Saturday, May 4, 2019

Move the Damn Gym

I meet Denny near the Pagoda.  The Pagoda is the spot where the National Guardsmen pivoted and shot into a crowd, killing four students, two of whom were not even protesting.  The two protestors were so far away that they posed no threat, as in none, to the twenty something National Guardsmen who fired for thirteen seconds. Count to thirteen.  They shot for thirteen seconds, helter skelter, into a group of unarmed twenty year olds.

Denny tells me he was there that day and his life was saved twice.  He was a freshman and watching the activity. When the Guard marched up from the practice football field to the Pagoda, he was to the left of the soldiers. When the soldiers wheeled around to shoot he was to the right. Very close to the Guardsmen.

The first time he was saved was a few moments before the soldiers got to the Pagoda. He said to a buddy of his that they should go down to the Prentice Parking lot to get a better vantage point.  His buddy said, "No, let's stay here."  He would not necessarily have died if he had gone to the parking lot. But that is where the four others were slain.  Jeff Miller the closest, 270 feet away, then Allison Krause a little further away and to the right of Miller,  William Schroeder an ROTC student was behind Miller, and Sandy Scheuer was a few steps behind Krause.

I asked Denny about the second time, though I knew something about what had transpired.

As soon as the shots went off, the students including my new friend Denny, hit the ground. They all thought the shots were blanks, but hit the ground automatically anyway. When Denny stood up he saw the fallen Jeff Miller. It is Miller who is the student on the ground in the iconic photo.  Denny and all the rest of the students were outraged.  They began to rush down the hill toward the Common.  They were ready to confront the guardsmen. The guardsmen, empowered, were reloading their weapons.

A professor named Glenn Frank acted as a go between. He begged the guard not to open fire, and he begged the students not to confront the guard. Running back and forth between the soldiers and the students, he screamed at the students words to the effect of, I don't care if you never listened to anyone else in your life, listen to me.  Glenn Frank averted what would have been an uglier event.

The May 4 Memorial Service today was moved indoors. It was not raining, but it threatened rain--and it was chilly.  The inside venue was a comfortable place to view the ceremony.  When I was here last we had to stand on the hillside.  Here the entire ballroom was filled with chairs and attendees.  The most powerful speaker was the woman representing Jeff Miller, but there were other interesting moments.  The sister of one of the students wounded made a few comments regarding her recently widowed mother. Her mother suggested that her daughter convey three things. I can only remember the third: Move the damn gym.

In the late 70s to the fury of those who had been shot at, the administration decided to build an auxiliary gym near where my friend Denny had stood that day.  There were strong objections and demonstrations, but the administration prevailed. It is still a source of irritation to the survivors.

After the sister spoke, the president of the university made a few comments. She apparently has been very supportive of those who want to remember this day. Nevertheless as she got up to the podium, a fellow behind me bellowed, "Move the damn gym." And there was applause.

It was something to see a bunch of we early 70 year olds limping around the area where the shots were fired. I overheard one guy squawking about the nature of the demonstration to anyone who he could get to listen. Others paused at the various markers around the shooting site.

The overall sense I have is that I am so glad that I made this trip.  The national guard and the government has never wholly apologized for this travesty.  Unarmed students were shot at for exercising their first amendment rights or observing others who were exercising their first amendment rights.  Forty nine years later, we still remember.

Oh, I did not see Dean Kahler, this year.  He is alive, but he was paralyzed for life, one day after his birthday, by a stray bullet. He'd just transferred into Kent earlier in 1970.

Move the damn gym.

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