May 5, 1970 Was One of the Most Explosive Days in American History

by on May 5, 2019 · 36 comments

in California, Education, History, San Diego

Seattle, Washington, May 5, 1970

Those of us long in tooth and gray in hair remember the tumultuous days of the May 1970 national student strike and the murder of four students at Kent State by National Guardsmen on May 4; those younger know the song “Four Dead in Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young about the Kent State shootings.

The deadly clash was part of the student response to President Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia, which he announced on April 30.

But what most of us don’t realize is that the day following the Kent State killings, May 5th – was indeed one of the most explosive days in American history as literally hundreds of university, college and high school campuses blew up in response – and for that day at least, the American educational system broke down.

Angry, tearful young people across the nation reacted with an intensity and in numbers not witnessed before or since.

Emergency meetings, rallies, protests, mid-night marches, letter-writing, impeach Nixon petitions, sit-ins, flag-lowerings, leafleting downtowns, confrontations with local police and guardsmen, teargas, rocks, road blockades, memorials for the dead, fires in ROTC buildings – all of these were part of the response of thousands upon thousands of American students across the land.

From New Hampshire to Florida through New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, Colorado and Texas out to California, campuses erupted with such ferocity – clearly surprising and shocking unprepared college administrations, local townspeople and law enforcement – that for a day – May 5th, 1970 – the country was on the verge of an insurrection.

For years, the OB Rag has commemorated May 4, 1970 and the national student strike – and the OB connections – but today we take a different tact; we acknowledge May 5 – the day after – as part of the buried history of the early 1970s – a period of time the establishment would just like everyone to forget.

May 5, 1970 was a Tuesday, and from coast to coast, from sea to sea, will be forever remembered by those who acted. The following is a sampling, just a sampling of what happened on American campuses that day, including from just about every state.

This is real history – our history, and we should know it.

May 5, 1970

In New Hampshire, classes at Dartmouth College were cancelled from May 5 through May 12 in mourning for the students killed at Kent State and in protest over the war. At the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut students vote 736 to 450 in favor of impeaching Nixon. Over at Fairfield University, 15 students go on 2-day fast in mourning for Kent State dead.

In Massachusetts, at Boston State College, 250 students marched around campus for half an hour, then occupied the president’s office for five hours in protest. At Harvard Law School, students overwhelmingly voted to join in a strike for the rest of the academic year.

New York: at Barnard College, the faculty voted to support the strike; classes were halted and tight picket lines blocked the classroom buildings. A day-care center was set up on campus to liberate mothers to engage in anti-war activities. After an anti-Cambodia, anti-Kent State, pro-Black Panthers noon rally, an estimated group of 400 or more students at Buffalo State University College occupied the administration building, during which some windows in doors were reported broken.

At Canasius College, the ROTC military review scheduled for May 5 was cancelled while several hundred students peacefully demonstrated against the war. On streets near the campus of New York University, a student guerilla theatre troop re-enacted the murders at Kent State. In protest of the Ohio killings and the Cambodian invasion, students at Niagara County Community College chained the front doors of the main building for a few hours.

Anti-war protest was thought to be behind the fires at the State University of New York Albany. Earlier in the day students from campus blocked traffic at Thruway Exit 24 in a demonstration against the expansion of the war into Cambodia. Police rerouted traffic and no move was made to forcibly evict the students, who eventually left on their own.

An “angry” student demonstration at the Buffalo campus of State University of New York began in the middle of campus, but quickly moved on to the gym where the offices of ROTC are located. Chanting “Remember Kent State” and “Shoot me, shoot me!” to nearby police, the students then turned toward downtown Buffalo but stopped short of a police barricade.

Demonstrators pelted police with stones and then set fire to the barricade before leaving. In their retreat from the area, several windows were smashed. There were no reports of injuries or arrests at that point. The demonstration followed an afternoon rally which protested the shooting of four Kent State students, the expansion of the Vietnam war into Cambodia, and the trial of eight Black Panthers in New Haven.

That evening, police moved on to the Buffalo campus when a crowd of 50 students set a campus building on fire. Once the fire was under control, police withdrew to Main St. where they blocked crowds of demonstrators trying to storm the thoroughfare. The rock-throwing crowd repeatedly charged the police line, but eventually turned back in the face of tear gas.

On the campus of Syracuse University an estimated 2,000 angry anti-war protesters roamed breaking windows and setting up barricades.

New Jersey: Princeton University faculty members voted to suspend classes for the rest of the semester. The faculty also granted a two-week fall recess enabling students to work for congressional candidates of their choice, and urged the university to sever all ties with the military, including ROTC. Meanwhile, 400 students and faculty members began a 5 day demonstrating in front of the Institute for Defense Analysis.

The majority of the College of Arts and Sciences students at Rutgers University in Newark voted 1,120 in favor of striking, 501 against, and six abstentions.

Police and firemen were summoned to the campus of Seton Hall University to put out a small fire which began when a firebomb was tossed into an ROTC facility. The incident occurred about 1:20 a.m. when some 50 students raided the main ROTC building, and ransacked several offices. By the time police arrived around 3 a.m., the crowd had grown to over 500 students protesting the deaths at Kent State and the expansion of the war. The acting president of the school was eventually able to talk to the crowd and convince them to disperse. No injuries nor arrests were reported.

At the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, the University Senate Council, a body con­sisting of students and faculty, by unanimous decision closed the university on May 5 as a protest memorial to the killings at Kent State. Though classes were officially in session until the end of the year, attendance after the one-day moratorium was reported to be off.

After a day of violence on May 4 at the University of Maryland at College Park, the governor ordered in the National Guard, and by morning 1,000 guardsmen and police occupied the campus. Still in the face of their presence, 2,500 students held a peaceful rally on the campus mall with no incidents.

Virginia: Close to 300 Richmond College students called for the cancellation of classes for the remainder of the semester, and the opening of the college as a base for political action, following the death of the four students at Kent State. A student strike began at the University of Virginia, immediately following Nixon’s Cambodian statement and the deaths of four students at Kent State, was judged between 75 percent and 90 percent effective during the first week of May, May 1 – 7.

In North Carolina, at the East Carolina University, a series of campus fires erupted on during the week of anti-war protest.

Some 300 students from the University of South Carolina carried four large, black crosses, each bearing the name of one of the students killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State, in a peaceful march around campus. Half of the group then took over a con­ference room at a nearby hotel, where university trustees had planned to meet.

At the University of Florida, some 600 students boycotted classes to protest Kent deaths and expansion of war.

Georgia: Amidst student unrest over the expansion of the war in Indochina, the faculty of the undergraduate college of Emory University voted to remove academic credit from the campus R.O.T.C. program. Throughout the day, nearly 1,000 of Emory’s 5,500 students rallied in support of the nationwide strike.

In the wake of the Kent State killing 3,000 students demonstrated on the University of Georgia – Athens campus, leading the Board of Regents to close all schools in the University System of Georgia for two days.

In the Mid-West, at the University of Iowa, 40 students were arrested because of their participation in a rock-throwing demonstration in the heart of Iowa City.

Illinois: Over half of the 8,000-member student body at the University of Chicago went on strike this day, in protest of Cambodia and the Kent State students. That evening, at a mass meeting, it was decided to extend the strike until at least Friday May 8. After the meeting, about 500 students marched to a nearby National Guard armory for a rally, and attempted to lower the flag to half mast. Though ten policemen surrounded the flagpole, the flag was later ordered to be lowered by the National Guard commander, in order “to preserve the peace.”

At the University of Illinois – Chicago Circle Campus, after an anti-war rally, 1,000 chanting students marched on the R.O.T.C. building. About 200 students entered the building, smashed windows and overturned furniture. One student was arrested. Returning to the central part of the university 100 students occupied the eighteenth floor of the administration building and announced their intention to stay overnight. The occupants were forced to leave however, when a blaze spread through the sixth floor of the building.

About 5,000 students gathered for a rally on the evening at the University of Illinois – Urbana campus. Most left peacefully to avoid any disruption and consequent confrontation. Trouble erupted, however, when several hundred students tried to block a service driveway at a campus building. Refusing an order to disperse, the dissidents were met by campus police, and the rock-throwing began. The students, more than 1,500, then tried to storm the campus police station. The confrontation that ensued resulted in 17 arrests, including two faculty members. Later, 30 more students were arrested on charges of curfew (8 P.M.) violation.

About 500 students broke in to the administration building at Northern Illinois University, after a ceremony on campus in the memory of the four Kent State students. Finding the doors locked, they entered the building by smashing windows and crawling through. Several students armed with paint and brushes then wrote “Avenge Kent” in red paint on the walls. Tje director of security called for state and county police after students left the administration building and moved on to the ROTC building. Some minor damage was also done to one ROTC office that was invaded by demonstrators.

4,000 students gathered at the Northwestern University Evanston campus to register their protest. They held a memorial service, buried 4 symbolic coffins, and marched to the administration building. The chancellor announced that the University would be closed for the rest of the week “in symbolic recognition of the concerns that trouble the campus.”

Student protesters built a barricade across a busy road, forcing motorists to detour around the campus and disrupting Evanston traffic. Besides building the barricade, students moved out into the community to canvas support for anti-war legislation.

In Indiana the University of Notre Dame announced that classes were suspended, saying the university endorsed the student council’s resolution calling for a strike May 5 — 6. Also on Tuesday there were two attempts to burn the ROTC building, but no major damage was reported. Meanwhile supporters of the student boycott were busy lettering shirts with green clenched fists, and the wording “STRIKE IRISH”‘

After a rally on the Purdue University campus in West Lafayette, about 300 students marched to a nearby business district. About 60 of the students blocked a street intersection there from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.. Two students were arrested when demonstrators agreed to leave the area.

About 500 students participated in a peaceful march at the University of Kansas when they walked from the student union to the military science building. The march was called as a memorial to the four Kent State students killed by National Guardsmen.

Michigan: Student demonstrations against the war began early when about 200 students began a sit-in at Central Michigan University’s ROTC building. Students planned to deliver a petition asking state representatives to procure impeachment papers against President Nixon.

With Nixon’s Cambodian statement and the death of four Kent State University students, campus tension on Eastern Michigan University was increased as demonstrators staged a sit-in on Forest Street, which runs through the heart of the campus.

In East Lansing at Michigan State University, 12,000 students went on strike. Small groups of students cut through campus buildings with protest chants and shouts; 3,000 students surrounded the administration building and demanded the school president  honor war and Kent State victims and urge Nixon to withdraw from Cambodia. The student government met in emergency and issued a resolutions calling for a student strike until Nixon withdrew from Vietnam and MSU terminated ROTC. That eve, 7,000 went to auditorium and for 6 hours, debated and voted on strike issues; Black activists persuaded the crowd to add “free Bobby Seale” – the Black Panther on trial – to the demands and also add increase minority enrollment.

At a Wayne State University sanctioned rally student protest leaders urged a crowd of 1,500 students to join in a strike culminating Friday May 8 with a mass march to the Federal Building. After the rally 200 students took over and closed down the engineering school. Some furniture and equipment in an administrative office were overturned, but files were left intact and the estimated damage slight.

Missouri: By the morning of May 5 the ranks of those students supporting a campus strike at Washington University in Missouri had swelled appreciably, as students picketed buildings, began silent vigils, and leafleted the nearby area. At St. Louis University, members of an ad hoc student strike committee sat in front of doorways of some buildings forcing classbound-students to step around or over them. Many of the students wore black arm bands in mourning for the four Kent State University students killed the day before.

That night about 400 students attended an outside rally outside. The president of the student body urged the students to continue the strike “until we begin to see some changes, not only in St. Louis University but in the nation.” Other speakers singled out ROTC as a visible and relevant target for the students to direct their anti-war activities toward. The university president met with student representatives after the rally, and said that he would call an emergency meeting of the University Council in the forthcoming week to consider what could be done concerning the ROTC program.

Some students from Webster College began a round-the-clock vigil as a peaceable protest against the shooting of four students and the decision of President Nixon to send American troops into Cambodia.

In Ohio, the University of Cincinnati campus was the gathering place for a silent, anti-war march. About 4,200 protesters, mainly students from Cincinnati area colleges, quietly proceeded to the downtown Fountain Square area, then returned to the campus for an all-night vigil. The march had been proposed the day before by the U.C. Senate and approved by the administration, which also cancelled classes on May 5 and sanctioned absences for the rest of the week in memory of the Kent students and in protest against the war.

At Ohio State University – where the National Guard had been ordered due to previous anti-war protests, over 1,000 students gathered for a noon anti-war rally. Spokesmen there pleaded for a nonviolent boycott to protest both the war and the killings at Kent State. Before the guardsmen left the campus, however, another confrontation did take place. About 2,000 students were blocking entrances to campus buildings. The guard began an encircling movement, driving students away from the buildings. Students chanted “Remember Kent State” time after time, and several hurled rocks, which injured two guardsmen.

Wisconsin: At Lawrence University, students, faculty and administrators voted to close down the school in protest of Cambodia and the Kent State students, an action supported by University President. The vote came after 12 anti-war protesters were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct while blocking the entrance of the local Air Force Recruiting Station.

At the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus, the National Guard was ordered in, as the student strike got under way. Large groups of demonstrators attempted to disrupt classes during the day, and several skirmishes between protesters and police erupted. By evening 1,000 National Guardsmen occupied the campus, and a citywide ban was placed on gasoline and other flammable liquids.

It was at the University of North Dakota where more than 1,000 of the 8,000 students massed at the administration building and called for a strike in protest of the war. When a glass door was inadvertently shoved in during the demonstration, some students left money to pay for the repairs.

Texas: Some 300 Southern Methodist University students gathered on the Dallas Hall quadrangle to protest the killing of Kent State students. Four symbolic black-draped coffins were placed in front of the building while the crowd stood and observed four minutes of silent meditation. The protesters then heard numerous speakers discuss nonviolence, dissent, and the war.

Several thousand students attended a rally at the University of Texas in response to the national student strike call to protest U.S. involvement in the war in Indochina, the trial of Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, and the arrest of militants for excesses in demonstrations on campus.

The students soon left the campus and headed for Austin’s downtown federal building. The demonstrators, approximately 2,000-3,000 strong, were stopped at the Capitol building by a line of 50 policemen equipped with riot gear. In the ensuing clash, marchers threw rocks, smoke bombs, and a few firebombs. Police responded by clubbing those demonstrators who were near the line of police, and firing tear gas canisters into the larger crowd. Five persons were arrested, and four policemen and two students received minor injuries.

In Colorado, at the University of Denver, a student strike was called on Tuesday night, May 5, at a rally attended by about 2,000 of the university’s 9,000 students. However, few students stayed out of classes on Wednesday. Some 400 students were involved in picketing classroom buildings, however, and encouraged their fellow students to support the strike, shouting “Remember Kent State” and “Shut it down!”

The University of Idaho‘s R.O.T.C. building was firebombed early in the morning. A student was later arrested and charged with third-degree arson. Strike activities also occurred on the campus of Idaho State University.

About 2,500 of the University of Montana‘s 7,500 students attended a me­morial service for the students killed at Kent State. Many in attendance voiced their intention to support the national anti-war strike.

University of New Mexico students began an occupation of the student union building.

In Arizona, about 400 students paraded around the Northern Arizona Univ. campus at night. By the time they had reached the R.O.T.C. building, the crowd had swelled to 2,000. Some rocks were thrown and four windows were broken before campus security officers quietly dispersed the crowd.

On the campus of Lewis and Clark College in Oregon, after an all-day teach-in on current issues of dissent, the student body voted to support the national strike on May 6-7.

Washington: Anti-war protesters disrupted ROTC classes and activated fire alarms on the campus of Eastern Washington State University. A demonstration in front of the ROTC building began with 150 afternoon protesters but shrank to seven in sleeping bags by that night.

At the University of Washington – Seattle, approximately 7,000 students heeded the strike call as they gathered for a massive protest demonstration on campus, where they voted to support the strike demands as well as the new resolution calling for the impeachment of President Nixon. Shortly after noon the students marched through the campus to the Administration Building where they demanded an appearance by the school president, where he did appear, and read a telegram he sent to President Nixon as a private citizen, in which he expressed his abhorrence of the events which resulted in the Kent State deaths.

The rally was then scheduled to end, but a call was made for a march through the University District which met with shouted approval. During the march toward downtown, talk of blocking the freeway increased and students began moving down the Northeast 45th Street ramp into the southbound lanes of the Freeway. They also moved into northbound lanes, effectively freezing all traffic for over an hour. During that time many of the students moved in among the cars trying to talk to halted motorists about their opposition to the war and the Kent State killings. The demonstrators eventually left the roadway, without incident, when they were confronted by a contingent of riot-equipped police.

California:

In California on this day May 5, the day after the shootings at Kent State, California Governor Reagan ordered the closing of all colleges and University campuses until May 11.

In a blanket telephone statement released to the press, Governor Reagan ordered the closings as a precaution over threatened violence, as protests to the shootings spread throughout the country. Saying the culprits in the string of violent demonstrations weren’t students at all, but a carefully trained group of agitators, bent on destroying College life and throwing the country into chaos, and that it was in all likelihood that the students gunned down were innocent bystanders.

Asking for a four-day reflection on the roots and causes, and asking the majority of students to use the time to discuss the situation, Reagan appealed to students, parents and Administrators to end the violence.

The irony in all this was, only four days earlier, Reagan was quoted as saying the students engaged in these protests were “brats”, “freaks” and “cowardly fascists” and that he advocated “a bloodbath, if necessary” to quell the protests. After the events of May 4th, he quickly backtracked, saying he was using a “figure of speech” in dealing with the protests.

UC Berkeley

Throughout May 5, sporadic violence erupted on the campus. After a noon rally which had attracted between 3,000-4,000 students, a group of 600 dissidents marched to the R.O.T.C. building. Wood was piled against the building and a blaze set off. Highway patrolmen extinguishing the fire were pelted with rocks and eggs. Later in the afternoon 500 wandering protesters cornered eight campus security guards near LeConte Hall. A dozen sheriff’s deputies rescued the officers who had retreated into the building, and the crowd was dispersed with tear gas.

At the same time, six Berkeley police raided the Berkeley Free Clinic, swinging clubs at both persons inside and equipment. Police claimed that a bottle had been thrown at them by someone standing on the Clinic’s porch. After tossing it, police said, he had taken refuge inside.

Later, a R.O.T.C. panel truck was overturned and burned by demonstrating students who tore down the American and California flags, set them afire, and hoisted them to half mast chanting “Burn Nixon Burn.” At least 45 arrests were made during the day. The success of the strike called by the People’s Coalition — a radical conglomerate — was impossible to determine.

UCLA

UCLA was declared in a state of emergency May 5 as 250 police­men clashed with hundreds of anti-war demonstrators on campus. Trouble began after more than 1,000 students gathered for an afternoon rally, protesting both the war in Southeast Asia and the killing of four Kent State University students by national guards­men. Large groups of students left the rally and went in several different directions.

One group of approximately 100 people con­verged on the men’s gymnasium where ROTC is housed. They smashed windows and tore down the wooden doors of the build­ing while several hundred other students cheered them on.

Another group marched to the administration building where they smashed windows and damaged doors on the first floor. The Air Force ROTC offices in the social welfare building were also a target of demonstrators where they broke windows, damaged doors and ripped down bulletin boards.

Police appeared on the scene in the early afternoon, and arrested 79 persons by the end of the day. According to university reports, 20 demonstrators, four campus policemen and five city policemen were injured in the afternoon confrontation.

UC Riverside

Students had already walked out of classes when Governor Reagan called for the four-day shutdown of California colleges on May 5. Working within the community, students canvassed, wrote letters, and engaged in other traditionally acceptable anti-war activities.

Claremont Men’s College

On May 5, 30 anti-war demonstrators tried to enter and occupy the campus R.O.T.C. building. They were met by campus police and about 15 R.O.T.C. supporters. In the resulting scuffle, some windows in the building were broken.

Diablo Valley College

In response to the Governor’s closing of schools on May 5, several hundred students and faculty held an unauthorized rally and decided to hold classes. They claimed that they would break into the locked class-rooms if necessary.

University of the Pacific

Classes were officially cancelled in favor of a Southeast Asia teach-in on May 5. Though classes were to resume the following day, students and faculty designated May 7 as “Pacific Peace Pledge Day.” Various poetry readings and musical performances were planned to culminate in a solemn procession around the campus protesting U.S. involvement in Cambodia.

Faculties of both colleges approved a plan allowing protesters to work against the war without being penalized academically.

San Jose State College

Some 3,000 students paraded in a peaceful march May 5, that ended when President Hobart Burns complied with student demands to lower the flag to half mast. The school was closed the following day in accordance with a request by Governor Ronald Reagan that all state colleges shut down until May 11.

Local San Diego campuses were exploding as well. (See this post about a sit-in at UCSD on May 4.)

Coast to coast, students rebelled – and this is but as noted, a sampling. Someday all the stories of the May 1970 student insurrection will be told. (If you’re interested in how, contact me at obragblog@gmail.com)

But it is our history, a part of our buried history. The story of May 5, 1970 needs to be told and remembered.

______________

Much of the material in the above post is from “On Strike! Shut It Down!” published in 1970 by the Urban Research Corporation.

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Mary P Cory May 5, 2019 at 6:53 pm

Thank you for telling this.

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Avatar retired botanist May 6, 2019 at 8:34 am

My involvement during that time remains one of my best achievements- 5 of us took over the library of our New England women’s college and brought the campus, and subsequently graduation, to a screeching halt.
We desperately need this level of national, civil action again. I can only hope that the Extinction Rebellion movement can mobilize the country. It really is our last chance to slow the destruction of the planet.

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Avatar thequeenisalizard May 6, 2019 at 9:16 am

Great information Frank thanks.
Two other things of importance that happened on May 5, not in 1970, but significant in the world that should not be forgotten.
Karl Marx was born.
After 66 days on a hunger strike, 26 year old Bobby Sands died in the Maze Prison. Nine more died in the next 3 months.

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Avatar Paul Webb May 6, 2019 at 9:30 am

In don’t know if you planned a follow-up article on May 15, but history seems to have forgotten that just 11 days after the Kent State shooting, 2 students at Jackson State college were killed and 12 others wounded. Of course, this was a historically African-American college and the links between the student unrest at Jackson State and the Vietnam war were not entirely clear, but this shooting was very much overshadowed both in the media and in historic accounts of the anti-war movement by the Kent State killings.

I remember the Kent State and Jackson State shootings very clearly as I was at anti-war protests at UCLA when news of the shootings became known, It certainly gave me an increased sense of vulnerability and renewed sense of purpose to continuing to protest the war.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie May 6, 2019 at 12:32 pm

Paul Webb – thanks for your comments. Every year when we commemorate this time we always include the Jackson state murders as well. Check out some of our other posts.

I’m collecting personal accounts of the May 1970 student insurrection and if you’d like to write something up, contact me – obragblog@gmail.com

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Avatar Chris May 6, 2019 at 10:28 am

I often wonder what went/still goes through the minds of the National Guardsmen who were the actual trigger pullers at Kent State. Do they deserve forgiveness? Why or why not? I would like to imagine they were just kids themselves not older than most of the students and were just reacting to a chaotic situation. I also imagine this has haunted them since.

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Avatar Geoff Page May 6, 2019 at 12:02 pm

Chris, I don’t know if you are old enough to remember those times. I was 19 in 1970 and lived though all of this. I can say that there was huge gap between the way the military thought and how the anti-war protesters thought. I doubt that they had any qualms about opening fire and I would guess some of them loved it as in “it’s about time.” National Guard members are not just kids, they are of all ages. The vitriol and anger towards the anti-war demonstrators was always palpable. I went to the big march in Washington in November 1969 and the amount of military armament that was displayed everywhere was incredible, including tanks and other armored vehicles. I was in Dupont Circle the night before and got caught at an intersection as the military was moving in. We watched in awe as vehicle after vehicle with all manor of guns and people passed by for what seemed like an eternity. While there may be some remorse after all these years, I would bet many at the time believed it was about time the protesters got what was coming to them for being anti-American. It was always hard to square that claim with the goal the antiwar protesters had of saving the lives of young American men.

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Avatar retired botanist May 6, 2019 at 1:51 pm

Interesting perspectives from both, Chris and Geoff. And I would go so far as to say that even today these “sides” are not entirely “squared”. Whether one was ‘at war’ overseas or ‘at war’ at home, it changed our lives irreparably and, for many of us, set the course and perspective we would follow for the rest of our lives. One of my brothers was a medic in Vietnam, the other a draft dodger and missing for several years. My family was impacted by all perspectives.

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Avatar Paul Webb May 6, 2019 at 2:21 pm

I cannot speak for the national guardsmen, but I knew people, including family members, who felt that those killed at Kent State and Jackson State got what they “deserved,” and that it was past time for violent action against anti-war protesters. I remember vividly one of my great aunts saying she would proudly machine gun me if she saw me protesting against the war and had the opportunity! Gotta love family.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie May 6, 2019 at 2:38 pm

You experienced a national response; many people felt similarly – of course, that the students “got what they deserved,” – but it doesn’t mean they were right. Two of the students killed at Kent State weren’t even protesting, one was a ROTC cadet.

The national revulsion about the murders only grew with time as the nation gradually and finally changed its mind about Vietnam. Now we look back at those murdered as heroes and martyrs. BTW, no one was ever held to account for the murders, no one ever charged or brought to trial – or even identified for that matter. For either incident, Kent or Jackson.

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Avatar retired botanist May 6, 2019 at 5:16 pm

yep, Frank, like I said, things still not really ‘squared”. It still brings me heartache.

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Avatar Chris May 6, 2019 at 6:27 pm

Ha ha yup. All one can do is pity them. I remember my parents telling me about a neighbor (when we lived on Explorer in El Cajon) whose son was in Vietnam and purchased a gun simply because some college aged kids moved in near by.

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Avatar Chris May 6, 2019 at 5:29 pm

I’m 57 now so while I was alive, I was too young to understand or appreciate what was going on at the time. I served in the Navy myself from 86 to 06 and still work for the DOD in civil service. I can say in my experience, members of the military come in all leanings and variations and pretty much mirror the civilian population. Maybe that wasn’t the case back then but plenty of Vietnam veterans I’ve known over the years certainly took an anti war stance (or at least in retrospect felt we had no business being in that specific war). Of course plenty not so much. I think all views of soldiers who were there should at least be respected even of not agreed with. The Guardsmen on the other hand did what they did right here at home. Still it would be interesting to what they thought at the time and how they felt over the years since.

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Avatar Chris May 6, 2019 at 5:33 pm

Interestingly enough, in my military career I even knew some older more senior ranked guys who took part in anti war protests (as teenagers) and later joined up themselves. One even attended Woodstock.

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Avatar retired botanist May 6, 2019 at 6:00 pm

Chris, I’m sure that’s true. My dad was a career Naval officer at the time, so as ‘children’ of the military we weren’t even supposed to HAVE an opinion! John Kerry was my dad’s aide when he returned from his tour of duty in Vietnam and, as you probably know, Kerry later became an advocate for the VVAW, which turned out to be very controversial as well. My dad was the officer that gave Kerry his Silver Star. It was a complicated time for many, many Americans, and a turning point in American values and views on what the global role of the US should be…

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Avatar Chirs May 6, 2019 at 6:18 pm

Pretty interesting story about your dad. Yeah I do know it was a very divided time back then. If there’s one good thing about the aftermath, Americans )regardless of their own views about that war or war in general) are less likely to hold animosity towards the solders simply for being there.

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Avatar retired botanist May 7, 2019 at 6:29 am

yep, I absolutely agree with that. My brother (the one who was a medic) survived the siege of Khe Sanh, and later became a doctor specializing in infectious disease- was proud of him then and proud of him now :-).

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Avatar Geoff Page May 7, 2019 at 9:38 am

Some family you have, retired botanist. Anyone who survived Khe Sanh deserves respect and he was a medic not a combat guy. I bet he has some stories.

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Avatar Geoff Page May 7, 2019 at 9:35 am

Chris, I can say most of us never blamed the soldiers. Some did, but most did not.

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Avatar Chris May 7, 2019 at 11:34 am

I know, but the minority of those who did were rather vocal. At least that’s the perceptions of the guys I’ve talked to who came back.

One thing they made clear though was the whole being spat on was something they never experienced and considered that an urban myth.

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Avatar Geoff Page May 7, 2019 at 9:27 am

Well, we have something in common, retired botanist, my dad was also career Navy. He retired as a captain in 1968 after his second tour at the Pentagon. You dad has an interesting connection to the past. You are right, our opinions were not welcome at least on this subject.

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Avatar retired botanist May 7, 2019 at 12:13 pm

Geoff, then you understand what it was like being brought up “pressed into service”. :-).
As children, we were basically an extension of the armed forces, and a lot of people don’t understand what its like being a “Third Culture Kid” (a TCK, another name for military Brats); Donna Musil’s film, Brats: Our Journey Home, poignantly addresses the issues many TCKs faced later as adults.
So, “leaving the fortress” so to speak, at 18, right in the middle of the war, with two brothers headed in opposite directions, was game-changing in terms of self identity. My other brother, the one who eluded the draft, was eventually found and thankfully declared 4F; he later became a master boatbuilder and woodworker, and I was very proud of him, too. :-)

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Avatar Geoff Page May 7, 2019 at 12:24 pm

Yes, I do, retired botanist. I never heard of anyone doing a film about us, I’ve often thought about writing a book on the experience. I made a vow that if I ever had kids, they would grow up in just one place and I was able to do that. Both were born and raised in OB/Point Loma. I can’t walk down the street with either one without them encountering one or more people they know, some since kindergarten. You and I never had that. Sounds like you had two great brothers. My next younger brother was five years behind me so he never had to face it. I was in the first lottery and received number 283, I was safe and never had to make a decision. I was eligible for one year and they only drafted into the 180s, after that I got reclassified 1H. It’s good to hear your brothers did well.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie May 7, 2019 at 12:38 pm

Count me in as another military-brat.

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Avatar retired botanist May 7, 2019 at 3:11 pm

Thank you both for sharing, its always heartening to learn of others who’ve shared the experience of growing up as nomads. You would both really enjoy Musil’s film; Kris Kristofferson (who’s dad was also a flag officer) contributed to the film in a meaningful way and, since then, a number of good books have been written. Check it out. Obviously you’re aware of Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini, but another good piece of writing is Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, by Mary Edwards Wertsch.
Sorry to be a bit off topic, but it helped me a lot to understand who we are today and why…as Geoff said, he was determined to raise his kids in a single spot- so happy you were able to do that, and moreover, in such a great place as OB! :-)

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Avatar Geoff Page May 7, 2019 at 3:31 pm

Thanks for the recommendations for the film and the book, I’m going to check them out.

Avatar Paul Webb May 9, 2019 at 9:39 am

Me too. My father was career navy.
By the way, when I was a kid I never thought I would end up living in San Diego, thought of it just as a Navy town and never wanted to come back.

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Avatar Geoff Page May 9, 2019 at 12:46 pm

I never knew that, Paul. Our last NAvy tour was here in ’65 and ’66. When I decided to move here in 1977, my dad asked why I wanted to move to such a backwater town, he actually said that. I was 25 and my answer was simple. They have beaches Dad, and girls. What else did I need? And, I got here just as San Diego began to explode until it was, at one time, the 5th largest city in the country.

Avatar mjt May 6, 2019 at 4:50 pm

I joined the Army Reserves on Feb 29 1964 was released in 1970. Spent five years doing two week summer camp at Ft Belvoir Va and one year at Ft Ord Ca.
I attended every major peace demontration in NYC and DC from Nov 1965 to 1969, when i moved to S.F on Jan 2 1969 i was burnt out, year after year and the war raged on. I hated LBJ, in 68 we had 550 thousand troops there and was spending 30 billion a year on the war.

In 68 we marched on the Pentagon, the building was surrounded by troops. Somehow there was a breach and a couple hundred of us slipped through. We could walk over and touch the building. On top miliary brass was starring down on us, but not once did i see any violence. They would let us out but not let anyone else in. I stayed until about 1 a.m. then left. The bus we came on was long gone so i rented a car and took 3 0r 4 of us back to NYC.

On reserve duty one day i had to drive a staff car somewhere, i was dressed in full uniform and drove to the White House and hung out with peace demontrators that i met earlier.
In those days we were hanging out at the front gate and no one ever bothered me.
Those were the days. Fifty years later i attended a march on the Pentagon and the closest we got to the building was maybe a quarter of a mile.

In the last ten years or so i found out that the Vatican was the largest land owner in Vietnam, and their flag flew along side of the South Vietnamese. I remember that Cardinal Spellman was a supporter of the war but did not know of the involement of the Catholic Church. They used to call it Spelly’s war after Cardinal Spellman, but i never read a thing about that until recently. The press has always been controlled by the elites.
I also found out that in the 17 hundreds a French Jesuit Priest came to Vietnam to save souls. He had an army of two thousand to fight off those Buddhist heathens.

But again i say i personally never saw any violence. The only time i saw live ammo was in basic training and that was it.

I was burnt out for decades and it took scumbag G.W. Bush to fire me up again. His gang of war criminals killed a million plus and these days all i hear about is Trump.
Reality is an ever changing dream.

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Avatar retired botanist May 7, 2019 at 3:21 pm

mjt, yet another piece and story of who we were and what was going on then, thx for sharing your’s. Some days, it seems like just a few years ago. Other days, its like “How did our culture move so far out of kilter in 50 years?” I am hoping we’ll see another generation with as much commitment as I believe our’s had. Whether its saving the environment, reclaiming a better culture, or envisioning a socialized democracy that works for everyone, I hope young people will raise their voices! :-)

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Avatar Gilbert E Field May 9, 2019 at 7:30 pm

I was in my last semester at the University of South Florida in May 1970. It was a relatively conservative campus. After the Kent State shootings, the school closed after so many students refused to go to class. The school tried to get students to go back to class with picnics and parties, but these were a bust . The school never did reopen, I don’t remember what they did about grades, and they fired the founding president of the university as a result of his harsh treatment of students. I went into the US Coast Guard to avoid the draft. 50 years have gone by so fast and now we have Trump. We will overcome.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie May 13, 2019 at 10:26 pm

Gilbert – I’d like to get a longer version of your experiences at U of So Florida in May 70; please contact me at obragblog@gmail.com

frank

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Avatar Chris May 13, 2019 at 4:50 pm

“fires in ROTC buildings”

Serious? Set by the protesters?

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Avatar kirk May 16, 2019 at 3:09 pm

You seem to have overlooked the reaction at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie May 16, 2019 at 7:02 pm

kirk, this was just a “sampling” and we did not pretend to cover everything and everywhere for May 5, 1970.

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Avatar kirk May 17, 2019 at 10:44 pm

I understand. As Dean Kahler was associated with Athens for many years afterwards, I thought it would have been on your radar.

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