Blood Brothers: An eventful day has bonded nine men for life


Alan Canfora waves a black flag as the National Guard takes aim on May 4, 1970.

Melissa Puppo

In 13 seconds, 67 gunshots killed four Kent State students. Nine others also suffered gun shot wounds, endangering their lives.

The nine wounded have become the voices of the fallen in effort to share the real stories behind what led up to May 4.

Joseph Lewis

Joseph Lewis was an 18 year old studying pre-professional social work when a National Guardsman shot him, just 65 feet away in front of the metal sculpture that stands in front of Taylor Hall. He had attened the May 4, 1970 protest to show his displeasure with the National Guard invasion and occupation of Kent State’s campus.

Having felt the guardsmen were interfering with his education while being on campus, he decided to act as a demonstrator and “lended his body” as an act of peaceful protest. This act led to a large wound to his abdomen and another small wound to his leg.

One moment in particular of that day still runs through Lewis’ head.

“I think the most dramatic second was after the sound of the 13 seconds of gunfire stopped, there was a moment in time — just a second or a millisecond — when there was absolute silence, and then around me, I heard wailing and screaming and lots of commotion,” Lewis said. “Of course at that point, I was on the ground bleeding out, so I couldn’t do anything but lay there. That moment of silence after the gunfire stopped and before the students’ reaction was a very dramatic pause for me as I recall.”

For Lewis, returning to Kent State’s campus is bittersweet. He said he feels a responsibility to speak for the students who died—Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer, William Schroeder and Jeffrey Miller—who can’t speak for themselves as “they were murdered in cold blood for no good reason except to stop dissent in America.”

“I also find it heartwarming to reunite with my fellow wounded students. We call ourselves the ‘blood brothers,’ and it’s a fraternity that is hard to get in because you had to be shot at Kent State to get in,” Lewis said. “To see my brothers again is really special to me, and I love all of them all so much. We didn’t know each other before the shootings, but afterward through all the legal and other struggles that we had we bonded, and we’re just like any other family where we’re really close.”

Lewis said he feels May 4 symbolizes the effort by the “oligarchs” to shut down dissent in America and to take the power away from the Democratic process. He said people are faced with the many challenges to the safety well-being and happiness of the people.

“The spirit that I carry with me from that day is very much alive and activities that I try to do that draw attention to the unfair practices where the democratic process is being usurped by people with a lot of money, and the voice of people have got to be heard, so that’s one of the reasons why I keep coming back to Kent State so the people have some voice,” he said.

John Cleary

A 19-year-old architecture student was just beginning to form his own opinions and attended a few anti-war protests during his freshman year when walking to class May 4, 1970 the National Guard opened fire and shot him in his chest.  

“I remember it being an absolutely gorgeous day; it was one of the first spring days,” John Cleary said. “It was kind of a calm day to start with, and the National Guard was all around at the entrances to all of the buildings.

He said he remembers how quickly everything changed once the rally started and how the entire peaceful day “turned on its head.”

Cleary said he was standing next to the steel sculpture in front of Taylor Hall with a camera ready, as he thought it would make an interesting picture to get the guardsmen all at the top of the hill. As he prepared to take the picture, he wasn’t ready for what was to come next.

“They just suddenly turned and fired, and I just remember it was like getting hit in the chest like a sledge hammer,” Cleary said. “It kind of just knocked me down, and I don’t remember too much after that.”

Cleary said he tried to put the memory behind him and tried to cope by staying away, but as he grew older, he realized that it was too big of an aspect of his life. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that he started heading back to Kent on a regular basis.

“As a result, I’ve gotten to know some of the other wounded students,” Cleary said. “I see them at those memorial services and such and have gotten to know them a little bit better. At least for me, it’s a little bit of a healing process to go back there and be with people that were there that we share that common experience.”

Cleary said he uses May 4 as a chance to educate those around him and let them know the truth of what happened.

He resides in the North Hills of Pittsburgh still staying active working at his architecture firm. As a lover of skiing, he also is a member of the National Ski Patrol and works as a first responder.

“I guess it’s my way of helping people that are injured on the slopes, maybe it’s my way of giving back, not wanting to be the victim, but rather, helping people,” Cleary said.  

Alan Canfora

Alan Canfora was 21 years old when the National Guard shot him in his wrist.

“I remember that very clearly,” Canfora said. “If you go through something like that, you don’t forget it. I can remember the moment I was shot. I was stunned. It seemed like a bad dream.”

Canfora was kneeling behind a tree protecting himself as he bled. He said he remembers telling his roommate, Thomas Grace, who was also shot, to stay down. He waited as bullets hit the tree behind him as he thought to himself, “This is just an absolute nightmare.”

“People were screaming out, people were calling for ambulances, people were screaming out in pain,” Canfora said recalling the moments after the 13 seconds of bullets being fired. “It was just a nightmarish scenario.”

Years after the reopening of Kent State’s campus, a group of students formed the May 4 Task Force in October 1975. Members included Canfora, Dean Kahler and the late Robert Stamps, all casualties—or people who were hurt in war or accident—of the May 4 shootings.

The goals of the student activist group remains as it did decades ago, providing educational information and programs on Kent State’s campus in honor of May 4, providing awareness, as well as continuing the support of families and victims.+

Canfora said he has come for the past 40 years on a weekly basis to the Task Force meetings.

For him, he said it’s been gratifying to know that the students still remember the events of 1970. May 4 is still a sad day, full of bitter memories, Canfora said, yet it’s gratifying for him to see people from Kent State and around the country fight and demand truth and justice.

“I think we can look back 45 years and say we have really achieved our goal, which was to educate the American people with an attempt to try to prevent this from happening again,” Canfora said. “I think we’ve been largely successful of that. And also my discovery of the proof of the order to fire (on audio recording) I think you can say now. This is why I say that the cover up of murder at Kent State has been destroyed and everybody now knows that this was an intentional massacre.”

Nowadays, Canfora is active in the community including fulfilling the position of chair of the Democratic Party in Barberton, Ohio, as well as the library director of the Akron Law Library in the Summit County Courthouse. He and his wife are also expecting a baby girl in May.

“To me, I see May 4 as a duty,” Canfora said. “I have a duty to join with others to raise awareness of what happened here as a tribute to the four who can no longer speak for themselves. I’ve tried to speak for my friend Jeffrey (Miller) ever since 1970. He can’t cry out from the grave, so I really take this seriously as a solemn duty that I feel that I have.”

Dean Kahler

Growing up on a farm, Dean Kahler, a 20-year-old student studying political science and physical education at the time, had never seen an anti-war demonstration. It was this interest that sparked his action to attend the rally on May 4.

“I was greatly disappointed,” Kahler said. “There wasn’t really much of (a demonstration). There were just some people with a bull horn talking. I thought ‘What does that have to do with the National Guard on campus, getting us out of Cambodia and ending the war in Vietnam like Nixon said in ’68?’ None of that was happening.”

Kahler, who was standing on the practice football field near where the current Centennial Halls are located was simply waiting for his 1:10 p.m. class to start when he got shot.

He said he remembers the guardsmen turn and fire.

“I did a lot of hunting, so I know what that motion is,” Kahler said. “I’ve done it before as a hunter. That is not ‘Oh turn around, oh maybe we’ll shoot.’ That was ‘We’re turning around, we’re shooting.’”

He said he jumped on the ground, and a few seconds later he could hear the bullets hitting the ground around him. Then a bullet entered below his left shoulder blade, hit his lung and went through his diaphragm, all while fracturing three thoracic vertebrae.

Kahler was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

The events of May 4 have given him some notoriety of sorts, he said. People recognized him from his pictures in the newspapers.

“I’m a disabled person,” Kahler said. “I went from being a physically fit, 20-year-old man who was 6′ 3” and an athlete, to now in a wheelchair. I went from 185 pounds down to 120 pounds. All those things aside, I’m extremely lucky and extremely happy that I am alive, that I could finish my education and that I could move forward with my life, and I’ve done that.”

Kahler said he regularly visits campus as he resides in Canton, Ohio — as being in the same area that the shots were fired is not much different for him than being anywhere else on campus.

“I’m aware of where it is,” Kahler said “I own it. It’s part of me. I have no problems being there at all, and it works just fine. It’s just another spot on campus, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m at peace with what happened to me, and you know I’m moved forward with my life.”

Kahler served as a teacher before retiring. He said he continues to stay physically fit and take care of himself and has been involved in politics for many elections over the last 45 years.

Thomas Grace

Two pivotal moments of May 4, 1970 stand out to Thomas Grace. One moment includes his gunshot wound and the other is seeing his four classmates dead.

Grace was 20 years old when he was protesting the war and was especially outraged over then-President Richard Nixon’s decision to invade the neutral country of Cambodia. He watched as the National Guard retreated up what he thought was going to be over the hill at Taylor Hall.

“I didn’t have a whole lot (of time to react), when I heard the gunfire, I started to run, and then I was struck by a bullet, which knocked me down,” Grace said.

The bullet entered and struck his left heel and exited on the right side of his left foot.

For Grace, May 4 represents deadly repression and unpunished state violence.

For about the past 10 years, Grace has visited Kent State’s campus every year, either to interview people for his forthcoming book, “Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties,” or to conduct research in the Kent State University Archives. He also was a consultant for the May 4 Visitors Center.

“I generally don’t go up on the reverse side of Taylor Hill that much, on the side of Prentice parking lot,” Grace said. “It’s kind of eerie for me over there. I do it sometimes, but it’s not my favorite site of return, you might say. The rest of campus, I have pleasant associations with for the most part.”

Today, Grace can be found busy with consulting work, the writing of his book, which will be published by the University of Massachusetts Press later this year, and he also teaches American History at a community college in Buffalo, New York, where he resides.

One message that Grace holds onto, comes from one of his friends, a casualty of May 4 who passed away in 2007, Jim Russell.

“He later talked about the efforts to distort and misrepresent what happened at Kent State on May 4,” Grace said. “Later quipped that (the authorities) should have known better than to try to engineer a cover up (of the shootings) in front of the journalism building.”

Donald Scott Mackenzie

Monday morning arrived, and just as Mackenzie, 22, was walking back from Franklin Hall around noon, he crossed the Commons trying to get back to where he lived.

Mackenzie was a Peace Marshal, trying to maintain peaceful demonstrations. He remembers that there was going to be a gathering of students and had plans to see what was going on in the middle of campus.

“I was definitely opposed to the war,” Mackenzie said. “Not a question about it.”

Mackenzie was up on the hill near the tennis courts observing the interactions of students and the National guard, as he witnessed them trying to disperse the crowd. He ran around the other side of Taylor Hill into the Prentice parking lot when the Guard came over the hill and into the practice field.

“I was the farthest one to get shot. I was almost two football fields away, so I kept my distance,” Mackenzie said. “When they did turn and start shooting, a lot of people were yelling, ‘They’re only shooting blanks.’ I had turned and was running in a slow pace away from the Guard — like I said I was close to two football fields away — so I just turned and kind of was jogging along, and then that’s when I got hit in the back of the neck.”

Mackenzie said he was knocked off his feet and remembers panicking as he had serious pain and was bleeding profusely as the bullet exited from the back of his neck to the front of his face.

A student came to his aid as he drove Mackenzie to the Health Center and was then taken to the hospital.  

Mackenzie graduated majoring in economics and minoring in political science and English literature. He has since visited Kent State’s campus for the annual commemorations. He currently resides in Colorado, where he is looking forward to retiring next year.

Being on campus does stir up a lot of emotions for Mackenzie.

“It’s bittersweet,” Mackenzie. “I mean the sweet part of it, if you want to call it sweet, is that I get to see people that I know and had been involved over the years and all the others that were shot and relatives and all that, so we got a good bond going on.”  

Mackenzie said May 4 was “a total overreaction with how it was handled with all of the people involved  — whether it be the state of Ohio, the National Guard and President Nixon, (Nixon’s Vice President Spiro) Agnew — they all were just making inflammatory statements that kind of set the stage for something like this to happen with the rhetoric that they were espousing.”

Douglas Wrentmore chose to decline interview.

Contact Melissa Puppo at [email protected].