The 47th commemoration of the Kent State shootings took place today, with an eye toward how the school will honor the shootings on their 50th anniversary.
“On April 30th, President Richard Nixon announced on national television that a massive American-South Vietnamese troop offensive into Cambodia was in progress.”
That’s Alyssa Gage, a senior English major at Kent State who was part of the day’s remembrance. The event usually takes place at the site outdoors where four students were killed -- and nine wounded -- when National Guardsmen fired on students in 1970. This year, it was moved indoors to the Student Center because of the weather. Gage recounted the events that led up to the shootings around lunchtime on May 4, 1970.
“Members of Troop G, while advancing up the hill, continued to glance back at the parking lot, where the most militant and vocal students were located. The students assumed the confrontation was over. Many students began to walk to their next classes. As the guard reached the crest of Blanket Hill near the pagoda of Taylor Hall, about a dozen members of Troop G simultaneously turned around 180 degrees, aimed and fired their weapons into the crowd in the Prentice Hall parking lot.”
A step in the right direction
Among those attending the remembrance was John Bellas from North Canton. He says in 1970, he was an “outside agitator.” He believes the yearly commemorations are important, but more needs to be done.
“It’s a step in the right direction; it’s just long, long overdue. It could be 87 years, if we're still around we will not forget this. This was a very big thing as far as ending the war.”
Jackson State remembered as well
Bellas was among the standing-room-only crowd at the 47th commemoration of not only the Kent State shootings, but the shootings at Jackson State the same year. Meg Andrus is a Kent State senior who is working on a short documentary about both shootings for one of her classes. She says the school needs to do more to connect undergrads with what happened here on their campus.
“I don’t think they learn about it as much as they should. I know in the Destination Kent first-year experience class that we have, we talk about it for maybe one class or two classes. It wasn’t a long period of time where you sat down and actually learned about it. So people they always ask questions: ‘What is May 4? How did it all start?’”
Megan Smeznik is a grad student in Kent’s history department, and says students should want to learn more about the shootings, even if they’d prefer to ignore them.
“I would caution them to re-think that stance, especially with something that is so pertinent to what is happening around the country today with protest movements and everything like that. They really need to understand what happened here at Kent State.”
One person who saw what happened was Ron Skellinger -- an eighth-grader on May 4, 1970 -- visiting campus with his father, a sociology professor.
“There were guardsmen everywhere. Half-tracks on the street. You couldn’t buy gasoline; you couldn’t go out and fill up your gas can to fill up your mower. There was one curfew on campus, one curfew in town. I can remember helicopters everywhere, and if you literally stepped out in your yard, a spotlight would kick on.”
Looking to 2020
The day of remembrance also included a forum on the appropriate way to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of the shootings. Skellinger says what happened so long ago still resonates with his generation. He has an idea for marking the 50th.
“Everybody points to Neil Young. There are a whole bunch of others: Crosby, Stills & Nash, Holly Near, Joan Baez – all those folks who are still around, maybe bring some of those guys in.”