happened. But here was this, the symbol of what everybody was angry about, kneeling, aiming rifles not just at protesters or rock throwers–or whatever they thought they were–in a parking lot, but at a dormitory full of big glass windows filled with students. And I thought, That’s really bad. Again, I’m thinking that all this is doing is, if they’re trying to defuse the situation, they’re doing the exact opposite, because everything that they seem to have done so far–the tear gas, the randomness of the dispersal of the tear gas, chasing people who are doing nothing but standing in a group, and again, I didn’t know about the ban on group gatherings at the time, chasing people around, aiming guns at them. It’s like I said before, a group of people who are unarmed, at least it’s not an army. They may have rocks, they may have things to throw. But when you get a group of guys in full battle gear–helmets, gas masks and fixed bayonets–as they move it’s like the parting of the Red Sea. The crowd goes this way and that way. Nobody stands their ground and confronts these people. They never had any difficulty moving anywhere they wanted to be, which is one of the reasons I was so surprised to see them stopped on the football field. I’ve heard all the stories about, oh, they were hemmed in, they were surrounded by students and this chain-link fence. Well, the chain-link fence is on two sides of a practice football field and it is wide open on the other two sides. Anywhere they wanted to walk they would have walked, and the crowd would have parted.
So anyway, I watched this for awhile, and the guys that were kneeling finally stood up and sort of rejoined the line. And they sort of did, not an about-face, but they were walking down, training down the line that they had been standing in, walking towards the end of the football field down where the–this direction, here the library and the–I still call it the new Student Center, stand now, because it was under construction at the time. And I remember thinking, I haven’t seen any tear gas for a while, they must have run out of tear gas, so I think it’s over. So they marched down the line that way, then all of a sudden they just, the whole line did a right-face, and they started marching across, from side to side, on the practice football field. I took a photo of them as they were down there, and I thought, Well, this is all over. I knew that Karen should have been working in the Stater office at the time, and I thought, Well, this would be a good time to go in and see if she saw anything interesting. Talk to her. Plus the fact that where I was standing, I was aware that, as the Guard moved–they were going to go back over the top of the hill next to the Pagoda again–that it was going to put me again right between the two groups. And I thought, God, I really don’t want to get hit by a rock. That was it.
I turned, I walked in the door of Taylor Hall. As I walked in I ran into a friend who had been down in the photo labs, journalism student, complaining because he had just gotten kicked out because he was getting wet cloths because of the tear gas. He had just been kicked out of there by one of the profs. He was mad. I said, “Well, I think it’s all over.” He said [angrily], “Well, I got all these things in there–” And he walked out, I kept going in. The door closed behind me, and the stairwell was right there, so I went down the stairwell going down to the Stater office. I ran into this guy after May 4th, and he said that he walked out the doors, and the first thing he saw was the Guard turn and fire right through the area that I had just been standing in. I think he saw Jeff Miller fall. And I never even heard the shots.
[Interviewer]: You were inside the building, you didn’t hear it?
[Chuck Ayers]: No. Again, there’s a lot of yelling outside constantly. And this yelling is everything. It’s everything from people swearing at the Guardsmen, to somebody who sees his pal across the–[and says], “Hey, Joe! Come on over here, look what I saw!” There’s just this din out there. I walked in, I got down to the first floor, went into the Stater office, I saw Karen and her roommate. I remember saying, “I think it’s all over. What did you guys see?” And she said, “Well, there was people right in front of the windows here. Somebody was hitting somebody with a club or something.” And just about that time it was like this bang like the doors, and there was screaming and yelling, and I thought, What’s going on? And this surge of people just came through the hallways, past the Stater office. I remember going to the door, and the first words I heard were, “They just killed four kids.” I don’t know how this person determined this in seconds. They must have seen four people down. They were yelling, “They’re shooting. They’re killing people.” And I thought back to the single shot that I saw, and I thought, No, they’re shooting in the air. I was so confident that that’s all they were doing. But this mass of screaming people and people crying kept coming in, and there was one guy who I recall was a freshman, who had been somewhere and saw most of the shootings, came into the Stater office crying, had a puppy with him, and he crawled under a desk and just sat there and cried. [pauses, drinks water] That is emotional.
And so, we realized something had happened, but we didn’t know where or exactly what or where these people still would be. I didn’t know if there was a full-scale fight going on out there, if they had just shot into the crowd, if they had shot some individuals–specific individuals that something had happened. I didn’t know what had happened or where they were. I wasn’t about to go out any door, thinking I could step out a door, and be a target.
[Interviewer]: What did you do next?
[Chuck Ayers]: We stayed in the Stater office for a while. We were very conscious of our surroundings. We were looking out the windows that face into the Commons, and we could see students running everywhere. And we stayed there for a short while, until I finally saw the whole unit of Guardsmen marching back down the hill towards the ROTC building. It’s so funny in hindsight: I was Mr. Macho for a moment there, because I said, “I’m going to go out and see what’s going on.” Karen and her roommate said, “We’ll go with you,” [and I said,] “Oh no no no, you women stay here. The man will go outside.” I didn’t say it that way, but I look back on it, and it must have sounded like that to everybody. And I retraced my steps. I went back up the same stairwell I’d come out, I came back out the same door, and the very first thing I saw was Jeff Miller in the street. Initially, I found out when he fell he was face-down, chest-down, his head to the side, and somebody had turned him over, and there were several people kneeling around him, and there was already this river of blood rolling down, I mean it must have been 12 to 15 feet long at that time. My experience had been that I had no close relatives, I had sort of a nuclear family–mom and dad and my brother and I. We had no close relatives, and for some reason the only relatives that had ever passed away were people I had never met, out of town, that my folks would go to the funerals and stuff. I had never gone to a funeral. I was 22. And there was this guy in the street, and I kept saying to myself, No, he’s not dead, they’ll patch him up, he’ll be okay. And I just remember looking at how utterly limp he was–and they had pulled his shirt up–and how absolutely hollow his stomach looked. Everything had just collapsed on this guy. And I kept saying to myself, No he’s not dead, he’s not dead, until I heard an ambulance come up over the hill and started picking up people, and the gurneys went right past him. [I thought], Oh my God, he’s dead, because they didn’t stop to pick him up.
eye witness, Chuck Ayers, photographer
And then – what happened then – was, I thought the Guard went down to one knee – the configuration of the hill and then being at the top. You know, photos later showed they just took a step forward and aimed their guns, but from where I was, it looked like they went to one knee. And the next thing I knew, I heard the shots. And, um, my immediate impression on hearing the shots was that um, ah, I don’t know – were you in the service? On the firing range –
[Bill Barrett]: — when you went out to practice firing and they had this ritual where they waved the flags, and they say you have five seconds, and then they say, ‘fire.’ But before they ever said ‘fire’ there was only one guy that cranked off a round, and then all the rest fired. And that’s exactly what it sounded like up there to me. And I’m not trying to say that there was any signal given; they were simply ready and somebody pulled the trigger. That was my impression, and the rest just followed suit. And, uh, ah, it was all over, so, I knew, of course, that they were carrying live ammo because I had seen them loading their weapons when I went by the first time going up to the hill. And I thought, oh my God, I just hope they were firing over the heads … Well, then, you know, all hell broke loose. Kids were runnin’ around screaming and they were yelling – I could hear them saying, “They shot people.” And the Guard kind of milled around and then got reorganized and started back down the hill. When that happened I immediately went back over to Johnson Hall to that corner to get out of the way. I couldn’t get inside Johnson Hall because there was a crowd of people, so I stood at the corner and watched the Guard come by me. And I can still remember – oh, the closest Guardsman was probably from here to that chair over there – about five yards away from me, maybe. And through their gas masks you could just see the looks of horror on the faces of these guys comin’ down. I mean, they were just – and I thought, God, thank God I’m not out there. Those guys are so scared anything else could happen.
eye witness, Henry Halem, observer for Kent State
If you read all of this testimony from eye witnesses a pattern develops, the guardsmen turned, set up, aimed and fired. If Major Jones says they had a plan why was it so hard for the courts to recognize this. I was trained at Pier 91 in riot control. I was in the operations section of Headquarters Company. We trained in how during a riot that we would control the situation. There was a definite chain of command. Isolate, contain, neutralize and eliminate if necessary. We received intelligence training of known local and national radicals. There was a plan. We now know that plan was Operation Garden Plot. If you know this, then everything at Kent State follows a plan. The US was, I believe this, was at war with the Black Liberation Movement and the Anti-War movement. Everything, everything at Kent State supports this.
Governor Rhodes, President Nixon and the Pentagon wanted to make such an example that students would go back to school and radicals would be left isolated to be picked off one at a time. This is what my National Guard training taught me. Because I wanted to ‘blow the whistle’ on the plan I had to be removed. I know this and I believe. It is important the US is brought to justice for what they did at Kent State, four dead in Ohio, nine wounded, two killed at Jackson state, at least three killed in Orangeburg, dozens of Panthers killed, including the cowardly murder of Fred Hampton when he was drugged. The murders of leaders in the American Indian Movement, and the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier. They must be brought to justice, the list is so long…. Michael Brown and Eric Garner are the latest.