Fragments of May 4: From the Ashes of the ROTC Building
Just as protests against the United States’ invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War were beginning on Kent State’s campus, Bob Crane started to notice a shift in how his fellow students were treating him.
Bob Crane, a sophomore in Kent State’s ROTC program at the time, was “oblivious” about the protests that occurred in downtown Kent on Friday night. He attended color guard Saturday morning, and then went on campus to buy food, still in his uniform.
“People are looking at me. People are saying things,” Crane said. “This cafeteria lady came up to me, and she says, ‘You don’t need to be here.’”
She escorted Crane out of the building through a back door.
“I basically got kicked out,” he said.
That night, the ROTC building was burnt down. The Ohio National Guard cleared campus, forcing students back into the dorms.
Crane and his friends from ROTC all slept in one room in Dunbar Hall that night, “bunk beds against the door … very frightened as to what would go on.” Students were yelling at them from the hallway, he said.
On May 3, Crane was on clean-up detail at the burnt ROTC building, as a part of the Pershing Rifles, the ROTC fraternity. He picked up some burnt 7.62 mm bullets from the M14 rifles that were stored in the building. He decided to hold onto them as a keepsake.
At 11 a.m. on May 4, Crane was sitting in an ROTC class next to Bill Schroeder. Afterwards, Crane witnessed the shooting from behind the National Guard perimeter outside the burnt ROTC building. Bill Schroeder was one of the four students killed.
“I don’t know that you really end up processing it,” he said. “It’s one of those events that will live with you forever. It’s a moment in time that you never walk away from.”
Crane gave the bullets from the burnt ROTC building to the May 4 Visitors Center in October 2019, nearly 50 years after he picked them up.
“I didn’t realize that I had so much emotion tied to it. Getting rid of them was really a blessing,” he said. “It was an emotional release for me.”
He kept four or five bullets but gave the other 43 to the Visitors Center.
“I’ve carried them far too long.”
David Burgett and Alexandra Sobczak are students in Kent State University's journalism program.