This guest column is by Thomas A. Frank of Detroit Lakes.
Fifty years ago as of this writing (April 27, 2020), I was a second-quarter Saluki graduate student at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. All was going quite well: I was on the GI Bill, a few weeks to finals, and enjoying the spring weather that would be like late June in Detroit Lakes.
Little did we know that in one week there’d be an incident out of Kent, Ohio, that would go on to produce the greatest factor in de-escalating the Vietnam War.
Timeline Kent State University, April 30, 1970: President Richard Nixon announced U.S. troops were being used in Cambodia. This spurred anti-war protests at some 400 campuses across our country. On May 2, students burned down the ROTC building. May 3, the Ohio governor visited the campus, subsequently ordering the Ohio Army National Guard to break up any campus gathering.
May 4, 1970, a Kent State patrolman drove on to their commons ordering the group of 2,000 (many of them curious bystanders) to disperse. He was answered with: “Pigs off our campus!” and “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your … war.” Eighteen of the 100 guardsmen, on line, all locked and loaded. The sound of a shot was heard by some. It was followed almost immediately by a volley of rifle fire. The FBI determined that 61 shots were fired in 13 second felling 13 students, four of them dying on the spot. Shortly thereafter the Kent State president closed the campus for the remainder of the term.
Timeline SIU-Carbondale, May 4, 1970: The next eight days were very tense with anti-war agitator groups such as Students for a Democratic Society and The Weathermen coming to Carbondale encouraging students to take to the street. Hundreds did, and some business windows were broken.
SIU president Delyte Morris requested Illinois Army National Guard support. A company-size (100) unit bivouacked at the Carbondale high school football field. Things got so bad on day five that groups of more than three students were unlawful. In retrospect, this rule seemed to have been enforced much more readily on the “long-haired hippie types.” On day eight a group of students surrounded Dr. Morris’ home. He came out and shouted, “This university is now closed.”
I have many memories of those eight days, such as smelling CS (tear gas), seeing young men burn their draft cards, and requesting a young woman to remove the Stars and Stripes from the seat of her bell-bottoms.
The only tangible evidence I have is my transcript form spring quarter 1970: "Classes suspended May 12, 1970. Only grades of S and U used."