Art Krummel, Oral History
Recorded: January 11, 2008
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, the date is January 11, 2008 and my name is Craig Simpson. We are conducting an interview today for the May 4 Oral History Project, and could you please state your name?
[Art Krummel]: Art Krummel.
[Interviewer]: And where where you born?
[Art Krummel]: In Akron.
[Interviewer]: Did you grow up in Akron?
[Art Krummel]: I grew up--I lived my entire life in Akron and the surrounding area. I was born June 12, 1943 and had a fairly normal childhood. Middle class, standard childhood. Was not a very studious or scholarly student, thus after high school I went to work for the [Akron] Beacon Journal where I spent forty years in a career as a copy-boy and then eventually as Art Director and then Newsroom Production Coordinator, or Technology Coordinator.
[Interviewer]: Where did you go to school?
[Art Krummel]: I went to school at--high school, I went to Hoban and eventually graduated from Central High School.
[Interviewer]: What year did you join the National Guard?
[Art Krummel]: I joined the National Guard in 1964 while employed with Portage Newspaper Supply, a subsidiary of Knight Newspapers located within the Beacon Journal building. And there was no real significance, it's just how I can place when this event happened. What brought me to join the National Guard were two things. I was kind of a procrastinator, therefore didn't do what many people were doing at the time: either going into college, or joining the Guard in order to avoid the draft and going into Vietnam. And I hadn't done either and really felt that getting drafted was imminent. I hadn't gone to college, had no plans at that time to go, so my mother called me one day at work and said, "A registered letter came for you, and you can pick it up at the post office. We didn't get it in time from the mailman."
So I went to the post office that afternoon, late, and felt that I had--well, in fact, let me back up. When she told me this, I called the National Guard and they told me there was one opening or two openings and there were four people about to interview for the openings. And so I went down--they told me I could come right down there and test and if I pass all of their reviews, they could swear me right in. So I said, "Great." I went down, did the tests, passed all of the requirements and was sworn in, and went back to the post office the next day and discovered to my surprise and chagrin it was a notice from my insurance company that I had money coming back from them because I just changed insurance--automobile insurance companies. So that thus explains why I was in the National Guard, otherwise I would have gone to Vietnam. And it also puts into a kind of light--brings to the light the motive for many, many of the people in the National Guard as well as a lot of the kids in college.
There were hardly any significant events. My unit eventually--during the same time, there was a lot of racial unrest. My unit first was activated to help patrol the streets in the Hough Riots in Cleveland. Luckily for me, I was out of town at the time and didn't have to participate in that. Within some time afterward, we were again activated for another racial unrest in Akron in the Wooster Avenue area, and I was activated for that event. And it was interesting because the people in the area were very, very friendly. It was kind of a joke, in a way, but it was all--there was a lot of tear gas and different things done, and eventually that was settled.
That brings us to the next events--in my mind, at least. We were activated for a very--a Teamster strike that had grown pretty violent. There was gunshots, there were supervisors driving trucks, the Teamsters were not--the striking Teamsters were not happy about it, there was a lot of things dropped over overpasses--dropped on the trucks from overpasses. So the Guard was activated to help control the Teamsters and to allow these trucks to move freely within, in and out of the terminals. So one day that sticks in my mind during this period was standing along a kind of a skirmish line between--facing a row of Teamsters while behind us a caravan of trucks was pulling out of Roadway Express's driveway. And the Teamsters were clearly very angry and had a--you know, they were very vocal and displayed a lot of rage. But I found it kind of self--or, it was assuring to me to see that there was also this respect for the uniform and for the authority of the U.S. military and that they wouldn't violate that. And it was reassuring to know that these tough--you know, Teamsters are some tough guys--that they weren't going to beat us up because we were kids. We weren't terribly prepared other than some minor riot control training, but we weren't prepared to confront anyone and deal with that.
While this Teamster action was going on, the weather got real bad and it was raining, it was miserable, we were sleeping in tents--pup tents--on this football field in the Richfield area. And we were a pretty unhappy crew, and by the time we were released--we had gotten pretty tired, but finally got word that we were going to be released. We needed to go to the Rubber Bowl, get our equipment cleaned up, and get it turned in and we would be sent home.
Well, during that time it was, I think, Friday. It was when we were at the Rubber Bowl in the afternoon, and before we could be sent home the unrest at Kent was unfolding and we were told, much to our disappointment, that we were going to be repositioned at Kent and to get packed up and get ready to move. And sometime in the middle of--and I believe it was sometime in the middle of the night Saturday morning--Friday night, Saturday morning, I think--we were moved to sleep at this little school in Canton. We were then deployed in the afternoon around Blanket Hill, this would have been Saturday afternoon--
[Interviewer]: Saturday, May 2nd?
[Art Krummel]: Yeah.
[Interviewer]: Okay, thank you.
[Art Krummel]: And it was kind of a--still the same feeling as we had at the Wooster Avenue Riots. There was not a real sense of danger, it was very casual, we were on a skirmish line between the students and I think the ROTC building was behind us as well as some other intact buildings, but the burnt down one was behind us. Nothing--some tear gas was fired, and, you know, the normal stuff, some rocks were thrown that fell well short of most of us.
That night--and, you know, my chronology in my memory is correct; applying it accurately to the days of the events may be a little bit shaky. But I believe that night, Saturday night, my unit--my squad, actually, was sent to man a couple of roadblocks. I was a squad leader, so we had two roadblocks set up on a couple of streets and our orders were to not let any cars enter those--enter that area. So I deployed myself in kind of a place where I could keep an eye on both squads and I noticed [at] one of the roadblocks there seemed to be a disturbance.
I moved closer to that roadblock to hear what was going on and I heard a man yelling out of his car window to get out of his way, he was going through this roadblock. And the National Guardsman who was blocking him by standing in front of his car said, "No, you aren't, sir. You have to turn your car around. We are not allowed to allow any cars through this roadblock." And this continued; the man insisted he was coming through, the National Guardsman--who also, incidentally, happened to be a very, very good friend who remains a very close friend of mine--was as adamant about not letting him through, when finally I yelled down to the Guardsman and said, "Bruce!"--his name is Bruce Mendelson--I said, "Bruce! Get out of the car's way. What do we care? Let the guy go about his business, no point in being killed." And he--I believe he either yelled back, or just simply said no, or just kept his position. The person in the car leaned out and said, "Come on, Bruce, get out of my way, I'm gonna come through if I have to run over ya!" Well, when I saw this happening and the man was edging his car forward and bumping my friend who staggered back a couple steps each time, I realized that this could be a very, very unhappy outcome at the least and very dangerous. I then unclicked the safety on my M-1, which was loaded. And one thing we were trained pretty well in the National Guard, and in the Army when we were trained in active duty, was to never click the safety off your weapon until you were ready to use it. And I was fully ready to use it. And I can remember still the feeling on my finger of clicking that safety.
So anyway, luckily I saw a police car pull out of--there was an auxiliary police station set up nearby, and I saw a police car pull out and I flagged at him and waved and they saw me waving and came to me. And I told them what was going on, and they went to the disturbance and got the man out of his car. He was with a woman who later we found out was his wife. We later found out the man was a professor at the university who was drunk, who was simply trying to get home to his house. That was then settled peacefully; there were no more incidents that night.
But in my mind, that very incident could have changed the history of the world. If it had come to the point where I had to shoot the man, he'd run over my friend, the campus would have been closed then, there would have been no shootings on May 4th, very likely the events in Vietnam would have unfolded differently because--although May 4th was only one of several events that were instrumental in changing the course of Vietnam. I feel like that event could have avoided at least four additional deaths, among other things.
[Interviewer]: What was your rank at this time?
[Art Krummel]: I was a sergeant in charge of a machine gun squad, a weapons squad. And there were, I think, eight people in the squad and so we had four people deployed--not with machine guns, but with just side arms and rifles at the two roadblocks.
[Interviewer]: And could you give me a sense--I have no military background whatsoever--when you say you were in a squad, is there a large--are you within a larger company?
[Art Krummel]: A squad--there are four squads in a company. And there's a weapons squad and then three rifle squads and the weapons squad usually consists of two machine gun squads.
[Interviewer]: Which company were you in?
[Art Krummel]: You know, we were in two companies--I was in two companies, as well as most of the people with me, during our time. We were in the 45th Infantry--145th. And the companies that we were in were Company B and Company C. Since this, actually--this was the very end of my time in the National Guard, I was in Company C. So, that was the company.
Anyway, that night finished uneventfully after the incident. And we were--that was then Sunday morning. I was assigned to ride with a couple of other people in a Jeep to patrol the streets around Kent. It was kind of a pretty day. It was cool but sunny, so we drove around--pulled--went on through campus and when we would have a chance to stop there were kids on campus who would come around and young ladies would be real friendly and want to talk, and of course we were young guys we were real happy to talk to folks and people were very, very nice. So, the day continued that way. Now, this is where I get a little confused because I know the next significant events were Sunday evening, so the roadblocks could have been Saturday night. They easily could have been. Or did I say they were Saturday night?
[Interviewer]: I think you said they were Saturday night.
[Art Krummel]: So this is Sunday--
[Interviewer]: Sunday night.
[Art Krummel]: Sunday when we were riding around in the Jeep and then Sunday evening there was unrest downtown. There was a big bonfire and a lot of students gathered and we were told to go deploy along--on Route 59 to set up a skirmish line to eventually get the students to disperse by order or through our direct action. So we lined up and this was fairly late--I believe it was late--might have been as early as eight [o'clock] and probably not much later than ten o'clock or eleven. But anyway, we lined up and at that particular time we were not--we had no bullets. We had no live ammunition. Or blanks, for that matter.
And we--there were a lot of kids around the bonfire. There were almost an equal number of kids behind us and both groups gave us a fairly wide berth because we had our gasmasks and our rifles and our bayonets and our, you know, combat gear. We looked pretty ferocious, but of course we were just about as scared as anyone. And right at that particular time it struck myself and I think the guy next to me that, Geez, are we in a vulnerable position. This is really--we could be, you know, just completely overpowered quite easily by these kids with hardly any way to resist except for our bayonets. But, geez, I don't think any of us may--later I came to find out, maybe some of us could have--but I don't think I could have stuck a bayonet into anyone, so they could have just taken everything from me. I wouldn't have resisted a whole lot. I would have just probably defended myself as if I were out among other people being attacked.
Anyway, we were finally given the order to disperse the crowd and we moved--tried to move the crowd into the campus and hopefully wherever they belonged on campus. So we moved the students kind of up this hill off of [Route] 59 and into the campus area, and while--and we dispersed tear gas and so forth--and the experience of being in a situation that was stressful, that--with tear gas in the air, with trying to breathe through a gasmask and climb a hill was quite a--quite an effort. And all we really--all I really was paying attention to was just getting myself up the hill, I didn't care if I looked particularly tough, or--I just kind of was stumbling up the hill as best I could when suddenly the guy beside me fell--just knocked out completely cold.
I discovered, and it wasn't through my observation, it was through, I guess, subsequent information, that he had been hit by a rock and it was then that I realized that these rocks were a little more than just stones, that they were pretty dangerous things. And it increased my sense of the real danger in the event--in the whole situation. So we continued to disperse the students and to my knowledge that was about the extent of the unrest that night. There may have been other areas around campus where problems or pockets of problems were handled by the police or by other Guards or Guard groups.
[Interviewer]: Did you find that this was a scarier or more difficult situation than the Teamster strike?
[Art Krummel]: Oh, far, far, far more. More scary because there was a clear--clearly there wasn't the same sort of respect given the uniform of the military that the Teamsters showed. The Teamsters were mostly vets from Korea or even probably some Second World War veterans or not far removed from them and still had a high degree of respect for the military uniform. The kids that were in school were a little more removed or were influenced a lot by various liberal groups--and not sharing a whole lot different opinion than I had--there were a lot of us who were in opposition to the Vietnam War and to the way these things were conducted. We understood entirely that our activation for Kent State and probably for the Teamster strike was a move for--by Governor Rhodes to get--as a political move to gain votes in the ongoing election that he was involved in at that time. So it was pretty commonly held that our involvement with Kent State was being motivated by politics. So anyway, where was I chronolog--?
[Interviewer]: You were talking about Sunday evening.
[Art Krummel]: Sunday evening there was just this very slow dawning on me and some others that the situation was fairly dangerous. And then the night prior when I felt that I could have easily shot someone, it kind of all began to impress on me the seriousness of all that was happening. I was not really a serious type of soldier nor did I take very many of these things as grave situations and didn't feel particularly authoritative or powerful or--there was no power trip, no authority frenzy or any such thing. I just happened to be there. Same reason a lot of the kids were in school: to avoid the war.
[Interviewer]: Did you feel that your training had adequately prepared you for this?
[Art Krummel]: No, there was--you know, our training--and they made efforts to do some riot control training, particularly after the racial incidents, we did have some more intense training. But it wasn't urban training, it wasn't the kind of training that would have prepared us for the kinds of situations that we confronted. There wasn't a lot of close personal contact.
One thing that I forgot to mention: during the bonfire situation, when we did finally start to move with our fixed bayonets in a--what we call in a forward kind of position--with our moving line--moving with a kind of a steady cadence. It kind of was a pretty scary-looking thing. We were in close--in a close formation, so it was a line of bayonets kind of stomping toward you. And the bonfire group began to move back and move away. There were a couple of kids--and at least one couple--who really were there just watching and got caught in between the groups. And they ran--they were running around--this guy and this girl were running between, they would run toward the bonfire, then toward the Guards' line and then turn and they had--their eyes were wide like deer in headlights. They were just terrified. And I caught their attention and I just kind of nodded my head, like, Come through here. And they came over toward me and I just kind of moved aside and let them get past and into the safe area behind us. So that was kind of what was going on.
In any event, we dispersed the people and went off to our tents. I think we may still have been at the school or we set up somewhere next to the gym. I think we did, we actually set up the camp next to the gymnasium at the time. Then Sunday--or Monday morning, we--that was all Sunday and Sunday night. Monday morning, the day of the shooting, my group--my squad in its entirety and myself--there was a lot of talk of fear that the water supply would be poisoned, that different facilities would be bombed or somehow incapacitated, and we needed to guard all of these utilities. So we were put in charge of the waste [water] facility. I think--over, I forget, on Water Street, or--I don't know the name of the street now. Anyway, we were taken there and dropped off and told to set up a guardpost and not let anyone in unless, of course, they had clear identification that they belonged there.
Well, this was great because we--I just said, you know, A couple you guys go down and guard the hut--the driveway--the rest of us are sleeping. So we just stretched out, and you know, a couple guys would stand for a while, and then they'd come back, and I'd send a couple more down, and we'd just nap the morning away. Now, whenever the shootings were--I guess midday, we, of course, were totally removed from them.
[Interviewer]: You were off-campus?
[Art Krummel]: We were off-campus. And the only way we found out, or the way that we found out was when a police car pulled up the driveway with his lights flashing and said, "There's been shootings on campus, get in the car." Now, there must have been a couple cars because there--I believe there were at least--well, there may have been only four or five of us. Maybe my whole squad didn't go. There were some of us--I seem to think there was only one police car so it's quite possible we just kind of crowded into it, the numbers of people that were there. He said that--originally he said, "Several students were killed, a couple of Guardsmen were killed, there was a shooting, an exchange of gunfire, and it looks like there it's gonna be--it's all out war."
All I could imagine--well, they took us to this other auxiliary police station they set up right directly across from a grade school and there--at the time it was a beehive of police coming in and from--bunches of police cars arriving from outlying communities and they told us to guard the driveway to the police station. Honestly, it was so comical, because we're like these kids kind of standing and watching and these cops were big, tough guys armed to the teeth and we're going to guard their position. So we stood there and I just kind of envisioned this horde of students charging over this hill with guns and this whole horrible scene. That's the picture that I was left with.
At the time, the students were still in that building. They were held until their parents arrived, and when parents arrived they were released to their parents and parents took them home. The building then was empty, the clear picture of what had happened started being spread so that we found out--my memories of that particular time are fairly just incidental. I do remember that the Salvation Army, which I hold close to my heart still, had a canteen set up--one of their mobile canteens. And we were hungry by then, and we got sandwiches and Coke and coffee.
When we would go inside this auxiliary police station these guys from outlying areas--it was the most strange situation, because like I said I was not a really very avid Guardsman, I just happened to be there and I watched these men almost in a--I can't quite describe it--it wasn't a frenzy, it was like [they were in] an excited anticipation. And they had these beautiful leather and wood cases that they were opening and then they opened them there were inside these pistol gripped shotguns that were gleaming and the grips were beautiful and these were their personal weapons of control. It was the most chilling thing to see this because I didn't have any understanding of how these guys--some of them, not all of them--actually were in private in a situation like this. Just an observation.
We were then basically not really given much direction by the police and the other guys were kind of looking to me, saying, "What should we do? Let's go back to the company to see what we should do." Well, I said, "No, if we go back to the company, they'll have us on guard duty all night. We'll have all of this horrible stuff to do. Let's stay here and guard this driveway and we'll--and I'll see if I can find a place for us to buck down." So I talked to the police and they said, I think you can go ahead and use that school building and just sleep over there. I don't think we had any sleeping gear with us. But my friends, of course, many of them were quite concerned and I said, "Look--" because I had been in for six years. I knew all the ins and outs, I was due to get out a few months later, out of the Guard. I knew all the ins and outs and I also knew how to kind of work it so that we didn't end up with these horrible assignments and guard duties and things. I said, "We'll be up all night on guard duty, you guys. We got to stay where we're at." And so we did.
Got up in the morning, had donuts and coffee with the Salvation Army canteen. We remained there until--now this was Tuesday morning when I said, finally, "I think we probably should by now report back because they're going to wonder what happened to us." So we did, and of course they did wonder, they were saying, We didn't know what you guys did, we [were] about to have you on AWOL or something. And that really was the full story of my involvement with the Kent State shootings.
My only reflection--and it took me a while to conclude this after weighing all of the events, understanding what motivated the political--what was behind the political decisions, what the National Guard was constituted of, how it was constituted and the members were in the Guard, the students and why they were on campus and why they were even protesting. I realized that we were all pretty--all about the same age, our motives for being where we were were the same: to stay out of Vietnam. Our training was very inadequate for what we were confronted with. We had been kept awake, guard duty in rainy conditions, had not been really--it had been an uncomfortable and tiring kind of a thing, so we were tired--I mean, uncomfortable--we were unhappy being deployed to Kent. And all of these things helped set a mood. The students were very, very militant and aggressive. This all helped create a situation.
And then, to just absolutely put cream in the coffee--they gave all the Guardsmen live ammunition. So when you pick all of those ingredients, what other kind of cake could you end up with? I mean, to take young, tired, poorly trained people, hand them bullets, say, You're going to oppose these other angry young people who are going to be throwing rocks and you're going to be exchanging--at least, put in dangerous situations--and then expect that no one's going to get shot, that's kind of a pretty unrealistic expectation. I think that the only thing you could have concluded was that, geez, anyone with intelligence should have looked and said, Somebody is going to get shot here sooner or later if we let this go on. Campus should have been closed, there should not have been this ongoing confrontation with armed people. So all the folks who said they can't figure out a reason, I don't think the Guard had any official directive to fire, I think it was a spontaneous event and--but yet, easily anticipated.
[Interviewer]: You don't give any credibility to the--you know, there was that [Terry] Strubbe tape that came out last year where there was speculation whether--
[Art Krummel]: A conspiracy that--?
[Interviewer]: [overlapping] --that there may have been an order to fire, that somebody--
[Art Krummel]: No, no--no. I just can't even fathom any of the ranking officers giving that kind of an order. It was a--it was a aimless, pointless kind of thing. I mean, anyone involved had to realize it had to have been a panic and just a spontaneous, panicked situation. They could not have thought it through. And if, indeed, an order was given, the order was given in the same sense that the shooting was done--in kind of a spontaneous, panicked situation. So whether an order was given or not, these officers, except for very few of them, were just maybe around a little bit longer or had gone to ROTC in college or who had gone to officer training school so they were officers but they weren't far removed from the regular troops, the regular enlisted men. They were young, they weren't trained any better than we were except for the senior officers, and they would not have ordered that. Major Jones and Captain Snyder would have never. Now, I don't know all of the officers who actually were involved in the skirmish or in the firing, but just knowing in general I can't believe that that could have happened. It just was spontaneous, it just happened. I mean, it happened. Now, why everyone turned at that point? Maybe they thought they were being pursued and didn't want to be run down from behind.
[Interviewer]: Right. Were you ever interviewed by the FBI or any other--?
[Art Krummel]: No, no one ever talked to me about it. I didn't really ever talk about it. Even--hardly even among our friends. We all asked, Hey, did you know anyone that was in that? [Somebody would say,] No, I didn't know a soul. [We would reply,] That's amazing. And to this day it's amazing to me. In all of, you know, a company of Guards of National Guardsmen are--I forget now how big it is, but it's, geez, it's four or maybe there's even five? Four squads? Four or five? Four squads, I think it's four. There would have been four times thirty-two. There's forty or fifty people, I guess, in a company. No one in my company, or no one that I knew--and I knew guys from a couple companies--knew of anyone involved in that shooting. So the people that were involved really clammed up. No one's ever talked to me about it, not only till maybe ten or fifteen years ago. [coughs] Excuse me. And this has been now forty years ago, I guess. Isn't that right? [counts to self] Sixty, forty--
[Interviewer]: [overlapping] Almost. Thirty-eight years, yeah.
[Art Krummel]: So it took me about fifteen years to even talk about it publicly. And that just happened, again, spontaneously at OU [Ohio University] at a conference. So no one's ever cared a whole lot, nor did it appear that I had much to share. And specifically to the shooting, I don't have much to share. Maybe just insight into the overall situation.
[Interviewer]: Well, that's very interesting, just in terms of the insight into the--just the inner workings of the Guard and things of that nature. How long--how much longer did you stay in the National Guard?
[Art Krummel]: I got out in the fall, in the early fall [of 1970]. Of course, the shootings were in May. I went to summer camp and then shortly after summer camp, I got out of--I fulfilled my obligation and got out. The only thing I know is that everyone else--everyone else who had been ready to complete--or to be relieved of their, you know, I guess, given their discharge, would be asked if they wanted to re-enlist. They never asked me to re-enlist. They just said, See ya! And I said, "That's good. Good for me." I just was not cut out to be a National Guard person or anyone in law enforcement or anything like that. I was an artist, I mean, artists don't do that.
[Interviewer]: Was that your major?
[Art Krummel]: Art was my career and my obsession and it continues to be. Then and now.
[Interviewer]: Are there any other thoughts you'd like to share?
[Art Krummel]: No. As far as Kent State goes, no, I think it's a little--some of these hangers-on who continue to want to make it something it wasn't are kind of almost humorous to me. It was a fairly simple thing and I think it could be explained in that one sentence. What, you kids avoiding the draft? Half of 'em were armed, and the other half were throwing rocks. There it is. Nothing more needs to really be said or looked into.
[Interviewer]: Art, thank you very much for speaking with me.
[Art Krummel]: Well, thank you. Glad you cared. ×