Archive for May 4th, 2008


On This Day, 5-4-08: Kent State

I had two sets of friends when I was in grade school.  Those from the neighborhood and those from school.  We played like kids, but we played different games.  With the kids from the neighborhood I played kick the can, cops and robbers, and war.  With the kids from school I played basketball and football.

When I played war, I had the coolest gun.  My parents had bought a toy replica of a Thompson submachine gun.  Pull the bolt back, squeeze the trigger and it made the most sensational racket of any toy I’d ever owned — a grinding mechanical kakakakakakakakakaka.  I imagine that toy drove the neighbors nuts, but what did I know, I was just a kid. 

We played war with vim and vigor like any child plays a game.  We hid in ambush, we patrolled the neighborhood for the enemy, we stalked each other hoping to find the other side’s headquarters, and we fought battles.  We ran and dove and did summersaults to get into position for attack and then we fought and died.  We died with great enthusiasm sometimes, and sometimes we argued. 

I shot you!  You’re dead! 

No you didn’t!  You missed because I dove behind the bush before you fired. 

As if any of it mattered because we just got back up and played a new game.

One day, while I was playing war with the neighborhood kids, my friends from school stopped over to shoot some hoops.  We decided to all join in and play pig or horse and so the toy guns were put away.  I ran into the house and quickly placed my prized machine gun at the bottom of the stairs.  It fit neatly between the handrail and the brass handrail holder.  It always seemed like the perfect place to put that toy, even though my father had told me not to put it there because of the obvious safety concerns over placing something at the bottom of the stairs.

Dashing outside, I grabbed my basketball so we could shoot hoops.  We were laughing and shooting.  It was spring — right about this time of year.  It was 1970.  I was about to take a long shot from the end of the driveway, when I saw my father emerge from the house, carrying my prized toy.  He bellowed my formal name, using that tone father’s use when they’re mad.  An instant of impending doom ran through me as I watched him grab my toy with both hands and announce, “I told you not to leave this at the bottom of the stairs.”  And in an instant snapped the toy over his knee.

There was no saving the toy.  He tossed it in the garbage and went back into the house.  We took it out of the garbage.  It was beyond repair.  It had seemed excessive at the time, but that was 1970 and I was just a kid.  Now that I’m an adult, I understand what my father was going through.  What he was saying.  The Vietnam War seemed like it was going to go on forever and I was getting older.  


April 28, 1970

Nixon approves Cambodian incursion

President Richard Nixon gives his formal authorization to commit U.S. combat troops, in cooperation with South Vietnamese units, against communist troop sanctuaries in Cambodia.

Secretary of State William Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who had continually argued for a downsizing of the U.S. effort in Vietnam, were excluded from the decision to use U.S. troops in Cambodia. Gen. Earle Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cabled Gen. Creighton Abrams, senior U.S. commander in Saigon, informing him of the decision that a “higher authority has authorized certain military actions to protect U.S. forces operating in South Vietnam.” Nixon believed that the operation was necessary as a pre-emptive strike to forestall North Vietnamese attacks from Cambodia into South Vietnam as the U.S. forces withdrew and the South Vietnamese assumed more responsibility for the fighting. Nevertheless, three National Security Council staff members and key aides to presidential assistant Henry Kissinger resigned in protest over what amounted to an invasion of Cambodia.

“Nixon approves Cambodian incursion.” 2008. The History Channel website. 28 Apr 2008, 01:35

April 29, 1970

U.S.-South Vietnamese forces launch Cambodian “incursion”

U.S. and South Vietnamese forces launch a limited “incursion” into Cambodia. The campaign included 13 major ground operations to clear North Vietnamese sanctuaries 20 miles inside the Cambodian border. Some 50,000 South Vietnamese soldiers and 30,000 U.S. troops were involved, making it the largest operation of the war since Operation Junction City in 1967.

The operation began with South Vietnamese forces attacking into the “Parrot’s Beak” area of Cambodia that projects into South Vietnam above the Mekong Delta. During the first two days, an 8,000-man South Vietnamese task force, including two infantry divisions, four ranger battalions, and four armored cavalry squadrons, killed 84 communist soldiers while suffering 16 dead and 157 wounded.

The second stage of the campaign began on May 2 with a series of joint U.S.-South Vietnamese operations. These operations were aimed at clearing communist sanctuaries located in the densely vegetated “Fishhook” area of Cambodia (across the border from South Vietnam, immediately north of Tay Ninh Province and west of Binh Long Province, 70 miles from Saigon). The U.S. 1st Cavalry Division and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, along with the South Vietnamese 3rd Airborne Brigade, killed 3,190 communists in the action and captured massive amounts of war booty, including 2,000 individual and crew-served weapons, 300 trucks, and 40 tons of foodstuffs. By the time all U.S. ground forces had departed Cambodia on June 30, the Allied forces had discovered and captured or destroyed 10 times more enemy supplies and equipment than they had captured inside South Vietnam during the entire previous year.

“U.S.-South Vietnamese forces launch Cambodian “incursion”.” 2008. The History Channel website. 28 Apr 2008, 02:00

May 4, 1970

Four students killed at Kent State

At Kent State University, 100 National Guardsmen fire their rifles into a group of students, killing four and wounding 11. This incident occurred in the aftermath of President Richard Nixon’s April 30 announcement that U.S. and South Vietnamese forces had been ordered to execute an “incursion” into Cambodia to destroy North Vietnamese bases there. In protest, a wave of demonstrations and disturbances erupted on college campuses across the country.

At Kent State University in Ohio, student protesters torched the ROTC building on campus and Ohio Governor James Rhodes responded by calling on the National Guard to restore order. Under harassment from the demonstrators, the Guardsmen fired into the crowd, killing four and wounding 11. The Guardsmen were later brought to trial for the shootings, but found not guilty.

President Nixon issued a statement deploring the Kent State deaths, but said that the incident should serve as a reminder that, “When dissent turns to violence it invites tragedy.” The shooting sparked hundreds of protests and college shutdowns, as well as a march on Washington, D.C., by 100,000 people. The National Student Association and former Vietnam Moratorium Committee leaders called for a national university strike of indefinite duration, beginning immediately, to protest the war. At least 100 colleges and universities pledged to strike. The presidents of 37 universities signed a letter urging President Nixon to show more clearly his determination to end the war.

“Four students killed at Kent State.” 2008. The History Channel website. 28 Apr 2008, 02:03

Kent State

Chronology, May 1-4, 1970

May 1

On Friday, May 1, students organized a demonstration to protest the invasion of Cambodia. A copy of the Constitution was buried to symbolize its “murder.” A second meeting was called for noon, Monday, May 4.

On Friday evening, warm weather, drinking and indignation over the invasion of Cambodia resulted in a crowd which moved toward the center of town breaking some windows. Police met and dispersed the crowd at the intersection of Main and Water streets. The Kent city mayor viewed the scene, heard rumors of a radical plot, declared a state of emergency and telephoned the governor in Columbus for assistance. A National Guard officer was immediately dispatched. Bars were closed by local authorities and hundreds of people were forced into the streets and herded toward the campus with tear gas from riot-geared police. The town was quiet by 2:30 a.m.

May 2

On Saturday, students assisted with the downtown cleanup. Rumors concerning radical activities were widespread and threats to merchants confirmed the fears of some townspeople. University officials obtained an injunction prohibiting damage to buildings on campus. Notice of this injunction appeared in leaflets distributed by the Office of Student Affairs.

Shortly after 8:00 p.m., over one thousand persons surrounded the barracks housing the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps on campus and a few managed to set the building afire. Firemen left the scene after hoses were punctured and cut open, unable to extinguish the blaze. By midnight, the National Guard cleared the campus, forcing students and non-students into dormitories, where many spent the night.

May 3

On Sunday there was a deceptively calm city and campus, occupied by National Guardsmen. Meetings produced a number of conflicting perceptions, resulting in misunderstandings among state, local and University officials. A deluge of sightseers added to the problems. Near dusk, a crowd gathered on the commons at the Victory Bell (a bell ordinarily rung after athletic victories). The crowd failed to disperse. At 9:00 p.m., the Ohio Riot Act was read and tear gas was fired.

The demonstrators reassembled at the intersection of East Main and Lincoln streets, blocking traffic. They believed that officials would speak to them, but no one arrived. The crowd became hostile and at 11:00 p.m. the Riot Act was read again, tear gas was used and a number of people — guardsmen and demonstrators — were injured in the confusion.

The confrontation of Sunday night caused antagonism and resentment among all parties. Classes resumed on Monday. Demonstrators were determined to hold the rally at noon, even if prohibited. The National Guard resolved to disperse any assembly.

May 4

By noon May 4, two thousand people had gathered in the vicinity of the commons. Many knew that the rally had been banned. Others, especially commuters, did not know of this prohibition. Chants, curses and rocks answered an order to disperse. Shortly after noon, tear gas canisters were fired. The gas, blowing in the wind, had little effect. The guard moved forward with fixed bayonets, forcing demonstrators to retreat. Reaching the crest of the hill by Taylor Hall, the guard moved the demonstrators even further to a nearby athletic practice field. Once on the practice field, the guard recognized that the crowd had not dispersed and, further, that the field was fenced on three sides. Tear gas was traded for more rocks and verbal abuse.

The guardsmen then retraced their line of march. Some demonstrators followed as close as 20 yards, but most were between 60 and 75 yards behind the guard. Near the crest of Blanket Hill, the guard turned and 28 guardsmen fired between 61 and 67 shots in 13 seconds toward the parking lot. Four persons lay dying and nine wounded. The closest casualty was 20 yards and the farthest was almost 250 yards away. All 13 were students at Kent State University. The four students who were killed were Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer. The nine wounded students were Joseph Lewis, John Cleary, Thomas Grace, Alan Canfora, Dean Kahler, Douglas Wrentmore, James Russell, Robert Stamps, and Donald MacKenzie. Dean Kahler was permanently paralyzed from his injury.

Disbelief, fright and attempts at first aid gave way quickly to anger. A group of two hundred to three hundred demonstrators gathered on a slope nearby and were ordered to move. Faculty members were able to convince the group to disperse.

A University ambulance moved through the campus making the following announcement over a public address system: “By order of President White, the University is closed. Students should pack their things and leave the campus as quickly as possible.” Late that afternoon, the county prosecutor obtained an injunction closing the University indefinitely. Normal campus activities did not resume until the summer session.

May 2008

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