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Catherine Delattre, Oral History
Recorded: November 13, 2008
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 afternoon. The date is Thursday, November 13, 2008. My name is Craig Simpson. I am conducting an interview today for Kent State Shootings Oral History Project, and could you please state your name?
[Catherine Delattre]: Catherine Delattre.
[Interviewer]: Where were you born?
[Catherine Delattre]: I was born in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Pittsburgh, probably twenty miles from, twenty to twenty-five miles from Pittsburgh.
[Interviewer]: What years did you go to Kent State?
[Catherine Delattre]: I started in the fall of 1967, and I graduated in March of 1971.
[Interviewer]: What made you decide to go to Kent State?
[Catherine Delattre]: That's a good question. I was interested in - it was a school that was growing in size. It was close to home but not too close to home. I was looking at Pitt and I was looking - University of Pittsburgh - and I was looking at Kent State. I didn't look at a lot of schools. My mother really wanted me to go within about a three hour radius. That was as much as a length of a rope she would give me to get from her [laughs]. So we came up. We looked at the school. It seemed like a nice school. I liked the campus, it was growing and just at that point, too, it was fairly - I had good grades, I was a good student, but it was easy to get into. They were wanting - the school was growing and they wanted to increase their student population. It was fairly easy to get into. I had a friend, a very best friend, who was going to the school also, and that's kind of how I got here.
[Interviewer]: What was your major?
[Catherine Delattre]: I ended up majoring in psychology and archaeology and got a B.A., and then did some master's work in archaeology - actually anthropology - but my undergraduate degree was in those two subjects.
[Interviewer]: How would you describe the university prior to the events of 1970, having been here starting in '67? Just some general impressions.
[Catherine Delattre]: Well, it's interesting that question because I think you can only see a university from your point of view at the time, and my experience was one way when I came in, but then I personally changed while here, and then my experience was somewhat different in terms of how I saw the student body. But I came in as a rather fairly conservative freshman, didn't have a very strong opinion about the war at that very point, except I had lost friends in high school. But I wouldn't say that - I never was really radical, but I did become very much against the war after about the second year, I started out as - as I said - a much more conservative-type student and then as time went on, and as a student at Kent I became against the war and changed myself. So I saw the school as much more conservative when I came, but I saw it as less so as time went on but that was because of the groups and the people that I was personally involved with.
[Interviewer]: What memories do you have of May 4, 1970? And you can start - I know some people start over that weekend. You can start wherever you like.
[Catherine Delattre]: Well, I can start, I'll start with Thursday, which was the announcement by Nixon of going into Cambodia and - I don't know if you are aware, remember, that there was a lottery done where, because the draft was mandatory, and my boyfriend had a very low number, and so we were constantly involved in that battle with friends or people who were not wanting to go who had low numbers and could be called up. He - my husband, he became my husband, he was my boyfriend at the time - had gone back to New York state for interviews with his draft board. So that was kind of devastating news on Thursday night.
But my boyfriend was in the Psychology Department. He was a graduate student and we were both very serious students, although we were very much against the war, we were primarily into education and wanting to do well in school, so we had exams. We had exams that were coming up that week, and I remember that we didn't go to town Friday night so we didn't - we weren't involved in what happened there. But early Saturday morning we heard from friends calling us and telling us that this stuff had gone on, so we immediately got in the car and drove to downtown Kent which was hard to really get [to] because everything - we wanted to see for ourselves what happened and we were just shocked. We couldn't believe that, I mean it just seemed extreme that that had happened. But at the same time, we felt a certain exhilaration that something was happening because you do have that feeling of powerlessness at that time I think was very strong. We didn't vote. The war was there and you had to go if you were called up, and then Nixon sending troops, and it just felt like everything was escalating so there was that feeling of - would we have been there, you know, destroying the town? Probably not, but there was some satisfaction in a weird way at that time. Now I would say that was very extreme, and you shouldn't be tearing down the town. But at the time, it was sort of exhilarating.
And then the next day - so within the day, over the course of the day - we got word that the ROTC building was going to be burned on Saturday night, and we went to Kent specifically to see what was going to happen. So we went there in the afternoon. We decided, my boyfriend and I talked to each other about - we did a scenario, what if this, this and this happened. How were we going to be involved? What do we want to do while we're there? And we decided that if there was a protest we were going to protest, but that we were no way, shape or form going to be involved in anything violent. Even throwing rocks. We had made a pact: there'd be no rock throwing, because it gets contagious. I admit that. When Saturday night, when things got - I think that the march kind of started just when it got dark, and we joined in that. People were chanting, the chants that go [on] - everybody was saying - forever, you know, at any of the protests and walking around campus, and the thing was getting bigger and bigger, and some people started throwing rocks. And it is a contagious feeling. But we didn't, we didn't do that. We just stayed with the group and we were careful. We didn't want to get into anything that was too violent. And then it made its way back to the ROTC building, and it just seemed that that part went very fast.
My memory is not totally accurate - this was a long time ago - but what I remember is that within a short time of being back, when the group was back at the ROTC building, there were a few people that were very aggressive to getting the building on fire. And I don't remember seeing - where the police were, I don't know. It just seemed that nobody was - we were commenting on that: Where are the cops? Where are the police? Where are the campus police? It's exciting but it's scary, and [we asked], Is anybody going to do anything? But at the same time, you have such mixed emotions. We were against the war. There was a certain part of us that wanted, since it was all happening, that we're supporting that it was happening, but we decided to go sit on Blanket Hill and stay there and just really be observers. We weren't totally involved in anything that was burning down or setting fires or any of that. We were just truly observers and felt like we were giving some support by being there.
[Interviewer]: So there were rumors in advance that the building was going to be burned down?
[Catherine Delattre]: Absolutely. We knew, we were told. And I can't remember who -- it was a friend who called and said, "Hey, the ROTC building is going to burn down." It was very hush-hush kind of thing, and so we went there and decided that if something happened we were going to see what was going to happen, and we'd be part of it if we felt comfortable. I don't mean the burning, but what I told you.
[Catherine Delattre]: Yeah, what I told you. So then we decided to sit on Blanket Hill, and I will never, to this day, I can't forget the sound of the National Guard and those tanks coming down - is it Main Street?
[Interviewer]: Main Street, right.
[Catherine Delattre]: Coming down Main Street. That was the eeriest thing. And the National Guard came in and quickly said that - had the bullhorns - and they said that the school was, the campus was surrounded. Well, in the meantime, you know that, I don't remember the exact timing, but they came in and tried to, the fire company tried to put the fire out. People were cutting the hoses. That was a bit, that whole thing was a little scary to me. It seemed very, very aggressive, and something that - we kept backing up, going further up the hill. We just truly wanted to watch it from a distance. And so when the National Guard said that the school was surrounded and that pretty much, and there are helicopters overheard, and said that if we wanted to be - not be arrested we had to leave, vacate the campus immediately. And a lot of people left, but a lot of people didn't. We decided to stay as long as we could because I guess there was a part of us that didn't believe that we wouldn't be able to walk off our campus when we wanted to. There's a lot of unreality in a situation like that. This is a place you love, you go to school, you're learning, you have friends, and then it's a military zone. It's not totally real.
So we stayed there for as long as we could, and until we realized there was something, we realized that we had to get off campus. But then we were indeed having a hard time finding a way off campus, and we were very much worried about being arrested. We didn't want that to happen, so we managed to go - I'm not quite sure now of the direction, but it was up over the hill past Prentice Hall and then keep going in the direction of Main Street. There was an area there - it's not as developed, it wasn't then as developed as it is now, so there was an area of a field, and we were able to get into the weeds and literally crawl on our bellies to a house where friends lived, had rented a house, and the helicopters were flying over us and shining lights into the weeds. Other people were trying to get out that area, too, and then there were police - campus police. We did see people with flashlights, but we managed to make it, and we got through it and we got to the house.
[Interviewer]: And this was still Saturday night?
[Catherine Delattre]: This was all Saturday night, so that was sort of the summary of that. But at that point we knew that the National Guard was on campus. We knew the ROTC building was definitely a done deal. That was burnt to the ground. Pretty scary, all of it. It was pretty scary.
I remember that we decided to stay at that house that night. We didn't try to get back home through Ravenna. We stayed at a place called The Silver Spur that had little cottages. It used to be a ranch, and they rented out the cottages, so we had a place there. We wouldn't even dare to try to get back there. And then, the next day we decided to come onto campus for a while just to get the feeling. It was a much different environment. It was sort of laid-back, sort of, kind of relaxed in a way, but still everybody was talking about the National Guard on campus, and was it for real, how long is it going to stay like this, what's going on? And never was there much communication from anyone, whether it be faculty or administration. I just always remember we were always wondering amongst ourselves. There were some faculty members - Glenn Frank, I remember him. But truly you kind of felt on your own through this. It just - word of mouth. Communication was very different. We didn't have cell phones.
That night we didn't stay in town. We were not part of any demonstration on Sunday night. I had a test to study for, so again, you know I said we were having these tests. We went home. I studied for a test. But we did plan to go to the rally on Monday. And it came to be - we had flyers that said "Don't go!" or whatever, but we had made that decision and I remember my boyfriend said, "I'll meet you at noon." When he met me he said, "You want to go, don't you? You sure you want to go?" I said yes, and he said, "So you're willing to cut your class, and we're going to go?" And I said, "Yeah, we're going to go."
So that was it. We went and we were in, we were pretty much behind the [Victory] Bell. We were observers at that point, when the rally started. We were definitely observers. Then as the tear gas started coming, we were up on the hill between Taylor Hall and the Bell. So whenever the Guard started shooting tear gas at the crowd and pushing everybody up over the hill up past the [Pagoda] we moved with that crowd, and there was a lot of yelling and screaming and throwing rocks. We did not do that, but it was happening. Although our immediate, always our impression was, never did we feel that there was an immediate threat to the Guard. These guys had guns. Now, we didn't think there were bullets in them, but still they had a very threatening look with the guns and the masks and the uniforms. Scary. So we were moving, people were throwing the tear gas back but the crowd was - there were some people close, but there was a majority of the students were really pushing away, as they threw tear gas and as they moved up the hill, the crowd was moving up over the hill and down toward the practice field. And we did end up on the practice field with a group of people, and at that point then, I don't remember exactly how it happened, but we moved out of the practice field and then the Guard kept moving down the hill and they ended up in the practice field. At that point my boyfrield and I had moved over and were just at the beginning of the parking lot on Prentice Hill, on that very end, and our path was to move across the parking lot. Little did we know we were moving into the line of fire. But we didn't know that at the time, obviously.
So we were laughing and decided at that point that the whole thing seemed to be a little bit of a silly joke. It was ridiculous, and the Guard seemed to not know what they were doing. When they got to the practice field, we were laughing because they were - they seemed to have enclosed themselves. It just seemed ridiculous. If anybody really wanted to at that point, students could have thrown a million rocks because they were inside that chain-link area. And then they knelt down and they aimed their guns, and then they got up and they started back up toward the Pagoda. But we kind of decided that we weren't going back down to The Commons at that point. We were going to leave. We were standing and talking to friends, and I said - we were sort of laughing at the Guard and just thought that it was silly and stupid, but still very strongly opposed to the war and still very much wanting them off campus, but we were just commenting on the situation. It just seemed like, it just seemed absurd.
And then they got up to the top of the hill. We were walking in the direction - if you're in Prentice Hall, I mean in the parking lot of Prentice Hall - we were walking along the cars toward Taylor Hall, so were walking pretty much along the parking lot. And I didn't get as far as where Jeffrey Miller landed, ended up, but we were approaching that area when we heard the "pop pop" sound. And my boyfriend said to me, "I think that's bullets." And I panicked. I turned around and I decided that I was going to run across the parking lot in the same direction from where I had just come, in the same path that I had followed, right along the cars, because there was a little dip in the land there where you can roll down a hill. In my mind - everybody was getting down - but I decided to run and that I was going to run there and roll down the hill and that I'd be safe. It's just, you know, I wasn't thinking. And my boyfriend was running after me, screaming, "Get down! Get down!" And I have a picture that I can show you. He just hit me in mid-air and knocked me down and threw himself on top of me. And at that point the shooting stopped. We stayed there for a few seconds, and I was all, for a few minutes I was - not minutes, but seconds - I thought maybe he had been shot, because we didn't move, and then we stood up and I kept running. I just was determined I was going to get - I didn't know if they were going to shoot again or what, and I just kept running, and he said, "Where are you going? Don't run." And I - nobody could've stopped me. And I just ran and I got to the end of that, and I remember I got down and I rolled down the hill. And there was somebody - I think it was Bobby Stamps that had been shot in the buttock - was there and we walked over to the building, and he went in there was waiting for help. Just you know, very unreal. And I walked in there, and I saw him, and he had pulled his pants down because he just had a hole in his backside. Then we walked out of that and started back through the parking lot and saw each person who had been killed. It was just horrendous.
[Interviewer]: Did you know any of the students who had been wounded or - ?
[Catherine Delattre]: I had met Allison Krause in the Health Center once when we were both sick at the same time, but other than that I did not. And I never saw her again, except for after this happened I realized that I had met her. She had a very distinctive forehead. She had a very low hairline, with her hair parted in the front, and that's what I remembered right away, that she had been the person next to me, and then I remembered her name. But I didn't really know her. We both had a flu or something at the Health Center.
[Interviewer]: You said you had a photograph?
[Catherine Delattre]: Yes, I want to show you this picture. Here it is. This is the picture, which is such a famous shot. This is my boyfriend.
[Catherine Delattre]: This is me. This is when he hit me, to knock me down. We had been back here, and I was just running to get over there. That's where safety was to me. Running across this area. And then, this picture is a picture right after, as I said, we walked back through the parking lot, and this is where Jeffrey Miller had lain. This is me.
[Interviewer]: Oh, right behind Glenn Frank.
[Catherine Delattre]: Right behind Glenn Frank. And this is my boyfriend. He was in the Psychology Department - a graduate student, I think I mentioned that earlier - and because he was here doing research we didn't have to leave school. And that meant everything to me, to not leave school. Because the feeling of helplessness - even, here's Glenn Frank, he was wonderful. He got - we went down back to The Commons, and Glenn Frank was there, and he really - at least it was something, because you felt absolutely and totally devastated that this had happened, and the sense of despair that there was nothing that you could do, and he gave us some sense of hope that - I don't know, I think it was just that somebody was communicating with the group, and because as I said my boyfriend was in the Psychology Department doing research, we didn't have to leave. So we stayed and continued doing research.
And this book was something I was involved in. This is called Violence at Kent State, May 1 to 4, 1970; a Students' Perspective. Dr. Taylor was actually a mentor of my boyfriend, and Dr. Taylor and this other graduate student, Rich Shuntich, and at first my boyfriend was involved in this project. But he ended up being involved from a distance. A core of graudate students and Dr. Taylor decided to develop - and you probably may have this on record here - it was a questionnaire that was sent out to every student at Kent, and I was involved in that, which meant so much to me because I felt like I was doing something. My parents also accepted that I wouldn't come home, which was a big thing to me because they were beside themselves; but they did allow me to stay, and because of that I got to get involved in this research project. I wasn't directly involved in it because I wasn't a graduate student, but I stuffed all the envelopes. I remember my boyfriend and I talking about some of the questions that were going to be asked, and he had a lot of input, so indirectly I had input with him. We were thinking a lot about the different questions that they were going to actually end up, that would end up in the questionnaire. And then after everybody - I think there were seven thousand students that responded to that questionnaire, and based on that this book was written. I don't know if you've seen it, but -
[Interviewer]: I think we have it in the collection.
[Catherine Delattre]: It's a summary, yeah, it's a summary of what everyone thought. And one of the main things that came from that survey was: What were people doing at that rally? And I would say, I think - I don't remember the percentage - but the majority of the students said they were there to protest the National Guard on campus at that point, more so than even Cambodia at that point.
[Interviewer]: And when did you, when did all of you put this together?
[Catherine Delattre]: This started right away.
[Interviewer]: Was this over the summer?
[Catherine Delattre]: Yeah, I mean but it started in the first, right after the shooting, I'd say in the first few weeks.
[Catherine Delattre]: It was - we were putting that together. And it was such a - it was so weird at that time because you know the school shuts down, and it's just quiet and the curfew on the town, that was depressing. We would have to drive through Ravenna to go back to where we lived, and there were vigilantes, and there were people on the roofs of buildings, and pointing guns because if you looked like a student - and they would threaten us. No one - I don't think we really thought we were ever going to be shot, but I think there was a lot of fear, tremendous amount of fear in the towns because of what had happened and also what had happened on Friday night in Kent. But there, we went, I remember a store in Ravenna that we wanted to go into - I don't know what it was, like I'm going to say some type of variety-style store, and someone greeted us at the door and said, "If you're students, you're not welcome in here." And that was in the couple of weeks after. So the school in a strange way became this great safe - it felt safe there, even though it wasn't during the shooting, but it was great to be there during that time because we loved our school, and we could go there, and we did this research, and we were doing something to figure out what had happened and get these responses, and then we would drive through town and have to be off the streets by five o'clock or whatever the curfew was at first, and then it got later and later. But to see people with guns pointed at you, it was just a sad time.
[Interviewer]: Did you make up any classes that summer?
[Catherine Delattre]: Yes, we made up all of our classes by mail. Now you couldn't do it on campus because all the - but we did. I actually have all my letters from my teachers. I saved all that, and I was going to show them to my niece because I thought about that, what was that like. And we just did it all - I don't know if it was either - I think you had choices. They sent you tests you could do, or you could do papers.
[Interviewer]: Right, there were different styles. You could do Pass/Fail, or -
[Catherine Delattre]: Yeah, Pass/Fail, right. That's right.
[Interviewer]: I know Dr. Treichler in the Psychology Department. They actually got - their class met, I think, either at his house or they met in a church.
[Catherine Delattre]: That's right.
[Interviewer]: There were a bunch of different ways -
[Catherine Delattre]: Yes, and I do believe that I was in a course - an anthropology course with Dr. Lovejoy- and we did meet, now that you reminded me that. He did have a place where we met. And vaguely, I - and I think I had a psychology course, and we probably met with that, too, but I had forgotten about that, too, and you just brought that to mind.
[Interviewer]: What was the atmosphere like on campus back in the fall?
[Catherine Delattre]: That's a good question. You know, in a weird way, there was a lot of excitement that happened before the fall. We went to Washington, D.C. to march on Washington, I believe it was a week after the shooting, my boyfriend and I went. And that meant a lot to us to do that to be still - we felt like we were still part of protesting the war and it was also about, a big part of that about the shootings at Kent State, and we wanted to be part of that, so we did that. Then, I think, the big student strikes came, but so many schools had closed.
In the fall, we sort of thought things were going to continue, not necessarily in any violent way. We thought there would be more protests and that things were going to change, but it seemed like it was over then - after Kent State and after the student strikes, it seemed to all end. It was very different and quieter. There weren't the people like - Jerry Rubin had spoken on campus not too far before this happened, and we didn't actually - we went to that rally, and we left it. We didn't like it. It was creepy. It was very, very, very radical. He was talking about killing your parents and really crazy stuff, and that all sort of ended, too. It seemed like there weren't - there wasn't as much radical[ism]. That may not be totally true, I'm just telling you my memory of it. It didn't seem to be - the movement just seemed to get quieter. Then it wasn't too long after that, that the war - well, it was a few years yet that the war went on - but the Seventies were definitely [when] things started to get quieter.
[Interviewer]: Are there any other thoughts you'd like to share?
[Catherine Delattre]: I think there was a part of me that waited for years, was always looking for there to be somebody to take the blame for this, and that was a hard thing to accept all those years as a student and having been there. But nobody was ever, no one was really punished for what happened, that those poor families - it took years and years and years for the families of the students who were killed to get anything. And I can only, I can't even imagine what it must have been like for those parents all those years, and I think finally there was money paid to the families, right? At the time, you just, you didn't know what exactly had happened, and you wanted to know.
I remember that the FBI came. I was picked out from photographs like many people were, and I came home from school one day - or not from school but from, school was closed but we were doing the research, and I came home and there was a sign, an official sign from the FBI and it said - I forget his name, and I wish I still had that piece of paper, but somehow it got lost -
[Interviewer]: It was on your door?
[Catherine Delattre]: It was on my door. "Agent So-and-So would like to speak to you."
[Interviewer]: No pressure.
[Catherine Delattre]: Right. "You must report at this time and and this building on campus for this interview." And it was kind of weird. Nobody came and got me. He had put it on a nail on my door. [laughs] And I went in there to this interview - I was so nervous - and decided that, you know, I asked some people who had been interviewed what happened. "Oh, they're just going to show you like a zillion photographs and they want you to identify people." So I went in there, and literally, I swear, he had a stack, there were more than 350 photographs to go through. And he sat there while I looked at every single picture, and he said, "I want you to tell me, point out people you know." And I didn't know anybody. I probably did and I think I did, but I'm not going to say anything. And it just, he really didn't talk, he just sat there, as if - like where you were sitting and just stared at me intensely, and I was very uncomfortable but I think that was his intention, was to make me very uncomfortable. Then he did ask me questions. He asked me if I was involved in - he did ask me very specific questions about the four days and if I had been involved in anything other than in these photos from Monday, and what, any groups that I had been involved with. Part of. And he wanted to know about outside agitators, if I knew anybody who had come on campus. They had a list of questions, but - and that was it. I never heard from him again.
[Interviewer]: That story is very similar to something Chuck Ayers talks about in his interview. In his transcript, he mentions the same thing, that he was interviewed by the FBI and they showed him a bunch of photographs. And he said when he saw his friends on campus back in the fall, he would kind of laugh and say, "Well, I saw you in the photos." And they'd say, "Well, I saw you in the photos." And it occurred to them that in all the photographs, that these had been so carefully arranged that each person never saw his or herself in any of the photos, that [the FBI] were interested in only the people that they knew. And so that's how carefully that these had already been arranged in such a short period of time. They already knew a lot of the players that were involved.
[Catherine Delattre]: That's interesting because I remember asking him how he idenitified me, and I wanted some of the pictures. I wanted these pictures. You're reminding me of this. And he didn't - I don't remember him showing me any pictures of myself, now that you're saying that. And he said that a campus policeman had picked me out or something, and that was what he told me. And I said, "Oh." [Both Dellatre and interviewer laugh.] I didn't know I had a friend who was a campus policeman. I mean, you know some people. It was - whose interview was that?
[Interviewer]: Chuck Ayers.
[Catherine Delattre]: Chuck Ayers, yeah.
[Interviewer]: He's actually, he worked for the Daily Kent Stater. He was a chief photographer for the Kent Stater as well as an intern for the Akron Beacon Journal, and he's a cartoonist now. He does Crankshaft.
[Catherine Delattre]: Yeah, I know who he is.
[Interviewer]: With Tom Batiuk.
[Catherine Delattre]: Yep, I know who he is, and I've seen that. Didn't he take some photographs?
[Interviewer]: He did. We have some photographs in the collection.
[Catherine Delattre]: Yeah, I thought, I remember that
[Interviewer]: Anything else you'd like -
[Catherine Delattre]: No, it just feels very good to talk to you today. Because I think all these years - I have given some talks to the local middle school in a town where we are. My son went through the middle school program, and I was really happy to give a talk to his class when he got to the eighth grade class. That's the class I always give a talk to. There were years of silence when we didn't talk about it. There's always that sense of wanting closure that you never get, I don't think, in anything like this, so that's why it feels good to talk about it, I think, because it's still part of an ongoing process. I think - I haven't come back to any of the reunions, but I think I will come to the 40th.
[Interviewer]: It's coming up next year.
[Catherine Delattre]: Yes. I decided I'll come back to that one. I want to see some of the speeches and what people say.
[Interviewer]: Catherine, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me..
[Catherine Delattre]: Thank you, Craig. Thank you very much for inviting me.×
Student at Kent State University in 1970
|Date of Interview||
An undergraduate at Kent State University in 1970 gives her eyewitness account of the shootings. She discusses being one of the few students who was able to remain on campus that summer as well as being interviewed by the FBI.
|Length of Interview||
|Time Period discussed||
Frank, Glenn W.
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970
Kent State University. ROTC Building--Fires
Krause, Allison, 1951-1970
Miller, Jeffrey, d. 1970
Ohio. Army National Guard
Taylor, Stuart. Violence at Kent State, May 1 to 4, 1970
Tear gas munitions
United States. Federal Bureau of Investigation
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements
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