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Doug Guthrie, Oral History
Recorded: May 4, 2019
Interviewed by Kathleen Siebert Medicus
Transcribed by the Kent State University Research & Evaluation Bureau
[Interviewer]: This is Kathleen Siebert Medicus speaking on May 4th, 2019, at Kent State University Special Collections and Archives. As part of the Kent State Shootings Oral History Project, I will be talking this afternoon with Doug Guthrie. Doug, welcome to the Library. Thank you so much for coming today, I really appreciate it.
[Doug Guthrie]: Thank you, Kate.
[Interviewer]: I’d like to, just to get us started, ask you some brief information about your background. Could you tell us where you were born, where you grew up?
[Doug Guthrie]: Sure. Yes, I’m originally from Ohio. I was born and raised in a small town called Cedarville, Ohio, which is located close to Dayton, Springfield, in southwestern Ohio.
[Interviewer]: When did you first come to Kent State and what brought you here?
[Doug Guthrie]: Well, I started here as a freshman 1967 and I think the reason I came here—I knew very little about Kent—but the friends of mine coming out of high school that were going on to college were going to Ohio State or some other nearby colleges and I thought it was important for me to get far enough away from home that I wouldn’t be tempted on coming home all the time. Kent seemed to fit that bill. That’s probably the real reason I came here.
[Interviewer]: The far opposite corner of the state, basically.
[Doug Guthrie]: It was, it was. I needed that. It was one of the best decisions I ever made was to get away from home.
[Interviewer]: What were you studying and what was your major when you were a student?
[Doug Guthrie]: Well, I came here—I was a pretty smart student in a small school and didn’t think college would be that difficult—so I came here as a math major. I studied math and physics and, right off the bat, in my first semester—I think it was actually a quarter system back then—but right off the bat, and found out I wasn’t quite as smart as I thought I was. So, it was a real struggle for me, a real struggle for me.
[Interviewer]: Sure, yeah, those are tough programs, absolutely.
[Doug Guthrie]: I thought about dropping out of school. Fortunately, I had a good friend here—and this was 1968—he said, “Don’t do that, because you’ll get drafted and you really don’t want to do that. Just take a quarter off and try something you think you might like, try something different.” So, that’s what I did and I was very interested in what was going on in the world. And so, I started taking sociology and I loved it. I went from a C- student to an A student right away.
[Interviewer]: What a good friend! Did this friend go on to become an academic counselor or—?
[Doug Guthrie]: No, actually. I still stay in touch with him some. He got his Ph.D. in oceanography and he spent his career doing that down the Gulf of Mexico.
[Interviewer]: What were your first impressions when you arrived at campus? What was going at Kent State in terms of, were you seeing a lot of anti-war protests? Civil Rights demonstrations, et cetera?
[Doug Guthrie]: Well, coming from a small town, it was a town of 2,000 people, and we had twelve Protestant churches and so I didn’t know much about the world. I’d never met a Jewish person, I mean I just didn’t know the bigger world. The first person I met was a surfer from New Jersey—and then, with a Jewish roommate, and so all these things were coming at me culturally, and then issues around the war.
[Interviewer]: Were you—do you have memories of any specific demonstrations or protests that you were involved in during those years?
[Doug Guthrie]: In the early years, not—I don’t know how much specific—I was involved in different events. I remember making crosses and planting crosses in part of campus. I remember participating in anti-war events. By the time 1970 came around, I was participating in everything, but mostly it was kind of all-night sessions in the dormitory just talking about this. My freshman year I was in Manchester Hall in Eastway, and then my sophomore year, they opened up Tri-Tower for the first time. I believe I was one of the first ones to move into Tri-Tower and spent my next two years there with the big open rotunda. We just had all sorts of debates about what was going on. And of course, there was the ’68 convention in Chicago. I followed that closely as well. I’d think about it—by then, I was anti-war and I decided to support Dick Gregory. Of course, I couldn’t vote, but just as kind of the anti-establishment “screw all the—all the politicians,” so I was wearing Dick Gregory buttons around for president at that time. I had a wonderful opportunity to meet him later and I sat down with Dick and we had a good conversation about Kent. I know he came here once and spoke but it was a real—
[Interviewer]: I forget when that was.
[Doug Guthrie]: Yeah, well, it was shortly before he died. I think he had been here just a year or two before that. I talked with him for ten or fifteen minutes about Kent and 1968 convention and it was a very interesting conversation.
[Interviewer]: What were the meetings like, the SDS meetings and the Young Republican meetings, were they—was it a big crowd?
[Doug Guthrie]: No, they weren’t very big crowds. I would say those that were really paying attention and were forming opinions, it was a fairly small group. I don’t know that I ever remember, a hundred people sounds awfully large to me. I’m sure it was smaller than that, like SDS meetings or gatherings. And, of course, we’ll talk about May 4th, but it was a relatively small, growing group of people, but fairly small. The Young Republican meeting I went to, there were maybe three people. Being a little facetious, but it was a very small group, but I still wanted to hear what they had to say.
[Interviewer]: Sure, yeah. Were there faculty during that time that were very influential? Or, in sociology, did you have Professor Jerry Lewis as one of your instructors?
[Doug Guthrie]: I did have Jerry Lewis, who was a young professor here and someone pretty easy to relate to. I had his classes over in Bowman Hall. It was wonderful, I just met him again yesterday and was talking with him, and I told him he had a lot to do—I ended up getting my degree in sociology, my undergraduate degree. So, I’m very familiar with Jerry and he was just energetic and very open to these types of discussions.
[Interviewer]: He was a role model, probably, in some ways.
[Doug Guthrie]: He was. I had Glenn Frank for—I think it was a—geology or geography class, perhaps. I remember him, I thought—
[Interviewer]: So, you did take some science classes, you were saying earlier.
[Doug Guthrie]: I did, yeah, I took some science classes. Particularly after I got back on track later on in 1968.
[Interviewer]: Were you staying in the summers? Were you doing summer classes?
[Doug Guthrie]: No, I would go back to Cedarville and I was always working. I paid my way through college, so I usually worked in the factory. There was a local factory there. I’d work the night shift in the factory or I’d work out on the farms. So, kind of back to rural America, and then coming back here again: big differences between those two locations.
[Interviewer]: Yeah absolutely, and as long as you were in courses during the academic year, you were not eligible for the draft, or that wasn’t an issue?
[Doug Guthrie]: I wasn’t eligible, but I do remember the draft lottery at the time and just kind of looking it back up again, my number came up as 220. And I believe they want as high as 195. I was very cognizant of the draft. I remember because, when they were doing the first lottery, we were down watching it, of course, all the male students especially. One guy got drawn number one.
[Interviewer]: At Tri-Towers?
[Doug Guthrie]: Yeah!
[Interviewer]: Oh my gosh!
[Doug Guthrie]: And it was devastating. And I put a lot of thought into what would I do if I was drafted—it’s easy to say because I wasn’t drafted, so it’s easy to say what I would’ve done. If it’d actually come down to it, I think I would have done that, but I had made a decision that I would be a conscientious objector. I didn’t want to go to Canada, like many of us were talking about. It seemed to me that that’s kind of running away from your responsibility and I felt strongly enough about it by then that I felt I’d rather go to jail than go to Canada and I definitely would not go into the service.
[Interviewer]: I’m curious about your family’s feelings during this time. Were they—they were aware of the protests and the anti-war movement events on Kent State campus? Were they concerned, were they—?
[Doug Guthrie]: They had growing concern, growing concern about me. They’re conservative, Midwest, salt-of-the-earth types of parents, good parents. Increasingly, they were worried about me and they even brought up, “Don’t get duped by those left-wing professors in college.” I mean, that came up because I was becoming more and more outspoken at home around the dinner table and we were starting to get in arguments over it. We were starting to have a generational disconnect on all this. I even had a good conversation with my minister at church—because I grew up pretty religious—who I’d known for a long time and he thought I was being duped as well. And I just got to the point where it was really hard to reconcile the way I was feeling and what everybody, kind of, I knew and trusted was telling me just the opposite. So, it was a real struggle.
[Interviewer]: Oh yeah. And you were a young person at that time.
[Doug Guthrie]: Yes. Young and, like I say, grew up pretty religious and this was kind of going against the teachings of the church that I knew and that was hard too, that was really hard. I very conscientiously stepped back from that. It was a hard decision.
[Interviewer]: Did you mention your parish was Methodist?
[Doug Guthrie]: I was Presbyterian.
[Interviewer]: Presbyterian, okay. There may not have been a real clear path for conscientious objector through your church, I don’t know.
[Doug Guthrie]: I don’t know. Our town, it was all Protestant churches, but primarily Southern Grace Baptist, because we had a college there that was a Southern Grace Baptist college and so Presbyterians were considered pretty liberal.
[Interviewer]: Okay. Did your parents—did it ever come to the point of them asking you to reconsider your choice to attend Kent State? Did you ever think about—did they want you to transfer closer to home or—?
[Doug Guthrie]: No, they never—
[Interviewer]: Did it get to that?
[Doug Guthrie]: No, it never got to that. No, they never asked me to consider leaving Kent. I wouldn’t have anyhow.
[Interviewer]: Yeah, right, you were already settled in here.
[Doug Guthrie]: I was, yes.
[Interviewer]: Had your major and friends.
[Doug Guthrie]: Had my major, was feeling more and more comfortable and I wanted to be part of the discussions that were taking place here. It was becoming more and more important to me.
[Interviewer]: I’m thinking maybe we could start looking at the time period close to May 4, 1970. And I’m wondering if—was everyone gathered in the central common area in Tri-Towers when Nixon announced the invasion into Cambodia? Were you all together for that?
[Doug Guthrie]: We were, actually, on April 30th and even building up to that—
[Interviewer]: Start wherever you’d like.
[Doug Guthrie]: Yeah, well, things had been getting so intense in my own mind, I was having sleepless nights even before that. When the news came out of the open invasion of Cambodia—because I think we all expected there had already been incursions into Cambodia for some period of time. But, remember when Nixon was elected in ’68, he had a secret plan to end the war and here we are in 1970 and, all of a sudden, we’re formally expanding the war. It was just outrageous. I mean, I was going crazy over that announcement. I was very angry and upset and didn’t know what to do. I heard there was going to be, down on The Commons, a protest over this. I immediately went over to The Commons and participated in the mock burial of the U.S. Constitution, down by the [Victory] Bell, so I was part of that small contingent there.
[Interviewer]: That was Friday, May 1st, I believe.
[Doug Guthrie]: That was Friday, May 1st, that’s right. The announcement was made on Thursday but that was kind of the first step in all the events leading through May 4th. And that was a fairly small group of us. Things, of course, escalated that evening in downtown Kent, and I didn’t—I wasn’t part of that, but I immediately heard, that night, what was going on. And, actually, was a little upset with myself; I hadn’t foreseen to go down there because I would have if I would’ve thought about it. By Saturday, things were picking up and the mayor had escalated things and it was clear that the city residents were more and more fearful of the students at that time, and they didn’t want to see it escalate.
Later that Saturday afternoon, I went over to the ROTC Building, I marched over to ROTC and was protesting the ROTC Building. I had a couple friends there as well and we were all chanting and yelling and it was getting pretty intense, more intense than I was comfortable with. People were shouting, “He’s got a camera, he’s got a camera! Go get him, go get him!” I mean, it’s starting to get out of control. But during all that, I have a very vivid memory of who I thought lit the fire at the ROTC Building—I wasn’t that far away from him down on the end of the building. Because the windows had been broken out, there was a curtain that was flopping around, and he pulled out a pack of matches and lit the whole pack and went out and tried to set the curtain on fire. Nothing happened the first time and he just dropped his matches in and then he went up a second time and the curtain started to smoke and he came back and then, a few minutes later, it went up in flames, the curtain did.
That ended up getting put out but that was—that’s where I thought the whole fire of the ROTC Building started from. I have a very clear vision of the guy that did it. I mean, I can describe him because I’d seen him around campus before. I didn’t know him. He had strawberry blonde hair, very long, and 5’7”, 5’8”. I’d just seen him many times and so, as I recreated the story in my own mind, many, many times over, I had always thought he was the one that started the fire. But I think it wasn’t until later, maybe a couple hours later, where the building really went up in flames. And I think there’s been controversy of who did what around that, but I know what I saw to begin with. I don’t know when or exactly how the whole building went up. I sat on the side of the hill and watched the building burn down.
[Interviewer]: So, you were there through the whole—that entire duration—
[Doug Guthrie]: I was there through the—through the entire duration, yeah.
[Interviewer]: This person that you describe, it was someone that you recognized, you saw on campus frequently. Was it a Kent State student as far as you know or maybe you don’t know?
[Doug Guthrie]: I assumed he was a student because I’d seen him around—
[Interviewer]: Saw him around a lot.
[Doug Guthrie]: —he didn’t seem out of place at all, just in terms of dress and age and long hair. I just assumed, the whole time, he was a student.
[Interviewer]: Yeah. That whole time that you were there, people were coming and going, I assume? Was the crowd growing around the building?
[Doug Guthrie]: I don’t remember the crowd growing; I remember the crowd again getting out of control and made me uncomfortable. I feel I’ve always been non-violent, I’ve never called for violence. I thought it was a big mistake, you know, as I was watching this unfold, I felt badly about burning down property like that. So, as soon as that curtain went up the first time, I left and I went up and watched it. I had a lot of regret as I watched it burn. I thought, This is going to escalate and it only gets worse from here. And I really was very strongly opposed to violence.
[Interviewer]: If you don’t mind stepping back, just for a moment, back to Friday, for those of us who weren’t there when the demonstration was held burying the Constitution. Could you just paint of picture of that and what it was like, what you saw?
[Doug Guthrie]: Well, as I remember it, there were some students, I didn’t know who they were, and they had a shovel with them. They held up pieces of paper, saying—and they gave a little speech about the U.S. Constitution and about what this county stood for and that these actions in Vietnam and, in particular this president, and lying to the American public about ending the war instead it’s escalating it, and felt that it was just it was killing what the country stood for. They used the Constitution as that symbol and said, “We just—we hereby—we’re burying the Constitution of this country by these actions.” I don’t remember it being a large group of people, I don’t know what the exact numbers were, maybe a couple hundred people at most. But we were all applauding the symbolism of it.
[Interviewer]: They weren’t students that you knew from SDS meetings or—?
[Doug Guthrie]: No, I didn’t know anybody else—
[Interviewer]: They were very serious-looking from the photos, they were in white shirts, if I remember. Is that correct? —Ties?
[Doug Guthrie]: I don’t know—remember, as you say that, kind of a flashing memory—that they were pretty serious. I didn’t know anybody there. I just went over on my own, as I often did to many of those events.
[Interviewer]: Thank you. I don’t know where you’d like to pick up your story next, I guess I did have one other question about the ROTC fire. So, sorry, back up to Saturday. Did you see any of the interaction between demonstrators and the firefighters, were you witness to any of that?
[Doug Guthrie]: Well, I did watch the firefighters come in and, it seemed to me later on, there were some troops that came in to support the firefighters; I’m not recalling specifically, I don’t remember. There were still students down around the building. I don’t remember interactions or intimidations. That could have very well taken place, but I don’t have a recollection of that.
[Interviewer]: You were watching from—
[Doug Guthrie]: I was watching from straight across up on the side of the hill.
[Interviewer]: Oh, okay.
[Doug Guthrie]: I went on home after that, again not feeling real good about things and the escalation of this, and woke up Sunday morning to walk outside and see a bunch of half-track troop carriers and armed men, soldiers, National Guard, with M1 guns that they were holding up, bayonets. I, quite honestly—it was surrealistic, I said, This can’t be happening. It felt like, at the time, there’s a television show called Combat, and that’s what I was thinking of. This is like right out of a TV show and it felt like a war zone. So, I spent a lot of the time just walking around campus that day as they surrounded the ROTC Building and they were other places with the half-track troop carriers that looked like Sherman tanks. I was just astonished by all of it. Now, I went up to some—I didn’t speak to any—but I walked right up to them. So, by the end of the day, I think myself and a lot of others were starting to feel some real resentment; this was our home.
[Interviewer]: Had you—so you walked out of the dorm and saw this? You had no resident advisor call a meeting to warn you or you didn’t have any pre-warning that—
[Doug Guthrie]: Not that I remember, I am sure it was the buzz, people talking about it downstairs. I probably heard about it before I walked out, but was still kind of shocked by what I saw. And we had a very good resident manager. I remember his name was Jerry, I don’t remember his last name, that really came into play later because, later on that Sunday early evening, I headed towards downtown as part of protests. With students that—you know, the word was you’re going to head to downtown and they got stopped short of downtown, did a sit-down protest at the corner of Lincoln and Main Street, and I was trying to get down there to join them. I was a little bit late, so I couldn’t get that far.
Later on, in ’72 —I was still here—I did get a chance to have a sit-down protest in the middle of Main and Lincoln [Streets] over the war at that time. In fact, I laid down in the street, so I remember that. But I couldn’t get to the protest that Sunday night. I was very close, and then people were running back and tear gas was being fired and I heard people coming back saying, “They’re bayonetting students,” because I was only maybe a hundred yards from the intersection by then.
[Interviewer]: Were you up on the front campus area?
[Doug Guthrie]: I was, yeah. I just—they were already breaking it up before I got there. And the tear gas was strong. Then, helicopters started showing up and there were spotlights coming down. We were running and hiding—hiding behind trees and bushes and spotlights—
[Interviewer]: I’ve heard other people talk about that, in the areas of Tri-Towers especially.
[Doug Guthrie]: Well, Tri-Towers, it got more intense because that was, I think, seen as the local place where all the radicals were, and it was all of Tri-Towers. By the time I finally got back to Tri-Towers and got in, the troops weren’t that far behind. I mean they were pushing everybody back, and they came right up to Tri-Towers. We were, as I’m remembering, hanging out of windows screaming, yelling, everybody. Even the students that hadn’t been out protesting were really angry and just really pissed off. I know Jerry stood in the doorway there and told troops, because they wanted to come into Tri-Towers—
[Interviewer]: This is Jerry the resident manager?
[Doug Guthrie]: Jerry, the resident manager, stood up and said, “No way!” He said—
[Interviewer]: He wouldn’t let them in.
[Interviewer]: Good for him. Wow. That must have been terrifying.
[Doug Guthrie]: Well, it was. And then, you know, with tear gas everywhere, and all the students by then were just really angry as to the invasion of our home. So, I know I didn’t sleep that night, had no idea what was going to happen the next day. So, just a lot of back and forth and talking and speculation and sitting down in the lounge and saying, “What’s next, what are we going to do, what’s next?”
By Monday, May 4th, the word was out: rally at the Commons, rally at noon, be over there before noon. We didn’t know what we were going to do but rally at the Commons. So, I went over there with a friend, I got there probably quarter after eleven, eleven-thirty and went down to the [Victory] Bell, because I wanted to be right in the middle of it. It was kind of a smaller group of—the ones that went down to the Bell were those who were really protesting, you wanted to be part of the protest. And, of course, the National Guard were over by the smoking remains of the ROTC Building and were kind of guarding it.
Then, the crowd started to gather up around the top of the hill and I forget, is it Olson [Hall], some other male dormitory that was right close by. So, people didn’t want to come down into the Commons, but they wanted to see what was going on and watch this unfold. Quite honestly, we weren’t doing anything, we were chanting, you know, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh.” It’s hard to even say it now, after all these years when you think about it. “NLF is going to win,” National Liberation Front. But, just kind of chants at the time, they were anti-war chants.
One of the members of the Guard rode up in a jeep, came up within twenty, thirty yards of us and we were yelling and screaming at him and he said, “You must disband in five minutes or we’re going to force you back.” And I thought that he said that Martial Law had been declared, that’s my memory, that may not be right, but that’s what I remember. So, it just made us angrier. But, within five minutes, here they come. In formation. They just started immediately with tear gas and in formation and marching on us—couldn’t believe it!
Some students stayed there and picked up canisters and threw them back. I retreated immediately up the hill, again, with the friend I was with. I had a blue bandana I kept for the tear gas and I went up into Taylor Hall and watered that down at the water fountain, because the tear gas was getting pretty intense by then, and then went out the other side of Taylor and proceeded down to the parking lot. The Guard were up marching over the hill and they marched right down into the area that was a practice football field.
[Interviewer]: Back up toward Taylor [Hall]?
[Doug Guthrie]: Back up towards Taylor. My friend turned around and left, and so I started following him, and that’s when the shootings unfolded. The picture is very clear in my mind: I just remember looking up, I remember the Guard turning around, and the one guy kind of take a half-kneeling position. I remember seeing him do that, and then the firing started, and I didn’t think they were firing guns, it sounded more like somebody had set off some firecrackers. And, to be honest with you, it didn’t register they’re actually firing at us.
So, I started walking back and that’s when I saw Jeff Miller’s—the ambulance had just left where he was—and the pool of blood was there. Alan Canfora was there with his red flag, waving his flag. I wanted to talk with Alan about this, I seem to recall he dipped that flag in Jeffrey’s blood before he waved it. Now, I could be totally wrong on that, but that just kind of sticks with me. I’d love to ask him about that.
By the time I got back to the dorm, the announcement was made: they’re closing down the city, they’re closing down Kent State, and we had like an hour to get off campus. I lived 200 miles away, the phones didn’t work because I think the system was so overwhelmed by phone calls and news coming and going. Luckily, I found somebody, who I didn’t even know, but people were volunteering to drive students out. I found somebody that drove me about halfway home and, from there, I stopped at a gas station and called my parents.
[Interviewer]: Who must have been frantic at that point.
[Doug Guthrie]: They were frantic, and as soon as I got in the car, “What happened? What happened?” And, as they’re starting to drive home, and I explain what happened, and I remember my father start to pull off the highway. He was ready to throw me out of the car. And, just keep it in perspective, he’s really salt of the Earth, he’s good, he’s gentle, you never see him get angry or upset. But I think, by then, they thought they’d lost a son.
So, it was hard. The news was coming across and how the students had started all of this, and early reports: National Guardsmen were killed. And that’s when we were driving home, and I said, “That’s not true.” But this was national news on the radio. I said, “That’s not true, that’s not what happened. I was there!” Nobody believed me and so, got home and, of course, everybody—the news was just all over the place, it wasn’t consistent. I’d grown up in Cedarville. I knew everybody there, they all knew me, and small town, and the general pushback when I started talking to people was, “Well, they should have shot them all!” That’s exactly what people said. I said, “That would have been me!” And they said, “They should have shot them all but you. What were you doing there?” That was kind of the— I don’t think they said those exact words. But, that was the sense of things, at the time, that the students were just all to blame and they’d become radicalized somehow and anti-American. And there were just such strong opposite feelings, real generational gap, a real gap between those going to college and those not, there’s a big gap there too.
[Interviewer]: When you came back in the fall, was that your senior year?
[Doug Guthrie]: Fall of 1970 was my senior year, yes. Of course, when we left, when they closed the campus at short notice, we hadn’t taken our finals and, as I recall, they gave us a pass/fail and gave us our credits. Then, I think maybe alphabetically, or maybe it was by college dorm, they gave us a window of time to come back and get our clothes a couple weeks later.
[Interviewer]: Oh, okay. Were you able to do that, get back? And get your things?
[Doug Guthrie]: Yes, I was able to drive up and get my things. I think that was around the end of May, maybe the third or fourth week in May, just to come back—
[Interviewer]: Was there anyone you knew in the Dayton area that was also coming back, or how did you get back?
[Doug Guthrie]: By then, I think I drove myself, just borrowed the family car and drove up here on my own. We just had a short window to pick everything up and leave.
[Interviewer]: Do you remember who gave you a ride part way, was that—?
[Doug Guthrie]: I don’t, I can picture him. I’d never met him before and there were probably four of us in the car, so it wasn’t just me. He just happened to have a car and going in the same direction. He volunteered—
[Interviewer]: Was it another student?
[Doug Guthrie]: Yeah, it was another student, I don’t know who he was. Everybody was asking around because most people didn’t have cars, many people were out of state. We were given such a short notice, I’m not sure how everybody really got out of here, what happened to them.
[Interviewer]: Did you see people hitchhiking on your way out? Do you remember? Or it must have been chaos in Tri-Towers, too, I’m guessing.
[Doug Guthrie]: It was chaos everywhere: Tri-Towers, just getting out of town, big traffic lines, people trying to leave, people trying to get in. They were starting to—because they closed down the town—so they had police out, sheriffs, whomever, highway patrol, that were blocking traffic from coming into town.
[Interviewer]: Yeah, there were checkpoints and—
[Doug Guthrie]: Checkpoints and everything else. By then, I just wanted to get out and connect with my parents, and there’s no guarantee I was going to be able to do that. He dropped me off and I hadn’t talked to my parents at all. I just had hoped I could get through to them and I knew they were—they’d be trying to get through to me.
[Interviewer]: Of course.
[Doug Guthrie]: We didn’t have cell phones back then!
[Interviewer]: No, students today, when they listen to your oral history, will have to appreciate all that. That communication was extremely different.
[Doug Guthrie]: Yeah, computers, cell phones, there maybe three television stations all together. Everybody got their news from three places and if they were all being given the same story, I mean—the news cycle was crazy, and it took them quite a while to start changing the story and, in some respects, it took them years to start straightening out the story. I knew what it was, but, I mean, who was I? For the most part, early on, people just didn’t believe me, they didn’t believe my story.
[Interviewer]: That summer when you were home?
[Doug Guthrie]: Oh yeah, nobody would believe my story.
[Interviewer]: That must have been a long summer. I don’t know if you feel up to describing the summer.
[Doug Guthrie]: Actually, it could have been a long summer, but I had a sister lived in California and my parents decided we’re going to take a road trip. We spent seven weeks with a Scamper attached to the station wagon and driving from Ohio out to California. Camping the whole time and then taking the southern route out and the northern route back and I saw a big part of the country for the first time in my life. I got to explore the Grand Canyon and all sorts of places; it just took my mind off of it.
[Interviewer]: Social changes, yeah.
[Doug Guthrie]: —Social changes, it wasn’t just solely the war, it was a confluence of multiple extreme changes. The music scene that was happening at the time was exploding. I remember the special connection, special language that music has and the way it connects to people. My generation were just getting hit with just some wonderful music that was connecting with this and I think that played a really important factor in things as well. It really, in retrospect as I look back on it, I didn’t have to look—it didn’t take long to look back, but it really felt like the end of the Sixties happened that day.
It was going to happen somewhere, it just—it happened to be Kent. It could have happened a lot of other places, it just happened to be here. That’s what struck the consciousness of the rest of America and a lot of things changed after what happened here on this campus.
Eventually, I don’t think it took that long, my parents finally came around and said, “You were right.” After that, we just saw a lot of growing cynicism in government, that’s when Nixon went down later on with Watergate, a lot of distrust of institutions. I think so much of that kind of started—the culmination of that was what happened here at Kent. So, it felt like a very important event, not just for me personally, but for the rest of the country as well.
[Interviewer]: Did you—on this trip with your parents, that seems like a really wise thing to do, actually, to just get out and be in nature, be with your family. Were you feeling more reconciled with your parents at that point that summer, or did that come later?
[Doug Guthrie]: I think that mostly came later. My sister had married an iron worker and they had moved to Bakersfield, California, of all places. The iron worker was very much anti-college, anti-protesters—he would bash some heads—so we were total polar opposites. Yet, he tried to be nice to me, but he’s a gun collector and he shot guns a lot. So, when I got out there—and again, he is trying to be nice—he says, “Let’s go out squirrel shooting.” And I reluctantly said, “Okay.” I remember going out with him and he took a shot at a squirrel and shot it and—I mean, it made me sick. I’d never shot a gun, not after that, I’ve never shot a gun since then, since that day we were squirrel shooting, and never would. Sorry, I mean, it’s such a roller coaster of emotions.
[Interviewer]: I can’t imagine, I really can’t.
[Doug Guthrie]: I’d always thought, after almost fifty years now, that I’d be able to manage the emotions better than what I do. But it does happen, particularly now, being out here for the first time for a commemoration. I can imagine if it’s that way for me, what it must be like for other people that have been in, whether it be war or the students that are a part of shootings and massacres that take place now, you know. The wounds run pretty deep.
[Interviewer]: Absolutely. Is there anything you’d like to share from your experiences when you came back your senior year, fall of 1970? You already mentioned how activism on campus was at a much higher level, but I’m curious about your experience that year and finishing your studies.
[Doug Guthrie]: Well, I struggled for a while, I mean, I did okay academically. But starting then, and actually for a number of years after that, I struggled as to whether or not I just wanted to drop out altogether or if I wanted to try to make some sort of productive use of my life and that period actually went on for a number of years. I considered joining communes, I got immigration papers to move to New Zealand. I guess if I’d had some more guts, I might have actually done one of those things. It really felt like it was a flip of a coin one way or the other.
[Interviewer]: Wow, yeah. I’m guessing when you got back from being home that summer, there were friends here that you could talk to, compare experiences, and there must have been some comfort in that.
[Doug Guthrie]: There was, to come back and, as I said, the whole campus just changed. People were much more attentive to national politics, what was going on, the protests continued, the war was still going on. I would attend all the protests and, as I said, even in ’72, it was still going on. I remember going and having the sit-down at Main and Lincoln [Streets]. But the anger was there as to why is this still happening, why can’t we stop this? So, it didn’t end with the shootings at Kent like I think many of us thought that—because it really seemed to be a turning point with regards to the war—that it would end a lot sooner than what it did. It remained very frustrating, angering, to see it continue the way that it did.
[Interviewer]: You had the same professors—did you, were you able to talk over things, how you felt, with Dr. Frank or Dr. Lewis?
[Doug Guthrie]: I didn’t talk with Dr. Frank. I’m sure I talked with Jerry, I’m sorry, Dr. Lewis, I don’t remember—
[Interviewer]: No, it’s fine! You knew him as Jerry.
[Doug Guthrie]: It’s Jerry now. But, yeah, we had conversations in classes. I don’t recall the specifics of them, but there was a lot more open discussion, a lot more debate about the war. A lot more people were a lot more conscientious about what was taking place, obviously. What I don’t remember is much in the way of honoring the students, I think that it took—it’s still taking time. The university, you know, their first reaction the university had was—I don’t want to say they were embarrassed—but, they wanted to put that behind them as quickly as they could. I think that the university felt it was a dark mark for them and people wouldn’t come to the college or it’d be seen as a left-wing school or something. So, the university seemed to want to put that behind them as quickly as they could.
[Interviewer]: Could you tell us, for those of us who don’t know, just a little bit about your career and what you were able to do in terms of having that be your life direction and healing from these events?
[Doug Guthrie]: I stayed on and got a Master’s in Public Administration here, an emphasis in urban studies. At the time, the urban cities around the country were burning in 1968 and ’69 and all the riots were taking place. I’m rural person, I didn’t really know much about cities, but I wanted to throw myself into these really troubled urban situations, and I had a real chip on my shoulder. If they wanted to fire me, I didn’t care, so I joined the federal government, of all things. I joined U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and I had—I told them, “Give me your worst job, I mean just put me out there.” I didn’t care, I honestly didn’t care. I got in a lot of trouble with them for wearing my hair too long, not dressing properly, I turned in some folks and almost got fired for that—some corruption things that were taking place.
[Interviewer]: That was my next question!
[Doug Guthrie]: Well I—it was weird because he came in with some public housing residents he was advocating for from Altgeld Gardens, they had some environmental issues, asbestos issues. He looked like he was fifteen years old and really smart, and with this name, you know, I remember him distinctly. I didn’t know anything about public housing, I’d just been thrown in there, the mayor asked me to go over there. Public housing had 145,000 residents living in the worst conditions. You think about it, it’s the second-largest city, in the state of Illinois, [unintelligible] in public housing, in Chicago tough neighborhoods.
[Interviewer]: I grew up in St. Louis, with Pruitt-Igoe.
[Doug Guthrie]: I’ve been to Pruitt-Igoe, the site in St. Louis, so you know. But, just amazing experiences there. And then moved on to run a national non-profit that was the largest financier of affordable housing in the country, called the National Equity Fund. I was president of that for a number of years. I took a couple years off to travel the world with some very wonderful experiences, from meeting Mother Teresa at the mission in Calcutta to Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. But I could go on—a lot of stories to tell there.
[Interviewer]: Absolutely, wow. Thank you. You mentioned that—so, if you don’t mind taking a couple steps back again, I just have a couple things I’m curious about or questions. You mentioned that Sandy was your friend, could you talk a little bit about how you knew her?
[Doug Guthrie]: Yeah, I don’t want to overstate it because we weren’t close friends, but we were causal friends. She was in Tri-Tower just like me and I was, quite honestly—I was attracted by her smile, she just had this—
[Interviewer]: You were not alone!
[Doug Guthrie]: Yeah, she just had this—
[Interviewer]: Sorry, I hate to tell you that, but you knew that!
[Doug Guthrie]: Well, this infectious smile, you know, and I didn’t know all that many people and I didn’t know a lot of girls, but she was always nice and friendly. So, we had lunch together a few times and used to talk and she was just, you know, laughing and smiling. She was just a sweet, I thought she was a very sweet girl and would have been interested in getting to know her more. So, it was such a shock to me to recognize her when I walked over from the parking lot that day.
I just couldn’t believe it. I mean, here was somebody I was just really getting to know and—I think about how my career has gone and the things I’ve been able to do and feel very good about. But, I always come back to thinking of Sandy and the other students, what their lives would have been like. They never had a chance to find out and, it just, it feels so unfair, just so unfair.
[Interviewer]: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about that we haven’t touched on?
[Doug Guthrie]: It feels like I’ve been talking—like I’ve been a little bit long- winded here.
[Interviewer]: Not at all! On the contrary.
[Doug Guthrie]: But, I reconnected with the university because my daughter just—I married later on in life, like I said, I did a lot of traveling, I met my wife just traveling in South America, and had kids later on. My kids were born in Chicago and they weren’t happy about moving to California, but after high school graduation, my daughter really wanted to get back to the Midwest. We toured a number of different schools, including Kent, and she decided on her own. I didn’t push it or even encourage her, but she came to the campus here and liked it and said, “I want to go there.” So, that’s when I reconnected. That had been my first time back at her—first time I’d been back to the university in probably forty-five years.
[Interviewer]: At the parent orientation?
[Doug Guthrie]: Yeah, yeah, I came back for parent orientation and I hadn’t—somebody had to point me to where the parking lot was because everything is different: the student union, the gymnasium, none of that stuff was there and I couldn’t find it, first time here.
[Interviewer]: That must have been very strange experience.
[Doug Guthrie]: It was very strange until I walked up to the parking lot and just, bam! It was really—that’s the reason I reconnected with all the emotions that I have, and I know there are a lot of other people who have done this annually, but this is my first time in forty-nine years. [editor’s clarification: attend the annual commemoration of the shootings held each year on May 4]
[Interviewer]: You never thought about coming, you graduated from graduate school, you mentioned, in 1972?
[Doug Guthrie]: In 1972. I had thought about coming, but I hadn’t done it. Kent has constantly been on my mind; it’s never gone away. I think my kids had gotten sick of hearing all my stories, but now, with my daughter back here, it’s just an opportunity to come back and, kind of, an introspective on all of this. It’s really touching to see what’s going on.
[Interviewer]: So, she had heard your stories all growing up, you didn’t spare her the stories?
[Doug Guthrie]: Yes, she did. They would just occasionally spill out. She reminded me quite often, I didn’t remember doing it that often, but I probably did. Or, I’d see something or I’d hear a song, particularly the song Ohio, it just still always gets me. You know, "What if you knew her, found her dead on the ground? How can you run when you know?” And I knew her. And I feel good enough about what I’ve been able to do in my life that I feel very proud—I tell myself, “I didn’t run.” Almost dead, but when you say, “What if you knew her and found her dead? How could you run if you know?”
[Interviewer]: Thank you so much for sharing your story and that path that your life was set on starting that day, really thank you so much. I think students today and students in the future can learn a lot from your oral history today. Thank you very much.
[Doug Guthrie]: Thank you, it was kind of unexpected coming to all this but it’s a nice opportunity to be able to share something like that. Just really appreciate the opportunity and the way you’ve handled all this, as well, and being accommodating. So, thank you, and thank you for the opportunity.
[Interviewer]: You’re welcome. I’ll stop there.
Student at Kent State University in 1970
|Date of Interview||
Doug Guthrie was an undergraduate studying sociology at Kent State University in 1970. He discusses his early years on campus and how he was part of a relatively small number of students who were involved in protesting the war in Vietnam. He relates his experiences during the days leading up to May 4 and shares his clear and detailed eyewitness account of the shootings. His experiences during the aftermath are a vital part of his story: he went through a difficult, indecisive period followed by finding his vocation and a deeply rewarding and significant career in public service.
|Length of Interview||
|Time Period discussed||
Common fallacies--Political aspects
Conflict of generations
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Ohio
Evacuation of civilians--Ohio--Kent
Frank, Glenn W.
Kent State Shootings, Kent, Ohio, 1970
Kent State University. Blanket Hill
Kent State University. ROTC Building--Fires
Kent State University. Tri-Towers
Lewis, Jerry M. (Jerry Middleton), 1937-
Miller, Jeffrey, d. 1970--Death and burial
Ohio. Army National Guard
Polarization (Social sciences)
Presbyterian college students--Interviews
Scheuer, Sandra, d. 1970
Schroeder, William, d. 1970--Death and burial
Students for a Democratic Society (U.S.)
Tear gas munitions
Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements
Young Republican National Federation (U.S.)
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Kent State University
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audio digital file
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