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Martin Gallagher, Oral History
Recorded: January 11, 2016
Interviewed by Lae’l Hughes-Watkins
Transcribed by the Kent State University Research and Evaluation Bureau
[Interviewer]: This is Lae’l Hughes-Watkins speaking on January 11, 2016, at Kent State University Special Collections and Archives as part of the May 4 Oral History Project. I will be talking with Martin Gallagher. I would like to begin with a few biographical questions. First, where were you born?
[Martin Gallagher]: I was born in Cleveland, Ohio.
[Interviewer]: Where did you grow up?
[Martin Gallagher]: I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio—on the west side.
[Interviewer]: And when did you first come to Kent State University?
[Martin Gallagher]: I first came to Kent State in 1969, when I was researching schools to go to after I had graduated from high school—researching which colleges I would consider.
[Interviewer]: And why did you choose Kent State?
[Martin Gallagher]: I chose Kent State because of their aeronautics program. I enrolled as—majoring in aeronautical engineering and Kent just seemed to have the best situation there.
[Interviewer:] Can you recall or describe the atmosphere on campus when you first arrived?
[Martin Gallagher]: Let me see—when I first arrived on campus, I think that I was trying to absorb it all. So, I was much more concerned with what was going on with me at the time than I was at trying to understand what the overall feeling was on campus, with regards to political activism or you know, what the overall mood was. When I first got to campus, I was not very aware of how Kent State related to the rest of country at that time. I only became more aware of where Kent State stood as I had spent several months there. I came in September of ’69. It was only after I was there for several months that I started to realize that what was going on at Kent State was part of a much larger national movement.
[Interviewer]: So, do you recall any protests that were taking place during the time when you first arrived at Kent?
[Martin Gallagher]: No, I wasn’t. No, I wasn’t aware of any of that.
[Interviewer]: Can you recall the atmosphere between Kent and the City of Kent?
[Martin Gallagher]: Yes, that is actually a really good question. The City of Kent had the same, or less, population than the number of students who were on campus and I think the local folks back in September of ’69 saw Kent as like a very large elephant in their living room. They were always—the townspeople were always aware that Kent State was a very large player in their lives. All the business people—they catered to the university, whether that be the places of entertainment or even the hotels. The motels that were around the campus, they all catered to the university, so that if your parents came down to visit you, they were probably staying in a motel there. The churches were definitely catering to the university and my contact there was with the Unitarian church, which was right across the street from the campus. There was a lot of focus on Kent State because we brought a lot of people into the area and you sort of catered to them.
[Interviewer]: Now I want to take you back to April 30, 1970. So, if you could tell me what you can remember in the days leading up to May 4, 1970.
[Martin Gallagher]: Okay, the first thing that I remember is that it was starting to become springtime and after we had been in the depths of winter, with snow and cold temperatures. When the temperature started to warm up, everybody became very—a lot of energy came out. You’d walk around outside and the temperature had gone all the way up to 50° or 55°. So, there was just a lot of energy, a lot of springtime juices were flowing. Men and women flirted with each other more. We talked with each other more. We started throwing Frisbees outside more. There were impromptu softball games. Everybody was awakening after the winter and so there was a lot of pent-up energy because of that. Then, there was also constant information coming in about the war in Vietnam, the expansion into Cambodia, and we heard that on the news. We did a lot of talking about it. There was a lot of concern about that because it impacted the young men’s lives right away. I was staying at Eastway Hall—I lived in the dorms at Eastway. We were—there was a lot of people at a tight confines, so we did a lot of talking about that kind of stuff. But, there was not a lot of—I wouldn’t say that that was a daily part of life. I don’t think we woke up every morning thinking about politics. I think that was a backdrop in the larger world that was outside of Kent State.
[Interviewer]: Can you recall the ROTC building burning or were you aware of any of those milestone events that happened right before May 4?
[Martin Gallagher]: Yes. I went to a couple of speeches that were held on The Commons. The notable one there being Jerry Rubin and I heard his “Kill your Parents” speech. There was a number of things going on. I wasn’t aware of all of them. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of most of them. There were some people that were very involved in trying to make a statement and to trying to affect some change in U.S. governmental policies overseas and their opposition to the war and their opposition to Johnson and President Nixon. But, that was a very small percentage of people that I knew or had anything to do with. I knew that they existed. I knew that those folks were very passionate, but there was only a few of them, there was only a few of them. So, when the ROTC buildings burned, I remember a small vignette. There was a bridge—there was walking bridge over the top of a road and the road led down to the ROTC buildings and there was—I was walking on my way to class and there was a dump truck coming in for some reason, I can’t remember what it was. I waved at the truck driver, at the driver of the dump truck, and he looked at me with a big scowl on his face. He was a guy probably in his thirties. He had a big scowl on his face, he looked at me and he flipped me off. And I was just so surprised at that because I was trying to be friendly and I’ll always remember the look on his face because it was obvious that, in his eyes, I was quote, unquote, “one of them,” some hippie that stood—I somehow stood for a lot of bad things to him or things that were scary to him and so his response to me was—to my wave to him and greeting—was to flip me off.
[Interviewer]: That you represented the counterculture in some kind of way?
[Martin Gallagher]: I think so, I think so. He was not part of the counterculture and so he didn’t respond to my gesture as a greeting. That was possibly something that a naïve young person would do, to wave to a total stranger and he may not have known how to respond to that, whatever. There’s just—clash of cultures.
[Interviewer:] Right. Do you recall where you were or what you experienced on the day of May 4?
[Martin Gallagher]: Yes, on the day of May 4, I was up in Cleveland, I was interviewing for a job with the City of Cleveland, as a playground instructor for the City of Cleveland and I had gone up on May 3. Stayed with my folks in Cleveland and then I was actually there for an interview up in Cleveland. So, when I came back home from the interview, my parents said, “You’re not going back to school.” And I said, “Why?” And they said, “Well, they’ve closed down the campus.” So, I heard about it from a distance.
[Interviewer]: Do you recall your reactions when you heard the news about what happened on campus?
[Martin Gallagher]: I had two reactions, well, three reactions. One, I was concerned about the people that I knew who were on campus, friends of mine. The second thing was, how it related to world conditions. How would this play nationally, how would this play? If it meant anything at a larger scale besides the horror of the people being shot and the people who were injured—if it had any symbolic meaning. And the third thing that I was concerned with was my parents, because my dad was a steel worker, he was a blue-collar person. He worked for Republic Steel and Republic Steel had come under fire for air pollution concerns. This was the very beginning of the environmental movement and, when I showed some support for environmental causes, that caused a lot of family arguments. You know, “They’re trying to shut down my company and my company provides me a good living and that’s how I put you through school.” It became quite personal—the political became personal. So, those were the three areas that I was concerned with. Those were the three things that, you know, the three reactions, I had.
[Interviewer]: Now, you said you have another connection or relationship to the Kent State Shootings?
[Martin Gallagher]: Yes. I don’t remember exactly when the trials began, of the Kent State Guardsmen, but when that began, somehow I became aware that my uncle’s law firm, Gallagher, Fulton & Sharp, was going to be the law firm that was going to defend the Guardsmen. I went down to visit my uncle, just as a family visit, and I went to the law firm offices in Downtown Cleveland. I had never been there before, they were quite impressive. Lots of dark wood. Very well-dressed people. Very gentile, very quiet, very polite. And I got into an elevator with my uncle and we started to go downstairs. A third person joined us and my uncle, Michael Gallagher, turned to me and said, “Oh, Marty, this is Burt Fulton, and Burt Fulton has got the lead on the Kent State case.” He turned to Burt. Michael was between us. He turned to Burt Fulton and he said, “Oh, this is Marty Gallagher, and he’s a student at Kent State University.” Well, at that point, everything went silent and we watched the numbers on the elevator decline until we got down to the ground floor. And nobody said a word for like three or four floors worth of elevator travel until the doors opened and then we exited. My uncle and I continued on and Burt Fulton continued on. I realized years later that the reason that nobody said anything was—at the time I thought it was because we seemed to be on opposite sides of the divide and therefore we really didn’t have anything to say to one another. But, I realized years later that the reason that nobody said anything and Burt Fulton certainly couldn’t start a conversation with me at all, whether it be on any subject because he was involved in the case and you don’t talk about the case when you’re outside the courtroom. Certainly not with somebody who is not directly affiliated with the case and I was not directly affiliated with the case, I was never called to testify or anything like that. So, I think that was the reason that there was a strained silence in the elevator as we went downstairs. “Hey, this is my nephew, Marty, and he goes to Kent State.” “Oh, that’s nice!” Silence.
[Interviewer]: As you said, your uncle wasn’t allowed to talk about the case, while it was ongoing, but do you recall if he shared any of his experiences later with respect about the case after it concluded?
[Martin Gallagher]: No, no. He never shared anything with that with me about that and his area of responsibility and expertise was in totally different kinds of law, so he was not really involved in the case at all. It’s just that he was a senior partner and another senior partner was the lead lawyer in the case. So, my uncle was concerned with aviation cases and those kind of cases would have been routed to him but this certainly wasn’t an aviation case and had to do with other kinds of things. So, I know, kind of circumstantially, that you don’t work in a large law office that has a very high-profile case like this without having some discussions about stuff. And I think the way that this came up for me, in a strange kind of way, was I was going after my conscientious objector status. I was working with the Quaker folks on the campus and they were advising me on what to expect, the questions in the conscientious objector forms that I had to fill out, and whatever type of testimonial I was going to have if there was ever going to be a hearing with me in front of the C.O. Board—the Conscientious Objector Board. Any letters that I could get from people that would substantiate my belief system would be entered into my file and used as evidence to support the fact that yes, indeed, I believe that violence is not the way to do things. I am not just trying to get out of military service because I’m lazy or unpatriotic or whatever it is. I had to really prove to the C.O. Board that I believed that violence was not the way to do it. I had talked to my dad about this just a little bit. For some reason, I had also mentioned this to my uncle, Michael Gallagher, the lawyer. Michael Gallagher was a B-17 pilot during World War II and he flew combat missions towards the end of World War II over Europe. My uncle offered to write me a letter in support of my conscientious objector status, and he did. I still have the letter. He said, “I want to talk to a couple of people in my office first before I send you the final copy of my letter, so that I can address the issues of a Conscientious Objector Board.” Because he had people—he had contacts through his office of people who would have been on the Board or people who were currently on the Board. He wanted to know how best to frame a letter in support of his nephew. So, even though his law firm defended the Guardsmen, he did support—Michael did indeed support my conscientious objector applications. That was an interesting juxtaposition of situations.
[Interviewer]: So, were you able to acquire conscientious objector status?
[Martin Gallagher]: By the time—when I graduated in ’73, all of that had stopped. My draft number was 89, so I was paying real close attention to it. By the time I graduated, the war was over and I never did get called up on this. I had a 2-S deferment, student deferment through my years at Kent State and then, while I was waiting for my case to come up—my conscientious objector case to come up and be called in front of the committee—the war ended and the whole thing evaporated. And then I was never called up. I never served in the military and I never had to do conscientious objector work. However, in preparation for that I had heard that—when they gave you a conscientious objector status, you were required to do two years of alternate civilian service. That civilian service was meant to interrupt your life as much as standard military service would and so, if the C.O. Board gave you alternative civilian service, they made sure that the service that they gave you to do—at a nursing home, or a hospital, or something like that—they would place you in excess of a hundred miles away from your home. The idea being to interrupt your life as much military service would. You were not going to get off scot-free. So, if you already had a job that qualified for alternative civilian service, that would save the draft board from having to place you someplace and so, there were a few people on campus who got themselves part-time jobs at the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home, which might actually still be in the Kent-Ravenna area. So, I got a job there and I was an orderly. That, I understood, would qualify that if my case got called up and I got called up before the draft board that I would say, “Hey, I’m currently working as an orderly at Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home,” and the hope was that they would see that as that qualified for alternative civilian service and therefore they didn’t have to take the time and energy to try and place me someplace and they would let me stay in the area that I was already living in, which was near Kent State and near my home in Cleveland and that’s why I took the job. So, after the war ended, I kept that job for several more months. I think I did that job for about a year and then I quit and continued on with my life.
[Interviewer]: That’s definitely an interesting turn of events, even going back to your uncle supporting your choice. When you look back and you think about May 4 now, do you think your views have changed over the years?
[Martin Gallagher]: Wow. My views have, I think they’ve changed—I think they’ve matured with the lessons of life. You know, we were—“we”—people that had been doing some reading and had been doing some investigation about our country and what its policies were. Folks like that—how would I say this—we really thought—I’m going to use the “we” in context. We had really thought that we would affect some change in this country. Since we were a educated class of folks, we were sometimes more aware of certain things than the population at large, the U.S. population at large. I remember going to a dinner party one time and I started arguing that perhaps we should be out of Vietnam and then somebody turned to me and said, “Why do you think we should do this?” And I said, “First of all, we spent an awful lot of money on it that we ought to spend someplace else.” And in order to put me in my place, this older man said, “Oh yeah, well what’s the budget of the U.S. military?” And I had just read that recently someplace and I snapped back at him and I said, “2.5 billion a year.” And it brought the conversation to a halt, because he had been attempting to stick me, and to, you know, put up or shut up. Does this kid really know anything that he’s talking about or is he just spouting off propaganda? He didn’t even know if the figure was accurate, but I came back so quickly because I knew the figure. I had just read it in the paper. The general population goes about its life trying to put food, shelter, clothing, you know, and take care of their family and their loved ones. They don’t think about politics a lot. And a class of folks that are at a cloistered university, we’re all on campus, we are absorbed in learning about the broader world and we’re learning about it in the theoretical sense. And so, we learn facts and we develop opinions as young adults. Young, optimistic adults. Young, even privileged, adults. And so, we thought we could change the world. We’re all together. We’re all looking at one another. There’s a lot of us. It’s springtime. We’re excited about a lot of stuff. We’ve got a lot of juices flowing. We can do anything. Well, that’s not exactly true. That’s sort of true, but it’s sort of not true. All of a sudden, this cloistered area collides with the rest of the world and we start learning about other kinds of things. So, I have developed quite a sense of compassion for the Guardsmen—compassion, certainly for the students who were injured. I have prayed a lot for the students who were killed. A lot of compassion for their friends, relatives, parents. I drove for Campus Bus Service and I drove the handicap vans for a while. I remember stopping to pick up one of the students who was injured, who had spinal cord, you know, bullet go through his spinal cord and then he couldn’t walk. I remember picking him up, in order to put him in his wheelchair, after I put the wheelchair on the bus. I had that physical contact, for the first time in my life, with somebody who could not walk, who was really disabled. It was very profound to feel his weight, to feel what his legs felt like against my chest, as I picked him up. How light he was. How I could actually pick him up. I was not a big guy. I was a fairly slender kid.
[Interviewer]: At what point did that happen? His name is Dean Kahler.
[Martin Gallagher]: This is a couple years after the shooting. He was still a student. And I picked him up in a handicap van in order to take him to class. This was not at the shooting, I didn’t mean to say that. But he was one of the kids that was injured by bullets. And then to actually feel his body after that was quite profound. There’s been a lot of maturing of my attitudes about all of this. How frightening it must have been for the Guardsmen who, on the one hand were being pressured by their commanders and, on the other hand, being pressured by the students—it was such a sad thing—such a sad thing. I don’t know what else to say right now, it’s just—yeah, we all had our stories. That’s why I think that what you’re doing Lae’l, in all of this, is so important because there’s so many viewpoints in all of this and it’s real important to get these stories out. I really appreciate your efforts.
[Interviewer:] We appreciate you adding your voice to the Oral History Project. I do want to ask if there’s anything else you would like to add to that I didn’t get a chance or think to ask you?
[Martin Gallagher]: I hope this is appropriate to say this. I met a woman at a dinner party here in Portland, Oregon. Because right now I’m talking to you from Portland, Oregon, which is where I live now. I met a woman at a dinner party here and I was introduced to her by a friend of mine, who was a Methodist minister and he said this woman, and I can’t remember her name—this woman was at Kent State also at the time of the shootings and you might want to talk to her. Now, this would have been in the year 2005, that I met this woman. So, that’s a lot of years after Kent State and we were both older. I went up to her and I said, “Hi, I was freshman at Kent State at the time.” She was reluctant to talk to me. I think that she had been asked about Kent State a lot and it was like, Oh no, here’s another one of these dinner conversations, I’m going to have to talk about Kent State again. And I realized that at the time and I wasn’t going to push her on all of that, but I just wanted to see where the conversation would go. And she said, “Yeah,” she was there and everything. I had always felt that, even though I was directly related to the incidents at Kent State, that I wasn’t really there on May 4 and so, when I told people that I was at Kent State at the time of the shootings, I always had to qualify it. No, I wasn’t there on the day. So, I was almost a little bit of an imposter. Yeah, I was there but I wasn’t really there on the day. This person was there on the day. And, I said, “So, you were involved very heavily?” And she goes, “Yeah, I helped burn down the ROTC buildings.” And I went, “Woah.” Here’s a person, a young woman, a young, white woman, at the time, who got her hands dirty and really did something. And I said, “Is there anything that you regret about any of that?” And she said, “Yeah, I regret cutting the fire hoses. The hoses that the firemen were using. I had a knife and I cut the fire hoses.” Then we went silent. And, I said, “It’s nice to meet you. Thank you.” And I went—wow, there was somebody who acted on their beliefs much more than I did at the time. Anyway, that’s my most recent Kent State May 4, 1970 experience, was something that happened in 2005.
[Interviewer]: That was pretty memorable.
[Martin Gallagher]: Yes, no kidding.
[Interviewer]: I would like to say thank you, again for participating in our Oral History Project and I will conclude our interview at this time.
[Martin Gallagher]: Thank you very much for talking with me.×
Student at Kent State University in 1970
|Date of Interview||
Martin Gallagher was a freshman in the aeronautics program at Kent State University in 1970. He discusses his memories of the mood on campus during the spring of that year and his feelings about the Vietnam War, his draft classification, and his application for conscientious objector status. He also talks about his uncle, Michael Gallagher, whose law firm, Gallagher, Fulton & Sharp, represented the National Guardsmen.
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Conscientious objectors--United States
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970--Trials, litigation, etc.
Kent State University. ROTC Building--Fires
Special Collections and Archives
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Kent State University
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The content of oral history interviews, written narratives and commentaries is personal and interpretive in nature, relying on memories, experiences, perceptions, and opinions of individuals. They do not represent the policy, views or official history of Kent State University and the University makes no assertions about the veracity of statements made by individuals participating in the project. Users are urged to independently corroborate and further research the factual elements of these narratives especially in works of scholarship and journalism based in whole or in part upon the narratives shared in the May 4 Collection and the Kent State Shootings Oral History Project.
May 4 Collection