Tuesday, April 17, 2012

End of the Innocence (pt. 1)

Friday, May 1, 1970...Kent State University

I could have joined the gathering at the bell on the Commons at noon where they were going to protest the invasion of Cambodia by burying a copy of the Constitution, but that was not for me. Instead, I went to my American literature class, and I was happy when it was finished on that warm Friday…

What a day! There was no better day for the softball game at 4:30. The Kappa Sigs were flying high in the intramural softball league, and they would be shooting for another big win on this day, hoping to remain undefeated and one step closer to winning the all-university championship for the second straight spring.

The Tekes, a hard-luck team this year, would provide the competition for the Kappa Sigmas on this beautiful Friday afternoon. Spirits were high and the players anxious to get out to the University High School fields. None of us knew it then, of course, but this would be the last game played on this field, or any other field at KSU, for the 1970 season. Within hours, these green open fields would become landing and staging areas for the Ohio National Guard and Ohio State Police helicopters.

The game went as expected, a complete rout! The festive spirit was high as the girls talked, and the guys joked and kidded about the game, planning the party for that night at the fraternity house.

It was one of those ideal spring nights—perfect for a Friday—and as the two frosty kegs of beer arrived and were rolled into the house, the party was on! Some people built a small fire outside and cooked hot dogs; others sat outside on the front steps listening to the continuous cycle of “oldies” playing on the stereo. And as one keg was “killed,” the other one was tapped. All was good that night!

As the evening wore on, a few people left for various places downtown. Later, more began to filter over to the nearby Robin Hood, a popular nightspot where the beer was cold and the people plentiful. I remember the four or five of us who stayed around the fraternity house and finished up the hot dogs and what was left of the beer. A couple of brothers, obviously over served, were content to take it easy, while at the same time a chugging contest was happening in the kitchen! While our celebration was going on, a very different kind of thing was taking place downtown. Many anti-war protesters—many of whom were not KSU students—upset with the direction the war was going, broke windows and destroyed property. The mayor declared a state of emergency, and students were forced back toward campus. Those of us still at the fraternity house, sipping cold brew and enjoying the strains of Lou Rawls, among others, had no idea that this was all happening.

Looking back, I feel a stirring inside of me because I did not go downtown that night with many of the other brothers. And it’s funny how things like that happen, and we never know at the time they happen what they really mean. And I suppose that typifies my entire outlook on things during my Kent years. I chose to go another direction than many others that night. Instead of getting caught up in the turmoil that was beginning in the warm spring night downtown, I chose to enjoy my friends at the fraternity house. Eventually, we ended up at someone’s apartment, kicking back and talking about anything and everything it seemed. I remember sacking out on the floor and drifting off to sleep in no time, while the events that would catapult Kent State into infamy were in full swing on a beautiful spring night in the downtown area of Kent, Ohio.

Life at KSU would never be quite the same after that. The events that would transpire on Saturday and Sunday, setting the stage for the tragic outcome on Monday, May 4, 1970, were now in play...CortlandWriter
Next: End of the Innocence (pt. 2) Saturday & Sunday, May 2-3, 1970

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