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Kent State wounded carry scars, but fight for change

Survivors oppose the war in Iraq

BY BRIAN ALBRECHT
Newhouse News Service, May 6, 2007

 

As the wounded of May 4, 1970, return to Kent State University this week, they bring their scars, memories and, for some, a resolve for peace that hasn't faded with time and a sense of deja-vu regarding another American war.

 

They will also find that after 37 years a marker noting the historic event has been erected on campus, describing the day when 13 seconds -- one for each victim -- and more than 60 gunshots wrote a bloody chapter in Ohio history.

 

On that day, four students were killed and nine wounded by Ohio National Guardsmen sent to the campus where demonstrators were protesting the invasion of Cambodia during the war in Vietnam.

 

In response to a request by Tom Grace, one of the students wounded, the university asked the Ohio Historical Society to install a marker near the May 4 Memorial. A university official said the school will add a map showing the location of the 1970 events as well as a May 4 visitors center in Taylor Hall.

 

The marker provides a more permanent, on-site informational resource than brochures available at the memorial, according to Kathy Stafford, vice president of university relations.

 

However, 149 words etched in metal only illustrate one moment in history.

 

May 4 never ended for those who still live with the repercussions of that day.

 

All of the wounded contacted for this story oppose the war in Iraq. To some, the parallels between Iraq and Vietnam are unmistakable and alarming.

 

"The war in Iraq is another Vietnam," said Alan Canfora, 58, of Barberton, Ohio, who was shot in the right wrist while waving a flag at the 1970 demonstration. He has lost little of his activism as an author, lecturer and chairman of the Summit County Democratic Party.

 

"It's immoral, unjustifiable, based on lies, unwinnable and our soldiers are dying in vain once again, exactly as in Vietnam," added Canfora, who also is director of the nonprofit Kent May 4 Center. "It's very sad. We're reliving the same tragedy today."

 

James Russell, 60, now an engineer living in St. Helens, Ore., agreed with the Iraq-Vietnam similarities.

 

"This is a repetition of insanity," said Russell, who was hit in the forehead and thigh by shotgun pellets in 1970.

 

Joseph Lewis, 55, a water treatment plant operator in Scappoose, Ore., said, "Iraq is so very reminiscent of those times in '69 and '70 when we had an incompetent commander in chief who lied to the American people."

 

Lewis, who was hit in his side and leg by bullets, said the gap between public opinion of the war and President Bush's policies should "call out for the same kind of demonstrations and vocal dissent against this administration, just like it did 37 years ago."

 

He attributed the lack of any current widespread campus protest to the absence of a draft, which in 1970 mobilized anti-war sentiment. The draft, Lewis said, "put the potential for serving in the military right in the face of every American high school graduate."

 

But Robert Stamps, 57, of Tallahassee, Fla., noted that draft resistance wasn't a factor for those students killed or wounded that May day.

 

Stamps was shot in the back while running away from the demonstration. He later graduated with degrees in sociology and Spanish, and lived for a while in Lakewood, Ohio, as an author and college teacher.

 

A bout with Lyme disease is "the only thing stopping me from actively going around to college campuses, protesting and talking to people about the war," Stamps said.

 

Tom Grace, 57, of Buffalo, N.Y., who described himself as a political activist both before and after he was shot in the heel in 1970, continues that role at a different level. If anything, getting shot "probably hardened my resolve to stay involved in efforts to bring about social change," he said.

 

The retired New York state social worker heads the political action committee of the local AFL-CIO chapter. He had a hand in the passage of union resolutions calling for diplomacy, not war, to be used in Iraq in 2003 and for the withdrawal of American forces in 2006.

 

The goal is to mobilize voters to affect the political process and hence, public policy, according to Grace.

 

Dean Kahler, 57, of East Canton, Ohio, also believes "people are finding other ways to protest. They're voting with their money, making political contributions, and writing blogs, sending e-mails to Congress and newspapers."

 

Kahler, now semiretired as a part-time substitute teacher, was shot in the back and paralyzed from the waist down. Curiosity had prompted him to visit what he described as a disappointing effort to demonstrate against the war in 1970.

 

He said he opposed war -- any war -- on moral grounds, both before and since the shooting. But on that day, "if you were anywhere within a 300-yard range, you were considered part of a problem," he added.

 

On May 4, 1970, John Cleary had been taking photos of the protest while walking to class. He paused to get one last picture and got shot in the chest.

 

Cleary, 56, who works for an architectural firm in Pittsburgh, said the country seems just as polarized over the war in Iraq as it was during Vietnam.

 

But he said the current war has helped him resolve an issue similar to the dilemma he faced 37 years ago in opposing a war that many of his friends were fighting.

 

"Today, I can see that there is no inconsistency in being a strong supporter of the troops over there, and yet taking issue with policies of the administration that sent them there," he said.

 

KSU's new marker may provide another epitaph applicable to both shootings. The marker concludes with a quote from the Report of President's Commission on Campus Unrest describing the actions of May 4:

 

"Unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable."