May 4, 2007: Voices echo past war protests

Saturday, May 05, 2007

By Terry Oblander

Plain Dealer Reporter

Kent - Friday's commemoration of the 1970 shootings at Kent State University felt more like an anti-war rally.

While Bush had replaced Nixon and Iraq had replaced Vietnam, the words from both generations had the same ring.

Several speakers invoked the names of Kent State's dead and wounded as they urged students and the gray-haired veterans of 1970 to work for peace and the impeachment of the president.

Some of the voices were the same.

Alan Canfora, one of nine students wounded by the Ohio National Guard fire, echoed memories nearly 40 years old.

"Power to the people," he shouted to the cheers from hundreds gathered on the university commons.

Other voices were different, as students used chalk and stones to share their feelings, marking pavement such as the parking lot sites where four students died.

Outside the library, the names of servicemen killed in Iraq were written in chalk. "Remember Our Soldiers," the scrawling read.

Tom Hayden, a founder of the controversial Students for a Democratic Society, argued that the changing political landscape and large anti-war rallies were signs that the activism of the '60s had returned.

In a scene almost unimaginable 37 years earlier, a KSU president, Lester Lefton, welcomed Hayden Thursday night as the keynote speaker for a symposium on democracy and peace.

Others marking the anniversary this year included Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist whose son Casey died in Iraq.

Sheehan, who has attracted national attention by picketing outside Bush's home in Crawford, Texas, called for the president's impeachment

Another familiar face at the commemoration was Mary Ann Vecchio, who was captured on May 4, 1970, kneeling beside the body of Jeffrey Miller in the Pulitzer-winning photograph by student John Filo.

Vecchio was 14 when she ran away from her home in Opalocha, Fla., and hitchhiked north. She said she heard she could drink 3.2 beer in Ohio.

In an interview Thursday, Vecchio, now 51, said she had no way of knowing she would become a symbol of the May 4 tragedy at KSU. The horrors she witnessed that day, such as Allison Krause desperately trying to speak her final words, have haunted her for life.

"That was like war to me," she said.

On Friday, it was today's war being evoked. On Blanket Hill below Taylor Hall, the Quakers' American Friends Service Committee lined up 161 pairs of boots, each with the name and photo of an Ohioan who has died in Iraq.

KSU freshman Amy Wohlwend, 18, of Stow looked for the name of Marine Cpl. Joseph A. Tomci, a Stow-Munroe Falls High School graduate who died last year in Iraq.

She finally found and photographed the boots dedicated to Tomci.

She said she wasn't bothered by the anti-war tone of the May 4 commemoration.

"I think it's really important," she said. "It brings it home."

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