The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, May 13, 2020 1:00 am

Lessons of Kent State reverberate 50 years later

Jon J. Olinger

Fifty years ago, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on antiwar protesters in the middle of Kent State University's campus, killing four students and wounding nine others.

Since a high school criminology class focused on the shooting, I have been interested. I have traveled to Kent State, walked the campus and seen the parking lot where today four memorials mark the spots where the students fell.

With this year marking a major anniversary, I have read article after article about the shooting and its effect on our society. Articles claim “it was the beginning of division in America” (it wasn't; they forgot about that whole Civil War thing); “it defined a generation” (the generation was defined well prior to 1970); and “it changed the American people's opinion of the Vietnam War” (the people's opinion had already changed by May 1970).

I have read articles and listened to Neil Young's song over and over. What I have not heard are the names of the four students who died at Kent State. They were used as political martyrs, but it is easy to forget they were college kids, real people who were never allowed to grow old.

The four Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young made a hit record over are:

Jeff Miller: Jeff was an antiwar protester. There is video and photographs of Jeff throwing a tear gas canister back at National Guard members and angrily flipping his middle finger at the Guardsmen. The photo of a 14-year-old young lady crying out over Jeff's lifeless body is the most famous photo of the day. If you're old enough, you remember it.

Jeff didn't deserve to die. He was unarmed, no threat to the Guard -- and if flipping off authority were a shooting offense, I would have been shot years ago.

Allison Krause: Allison was a 19-year old honor student protesting the bombing of Cambodia. She was more than 100 yards from the Guardsmen who shot her. Allison took cover behind a car. The full metal jacket 30 caliber bullet that killed her went through the car, through her arm and into her chest. She died later that day.

Sandra Scheuer: Sandra was a 20-year old speech therapy student who was walking across campus with a classmate. She was not involved in the protests and had been attempting to avoid them, but the campus had not closed and she still had class. She was about 130 yards from the Guardsmen. A single 30 caliber round, likely a ricochet, hit her in the neck, severed her jugular vein and she died within minutes.

William Schroeder: William was a 19-year old psychology major on an ROTC scholarship. Ironically, the Guard was called to the campus after protesters set ablaze the ROTC classroom building not far from the shooting site. Schroeder, an Eagle Scout, applied for an ROTC scholarship at 17. In addition, he earned the Association of the United States Army award for excellence in history. Schroeder was no protester, just walking across campus between class. His parents, no doubt proud of his achievements, sent him to school to gain an education and he died.

While the political opinions of Jeff and Allison were clearly antiwar, we don't really know about Sandra and William. Regardless, we don't kill people over ideas. That is the very reason we were fighting communism in Vietnam, because we don't kill people over their ideas and we believe others shouldn't, either.

We should remember May 4, 1970, not because of its effect on our country's history, but because four real people died. Jeff, Allison, Sandra and William had parents, grandparents, and siblings. They likely each had a different outlook on the war. Regardless of politics, they were young adults who, as one article artfully says, “will remain young forever.”

The other thing we must remember: We're Americans, we protest, it's how we began, it's who we are. Let's not do Kent State again. 

Jon J. Olinger is a Fort Wayne attorney and former member of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board.

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