Some moments are galvanizing in a moment. The news flash from Dallas on November 22, 1963. The Challenger in flight for 72 seconds. The plane flying into the World Trade Center. We knew in that moment that the impact would be felt far longer then that day. After each one of them, we as a nation felt the shock and realized how the course would change.
Then there are moments that take a personal toll. The nation may react, but the implication and the aftershocks are cushioned or even ignored. Sadly, it’s become the new normal to respond to mass shootings with the momentary horror and then back to business as usual. But it may touch us as individuals and that may change the course of our life.
That was the case with the death of four students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970 at the hands of the Ohio National Guard.
I was nearing the end of my junior year in high school in Toledo, about a hundred miles west of the university. I knew people who were students there. I knew people who were at the demonstration. And suddenly the war in Vietnam and the divisiveness that it brought to the nation was not just in the headlines of the newspaper but in my own state and impacting how I would respond.
I was four months away from registering for the draft. I already knew that I was opposed to the war and already aware of the fact that registering as a conscientious objector would be a difficult path should I choose to present myself to the very conservative draft board of Wood County, Ohio, as one. But the shock of the massacre made me aware that I needed to make my voice heard. And I did. I joined anti-war demonstrations, worked with local peace groups to petition to our state and federal representatives to end the war. I did file as a conscientious objector and stared down the draft board in September. And since that day, fifty years ago, I have done my best to work for peace and remember that even if the course of the nation didn’t change, my own did, and the four who died — Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder — will be remembered.
Photo by John Filo.