Anonymous, Oral History
Recorded: May 4, 2010
Interviewed by Craig Simpson
Transcribed by Amanda Faehnel
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 May 4, 2010. My name is Craig Simpson and we're conducting an interview today for the Kent State Shootings Oral History Project. And you wish to be anonymous.
[Anonymous]: Yes I do.
[Interviewer]: Okay. Usually I ask biographical questions, (laughs) but--when did you come to Kent State?
[Anonymous]: It was in my sophomore year. I transferred from another school.
[Interviewer]: What made you decide to come to Kent State?
[Anonymous]: Believe it or not, I had been in the ROTC program at my prior school, which had compulsory ROTC, and I was actually an Airborne Ranger in that program. I jumped out of an airplane, was in the most gung ho ROTC group, but information from my brothers, who had both been in Vietnam, were starting to change my opinion of things, and I was looking for a school up north from--oops, I am already saying it--I was down south. (laughs)
Anyway, I hitchhiked up here to Kent and it just happened to be the week of the Music and Speech takeover but I wasn't there for the actual lock-in, but what I was there for was a meeting in the old Student Union and I saw hundreds of people who were just so activated and interested and it was so compelling for me to watch all of this in action and I said, "This is the place I'm coming. I want to go to a place where people are involved." Because the school I was at in the south was quite different than that. There was not much open-mindedness, let's say.
[Anonymous]: So, that's what spurred me to go to Kent State specifically. So I transferred up. So the summer in between, I spent working in migrant fields as a combine driver here in this country. But more importantly, one of the driving forces for me was one of my brothers who had come back who had been pretty much a hero there--couple bronze stars, couple purple hearts--he became a junkie and he actually died within fifteen months after he got back. So that happened. I was supposed to be coming to Kent and there was a funeral and everything, so I actually got into Kent late. So that was one of the driving forces behind me also in my development, when I thought of things.
Coincidentally, my best friend--his brother was killed in Vietnam in December. So, as I'm proceeding in my first year at Kent, I had these two close deaths leading up to things. And I was very circumspect about what I was doing in college and stuff like that. So, a lot of soul searching going on.
And what happened after that was I was losing interest in school, even though I was still there. I dropped hours and my number was very low in the draft (laughs) and lo and behold, I was sent a letter by my draft board about taking an army physical.
[Interviewer]: I'm sorry, when you say it was low, does that mean--
[Anonymous]: Well, yeah, I was in the first round in the first month (laughs)--it was that low. So that meant, you know, I had a choice. By then I--oh, I forgot one other important thing I'll go back to in a second--in fact, I'll go back to it.
[Anonymous]: In the fall, I initially lived over in the freshman dorm area and became friends with, or acquaintances, basically, with Allison [Krause] and Barry [Levine], and plenty of other people. And during that time period, I was kind of searching for maybe a group. I know the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] was banned and all that, but in going to meetings and stuff, there were people who were trying to recruit me to go to this Days of Rage in Chicago, which I did not go to, but what I did decide to do was give peace a chance, you know that old saying, and go to the march in Washington D.C. So, in a carload of--there was seven of us--Allison, Barry, and four other people and myself went down to Washington for the march on Washington in November.
[Interviewer]: Just to clarify, Allison Krause and Barry Levine--is that correct?
[Anonymous]: Yes, right. I actually lived in that area down there, so it was kind of interesting to go down there. And I remember when you took your candle by the White House there, you had a name that you picked, and I picked a name that was--I didn't pick my brother, because he didn't die there--but who I did pick was a boy who had--in my high school--had lied about his age, enlisted in the Marines and got killed over in Vietnam. And, you know, this was when I was a junior in high school, a classmate was already dead. So, anyway, that was one event that happened where giving peace a chance--it was a very peaceful march in Washington.
But going back to the army physical, if I'm not moving too quickly here--
[Anonymous]: Okay. I wrestled in high school, I knew a lot about weight training. I got some information--I knew for my height, if I was below a certain weight, they couldn't induct me into the army. Okay? So, consequently, I went on a thirty day starvation diet and at the end of it, I also cut out all liquid et cetera. So I went to this--also cut off all my hair--and this was two weeks before May fourth. I had grown my hair since I was in ROTC and stuff.
Anyway, I went to this army physical, and they tried to cut an inch off my height after I went all the way through--and they did cut an inch off my height but fortunately, I was still one pound underweight. I weighed 118 pounds. So it was a very rowdy event, also I must say, because I think there were people dressed like Jesus, people acting crazy, there was bikers, but it was very scary--well, not scary--but it may have been kind of a precursor of what was to come because this poor young lieutenant up there trying to keep control of this rowdy group who wanted to leave--some of us were done. He was taking abuse and it was just getting kind of ugly in there. (laughs)
And two weeks later, you know, it's May. The invasion of Cambodia, I watched it, and I actually did not feel--there was like kids laughing watching this thing, and I thought, I was thinking a lot more seriously than that. I thought how horrible this was. I was in, I think, Tri-Towers down in the TV lounge or whatever, watching it. I figured there would be something happening because this was just so provocative. And I wasn't sure whether it was going to be Kent, because Kent really was a commuter school now. There was no SDS, there really wasn't a whole lot of organized activism that I had seen in the year I was here but you know, by Friday, you're hearing rumors about stuff going on and things like that.
I did not attend the Friday stuff downtown, but Saturday morning I woke up and then I heard about all this activity that had happened. So, Saturday, there was rumors floating around that there was going to be a gathering at the Commons. So I went down to the Commons and certainly there was things starting to happen, but it was a very slow beginning to the whole process of doing something to the ROTC building because it was kind of like the obelisk of 2001, you know, (laughs) go up and touch it. Throw a rock at it or something.
So I was party to a bunch of things there, okay. So, there was a person who had a very big stick. And that was me, okay? Now, the person that was lighting the American flag on fire--I didn't light the American flag on fire, but he was lighting it on fire, and as soon as he got it on fire I said, "Stick it on here." And I was holding it up like this. So I was that character.
And then, also, when the young man was dipping the rags in the gas tank of the motorcycle, I was the person with the big stick smacking out the window frames, going to throw it in. Likewise, I was--the phone booth, that was my activity.
And as we got to the front of the campus, the [National] Guard were coming in and, you know, it seems silly throwing rocks at them, but I did. It was kind of crazy. And then the next day I saw some broken windshields--I don't know if they were done by us on the campus or previous to that.
So, that was, in a nutshell, I was basically going with the whole crowd and being instrumental in certain things that happened as well. And I saw a few faces that I recognized but it wasn't like I was talking to people or anything, you know. It was just, personally, I was committed to some sort of action, and for me, you know, the ROTC building burning was perfect.
[Interviewer]: It was symbolic?
[Anonymous]: Yes. (laughs) Yes, definitely. You know, I had really gone from being a full supporter of wanting to go to Vietnam a few years before to being totally opposed to it. And I must say, probably with the same amount of vehemence. So--
[Interviewer]: I have a question. Some people have asked about where the rocks came from because this is a primarily grass campus. Were they collected on campus, or were they already--
[Anonymous]: Well, I had an army jacket on, and I picked some up over here between Tri-Towers and coming over, and I can't remember where else I picked up rocks, but you know, again, I had the stick for a good part of it down at the Commons, and I think I picked that up in some construction area along the way too.
[Anonymous]: I think they were building, or starting something over this way. There wasn't like a building up, but I think there was--because I know on May fourth, I came across that way and picked up rocks as well.
[Interviewer]: It was like a construction area?
[Anonymous]: Yeah, it was--
[Interviewer]: I think I've seen the photos.
[Anonymous]: Instead of having mud there, there was rocks and stuff there, you know, for driving over or whatever.
[Anonymous]: So that's what I did Saturday night and then I just ended up back at the dorm, because there was, you know, everything kind of got broken up, and then the troops arrived and all that. People were scattered to the four corners. So there wasn't really anything bundled up--pretty much every man for themselves at that point.
So the next day--this mob on the night before had gone around to all the dorms trying to recruit, cheering, parading around, (laughs) trying to pick up steam. Well, you know on Sunday night, same thing happened. We did that, and then, since it was a commuter school, a lot of people were back, there was a lot more people in the mob and everything. But by the time it got down to the corner--the Robin Hood corner on campus there--I guess there was a few hundred people, but it wasn't as big as it was the night before.
And I know personally, when I saw the filings of deputies coming over the hill (laughs) down Main Street, I was thinking, Oh man, this is like the Little Big Horn, you know. This is probably not going to be good. So I did not stick around very long. I didn't stick around for the assault on the kids. I heard that President White was coming and all that and the helicopter and it just didn't look like a very good situation, so I actually took off and went back to my dorm. So I missed out on the potential of getting stabbed.
[Interviewer]: That was Sunday night?
[Anonymous]: That was Sunday night, yeah.
[Anonymous]: Do you want to ask any questions while I'm--
[Interviewer]: I just had one. I don't know if you were there, this morning. I went to that panel discussion with the photographers of May 4 and this big debate broke out between one of the panelists and a person in the audience over whether or not these things, like the burning of the ROTC building and these other things, were primarily Kent State students or if there were a lot of outsiders in town. Do you have any perspective on this?
[Anonymous]: I don't think there was a lot of outside agitators myself. Now, I know that Del Vecchio [Mary Ann Vecchio] woman was there, the runaway who just happened to be there, or whatever, but no, especially on Monday. I recognized a lot of students, and well, obviously the university has too since you've got pictures of them. (laughs) And there were some familiar faces there on Saturday night, but like I said, I wasn't talking to them, but I for one was out there as a student, so I'm assuming there was a lot of other students out there.
[Interviewer]: And it was all students that got shot and wounded on Monday too.
[Anonymous]: Yes, that's right.
[Interviewer]: Okay. Alright, so do you want to get to Monday?
[Anonymous]: Sure, Monday. Well, we all know it was a beautiful day, and there was call for a strike, at least that's what I had heard. I wasn't a real big fan of strikes. It seemed kind of self-defeating to us students to strike, but I figured I would go join anyway. And now that this is like two days later, I know you hear people say, Well, they burned the building, they deserve to be shot. Okay, do you go to a street corner where the store was robbed on Saturday night, go back there Monday and shoot people to death?
And that was kind of what eventually happened here because it was a peaceful meeting on Monday. There wasn't anything going to happen. There was no building takeover in the works. You know, it was the Victory Bell, the Constitution had been buried there Friday. People were, you know, it was semi-festive up there, and the whole Commons was ringed by spectators, you know, students just wanting to see what was going on, having come back to school.
I mean, I had no idea that they were going to come out and really provoke what they did--the National Guard, that is. But when that jeep came out, and I was sitting up on top of the Victory Bell and it was very clear, because I have that white kerchief on and this brown soft cap, army jacket, and I had plenty of rocks in my pocket, but I hadn't thrown anything yet, and I didn't throw them then either, but you know, there was just a lot of jeering and derision of this (laughs) poor guy--whoever was trying to tell us to break up. I mean it was a joke.
[Interviewer]: The guy with the bullhorn?
[Anonymous]: Yeah. I mean, it was, Oh, come on, you know? There's so many people here. But then they started firing the tear gas and started marching across the field, and I was like, Oh boy, here we go. And the only way to go for us was up over the hill. So everybody went running around Taylor Hall. I was a pretty solitary figure in one really good picture between tear gas, standing with my arm back, throwing at the guardsmen. There's nobody between me and the Guard. And I'm standing on the hill there, the white kerchief on, so I'm pretty unmistakable.
I did not think that I was just going to be plucked out, shot, and certainly, there was no state police there who I've seen on TV. They will run down anybody who's causing trouble. The Guardsmen honestly were just like the red coats, just marching in a long line, you know. I didn't think they were going to break line, so I didn't think I had anything to really be afraid of standing up there. So, it was just kind of a slow pullback up the hill. That picture on the James Michener book with Allison and Barry. I'm also in the top there, again, poised, looking down the hill at the Guard. Firing down the hill at them.
And went over to the other side and I ended up in the Prentice parking lot. They marched over into the practice football field and when they got over there it seemed really foolish because they were really isolated over there. They were protected because they had the fence around the Prentice Hall side and the east side of it--I think even the south side, so the only open way was to the west. The kids were back up on the hill and stuff.
I was throwing rocks from the parking lot. It's well documented. But, you know, I don't even think I was really getting to them. I might have been rolling up to the front line. But the scary thing that happened at that time was a couple of the guardsmen yelled down to start drawing beads on us in the Prentice Hall parking lot. And I backed off a little bit then because it just gave me a bad feeling, but then they didn't shoot anybody, (laughs) but it was kind of scary.
So there was again a lot of derision going on, a lot of jeering by the students, and because they were out there--I mean, I think from their point of view, they probably did feel like they were kind of foolish. I did see some of the Guardsmen grouping up, as far as, like, talking together--this is behind the line of soldiers aiming the weapons, and post-everything that happened, if I was to conjecture when there was an actual discussion about what was going to happen soon, I think it was right on that field. Because I don't think they could have envisioned going over that practice field standing around like they did, then being made fools of, seeing that there were students all the way up there and that they were going to have to march back up through the students, pair them again, and as basically like a senseless military act, sort of.
So, when they started marching up, back up the hill, the sea just parted of students so they could get through and the feeling was very euphoric, at least for me and for other people that were very active out there. We felt that, Yeah, you know, hey, they're going back to where they came from, la la la.
So I followed up across--I came out of the practice field as they were moving up, and I was following up with rocks from a distance, definitely. And I don't think there was a whole lot of people throwing rocks at this point. I could reload easy. I probably did just go reload because at the end of Prentice, you could walk across the street and get stuff.
Anyway, this joyous feeling as I crossed the road, dividing the practice field from Taylor Hall, I started walking up the slope there toward the pagoda. When they got to the top of where the pagoda was, they wheeled and turned, and as I always described it, it was on a dime. It was like that. (snaps fingers) There was no one guy turning around and starting to pop the gun, it was (whistling noise) they all turned around and--
[Interviewer]: Sorry. (laughs)
[Anonymous]: That's alright. And when they all turned around and started pointing the guns and I heard the sounds, I just dropped my shoulder like this and I started running straight back down the slope of Taylor Hall there and I think what saved me was that I was a little southwest of Jeffrey Miller maybe and Alan Canfora. And there's actually a drop in elevation there whereas where Alan and Jeffrey Miller were, it was a slope, but it was like this, and there was a clear line of fire for the guardsmen, whereas where I ran, where I started from, the drop--my body was going down below the horizon. I think crossing the road and then down to the football field saved me because there was nobody shot over in that area. Well, there was one guy shot way over on the other side, but that was--
[Interviewer]: Because it was out of their field of vision?
[Anonymous]: Right. I think I dropped down out of the vision, whereas I am positive I had to be probably one of the most sumptuous targets out there other than Canfora with the flag and Jeffrey Miller, because the lone guy with the kerchief and the brown hat. And by the way, the brown hat--my brother took it off a Viet Cong that he killed. So, I had my brother's jacket on, so I was living something personal for me, against the war and everything that it stood for. I forgot to mention that. (laughs) But that's where that came from. I was wearing my brother's clothes and things he had gathered.
So, I ran down to the field and after the firing stopped--I never did hit the ground. I just ran all the way. And after the firing stopped, I walked up and I saw several of the bodies and I just knew I had to get to my dorm and call home and let them know I was okay because they knew I might have been out there most likely. And as I was talking to my mom on the phone, I only got like one or two lines out and told her there had been some shootings and some kids hurt here, but that I was okay, and then the phone went dead. And I'm not the only one that happened to.
Then I went back to the field. I was in shock at that time. I did make it back over by--I don't remember seeing the bodies carted away but I made it back over to where the gathering was on the Commons for the second one, which was closer to the burned out ROTC building. And with everybody being in shock, I think the feeling was--and just for myself alone was--they killed four of us. Why the hell--might as well make it a couple hundred. (laughs) You know? We'll just attack these sons of guns. And I think everybody else was feeling the same way.
And there was two heroes that arose: Glenn Frank and Seymour Baron. (pause) Excuse me.
[Interviewer]: It's okay.
[Anonymous]: I just remember Glenn Frank just being so pleading with us. And he finally convinced me at least to get out of there--and other people too--but the man was giving it all to stop us from being killed. He truly was the hero of the day. I wish I could have thanked him at some point but when you don't come back for thirty years (laughs) you don't have a chance to do that. But that man was a hero.
[Interviewer]: His son is still around. Alan Frank.
[Anonymous]: Oh really? Is he a teacher here or something?
[Interviewer]: He's not a teacher. I don't know, he may have been at one time, I don't remember, but Alan Frank is still around. I don't know if he comes to the commemorations or not.
[Anonymous]: So, you know, then it was pack up and get out of here after that, so everybody had to leave the campus. There was a lot of animosity. I almost got in a fight with a ticket agent at the airport--at [Cleveland] Hopkins that day. He said some kind of snide remark.
I was very disappointed in how the media covered it because, man, for that week after that, you didn't see anything but, Oh, there was a sniper, they were justified. Oh my god. (laughs) You know? Having been there, having seen everything that led up to it. You hear people saying, Oh, they were about to be overrun, they were fearing for their--" There was nobody even close to them. There were students parting. I mean, if I was the most active one and I was down the hill, I mean, what was there to really be afraid of?
Even though I was very active and I was an instigator, I will admit that, there is no justification for them just wheeling and firing en masse down the hill and shooting at anybody out there. And they didn't see an active target, like Jeffrey Miller or somebody. They were shooting just other students, just down in that whole herd of students that were down in the parking lot. I mean, it was just a reign of terror, of bullets. And as we know, two of those people weren't even--well, more than two of them--the two that were killed weren't even participating. So that's my story.
[Interviewer]: Are there any more thoughts you'd like to share?
[Anonymous]: You know, it took me a long time to come back because it was very devastating to get the feel for the day that it all happened. It's my third time back, so I'm getting better at it.
[Interviewer]: (laughs) When was the last time?
[Anonymous]: Well, the last time was two years ago, but I came in 2003 for the first time.
[Anonymous]: I don't know, I just couldn't--I got so sick just coming here. I couldn't even hardly talk. It's a bigger part of me than I ever imagined. I'm glad it's kept alive thanks to everybody here that's still working on it.
[Interviewer]: No problem. Alright. Thank you very much.
[Anonymous]: Alright. ×