A Time of Rage: Part One
by John Delach
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santana 1869 -1952
I wrote the original version of A Time of Rage in 2003 to leave a record of that time in my life when I personally witnessed events that would sorely test our domestic tranquility to the point that the situation was close to being in doubt.
America was being consumed by hate, strife, conflict and rage. The war in Viet Nam was the prime mover, but racial turmoil exacerbated our national fear and loathing. The assassination of Martin Luther King set inner cities a blaze throughout America as his voice of non-violence was superseded by madness and wanton destruction.
It seemed our perceived national identity had been lost.
Viet Nam ended our innocence. We went to war based on a “Bright and Shining Lie;” a lie so fundamental that it wasn’t only deceitful, it was a crime. Both President Lyndon Johnson and President Richard Nixon knew and understood that this was a war we could not win. Still LBJ had our Navy formulate the Gulf of Tonkin incident to commit what turned out to be over 500,000 of our youth and our national treasure to a lost cause. Nixon persisted in continuing it.
A revolution had been set in motion and in the spring of 1970, Nixon knowingly or unwittingly, stoked the flames bringing our country to the brink by sending our troops into neutral Cambodia thereby expanding the war.
My purpose for re-publishing this piece now is that I believe our country is once again going down a similar path.
When I wrote: ”A Time of Rage” my goal was to report it without taking sides.
Being a life-long conservative, my reactive side was to blame the left. However, I sought to leave my opinion aside and tell it like it was as objectively as I could. So here it is my take on that time and my part in it without edit except for style.
Part One, The Shootings
Kent State University, Kent Ohio
It was the photograph that told the story in a way that words could never explain. On Tuesday, May 5, 1970 The New York Times front page headline read:
4 Kent State Students Killed by Troops
But it was John File’s iconic photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio, a fourteen-year-old runaway, totally distraught, screaming as she knelt over the body of Jeffrey Glen Miller, killed by .30 caliber bullets fired by Ohio National Guard soldiers’ M1 rifles. The explanation: The Guard had returned fire after being shot at by a sniper.
There was no sniper.
Twelve casualties, four of them dead: Glen Miller, 20, from Plainview, Long Island; Allison Krauss, 19, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Sandra Lee Schreder, 20, from Youngstown, Ohio, and William K. Schroeder, 19, from Lorain, Ohio.
Trouble first began on Saturday and the initial story appeared below the fold on Page 5 of The New York Times on Sunday, May 3, 1970. The lead story, at the top of the page, reported that Columbia University had decided to suspend classes for one day on Monday to protest the incursion by United States military forces into Cambodia. This related story originated with the Associated Press:
A fire, deliberately set, had destroyed a one-story wooden
ROTC building at Kent State University in central Ohio.
Students cut hoses and threw rocks, hampering firemen
from fighting the fire. Earlier that day 2,000 students
from the university had clashed with police in the town
This was not an isolated incident of protest. Four days earlier, President Richard M. Nixon addressed the nation explaining the scope and reasons for the Cambodian invasion. Prominent statesmen such as former Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, and politicians including Nixon’s predecessor, Lyndon B. Johnson, supported the President’s actions. But student protestors reacted angrily following Nixon’s speech. Radical student leaders-initiated violence at Stanford University but, because of the time difference, the news of their rock-throwing protest didn’t make the East Coast papers until Friday’s editions. The Times reported:
The Times banner headline that morning was about the war, not the protests:
NIXON SENDS COMBAT FORCES TO CAMBODIA
TO DRIVE COMMUNISTS FROM STAGING ZONE
Colleges were in turmoil. Before Nixon’s speech, Ohio State students had already clashed with more than 500 Ohio National Guard troops and state police over the war and civil rights issues. The news story stated that, in the melee, the Guardsmen had fired tear gas while the police fired shotguns, though no pellet wounds were reported. One hundred protestors were arrested and 13 were injured.
But the biggest concern for public safety that weekend was in New Haven, Connecticut, where 20,000 people were expected on Saturday to protest the murder trial of the Black Panther’s national chairman, Bobby Seale. Seale, and eight other Black Panthers, were accused of the torture and murder of Alex Rackley, a 24-year-old Panther. Connecticut’s governor, John Dempsey, was so concerned whether the state police and the national guard could maintain order that he telegraphed attorney general John Mitchell to request federal troops. Mitchell dispatched elements of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg and elements of the 2nd Marine Division from Camp Lejeune to federal facilities close to New Haven. However, these soldiers were not needed as only about half of the anticipated 20,000 protestors rallied on Saturday and the organizers decided to end their protests, so they could instead support Seale’s call for a nationwide protest of Nixon’s expanded war.
The organizers were mindful of the rage that was building over the Cambodian incursion. That weekend, protests spread to additional colleges and universities including Princeton, Maryland, Cincinnati, Temple and Rutgers. President Nixon responded by calling the student radicals, “bums,” in a speech given at the Pentagon.
Sunday was relatively quiet. The Times did find enough interest in the wire service piece about Kent State to dispatch their own reporter, John Kifner, to expand the details of the AP report. His story appeared on Page 11 on Monday, May 4th under the headline:
STUDENTS IN OHIO
Third Straight Night of
Unrest at Kent State
Kifner reported that trouble began Friday evening when 1,000 students marched in protest joined by an equal number of young people from downtown Kent who had been drinking at local bars with names like Pirate’s Alley and J B’s. The mob tore down billboards, benches and fences to build a bonfire on the main street, smashed the windows of banks, shops and an armed forces recruiting station before being stopped by city and state police.
Ohio’s governor, James A. Rhodes, dispatched 600 national guardsmen who had already been activated to control a wildcat Teamsters strike in Cleveland. The guardsmen arrived Saturday night and prevented students from storming the home of university president, Robert I. White. Police accompanying the soldiers fired tear gas driving back the students and dispersing the crowd. Kifner ended his article by observing that the campus was quiet on Sunday.
Despite a planned noon rally on Monday being banned, students began to gather on the Commons to continue their protests. Removal of the national guard was added to their grievances. Shortly before noon, General Robert Canterbury decided to disperse the demonstrators. When the order shouted by a state trooper through a bullhorn had little effect, Canterbury ordered his men to lock and load their weapons and to don their gas masks. Tear gas was fired onto the Common as the guardsmen began to advance in a skirmish line. The crowd gave ground as the line of soldiers advanced down Blanket Hill and onto the football practice field. Here they found themselves in what amounted to a box canyon as the field was surrounded by fences. Isolated and scared, they reformed the skirmish line and retraced their steps back up Blanket Hill.
A group of demonstrators followed the guardsmen and it was at the top of the hill that about a third of the soldiers turned and fired in this group’s direction killing four and wounding nine.