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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Remembering Kent State Massacre On May 4, 1970 and The Vietnam War

John Filo's Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Jeffrey Miller.
April showers bring May flowers. May also means NBA Playoffs and the Kentucky Derby - both events of anticipation. Early May is a time of reflection for students on a campus in northern Ohio, just south of Cleveland and in the minds of many Baby Boomers across the country as they will be remembering the Kent State Massacre on May 4, 1970 and the Vietnam War.

Student protests regarding Richard Nixon's announcement of the invasion of Cambodia on April 30th, 1970 started on May 1 on the campus of sleepy Kent State University in Kent, Ohio. A major protest was scheduled for noon on May 4th at the Kent State Commons.

Over the days preceding May 4th, there were smaller student protests. An ROTC building was set ablaze on May 2nd. Vandalism broke out on the streets of Kent. Leroy Satrom, Kent's mayor, called on Ohio governor James Rhodes to provide assistance to the already stretched Kent police force. Ohio National Guard troops were sent to the campus on May 2nd.

The university had declared the May 4th protest unlawful and distributed over 12,000 flyers on the Kent campus in the two days before the event, attempting to squelch student involvement. Protesters showed up anyway.

On May 4th, students began assembling for the protest. Ohio National Guard troops, armed with M1 rifles brandishing bayonets formed a phalanx on a hill near the Commons. The troops tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas, but high winds made the tear gas ineffective.

In a cat and mouse game, the protesters moved from the Commons area around the campus, followed by the Guard troops at a distance. After circling back around to the Commons area with students hurling rocks and bottles at the troops, far enough away to not even hit the troops, shots rang out at 12:24 pm. In a little over 13 seconds 29 of the 77 Guard troops fired 67 rounds, killing four and wounding nine. One of the wounded, Dean Kahler, was permanently paralyzed from the chest down.

Dead on the ground were Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer. Miller and Krause were participating in the protest. Schroeder and Scheuer were walking to class. None of the dead or injured were closer than 71 feet to the Guardsman.

After dozens of trials, no one has ever been convicted of any wrongdoing.

Controversy remains today regarding who gave the order to shoot and why.

Student protests and violence broke out on campuses around the country following the shootings on May 4th - resulting in several more student deaths. Five days later, 100,000 people marched on Washington to protest the war and the shooting of unarmed students on college campuses.

A strike by 4 million college students shut down over 900 campuses across the United States. Public sentiment had taken a hard turn away from the war and the ongoing draft, which Nixon promised to end during his 1968 campaign.

Vietnam War

American advisers were first deployed to South Vietnam during the early 1950's under the Eisenhower administration. The U.S. position was that is was trying to stem the spread of communism in southeast Asia.

In 1961, newly elected president, John F. Kennedy increased the number of adviser from 900 to over 16,000. In 1965, 3,500 Marines were deployed to South Vietnam, marking the beginning of American involvement in the ground war. During the next eight years, over 2.5 million Americans served in Vietnam. Our military struggled fighting the guerrilla style of warfare conducted in Vietnam. Combat killed 58,212 Americans. Casualties were 153,452 and 1,711 were Missing In Action (MIA),

As the death toll climbed in Vietnam, peaking in 1968, U.S. backing of the war waned. This was the first war where news reporters were embedded with the troops and brought the horrors and carnage of the war into American living rooms on a daily basis. Only soldiers had seen this view of war in the past. Now, Americans were watching it unfold as they ate their dinners or prepared for bed.

Approximately 3 million Vietnamese military and civilians lost their lives during the conflict.

Fighting in Korea and Vietnam, which both started as advisory roles and escalated into heavy military action led to the War Powers Resolution being enacted in 1973. The resolution was designed to protect the U.S. by denying the president the ability to act unilaterally and deploy military forces without an act of Congress, unless the U.S. or its citizens were being directly threatened or attacked. Something President Obama completely disregarded when he ordered military action in Libya in March 2011.

Besides the high death toll and the high casualties, American troops were forced to endure their unpleasant and unwelcome return to the country they were fighting for. Never before in American history had troops been treated so poorly.

None of those soldiers wanted to go to Vietnam. They were forced to go by a government with an ambiguous plan and a hapless exit strategy. To come home to taunts, spitting, cursing and disrespect by American citizens was one of the most disgraceful chapters in our history.

In 1973, American troops left Vietnam. The twenty year war finally ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Today, our troops are treated better by the citizenry, however, they still face daunting challenges in their service and in their post-service lives.

In Vietnam, the average soldier was in combat around 100 days. With an all-volunteer military, fewer soldiers are being deployed, but are being deployed more often to our conflicts. An Afghan or Iraq vet could spend well over 1,000 days in combat, greatly increasing their chances for death or permanent injury.

Even though the Veterans Administration provides a broad range of benefits for our vets, no one in the military is happy with the way the VA executes their obligations to our service men and women.

Modern era vets face unemployment, plus health and mental issues from battle that are not being addressed and high suicide rates. After serving their country, many vets feel abandoned.

On April 12, 2011, Michele Obama and Jill Biden launched Joining Forces, a program designed to bring government, military, religious and civilian energies to helping our service men and women. This is the first time the White House has spoken out openly about the plight of our heroes that defend our freedoms around the globe.

You may thank a soldier or shake their hand, but few people get involved with helping them. Joining Forces shows you ways to get involved and make a difference.

Early in May, we look back at the tragedy of war both at home and abroad. Today, we can do more now than we ever could before. To move forward we have to look at how far we've come and we do that by remembering the Kent State Massacre on May 4th, 1970 and the Vietnam War.

Related links:
Kent State Massacre
Vietnam War
Kent May 4 Center
War Powers Resolution
Joining Forces - Get Involved

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