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Remembering the Fallen

Twenty-Eight Years Later, Kent State Continues to Debate How to Recognize the Vietnam War Protesters Killed and Wounded There


KENT, Ohio — On the very spot where the M-1 bullet caught Jeffrey Miller in the face, where he spun and fell to the ground, blood gushing from the enormous hole in his head, there is today an anonymous gravel-strewn patch of roadway.

Where Sandy Scheuer died, shot through the neck, the blacktop is cracked and gouged by tire tracks. Where Bill Schroeder lay dying after a bullet traveled up his back and through his lung before exploding out his left shoulder, there is a small pile of cigarette butts where a car ashtray has been emptied.

And, on the aisle between parking spaces where "flower child" Allison Krause fell, there is a puddle of oil spreading where once her blood seeped.

Since May 4, 1970, when the four students were killed by National Guardsmen brought in to quell unrest at the Kent State University campus here, there has never been any question about where it all happened. In 1980, the school even published a map that labels with letters from A to M the sites where the four who died were shot and where nine other students were wounded.

But until now, the spots have never been officially memorialized--or even closed to traffic. Although students and faculty will continue to park their rusted-out Pintos and shiny new LeSabres over the sites until at least May 4, 1999, for the first time in the long, troubled history of Kent State memorial-making, a plan has been approved to permanently block off the four parking spaces where the students were struck down.

How they will be marked and isolated from the other parking spots, whether by floral planters or decorative barriers, is at the center of debate among students, faculty and administrators.

Closing four slots in a 60-car lot on an 800-acre campus with dozens of other parking lots might seem like a modest proposal, but when it comes to the Kent State tragedy, no suggestion, however common-sensical or modest-sounding, is considered without controversy.


"If you ask me, Kent State is running this memorial business into the mud," graduate student Muata Niamke told a visitor recently. "I don't have anything against the students who died, of course, but if for every death in a social movement anywhere in the U.S. we put up a memorial, we'd have them all over the place. Enough."

That attitude is shared by some townspeople whose natural sympathies have historically been with the guardsmen and not the students who died. As a worker at a motel near campus put it, "Remember, it was just some hippie college students who didn't know the meaning of law and order. I think we should have stopped talkin' about them a long, long time ago."

But Kent State graduates like Claudette Mejean, class of 1969, don't think there has been enough talk about how and why and where the students died.

"I come here every year for the May 4 anniversary vigil at the parking spaces just so people will remember," she said. "For nearly three decades, that's been the only day of the year the university will shut down the parking lot."

Students on the university's ongoing May 4 Task Force say it took them "300 people marching to the university president's office, 2,000 signatures, letters from all the families, and 28 years" to win the president's July 1 approval to close the four "sacred sites."

Kent State President Carol Cartwright, who came here in 1991 from her post as vice chancellor at UC Davis, says she did not agree to closing the parking spots in the past because she was not sure that was what the families of the slain students wanted. Now, Cartwright says, she is convinced by recent conversations with some family members that the new plan is needed to complete "some unfinished business in the history of May 4."


Blanket Hill is a grassy knoll in the center of campus, named by students who for generations have used it to spread their blankets and take in the sun--or at night to make love under the stars. According to the President's Commission on Campus Unrest, it was from here, shortly after noon on May 4, 1970, a hot spring Monday, that a detachment of Ohio National Guardsmen, armed with World War II-vintage Army rifles, fired a volley of at least 61 shots, killing four students and wounding nine.

Although the commission concluded that "the indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted and inexcusable," criminal charges brought against eight of the guardsmen were dropped for lack of evidence.

The soldiers had been ordered to the campus just 40 hours before, arriving late Saturday night after a wooden ROTC barracks was burned down in protest of President Nixon's decision to expand the Vietnam War by invading Cambodia.

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