Vietnam Veterans Against the War coming to Kent State


Submitted photo.

Blair Donald

Each year at the Kent State May 4th Commemoration, a group of Vietnam veterans gathers at the bottom of Blanket Hill. Vietnam Veterans Against the War is a group that serves to raise awareness about the rights and needs of veterans when they return home from war.

“[May 4th] is something that should never, ever be forgotten,” said Bill Reynolds, who was a Kent State student from 1966-1970 and served in Vietnam from 1971 to 1972. “It’s something I fear could be repeated without too much trouble if we’re not vigilant and if we forget what occurred.”

Reynolds said on May 4, 1970, he was returning to Kent “after the confrontation downtown.”

“I wouldn’t say we were arrested, but we were ‘officially detained’ in Ravenna at about 2 o’clock in the morning,” he said.

“We made it back to Kent sometime before daylight,” Reynolds said. “If I had been there in town, I know for a fact I would have been down on the commons; it was something I usually did around lunch. I’m glad I wasn’t there.”

Reynolds said he was drafted after graduation.

“I always kept what happened in Kent close to my heart,” he said. “I would tell people about it [in Vietnam].”

“I took part in [the protests against the war] when I was a student,” Reynolds said. “When I was part of the military, I was very thankful that there were people out there saying, ‘these guys need to be brought home.’ In my mind, Kent State was one of the most pivotal points in bringing an end to the war.”

Willie Hager, who served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1966 and again for part of 1968, said on May 4, 1970, he was going to college in Southern California. Even though he was hundreds of miles from Ohio, he said his campus was still affected by the events.

“The world was really weird that day,” he said. “The first thing I noticed was that there was nobody around, no traffic, and this was in Los Angeles. I went to a friend’s house and we got all worried, we started having the impression that Nixon was going to swoop down and grab us all and send us to camps. We actually laid low for about three days.”

Hager said going to Vietnam twice allowed him to gain a new perspective on the war.

“I saw the disintegration of everything,” he said. “All the contradictions became pretty clear to me early on. When I came back the second time and saw that [the United States military] were in worse shape than when I left, it really opened my eyes. We were participating in things we were starting to question, but we had to fight on in order to survive.”

Chuck Winant, who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969, was actually involved in producing an anti-war newspaper. His involvement with the anti-war movement and the paper led to his eventual dismissal from the military.

“It’s a ‘government issue’ newspaper, produced for soldiers by soldiers, against the war,” he said. “They were put out all across the country, they were part of the soldier’s anti-war movement.”

Winant was part of the anti-war movement and lived in Cambridge, Mass. He said the events at Kent State were not shocking to him, because “the United States was killig people all around the world.”

“Having seen so many dead people, I could not express any particular shock that Americans were getting shot in the streets,” he said. “To me, it was almost to be expected. I had already been fighting with cops on the streets of Cambridge, and I had just gotten back from the war. It was expected.”

Winant is still an anti-war activist. He said fighting in the war heavily influenced his political opinions then and now.

“I learned that every aspect of what I had been told about the country I grew up in was a lie, a myth,” he said. “We were run by people with no conscience, no common sense, who are motivated by greed and evil,” he said. “And they ruthlessly exploited the naivety of young people to advance their goals.”

The Vietnam veterans are all strongly anti-war — not only Vietnam but all others since. David Ross, who served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967 as a medic, said that in his opinion, only those who have not experienced war are in support of it.

“I’m always reticent to use this example, but it’s like sex,” Ross said. “Either you’ve experienced it or you haven’t. If you haven’t, no book you read or friend you have can really explain it to you.

“Some things you have to experience to really, truly know what it is, and even then you only know it dimly until you’ve had more experience and context. War is the same thing. Almost all people who are for it are what I call ‘war virgins:’ they’ve never experienced it and as a consequence have no idea what they’re talking about.”

Ross has been heavily involved in the anti-war movement. He organized the protest at Syracuse University after the tragedy at Kent State, started one of the earliest chapters of the VVAW and was one of the people involved with creating legislation about post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans. For him, it is all part of making the world a better place.

“The focus of my life has been the anti-war work, which went on to become anti-sexist, pro-gay, pro-environmental, all of that. It’s all the same thing,” Ross said. “You couldn’t justify the things I saw in Vietnam.”

Hager said he too believes the war and the events that happened at Kent State on May 4 are important for people to remember and learn from.

“We want to keep coming [to the commemoration] so we can stand with the students and keep the memory of what happened there alive,” he said.

Contact Blair Donald at [email protected].