Just Walt's Mental Meanderings

Walter Blevins

Walter Blevins
Vista, California, USA
August 22
I'm a 60 year old guy who lives in Vista California with my wife. I spent the 30 years before moving to Cali in Iowa, Wisconsin and North Dakota. And I have 2 grown children, a son and a daughter who live in Virginia and Iowa and a 22 year old step-daughter lives with us here in Vista. I'm a proud grandpa with 2 grandaughters living in Virginia. I like to write about a whole variety of things from my kids to cooking to politics to the car industry to my status as a "Cheap Bastid" and "Old Fart" and just random thoughts. And I really love writing about cooking really good, homecooked comfort food cheap. That's why they call me the Cheap Bastid. By the way--all the stuff I write is my stuff and you can't use it without my official OkeyDokey

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SEPTEMBER 21, 2011 9:36PM

Freshman Orientation--4 Dead in Ohio

Rate: 35 Flag

(note: this is a repost for the Freshman Orientation Open Call originally written May 4, 1970, the 40th Anniversary of Kent State) 

May 4, 1970.  A spring day for a Freshman in college at the University of North Dakota.  I was 18 and enjoying being in college.  Then...the reports started to come in.

A demonstration at a small college in Ohio protesting Nixon's sending troops into Cambodia.  No one had ever heard of Kent State before.  The National Guard had been called out.  We were kind of used to that kind of report from the media by then.  There had been lots of riots.  President Nixon was constantly invoking the phrase "outside agitators".  Maybe there were.  Nobody really knew.

We heard about shots being fired.  About students being killed.  Students?  Wow!  I was a student.  These were kids just like me.

1970_kent_state_shooting The most famous image of May 4, 1970 from Kent State University

I went home that night.  I didn't live on campus my Freshman year.  I lived at home at the local Air Force Base. I watched the news and was appalled at the black and white images of students running from tear gas and of bodies left behind.

When my father, an Air Force Master Sergeant, got home that night we got in a discussion about it which turned into an argument which turned into me getting punched and held against the wall with his hand on my throat and his fist cocked.  I remember my father's rage.  And I remember that the only point I was trying to make was that these were students just like me.

Well, not quite.  This is where it gets a bit interesting.  The next morning I left for school--with a black eye.  It was Tuesday.  I had AFROTC class.  I was trying to get a scholarship.  Not because I wanted to go to 'Nam.  But because I wanted to serve and to fly.

Classes were cancelled.  A crowd was gathering near the ROTC Armory.  I went inside with some of my friends from ROTC.  We decided that if the crowd were to storm the building then we would fight.  We were ready.  We weren't going to let things happen here that had happened on other campuses.  A friend and I noticed something right across the street from the Armory on the flag pole just outside the Administration Building.

Someone had raised the Viet Cong flag and it was flying above the American flag.  We went running out and lowered the flags.  Then we quickly decided that the best thing was to put the American flag on top with the Viet Cong flag beneath it.  No way was the American flag going to fly lower and we didn't want to inflame tempers by doing what our first instinct told us--which was to throw the Viet Cong flag in the trash.

und kent state demonstration Col. Woodard and UND President Tom Clifford on the steps of the ROTC Armory on May 5, 1970

Anyway, the ROTC Armory was the center of a protest that morning.  My friend and I were threatened by a University Administrator with arrest if any violence occured because of what we had done with the flag.  And ultimately the Armory was "bombed".  Except in true pacifist style, it was bombed with paper airplanes and marshmallows.  That was anti-war protest at the University of North Dakota.

I never truly understood what had so incensed my father.  Maybe he was worried that I would find myself in the  middle of something that I couldn't get out of.  Maybe he too was confused.

I do remember that all the planes on the flightline of the base were moved away from their usual place near the highway to the other end of the runway--just in case.  Dad and I used to joke though at how easily someone who had just a bit of local knowledge could get on the flightline.  We even joked about doing it and putting tags on a plane that said "Boom!".

And, as the week of protests and the "spring of our discontent" rolled along we all changed.  I think my relationship with my father changed even though we went back to throwing the ball in the yard and going out fishing together.  But I don't think I trusted him as much.  And it was the last time he ever hit me.

My American Legion baseball coach called me one night.  He was the head of the base's Office of Special Investigations.  He knew I was a student and was active on campus.  He asked me to keep an eye out for military personnel participating in demonstrations or unrest and to let him know.  I didn't want to "narc" but agreed to do that even though I really didn't.  I think what he really meant was to let him know especially if there were any "black" airmen conspicuously hanging out with demonstrators.

And within a week the campus was back to normal.  I was playing JV baseball that year and just trying to have fun.

But, I'll never forget that day.  Four dead in Ohio.  Every young man and woman in college remembers that day I think.  It changed how we view the world.  Four dead in Ohio.  And it changed our world, too.

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When my students and I talked about Kent State on the 40th anniversary, they were shocked that such a thing could have happened. Thanks for this.
You got yourself quite an education those several days, Walt. We all did. Smart move, how you handled the flag thing. Typical administrator's response, too, finding somebody to blame if it didn't work out. I wonder if your dad was reacting as many men in his generation did during those years of protest. Mine, who would brag about being a LaFollette liberal, used to shout at the TV, "they ought to line them all up and machinegun them."

You done good.
What an orientation! Thank you for sharing all the different perspectives of this momentous event. Truly an important moment.
This was intense and the kind of "freshman orientation" we should all remember and pay attention to.
It was truly shocking at the time to learn that we were being shot in the streets by our government.
I was 7 when this happened and I always liked the song, but I was probably in my late 20s before I realized it had actually happened. Thanks for making it more real.
This is one of the most compelling essays I've read in a long, long time!
I remember t all so well, and as with Lorraine's students, above, well same w mine. r.
I was not quite ten on this date and it reverbrates for me from that day on. I remember reading a Time Magazine (you know, back when Time was a real independant jouranlistic periodical that pulled no punches) the week after the event and, even at nine years of age I was shocked.

These days, the kids (like most of my peers in that timeframe) seem to have no idea what's going on around them of importance. They know what Britany Spears is doing, or Lindsay Lohan's latest gaffe. They're aware of the latest video games and which kids in school are cool -- or not.

In my time, it really wasn't that much different at that age.

This piece reminds me of how my dad would act up at the TV with the Vietnam reports and the local/national news when he was home. He was in the Navy and spent a lot of time onboard ships patrolling the Gulf of Tonkin.

This was around the time I started to worry (perhaps a bit unrealisticially, but hey, I was nine) that my oldest brother, who was then just turned fourteen, might have to worry about going to Vietnam himself if the war didn't end soon.


Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming
We're finally on our own
This summer I hear them drumming
Four dead in Ohio...

(still gives me chills)
Something to remember - the state can kill its children. (Another one last night...)
My generation could use more anti-war protests. It isn't easy though is it? I wonder how many physical fights were happening all over America that next day.
Great post on a time when America was at least as divided as now. Somehow we survived that divide-- I wish I could be confident we will survive this one.
Walter, in 1970 I was 21 years old and a brand new freshman in a small Texas college. I had returned from Vietnam and gotten my GED and entered college in an effort to better myself. One of the first things I saw on that first day was the flag of my enemy flying on a flag pole at the college. I wanted to rip it down but I didn't. Instead, I was just overcome with sadness. I knew right then I would never fit in with these people.

You know, when I saw this prompt I toyed with the idea of writing about all of this, but then that same feeling of sadness overcame me and I knen....once again....I would never fit in.

Congrats, my dear friend, upon the EP, it is well deserved.
the madness started for me in '68 when i was a freshman in college and martin king and then bobby kennedy were assassinated and the police in chicago were beating demonstrators outside the democratic convention, but i don't remember a more horrific day than when the national guard fired on and killed students at kent state. makes my blood go cold, remembering. thanks for this, walter.
Although I was only 8 when this happened, and not yet a student at KSU (obviously - I was no prodigy!), when I got there in 1980, much had changed, but you still walked by all those places every day. I lived in Prentice Hall my freshman year, and in that very parking lot, one of the dead bodies lay. It's hard to know where I would have been on that day if I had been born 10 years earlier.

Thanks for writing this from another point of view.
I was 9 years old but I remember those images from the newspapers. Crazy times.
Wow! This is a powerful post on many levels. It was a coming of age for you and a horrible time for our country. It seems unbelievable that it happened. Fear can cause very strange behavior....
I was a college senior that spring. We all wore black armbands to our graduation ceremony. This is a great piece of writing.
Congratulations on your EP, this is a fine piece of writing. Those were very difficult times. There was such an air of protest in the country that started with the youth, and there was so much at stake for all them with the draft, with the way the country felt about the war. So much conflict internally and so much death, so much death and waste. I wish we could stop what is happening now. It rivals this same feeling of waste. I am sorry that your dad came to blows with you. I am sure that a part of that might have had to do with being in the military and wanting to believe in what they were doing, I don't know. All I know is that when my brother's draft number came up, he got out because he was in college. My parents, both veterans were in a kind of state. My mother argued, "We both served, our son should not have to go"; their sacrifice and their losses had no effect, only his grades. Your life saved because of your grades. My g-d. There is terrible madness out there now again.
Outstanding essay, Walt. What a time . . . and what a rude awakening.
I was a junior at a midwestern state university that year. I was a total draft-dodgin' anti-war hippie (although I didn't like any flags).
Walter: First, congratulations on EP and cover. You deserve it. Second, I was a senior in high school when this happened. I still remember how tense the entire school and teachers were. In fact, it was a private school, but the administration was so bothered and worried by all of it that they told faculty if students wanted to talk about it, so be it.

Sadly, ironically, I miss those days when America spoke up as a nation. One year later I would be "drafted" into this horrible war. I never went. And I'm glad your dad never hit you again.
Very nice piece, Walter.
Walter, I remember that event well like so many of the other readers commenting here. I would like to think we have improved as a society but then came word of overseas renditions (and the like) which were also a new low for this country. Nevertheless, the shooting of those four students is seared in the memory of so many of us from 41 years back in time!
I hitched to DC for the protest that followed. A million people of all ages. Military snipers atop every building. The White House surrounded by a protective wall of buses. Soldiers with machine guns stationed behind the buses. Fortunately, it was a peaceful rally, but I keep wondering what would've happened if one trigger-happy sniper had lost it.
i can't see any change, except that the elite run their wars with hired gunmen now. they don't bother you anymore, except for the occasional bomb thrower 'out of nowhere.'
"When my father, an Air Force Master Sergeant, got home that night we got in a discussion about it which turned into an argument which turned into me getting punched and held against the wall with his hand on my throat and his fist cocked. I remember my father's rage. And I remember that the only point I was trying to make was that these were students just like me."

It's important that young people today know the various social changes that have taken place in our country, in each decade. I attended Kent State from 1974-1978, wandering under the trees on Bunker Hill where the Guard stood to take their shots. It happened once, it could happen again, we much work harder on dialogue and conflict resolution, at home, at work, and in government.

Rated and shared on Facebook.
I have two children who graduated from Kent State and one that is currently attending. I always think of the Kent State Massacre. Thank you for remembering.
I was an Ohio native in school in Massachusetts, waiting in terror to find out if any of my friends were among the dead. Sandy Scheuer was a good friend to several of my friends from high school.

Don't forget Jackson State either.

And thank you.
I was an Ohio native in school in Massachusetts, waiting in terror to find out if any of my friends were among the dead. Sandy Scheuer was a good friend to several of my friends from high school.

Don't forget Jackson State either.

And thank you.
It's scary to realize this could happen far easier today than in 1970.
Powerful piece. What an education you had!
I had just started high school in 1970 and remember the news reports. I also remember that back in those days, our house was divided. Think Archie Bunker and Meathead. It amazes me that such a thing could have happened, but I also marvel at what a difference this generation made!
Congrats on the EP, Walt. I never thought I would read about this firsthand. -r-
and mazal tov on the Cover. :)
I was at Ohio State during this time period; our campus was occupied by the same Ohio National Guard. I had teachers refusing to teach; we had to go off-campus for some of our classes. It was weird to see that the Guard was the same age as we were.
Do you still talk to your father? If that happened to me I wouldn't.

Kent State is emblazoned on my brain pan as the most devestating event of that era next to the Cuban Missle Crisis (when JFK nearly got us all killed.)

We may get a replay in New York shortly. Those cops have guns -- and you know they want to use them.
You don't expect that those kind of things would happen in America, yet they have. For me it was the California riots. In my little world we had never had riots in America.

I know there was a Civil war, but somehow it didn't touch me like riots in my lifetime.

Interesting post. Write on!
Like you, I am now 59 and clearly remember that day, as well. As it happens, I also was an AF brat, and my Dad was probably stationed at the same base as you were then, GFAFB. I remember clearly also having just turned 11 when the little girl came running into our class to say that President Kennedy had been shot. Just a few years later, as I was preparing to graduate from HS and attend Antioch College in Ohio on a full scholarship, I was stunned to learn of the Kent State shootings. of course, it colored my entire stay there, just a few short months. You're right, both those events changed us and America forever -- and most certainly NOT for the better. I finished my BA 10 years later and became first a federal agent and then an investigative reporter, covering all manner of other USG-sponsored murders, massacres and assorted international criminality. As Castro himself predicted in 1963, the "chickens have come home to roost." As horrified as we all were that day in May 1970, we have been far too complacent and trusting for more than 40 years now and the continuing barbarity and depravity that masquerades as "U.S. foreign policy," but this IS changing, day by day as more revelations continue to surface about the true perpetrators. I pray that the uprising that IS coming will not need to be so bloody, but I am CERTAIN it IS coming -- and the sooner the better...
" I pray that the uprising that IS coming will not need to be so bloody, but I am CERTAIN it IS coming -- and the sooner the better..."
Marc--I am utterly saddened to say that I concur with what you are saying with one exception. When you say, the sooner the better, I hope against all hopes that you are wrong. But I fear that you may be right. And I ask myself--what am I going to do when it comes?
And what do High Educators ( Ithaca finger lakes) tell the kids.. That they have been a party to the whole mess?? Packing a big paycheck. How about the truth.... Professor.... Cornell University. You should be the champion of dissent