May 4th eyewitness travels to Vietnam to make amends

Photo by Philip Botta.

Photo by Philip Botta.

Jessica Costello

May 4 survivor and retired Cleveland teacher Bill Arthrell is back in Kent to speak about his trip to Vietnam, where he apologized to the Vietnamese people for the war.

Arthrell will be presenting pictures in a collection called “My Guilt Trip,” about his month-long journey in Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand and speaking about his experiences as a May 4th survivor. The show begins at 8 p.m. Sunday at The Stone Tavern.

Arthrell started protesting Napalm at the beginning of the Vietnam War.

“We protested against the usage of Napalm, it was just a horrific and violent thing,” Arthrell said.

Leading up to May 4th, Arthrell joined all of the Vietnam War protests. He was on the Taylor hill when he heard the National Guard start firing. Then, Arthrell said he ran toward Tri-Towers and “bit the grass.” He is known as one of the “Kent 25,” the 25 students who were indicted for rioting against the National Guard on May 4th.

“I always say we were guilty for getting in the way of the bullets,” Arthrell said. “It was rowdy, militant, but not by any way violent, it was definitely a conspiracy to kill Kent students.”

I was haunted by the whole thing, I had posttraumatic stress disorder from Kent State, I got shot at and then indicted. This all played on me in a subconscious way and became a definition in my life.”

Arthrell graduated from Kent State and taught at Rhodes High School in Cleveland but his main focus has always been on the past.

“It became a definition of my life and I wanted to do good in the world,” Arthrell said. “I felt it was my duty to go to Vietnam, took it upon myself to do the right thing and pay reparations.”

So Arthrell took a trip to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand in 1998 to apologize for the Vietnam War. He went alone and with only one backpack. He walked the towns talking to people, speaking his remorse, handing out money and making donations to different organizations including the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Mihn City.

“I arrived completely unprepared on purpose, spontaneously so that there would be no screen between me and the Vietnamese people,” Arthrell said. “I had to face what our country had done.”

Arthrell even went to the Red Cross in Vietnam and wrote an article in their journal apologizing for the war as an American citizen. He said the people at the Red Cross were so forgiving and trusting that he couldn’t believe it. He felt his journey made a difference.

This trip and his experience on May 4th, 1970 have shaped the course of his life.

“My life took a huge left turn, and it became far more important to try to rectify the wrongs my country has done on the world,” Arthrell said.

Contact Jessica Costello at [email protected].