Paul Jones leads off this week of perspectives commentaries on the Vietnam War with his recollection of the resistance to the war’s most tragic day – May 4, 1970 at Kent State University.
Shortly before May 4, 1970, my brother and I went for a walk in Kent, Ohio. It was my freshman year at Kent State and my brother had re-enrolled after serving in the Army. It was a balmy summer evening when a young guardsman armed with an M-16 stopped us and marched us back home at gunpoint. Apparently, we were out after the newly instated curfew.
My brother had completed a tour of duty in Vietnam as an infantry lieutenant doing nighttime missions behind enemy lines. From his letters and photos home, I knew it was dirty work. He could've taken the rifle from that guardsmen before the kid knew what hit him, but my brother just walked peacefully back to our apartment. Marc had returned home one of the few anti-war officers of the time. He converted me into an activist as well, and at a festival in our hometown where we were distributing anti-war leaflets, a man overturned a table into our faces.
On that infamous Monday in Kent, I had just left the quad where a protest was scheduled. Very few students were assembled so I went home to get a roommate. On the way back we heard the mayhem. Twenty nine National Guardsmen fired 67 rounds in 13 seconds - killing four students and wounding nine.
What strikes me most now, some 47 years later, is the tragic irony of my brother surviving the insanity of Vietnam only to come home to being marched back into our apartment by that guardsmen and the subsequent murder of our fellow students a few days later. The dissonance that he experienced during this homespun violence, in the face of brutality he left behind in Vietnam, is incomprehensible.