Joseph Sima, Oral History
Recorded: October 16, 2007
Interviewed by Craig Simpson
Transcribed by Robin Katz
Note: This transcript includes geo-references to locations that are discussed in the oral history. Geographical names linked in the transcript will open in a new window or tab that takes you to that location information and map in the Mapping May 4 project. To request a transcript without geo-reference links included, please contact Kent State University Special Collections & Archives.
[Interviewer]: Good morning, my name is Craig Simpson and the date is October 16, 2007. We are conducting an oral history interview today for the May 4 Oral History Project, and could you please state your name?
[Joseph Sima]: Yeah, my name is Joseph M. Sima.
[Interviewer]: And where were you born?
[Joseph Sima]: Cleveland, Ohio.
[Interviewer]: When did you attend Kent State?
[Joseph Sima]: From the fall of '67 to June of '71.
[Interviewer]: What made you decide to come here?
[Joseph Sima]: Well, I had a cousin that came here and graduated. I knew it was close to home, that means I could pop back on a weekend. It was--had a very good reputation, had a variety of different programs, and I thought that was what I was looking for.
[Interviewer]: What was your major?
[Joseph Sima]: It was comprehensive social studies and secondary education and pre-law for a minor.
[Interviewer]: How would you describe Kent State prior to the events of 1970?
[Joseph Sima]: Well, I think it's an overall, typical, midwestern, medium-sized university. Sports programs are good in some areas, not so good in other areas, but I was pleased to see that after I graduated the football team did quite well with Mr. Lambert's prowess on the field. And basketball we were usually pretty good. I was in track myself, ran freshman track and had a good time.
[Interviewer]: What memories do you have of those four days in May, and you can begin wherever you'd like.
[Joseph Sima]: Oh, sure. First of all, as most weekends--but not all--went home back to Cleveland to get my mother's good cooking, get my laundry done, pack up some food to come back here and make for myself because I was in an apartment in Glenmorris, and so really didn't hear anything till Saturday. Little bit of rumbling about downtown Kent on the news, didn't pay too much attention to it. And then on Saturday it hit the screens that there was a ROTC building on fire and that the National Guard was called in.
When I got back on Sunday--Sunday late afternoon--I thought I was in a war zone of Vietnam. Helicopters that were three times anything I had ever seen, armored cars, Jeeps, machine guns, mini-tanks, soldiers everywhere. I--it was just unbelievable. And they were patrolling even up and down the residential streets, because I was a resident at Glenmorris. And came time for dusk, they said, Everybody in, there's a curfew. And if you stood outside--they teargassed Glenmorris. Unfortunately, the auto [i.e., armored vehicle shooting teargas] set the building on fire because we had a wooden partition-area for garbage in each unit and three floors and one of them went in there and fortunately was put out.
That was about it when we come to Monday morning. Guards were there in front of the buildings, on the street, they had bayonets on their rifles, and they--you know, it was serious business. I remember I had a class in Bowman Hall and I had a Guardsman right outside the door. And it was like that in many of the classes. Not a conducive learning environment, to say the least. We didn't learn much of anything that day. It would have been wise to cancel classes, but I guess the governor was running for a senate position and wanted it open regardless what. And I think that's one of the things that contributed to the four deaths and nine injured.
But anyway, when it came time for the noon rally which everybody knew was going to happen--you know, I mean, it was no secret--I ended up going to the Student Union. Not that I wasn't interested in being with some of the other students, but that was my break for lunch and I was in line and about to get my order when someone ran in and--to the cafeteria and said, "Hey, there's been a shooting," and everybody poured right out. And of course it was partitioned with the Guard and we couldn't go anywhere, we could not go to where the shooting had taken place up by Taylor. And so the next thing I know it was a hot, sunny day. Oh, it was blistering hot for that time of year. And it was real windy, constant wind. And being someone in track--everybody's talking about these tape recordings not picking things up--I can tell you that a starter gun, or a small gun, the sound of it does not travel backwards from the source of the wind when it's that high and constant. So a recording not picking it up was not--was no surprise to me. I don't know if the expert audio people ever figured that out or not. But one o'clock came--approximately--and they said, "School's dismissed, everybody's to pack up your gear, and go back home." And I walked--when I walked towards Glenmorris and I can tell you what I've got to tell you so I don't repeat myself.
[Interviewer]: Did you take correspondence classes that summer?
[Joseph Sima]: Yes, I did.
[Interviewer]: And then, what was the atmosphere like when you returned that fall?
[Joseph Sima]: That fall I didn't notice much difference. I didn't notice much difference at all. Other than students talking with one another about what had happened in the spring. But it was business as usual, so to speak.
[Interviewer]: You have an interest in the Terry Norman, uh, scenario, I guess, for lack of a better term. And I know you have a prepared statement. Before you begin that, could you just--maybe for listeners who don't, who aren't familiar, could you kind of briefly preface that by explaining who Terry Norman is?
[Joseph Sima]: Well, Terry Norman was a student and former photographer for the FBI and in some occassions for the campus--campus police and on a few occasions for Akron police--a certain segment of it. He sort of was in the wrong place at the wrong time in that he was armed when he went out with the Guard and he drew his pistol and he claims he fired. There are witnesses that claimed that he fired. He then reneged and said, "No, I didn't fire." This is caught on tape which has been missing for 37 years from WKYC but may be coming out shortly because I think someone got part of the copy. But anyway, unfortunately the Guard is--was tired. There's no doubt in my mind if they were on a Teamster strike they were, you know, kind of jittery when they came in. And having seen and/or heard a gun or a gun going off, I think they would have been very--[exhales], how can I put it?--ready to shoot. And I think that's what had happened. It's unfortunate. Campus police knew that he [Terry Norman] had the gun when he went out with them. It's on a videotape that I have and had he not had a gun we might not be talking about May 4th right now, between you and me. It's just an unfortunate thing. I'm sure he didn't mean to do what he did. I'm sure he didn't realize what the repercussions were going to be. But he--like your parents and my parents and other people who said, You don't play with guns, you know. I mean, it's not a good thing.
[Interviewer]: And would you like to read this prepared statement that you have that I guess gives a little more background?
[Joseph Sima]:Yeah. Why don't we pause it here, and then I'll get the--
[Interviewer]: Sure, we'll pause.
[Interviewer]: All right, we're back interviewing Joseph Sima and Joe, you're going to read a prepared statement.
[Joseph Sima]: Yeah, basically it's a summary that was made up a long time ago and updated a couple times. Long time ago meaning that it went to other people, including George McGovern in March of 1971. And as a summary because I was not getting any help from the FBI who took my information and [laughs]--and concealed a whole lot of evidence as a resut of it and caused a lot of problems. Anyway, here we go:
[reads from prepared statement] "In early January 1969, I was approached by a girl from my high school who shared a scholarship award with me. For ease of identity we will call her Jan. Jan was noticeably scared. A student that she had seen only a few times had displayed a dangerous tendency. He had taken her on a date to an area outside of Akron and proceeded to remove a handgun from the glovebox of his car. He then went to the trunk and pulled out a rifle. His concept of the date included discharging the weapons in an area, no doubt, that was prohibitive not only to mention--not to mention that the law in the state of Ohio also forbid the carrying of concealed weapons--handguns, especially minors at the time. She told me that he worked for Brooks Detective Agency and she told me that he had detailed personal information about a mutual friend of ours who had graduated from high school and was in the Air Force at the time. He supplied her with detailed information about him and was--that was not available to anyone, including civilian law enforcement. Military records at that time were off-limits except for extreme misdemeanors or felonies. The information coming from a very intelligent young lady and fairly good common sense was puzzling. I advised her that she should stay clear of this individual because, at best, he may have a quote, Dick Tracy, unquote-type syndrome.
"The male student was Terrence B. Norman from Copley High School outside of Akron. There was no Brooks Detective Agency as the phony card indicated, although Brooks was his middle name. How he got a ton of military records on an airman was beyond me as our friend had a perfect record, nothing suspicious. Evidently, Norman was trying to impress her with his accessibility to information. The handgun did not have a permit under the state requirements. He did take a ton of pictures--usually of SDS and anti-war student organization members--and did develop and blow them up in his Akron area housing. The funny thing is that most pictures were black and white--I guess government standard for the time. As I got back to Jan with the information, she confided she would steer clear of this individual, which she did. One shocking item came up, though. Jan stated that she was invited to go with Terry Norman to Washington, D.C. on Sunday, December 1, 1968. He stated to her that he needed an air-travel escort with him from Cleveland, Ohio to Washington, D.C. in order to attend a special meeting at the FBI Headquarters. The meeting lasted approximately an hour or so. Travel involved a flight from Cleveland Hopkins Airport, Cleveland on Sunday morning, December 1, 1968 and returning that evening. There were five witnesses at two locations that are testimonial witnesses, including a dean of the School of Journalism who was very much involved in investigating this out.
"Anyway, now, when J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI mentioned intially after the Kent State shootings that Terry Norman wasn't theirs--in other words, not [in] the FBI's employ--and the agency later had to change it to, Norman started working for the FBI less than a week before the Kent State shootings--I knew Hoover and the FBI were lying to the media and the public because I had proof of Norman's association with the FBI dating back to 1968. Copies of those airline tickets, photographs, and miscellaneous items are being dropped off for yourself [i.e., KSU Special Collections and Archives]. If you want to be perfectly honest about it, campus police also knew it. So much for honest law enforcement. Norman was still--Norman was and still is suspected of being a probable catalyst of the tragic shootings. His initial admission of firing a .38 caliber gun was followed by denial. I knew that the FBI wanted to diffuse this potentially volatile tragedy for the self-preservation and interest of the FBI itself, but I did not believe they would go to the point of concealing evidence and refusing detrimental testimonies, which they did and continue to do by refusing to release the details of their informant's actions on May 4, 1970, including the complete investigative details as well.
"Fate and coincidence have been part of this case since the beginning. It was around 1 p.m. on May 4, 1970 when the orders were given to vacate the campus. I still remember how hot it was, the sun shining and a tremendously strong, steady wind from the west. I remember the awe of the students, not their anger. Most of us left peaceably without a word. I remember walking toward my apartment at Glenmorris complex. As I passed two girls and a guy, I overheard them mentioning a student with a tan-colored sportcoat and a gun. I kept walking. Packing some of my belongings and heading for Cleveland was the task in that the main road toward the Ohio turnpike--which is Route 43--was jammed with thousands of students fleeing the shock of their young lives.
"On the eleven o'clock news that night on WKYC Channel Three, I almost fell out of my chair. The film of the Kent State tragedy was showing the student with the sportcoat approaching the camera, gun drawn and somewhat out of breath communicating with his group--that would have been campus police. What was actually said turned out to be, "I had to shoot, I had to shoot, they would've killed me." This was also witnessed by WKYC commentator Fred DeBrine and Sergeant Michael Delaney of the public relations office of the Ohio National Guard. Two other Guardsmen also overheard this and were instrumental in seeking a federal grand jury for the case after relaying their information to Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana. And this was a little bit later, you know, in time. When the gun was turned in, Officer Thomas Kelley of the Kent State police department shouted that, "The gun was fired four times, what do we do now?" He later denied that he said it despite several witnesses Upon seeing this film--black and white as we did--not have a color television at my house--I remember what the three students mentioned about a student in a tan sportcoat with a gun. I also realized that this was Terry Norman, who I had not seen since March of 1969 at a Kent State band concert at University Auditorium. I had a compelling feeling that I needed to call the FBI Cleveland office and report what I knew about him.
"The next day, Tuesday, May 5, 1970, I called the FBI Cleveland office and asked if they were gathering information on the Kent State case or if I should call a different location. They said that they were working on the case and I identified myself and gave them an outline of what and who I was going to talk about. I went into detail about Terry Norman and his activities at the Kent State--at and around Kent State, some of which were illegal and unlawful--about concealed weapons, the discharge of several weapons, fake IDs, a trip to FBI Headquarters in December 1968 and a surveillance and photographic operations of antiwar organization members. The major item was that he was illegally armed on the campus on May 4 and drew his pistol and may have shot it. The problem was he may have been at the wrong place at the wrong time and his actions may have influenced or prompted the Guard into firing. He had acted in a reckless manner and was unconcerned when he fired his weapons in a semi-suburban area at an earlier time. I told the agent that the WKYC film had Norman and his gun on it, and he was returning from The Commons area.
"That was the last time I saw the film. WKYC did not have it later on, a couple months later. NBC News archives in New York did not have it. The National Archives do not have it--and the FBI has refused to talk to me about my testimony for 37-plus years. That film both is critical and important both from a historic and legal standpoint and would be used in much-needed litigations."
[unintelligible; tape paused]
[Interviewer]: Okay, go ahead.
[Joseph Sima]: [continues reading prepared statement] "A note of interest: since the original film disappeared and the FBI refused to speak to me about the information I had volunteered to them on May 5, 1970, I could detect that the FBI had violated my confidence by concealing or refusing information that involved Mr. Norman during their investigation and coordination with the grand juries and Scranton Commission. I decided to prepare a letter and brief package of information for Senator George McGovern explaining the above and I personally delivered it to his Senate office building in March 1971 during spring break and again in August of 1972. I have retained those copies. He and Senator Bayh were very effective in pursuing a federal investigation, but even they could not escape the effectiveness and concealment efforts of the FBI. Based upon investigative books, writings, biographies, et cetera, it is my opinon that the truth had been--if the truth had been released and it showed that the FBI student informant had anything to do with the Kent State tragedy, President Nixon, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and Ohio Gov. James Rhodes would have taken a lethal hit politically. So they felt that they had no choice, which resulted in a totally botched investigation, resulting in concealment of evidence, testimonies and obstruction of justice in the courts and Scranton Commission.
"The preceeding is 100 percent fact and is all verifiable. The next section is my opinion, which is short. One final thought to ponder for historians and political scientists alike. It is noted that J. Edgar Hoover did not want the FBI involved in Kent State shootings and expressed this in front of John Mitchell and John Dean--his attorney general and of course, the White House legal aide. It is also noted that many people realized that President Richard Nixon was paranoid over Kent State. He felt if he were to lose the reelection in 1972 it would be because of what happened at Kent. J. Edgar Hoover passed away on May 1st-2nd of 1972. The Watergate break-in took place a month and a half later on June 17, 1972. Do you, like many critical historians, see a connection of the loss of Hoover and the need for the White House to keep tabs on a would-be presidential candidate who had inside information on Kent State and had voiced his displeasure over the lack of proper investigation of the case in the prior months? Why else would the White House jeopardize a reelection campaign which was an overwhelming favorite to win? Just a thought to make you put things in perspective since some historians have pondered why a Watergate was remotely necessary: perhaps four dead students in Ohio might be a place to begin." [end of prepared statement] And that's it.
[Interviewer]: Just to clarify one thing--so the FBI never contacted you about this?
[Joseph Sima]: No, what happened, I contacted them on Tuesday, May 5th, the next day.
[Joseph Sima]: And all of a sudden, you know, I gave them so much information that the movie--the film disappeared. And from what I--from information I gathered later, they turned down a lot of testimonies and the witnesses pertaining to Norman. They got him out of here after the summer quarter--or, summer session--and moved him down to Washington, D.C. and it's--it's kind of obvious what they did and they told me after I gave all that information--it was a lot--they says, Well, we'll get back to you, thank you. They never did. So I went back to them and I says, "Hey, I'd like to discuss what I had given you." And, they treat me like you're not even there, you know? And you're talking felonies now. Concealment of a case that involves murder or manslaughter is a felony, at least I was taught that in law school. And the same thing with obstruction of justice that you're involved in. People in the FBI are subject to going to jail just like anybody else, and they think they're above the law. So, hopefully, this is going to turn around within the next few months.
[Interviewer]: Are there any other thoughts you'd like to share?
[Joseph Sima]: No, other than there's a special coming up on National Geographic [television channel], I understand. And hopefully that may answer some questions. But, two items--very disappointed in the campus police. One is the County Grand Jury stated that if the campus police would had done what they normally should do to prevent the ROTC building from burning down, because they knew it was going to be burned. They even told the film crew from WKYC to stay and film it. This was in the afternoon. Had they done their job properly to prevent that, the Grand Jury says there would not have been soldiers on campus and would have not been a May 4 shooting. The second thing is in the film that I have, campus police recognized that Norman had a concealed weapon--a gun--with him when he went out with the National Guard. This was a no-no, it's against the law, period. It's--you know, it shouldn't have happened. And had they taken precautions, we still wouldn't have had a shooting, in all probability. So some of this doesn't--it goes beyond the FBI--goes right around the campus police, which works for the ca--university, which works for the state of Ohio. So you've got the federal government in trouble for violations of law and you've got the--and they're both law enforcement agencies. It's the sad case and hopefully nothing like this will ever happen again. And the reason it's important for this to come out in a historic sense is to prevent something like this from happening again because if you don't get the truth out, how are you going to prevent the next time, if there is a next time? And that's it.
[Interviewer]: Joseph, thank you very much for talking with us today.
[Joseph Sima]: Craig, thank you. ×