38 years later, Kent State still goes unanswered

May 3, 2008

Tomorrow is another May 4, a meaningless date for most of you. I'm a Kent Stater '71 and remember the day with bursts of memories.

Four young people our people were killed and nine wounded on the sunny spring day in 1970. It ended so darkly, we're still trying to find our way out of it.

My history teacher, Louis Patsouras, told me it would take 100 years to understand what happened that day, a century for the politics to still. At 38 years into the mission, Louie's still right.

I was among the 20,000 or so students who were not protesting. We were sucked into a vortex. The feeling was outrage and then powerlessness, but soon, we realized we had all lost our freedom.

The university closed that afternoon for the rest of the spring quarter. Some 22,000 students were locked out, our contracts for an education voided.


We had no chance to comprehend it. I heard it on a loudspeaker: 'The university is closed. Leave the university immediately."

Or what, get shot? That was not a small consideration nor a crazy one.

We dropped our books and got the hell out of there. Cars were jammed with kids. I saw a pickup truck drop its back axle under the weight.

When I got home, my parents acted as if I had returned from the grave. The names had yet to be released. Twenty-two thousand families all over the world were in terror.

My Dad looked me over and said. "So what happened?" This was the first of hundreds of times for that. Every time somebody found out we were from Kent, they asked that, as if our answer could take a few seconds.

If you're looking for answers in this column, forget it. I've read all the literature, watched the documentaries, and remember Dorothy Fuldheim crying on Channel 5. I still don't understand it.

I usually say it was a fatal combination of coincidences and leave it at that.


We had joked that Kent was a huge, faceless place, but we soon found it had a heart.

I remember getting a call at home from one of my professors. He asked if I was OK. Then he said we need to contact everybody in the class and organize a university away from the university.

This happened with all of my profs. They'd decided they were not going to throttle 20,000 students because of the lockout. Kent State University reconvened in the living rooms of homes across the country. We took tests by mail, and everybody graduated.

Every May 4, we drink some wine around noon and think about that day. We hear shots and screams and sirens and the "victory" bell. And then there's silence as soldiers and students alike stand on that sunny hillside thinking, "Oh, my God, what have we done here?"

That's what happened.

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