NEW PHILADELPHIA – The May 4, 1970 shootings that killed four students at Kent State University were both personal and political for six panelists who spoke about the subject at the library last week.
East Canton’s Dean Kahler spoke calmly when he talked about milking cows on the family farm, being a conscientious objector to all wars, and the shot in the back that left him a paraplegic.
He said he “went through Hades” while recovering from injuries that included broken ribs and resulted in the removal of his left lung.
“Kent State was a watershed in my lifetime. I really had only one bad day at Kent State, and that was May 4th,” Kahler said in a matter-of-fact tone. “I’m lucky to be alive. I’m very thankful to be alive.”
More:‘Kent State’ focus of One Book, One Community
But his voice broke and he spoke haltingly when he said that until his father died in 2016, he regretted that his son was shot with the same kind of rifle he carried during World War II in the South Pacific.
The panel discussion at the Tuscarawas County District Library was part of One Book, One Community a community reading initiative. This year’s featured work is “Kent State” by Deborah Wiles.
Witnesses reflect on Kent State tragedy
Roseann “Chic” Canfora, whose late brother Alan Canfora was also among the nine wounded when the Ohio National Guard fired 67 shots into a crowd of anti-war protesters, talked about growing up in Barberton as a cheerleader who loved America. As for the Vietnam War, her initial thoughts were that it was her brothers’ turn to fight, just as it had been their father’s in World War II.
But her view changed after she watched a grieving mother whose son had died in Vietnam because he was run over by a tank driven by an American. He had been her brother’s best childhood friend.
She recalled how, at 19, the first part of the Akron Beacon Journal she read was the obituary section.
Pamela Ferrell, the retired executive director of the Tuscarawas County Senior Center and a former therapist, choked back tears when she spoke about knowing two of the students who were shot dead, Allison Krause and William Schroeder. She lived in the same dorm as Krause and had a psychology class with Schroeder.
More:Allison Krause told guardsmen at Kent State ‘Flowers are better than bullets!’ Then a bullet killed her.
Sandra Scheuer and Jeffrey Miller were also killed.
Ferrell said that in the immediate aftermath of the shootings, she took her friends off campus in her car. They stayed with her and her father in Akron before returning to their own homes.
She said she was innocent when she arrived at Kent State, not understanding the reasons behind anti-war literature and protests. She asked someone, “Where is Cambodia?”
The protests that preceded the May 4 shootings were a response to President Richard Nixon’s April 1970 announcement that he had authorized U.S. troops to enter Cambodia.
‘Paranoia consumed the city of Kent.’
Other speakers on Thursday’s panel were John Cigavic, a former Newcomerstown High School teacher, Dan Fuller, who was teaching English on the Kent campus at the time of the shootings, and Carey Gardner, former spokesman for Cleveland Clinic Union Hospital. Retired WJER general manager Bob Scanlon served as moderator.
More:Dan Fuller hosted by library
Gardner recalled how a professor quietly advised him ― probably others ― to go home after an exam and before the shooting started. He remembered a Guard helicopter flying over his Kent neighborhood because he lived near Robert C.Dix, then chairman of the Kent State University Board of Trustees and publisher of the local newspaper, theKent Ravenna Record-Courier.
“It was a crazy time. Paranoia consumed the city of Kent,” Gardner said.
Cigavic said he left Kent in 1972 with a seriousness resulting from the life-changing events in 1970.
Cigavic said his own father said the National Guard should have shot all the protesters, although he had been among them. He said he didn’t believe his father meant it literally when he told him, “If you were there, you should have been shot.”
“We were not necessarily intensely aggressive,” Cigavic said. “But there were aggressors on our campus. They were called the National Guard. There was law and order being put back on our campus. We always had law and order on our campus. It just manifested in things called free speech. It manifested in an idea of self determination, an idea of maybe this war wasn’t such a good idea.”
Cigavic saw a trail of blood, and Kahler being loaded into an ambulance. They exchanged peace signs, a connection they disclosed during Thursday’s panel discussion.
More:Injustice is theme for May 4 commemoration
‘That was the moment I became radicalized.’
Fuller remembered that he and others were ordered to search faculty offices, presumably for guns. They found no weapons, he said, but saw alcoholic beverages in about two-thirds of the desks. Fuller hosted 13 people, students and faculty, at his home on the night after the shootings. He finished the term teaching his students in Oberlin.
The Kent State shooting also affected those who were too young to be on campus, according to Anita Rutledge of Dellroy. She told the panelists how she felt when she learned the National Guard had killed four people.
“I just felt … that all the air went out of me,” she said. “At 13, being just a teenager, and seeing this happen … I realized, that was the moment I became radicalized.”
What’s next in One Book, One Community program?
The next activity in the program will be “Four Dead in Ohio: From Both Sides Now” at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Dover Public Library. Living historian Chris Hart will play dual roles of student Alan Frank and guardsmen Robert Hatfield as each tries to come to terms with the emotions of May 4, 1970. Call 330-343-6123 to register.
The culminating event will be an evening with Wiles, starting at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 in Founders Hall at Kent State University at Tuscarawas. The two-time National Book Award finalist will sign books after the program. Registration is not required.
Additional events are planned around Wiles’ book. More information about One Book, One Community, including a list of free community programs and events, is online at www.tuscliteracy.org/1b1c/.
Reach Nancy at 330-364-8402 or email@example.com.
On Twitter: @nmolnarTR